Tuesday, 1 December 2009:
Not having had much free time in the last two weeks, I have not been reading (online) newspapers. Other than Dubai World defaulting on a some US$60 billion worth of loans, and the Australian federal government deciding not to block Canberra’s recognition of same-sex civil unions, much may have happened in the world without me having a clue.
I do know however, that President Nathan rejected the clemency appeal of Yong Vui Kong, and (until the surprise court decision, Wednesday, 2 December, to stay the execution) Yong was scheduled to hang this Friday.
This poor boy’s plight has been on my mind quite a bit since I heard about the rejection of the clemency. Like many others, I’m sure, I feel helpless. Taking anyone’s life, whatever the legal rationale, is plain wrong, yet the juggernaut rolls on.
At Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, while waiting for my plane with nothing much to do, I wondered what it felt like to wait for execution day.
I see that the Straits Times, in reporting the latest twist in Yong’s case, mentioned that:
Malaysian-born Yong, 20, was caught with 47g of heroin, contained in packages, by Central Narcotics Bureau officers in Yishun last year.
During the trial last November, Yong’s then-lawyers argued that their client, then 19, was unaware of what he was carrying. He was merely following instructions from his boss in Johor Baru to deliver ‘presents’, they said.
But his accomplice, Reggie Gwee, 22, testified that he had received drugs from Yong on five to six occasions between May and June last year, and that they even came unwrapped twice.
After a two-week trial in the High Court, Justice Choo Han Teck found him guilty. The mandatory death penalty for anyone found guilty of trafficking in more than 15g of heroin was then imposed. Gwee, who was found guilty of trafficking in less than 15g of heroin, was given 22 years’ jail.
(Straits Times, 3 Dec 2009, Stay of execution as drug trafficker gets new hearing)
It sounds as if Gwee had a plea bargain. Did he really traffic in less than 15g of heroin, or did the prosecutor ignore the lab findings regarding the amount he handled, instead choosing to charge him for “less than 15g”?
How does the prosecutor choose which party to use as prosecution witness, offering a plea bargain for that, and which party to hang? Why do courts have no say in this?
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Siddharth Narrain from India was in Trinidad for the same conferences that I attended. He explained that one of the most significant aspects of the 2 July 2009 Delhi High Court decision reading down Section 377 came from the way the court distinguished constitutional morality from popular morality.
Many legal scholars recognise that law cannot but reflect a society’s sense of morality. Thio Li-Ann, I think, would be among them. However, the Delhi High Court said there is morality and there is morality. In looking at what the law should mean, a court must search for the moral principles as embodied in the constitution, which is different from what people may hold as their morals.
People may think that it is immoral to have sex outside marriage, but the moral principles enshrined in constitution may be that people should be left alone to decide how they want to live their lives. Others may think it is outrageous to deny the existance of their god but the moral principles in the constitution may be that gods should not be imposed on others.
Too often, the popular idea of morality takes the form of prescribing how lives should be led, how much skin should be clothed, what foods to abjure and how sex should be performed.
Constitutional morality however has quite different concerns: liberty, equality and the state’s duty of care. Far from embodying and advancing majoritarian demands, constitutional morality may require these to be resisted.
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Trinidadians have lost the battle of the bulge, particularly females. I’d say about half of the women there are overweight and maybe 10 to 20 percent pathologically obese. Getting into an economy class airline seat is like squeezing a pillow into a shoebox. Of course, all sorts of circulatory problems will likely result with flights more than two hours’ duration.
There are more visible problems. On the flight from Trinidad to Fort Lauderdale, a big fat woman found it hard to squeeze into the aircraft’s toilet. After she managed to slowly shuffle herself in, she found herself unable to turn around to close the door behind her. A kind soul helped by closing the door for her. How she would manage, while inside, to remove her underwear and sit on the bowl, I could not imagine. I don’t think she ever did, because there was no sound of flushing before she came out of the toilet. Quite likely she just gave up and decided to hold it in till we landed.
On Caribbean Airlines, the only food we had for the four-hour flight was a small cold croissant filled with some cheese, lettuce and turkey, prepacked together with a chocolate wafer. And a soft drink. Alcoholic beverages were chargeable, US$6 for a beer. What afar cry from Asian airlines (other than those that clearly put themselves in the budget category) that serve a choice of hot meals (starter, main course, dessert) with free-flowing wine, beer, juices and soda.
But worse was to follow. From Fort Lauderdale, I transferred to American Airlines. There was no food at all, just one round of soft drinks. It being already 7 p.m. and hungry after Caribbean Airlines’ croissant mini-lunch, I asked if they might have some cheese crackers. “Yes, certainly, we do,” said the middle-aged woman in the airline uniform.
“Here you go,” she said as she handed the pack to me. “Four dollars, please.”