Glimmers of hope

Over a year since it was first amended, we have been seeing the changes in the mandatory death penalty in Singapore.

Several lives have already been saved. One of those who received new sentences was Yong Vui Kong, for whom his family and anti-death penalty activists have campaigned so hard for. He fell to his knees when he realised that he would not be hanged.

It was a relief to know that some inmates would not be executed after all. But alongside these (relatively) happy announcements is something more serious: the changes in the mandatory death penalty have led to important developments that will affect future cases, and even the way we talk about the death penalty itself.

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Thoughts on Yong Vui Kong’s new sentence

It was 4:30am in Scotland when I heard. After years of campaigning, anxiety and emotion, we finally have a happy ending for Yong Vui Kong. His death sentence has been set aside, replaced with a life term and 15 strokes of the cane. Supporters who were in the courtroom said he fell to his knees when he heard.

I wish I had been in that courtroom to lend my support. My thoughts are now with his family, torn between relief for his life spared and worry at the prospect of caning. His brothers and sisters who have worked so hard to work with activists, to speak with the media and to care for his mother throughout this whole ordeal – they have been through something no one would ever want to have to struggle with.

At the same time it feels strange to celebrate. It’s strange to feel joy at a sentence that includes something as cruel and barbaric as 15 strokes of the cane. It’s a punishment that has no rehabilitative purpose beyond inflicting pain in a desire for vengeance, and it’s worrying to think that it would be meted out on to a person as skinny and weak as Vui Kong.

And so it’s with mixed feelings that we look ahead to the future. As some have pointed out, where there is life there is hope, and on the balance of things today Vui Kong and his dedicated lawyer M Ravi have won. But our work is far from over; there are other cases to focus our attention on now, not to mention the fundamental problems with the mandatory death penalty and capital punishment.

It’ll still be a tough struggle ahead, but today we step forward with more confidence and hope than we’ve had in a long time.

The pain of reading Andy Ho’s pieces on the death penalty

When I first read his articles, I thought The Straits Times‘ columnist Andy Ho had strange views. But now I know why reading his writing on the death penalty sends chills down my spine: the articles are sociopathic.

There is a huge – and crucial – disconnect between his arguments and reality. It is almost as if the author has completely forgotten that he is discussing real life and real people. That his arguments, if taken seriously, could have huge impact on the lives of fellow human beings.

I am not saying this simply to be morally righteous, or to get emotional or melodramatic. I’m saying this because it is important, especially when arguing something as serious as the death penalty in Singapore, to acknowledge real-world applications and implications. When Ho argues for things like the execution of 16- and 17-year-olds, he is not merely speaking theoretically about some faraway fantasy land – if taken onboard, his arguments will have serious and irreversible consequences. To speak of executions and the death penalty with such callousness is not only repulsive, but unethical.

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