Another teenager caught, set to hang

pic-1074aYong Vui Kong was nineteen when in June 2007, he was caught for drug trafficking. He now faces the gallows. What hope of ever changing Singapore’s draconian, inhumane policy of capital punishment? Full essay.

26 Responses to “Another teenager caught, set to hang”

  1. 1 Lee Chee Wai 12 October 2009 at 04:15

    I used to have very mixed feelings about the death penalty. In a way, my feelings are still mixed, but I lean far more strongly toward abolition.

    For me, the biggest factor is my take on our own humanity. Given the choice, the power and even a good reason to personally kill someone, many of us would not do it.

    We hide behind the state when we claim to support the death penalty. We agree with it, even strongly, as long as we do not have to do the dirty work ourselves. When we do not have to interact with a criminal condemned to death, it becomes easy to see them as merely numbers, their crimes abstracted into mere descriptions on paper.

    I wonder how many would continue to support the death penalty if they were required, as a national duty, to take turns to actually carry out the executions in-person.

    And I have not even gotten to the problem of wrongful convictions yet …

  2. 2 yawningbread 12 October 2009 at 12:16

    Thank you for reminding me of something with your (tongue-in-cheek) suggestion that citizens should take turns as hangmen. Decades ago, when the Singapore govt proposed to abolish jury trials, supplanting them with trials by two judges sitting together (now further reduced to one judge in the name of efficiency), Lee Kuan Yew said one of the reasons to abolish juries was that they were often reluctant to convict someone who might be plainly guilty, when they are faced with the prospect that the accused would be given the death sentence. So there you have it: Instead of changing the sentencing rules, change the whole justice system! The idea of hanging people is sacrosanct. If we must distort the justice system to achieve it, if we must take people’s conscience out of it, if we must strip justice of humanity, so be it! Once again an abstract idea valued more highly than humanity and life itself.

    • 3 Lee Chee Wai 14 October 2009 at 06:13


      I think I was only vaguely aware of the existence of juries in Singapore courts a long time ago. Thanks for the little factoid.

      Meanwhile, I think LKY might have over-simplified the idea behind the jury in order to get his way on abolishing it. As I understand the process, juries have clear guidelines where the judicial process is concerned. At least in the US, I am aware the judge can quash a jury verdict if it is clear they have not respected the judicial guidelines. In other words, I believe the jury must make a deposition of the decision-making process and not merely vote their verdict based purely on emotion (LKY’s over-simplification, and imho excuse, for its abolition). I might, however, be wrong about the last part.

      For the benefit of other readers, I include the link to the wikipedia entry on “Jury” to follow if they want to dig further. I currently have too little time to do such a thing:

  3. 4 mathialee 13 October 2009 at 13:25

    I’ll like to hear the rationale for the following contradictions :

    21 years old age limit for R(21) movies

    21 yrs old age limit for voting

    18 yr old age limit to drive

    16 yr old age limit for killing someone or being killed in war (NS age limit)
    (you can’t vote for the govt you want, even tho’ the govt who comes to power has the authority to send you to war to die)

    16 yr old age limit for age of consent to sex
    ( i can’t understand how people think that we should not lower the R(21) movie age limit, should not let our 16 year olds learn about sex in sch, do not want our 16 year olds having sex, but shoud lower the 16 yr old age of consent)

    16 yr old age limit for sentencing someone to death for drug crimes

    14 yr old age limit for being given to marriage legally
    (even tho’ they have no capacity to vote their govt, or to handle a R(21) movie, they can be allowed to make a lifetime commitment , and have kids at 15yr old??)

  4. 5 KAM 13 October 2009 at 17:09

    In cases of drugs, I support the death penalty.
    It is not a case of ignorance or unwilling partnership with drug dealers.
    Yes, a teenager’s life is in limbo here, but the drugs which he trafficked could have had impacted more than 1 teenager.

    So sadly, I wish to say I support the death penalty in this case.
    Sorry. Life is unfair, but that’s life.

  5. 6 yawningbread 13 October 2009 at 21:46

    KAM –

    Life may be unfair, but justice is supposed to be fair. Does our justice system meet that standard?

    You also said: “Yes, a teenager’s life is in limbo here, but the drugs which he trafficked could have had impacted more than 1 teenager.”

    Take another teenager. He steals into a small aircraft and takes off. He flies around the skies of Singapore for a joyride and when he lands, he is arrested, because he had no pilot’s licence and he didn’t file a flight plan. He should be arrested because his actions put a lot of people on the ground at risk. If he had crashed, many people might have died. Should this teenager be given the death penalty for “impacting” others? I doubt if any country would prescribe the death penalty for what he has done.

    Drug mule offences (as opposed to kingpin drug trafficking) are not all that different from unlicensed joy rides. The 15, 50 or 100 grams of heroin undoubtedly are meant to be consumed by somebody (somebodies) and will no doubt mess up people’s lives. If there is a difference it is that the people who consume bear partial responsibility, whereas the people on the ground beneath the joyrider’s flight path never chose to be under the flight path.

    Anyway, what a drug mule does is that he endangers people’s lives, just like a teenager flyer. Why is one considered so heinous that capital punishment is considered entirely appropriate?

    I’d say the heinousness is politically constructed in the drug mule situation, and not constructed in the flyer situation, when under objective evaluation, the risk both actions pose to the public is about the same. So once again, it boils down to my thesis, that ultimately, capital punishment is applied when we selectively get attached to an idea in our minds that something is so horrible that it SHOULD be applied.

    • 7 KAM 14 October 2009 at 19:38

      Dear Au,

      Your example of a teenager who flew the airplane illegally and endangered people’s lives and property is flawed. The law does not mete out DEATH PENALTY for such offences. If he should crash and cause other deaths or property damage, the laws do not cover a death penalty, not that I know of (and I am no lawyer).

      Also, how many teenagers can fly an airplane or have access to an airplane easily?

      Comparing this to the drug-mule scheme, drug trafficking using teenagers or unlikely persons are so easy and rampant. Therefore the law mandates a death penalty.
      This is a wellknown fact and under whatever circumstances the teenager agreed (albeit unwillingly) to do it, he very well should know the consequences should he be caught.

      I am unable to agree with you on your apples versus pears comparison. Sorry.

      My sympathies lies with the teenager too, but until we can change the law, it stays in effect, and in effect effective too.

  6. 8 Martha 14 October 2009 at 00:59

    I thought KAM was a loving New Testament Christian from earlier posts. Clearly I got that wrong. Must be an Old Testament eye-for-an-eye type, ready to throw the first stone. So much for the sanctity of life.

  7. 9 KAM 14 October 2009 at 17:32

    Now now, what happens if this teenager was not caught?
    He will stop at 1 transaction? I believe he will not change if he was not caught. He will continue or even make bigger hauls.

    What happens to the drugs which he was carrying? It will only “impact” others, when I actually mean RUIN or kill others.

    Death penalty is a harsh punishment in the eyes of many. It is also controversial at best to many Christians. Who can give the right to take one’s life?

    The court justice system of society (in Singapore) is not based on the justice system of God, unfortunately. Until the day comes when it is more aligned to God, meaning most if not all people believe in the Christian God, than we have “no choice” but to live with societal justice system which prescribes death penalty for drug trafficking.

    Alternatively, he could have pleaded guilty and said he was a drug addict. In this case, he would not have gotten the death penalty.

    It is of course not too late for Yong to believe in God and to believe in miracles, summarising to a pardon by the President. We should not and cannot mix up the 2 things, when basically you want God’s grace and yet you do not believe or accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour.
    Anyway, life in a body is simply a phase in life.

    I pray that he lives on or departs in peace.

    • 10 yawningbread 14 October 2009 at 20:43

      What happens to people who don’t believe in the Christian god? No miracles for them?

      As for “God’s grace”, isn’t it possible enjoy the grace of another god?

      • 11 KAM 15 October 2009 at 22:52

        Unfortunately, a person who does not believe in water, will not drink in it. Therefore his thirst will not be satisfied.

        It may seem unfair or unbelievable, but to me it is a fact and a truth. People who do not believe in God, will not be able to receive God’s miracles.

        To me and many other Chrisitians, there is only 1 God, and He is the only one.

        To receive “miracles” from other sources, it is simply from “other sources”. I am not qualified to explain this part, because it will be deemed as offensive text from me.

        It is a simple thing really. But I am still unable to make a horse drink water, if the horse does not want to drink. I can however, bring the horse to the water, and I drink the water and show how good the water is to ME. If the horse believes me, then MAYBE he will try to drink the water. Only the HORSE can make that decision.
        God gave me and the horse FREE WILL, to make choices.

        Voon’s decision to become a drugmule, already resulted in a consequence, not in line with God’s ways. That is to bring harm to people via drugs.
        However, if Voon does become a real Christian, really beliveing in God, and praying to Him, then there could be a miracle whereby he can escape the death penalty.
        Other Christians praying for a non-believer, to have a God’s miracle, is simply no in line with what I believe in.
        We cannot force this horse to drink our water.

    • 12 Greg 22 December 2009 at 08:18

      God will have no mercy on those who have no mercy for others. This is because we are all sinners. Judge not, lest you be judged. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

  8. 13 Chris 14 October 2009 at 20:36

    I remember the 2006 death penalty case because I nearly had an argument with a friend from Singapore about it. I believed it was inhumane but my friend thought the government had to deter criminals from trafficking drugs and that the seriousness of the crime justified the penalty.

    I work in the criminal justice system so I always find it interesting that so many policies are justified on the basis of deterrence. Deterring who? Rational people that weight up the consequences of doing something before they do it? These people don’t need to be deterred because they aren’t going to commit the crime anyway. These drug mules obviously aren’t deterred because more of them keep getting executed every year.

    I also find it interesting that the death penalty is justified on the basis of public safety. I personally would feel less safe in a society that had the death penalty. To me it says that this is a violent society that is prepared to sanction a killing in cold blood. The death penalty doesn’t necessarily reduce crime or stop drug trafficking so i don’t think it makes a contribution to public safety.

    What it does do is allow the government to say it is being tough on crime and is doing something about the drug problem. The easiest, and in my view most cynical, measures, are those at the back end of the system – increased penalties for offences. It sends a clear message that the government is anti drugs. This is humbug though, everyone is anti drugs the real question is what are you going to do to reduce the harm they cause to society?

    A more effective approach is to focus on the front end and prevent offences occuring in the first place. This is harder to do, requires a long term perspective and substantial investment. Governments would have to invest in social programs to address under privilege before it results in offending behaviour.

    I have a friend from school who lives in singapore. I have been meaning to visit one day but haven’t been able to arrange it yet. Part of me, though, is scared to visit Singapore. The things I know about it, from this website and other places, makes me think twice about visiting. I object to the death penalty, the restrictions on free speech, the discrimination against gays, and the one party state. I don’t mean any offense to the people living there but I have real problems with the system that has been created by the government.

  9. 14 yawningbread 14 October 2009 at 20:41

    KAM – your response boils down to this: Drug mules should hang because it is the law. Joyride teenagers, even those who crash and kill people on the ground do not have to hang because it is not the law.

    Your secondary position is that even if two crimes have the same weight, one crime can attract a heavier penalty simply on the basis that more people commit it.

    On the first, you are taking the position that the law that exists is necessarily right. You seem unable to interrogate what currently exists. If it exists, it must be right.

    Any serious discussion of the death penalty is nothing if not an interrogation of why the law is the way it is. But you are unable or unwilling to do that.

    Your secondary position is a utilitarian one. But is that a morally justifiable one? Does it meet a test of fairness?

    • 15 KAM 15 October 2009 at 22:42

      You are more familiar with the law about drug mules and airplane joyrides, you tell me.

      As for being a loving christian and not advocating the demise of the death penalty, I beg you all your pardons.

      I am no saint nor did I profess to be one. On the topic of drugs, again I pray that the teenager has a miracle in the face of the hard laws laid down by ill-informed but well-meaning Singapore lawmakers. I do not have sympathy for drug traffickers and I wish to state here my mistake of misrepresnting myself that I “wish him dead”. I do not.

      The death penaly is very well known in Singapore and the region. Thanks to the internet, it is also well known to other parts of the world.
      If this law is not repealed, then the penalty is one which is known to the offenders and they should be “man enough” to accept it, if they choose to break this law. It is also up to them or their lawyers to prove that they were forced into this act, if so be it. However crying no money, bad family background, will not change the law nor the sentence.

      If you see it in another light, if this boy was from a rich family with rich lawyers, and he still got the sentence, will you or others be so eager to dispel the death penalty, whether just or not?
      It also does not really matter if this boy is a Christian or Buddhist or whatever, because in the legal system of Singapore, he is still sentenced to death.
      If one does not want to be part of the penalty equation, then don’t break the law. And don’t break the law in Singapore where the penalty is death.

      Unfortunately my post will attract alot of distractors about my stand as a Christian, and my stand as a supported for death for drug traffickers. I am not an angel, but I do see some “benefits” in having hard human laws. Until we are no longer humans, or no longer in Singapore, and no longer breaking any laws, we can indulge in all our arguments.

      This young man will hang, subject to the appeal. What you and I can do, is only watch and pray. I will also now keep my big mouth shut.

  10. 16 boothiam 14 October 2009 at 22:53

    i am christian and i feel i need to dissociate myself from KAM and his comments. the gift of life is not for man to take away from another man. it is the height of misplaced pride to think we can play god. i am totally against the death penalty and i pray the president will grant this young man clemency.

  11. 17 Lop 18 October 2009 at 18:01

    I would like to make an observation. I find that how a person sees the world is somehow rigidly wired in his brain. For someone who’s deeply religious, you can almost expect him to behave the same towards authority/power/law. As long as the words come from god/authority/power/law, the first assumption will always be those can’t be wrong. Any suggestion that god/authority/power/law may be wrong will totally unnerve him. Such a person also dislikes leaving anything open-ended or ambiguous, instead he prefers things concluded and in black or white. His reality is firmly grounded in the past and is usually uncomfortable with change or the future. Also, analogy tends to escape such a person because he usually interprets it literally.

    Any psychologist reading this and wish to comment?

  12. 18 Martha 18 October 2009 at 20:19

    KAM, beliefs are not facts, that’s why they call them beliefs. You’ve adopted some very narrow, elitist ones, that are not widely shared. But don’t ever fall into the trap of thinking they’re fact just because some pastor says so.

  13. 19 artemisworks 23 October 2009 at 21:29

    I am appalled by Kam’s stance on the death penalty “as a Christian”. If Christianity truly informed his opinions, would he still cling to his flimsy “tough luck, but it’s the law” argument?

    Kam, wake up. It’s Christians like you claiming to speak for the faith who are giving Christians a bad name.

    Most Singaporeans I know do not seem the least bit interested in discussing social justice or politics. There must be something about being brought up in a somewhat contrived, sheltered environment where the government tells everyone how to think. And as long as one is materially comfortable and well-fed, what incentive is there? As long as one and one’s loved ones aren’t involved, the default position is to do/say nothing and avoid dwelling on it.

    I wish there was something we could realistically do about this case, but I do admit to a certain fatalism about this. I do not know how many more people will lose their lives before the populace realise that the death penalty is really nothing more than state-sanctioned murder.

  14. 20 Daniel 4 December 2009 at 02:04

    In the Old Testament, laws were given by God to administer justice, including taking lives. I will not got into theology of why God did that, but basically this is justice. You get what you deserve.

    Now, the other side of the coin is side which is mercy. Not getting what you deserve. Evidently, when the Pharisees wanted to stone a woman caught in adultery (and she deserved to die under Jewish law), Jesus asked a question that struck their conscience, and everybody left. Clearly, God is merciful and always look to extend to mercy so that we will change. I’m not saying God’s mercy permits sin without punishment, but God’s heart is for people to change not perish.

    Coming back to Singapore government. We shall take religion out here as it is sensitive. The question for every responsible government is to ask if the law does maintain social stability? Look at U.S with death penalty : lethal injection and electrocution. Is that a much a safer country now compared to a country without death penalty like Switzerland? For everyone’s info, Afghanistan and Pakistan – where terrorists operated from – are also countries that have death penalty. Did that prevent further killings? Thailand by the way, part of the Golden Triangle practices death penalty too.

    For drug problems, we have to come to our senses – the drug lords can find tons of innocent teenagers to be their scapegoats, and they will just laugh when another life gets taken away. I think it makes more impact on the crime, if we rehabilitate drug mules and use them as examples to educate young people not to take drugs anymore.

    • 21 John 17 November 2011 at 01:41

      Daniel, that is the Old Testament. The New Testament offers testimony to Jesus Christ having come to earth to offer humankind a new way: mercy, forgiveness, not returning evil for evil, as sinners not casting stones at other sinners, loving our enemies, turning the other cheek, meekness, tolerance, love, and merciful judgment against our own sinful kind.

  15. 22 being humane 4 December 2009 at 13:10

    KAM, if we are all godly perfect, then there will be no sinners.

    Why is so hard to extend forgiveness to a criminal, even?

    None of the other contributors ever proclaimed or assumed that Yong was free from naive greed or malice.

    Even if someone is inherently evil, is it not good enough to put the person behind bars for life, without parole? Certainly, we must believe that every human being has the capacity to repent?

    Is killing the only way to deal with injustice?

    The death penalty only satisfies our inhumane desire to punish the fallen in no uncertain terms. That is breeding a revengeful society.

  16. 23 HK Chong 12 December 2009 at 12:09

    We are fully aware of the draconican laws in Singapore (as well as in Malaysia) and the strength and power of the Singapore Government in wielding the iron arm of the law. The Singapore Government should realise that they will demonstrate even greater power and strength if they are merciful towards Yong Vui Kong

  17. 24 CigarDEAman 22 December 2009 at 08:20

    I say, take that kid into a room, tie him up, and slowly beat him to death. He was 19 when he committed the drug crime. He knew what he was doing was wrong. He deserves death. Hanging him is too good for him. I support the death penalty for drug offenders, even teenaged offenders. I envy the man who will be lucky enough to kill that kid. Give him a cigar.

  18. 25 Will.I.Am 12 January 2010 at 17:42

    There is no need to respond to trolls like CigarDeAman, so everyone please don’t feed it.

    Daniel brings up a good point – the drug lord can tempt 10 teenage scapegoats into crime for everyone that is executed. Deterrence means no difference to the drug lord because he is not the one doing the deed. There will always be someone being dealt such a harsh card in life that he is desperate enough to do it.

    Instead of purely executing someone for being the runner, we can use this position and “bargain” with the guilty person; that he will escape the death penalty if he is willing to cooperate and divulge information that will lead to the source of the problem. It’s the source that needs dealing with.

  19. 26 guycelestial 14 August 2010 at 20:06

    May the Cosmic Mother saves Vui Kong….
    Jai Maha Kali…

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