Friday, December 11, 2009

People We Love: M Ravi & the Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign.

Our Barnyard Engineer had a month ago highlighted an interview between Singapore Democratic Party and AWARE founding member, Constance Singam, from the SDP's "Let's Talk" series with Chia Li Tik. This time, SDP speaks with a personal hero of mine, M Ravi, a human rights lawyer who's probably the frontrunner in championing against mandatory death penalty in the Singapore legal system.

On-going is a fight against the death sentencing of drug mule Yong Vui Kong, 21, who three years ago was caught at the causeway between Malaysia and Singapore. Yong, a Malaysian, was sentenced to death because Singapore has insanely strict laws regarding drug trafficking. (Seriously, a 17 year old doesn't even possess voting rights, but the court thinks it's okay to put one on the road to the gallows!?) He was actually supposed to be hanged last Friday, but Ravi has come out to successfully argue for Yong's case to be open to appeal--Yong had initially waived thinking he would should just face unchallenged realities--and will represent Yong during the appeal. It's also important to note that Ravi was not Yong's original lawyer.

From the interview, Ravi comments on the key problem with the mandatory death sentence in Singapore:
The starting point here is not just death penalty per se. What we are dealing with here in Singapore is mandatory death sentence. That is the judge, who is passing the death sentence, cannot look into the extenuating circumstances of the individual when there are mitigating circumstances which are available, where he can set aside the death sentence and offer life imprisonment. So that takes away the vital essence of judicial making, which is discretion. And that discretion is unfortunately given to the President, who has hardly given any clemency for the umpteenth years that we know.

And on how Ravi was spurred into his work in the area of human rights and the death penalty:
There was one day I received a call from Mr JB Jeyaretnam. He felt so aggrieved on account of his client, you could hear the outrage of his voice over the phone. He said this particular case, which involves the death penalty involving a 22 year-old Malaysian boy, had already run its course. Meaning it has gone to the Court of Appeal, it has already reached the clemency stage, and clemency was already denied. The courts just said, look we can't reopen the case because the matter is already concluded, the court does not have the power to reopen the case which has run its course. To which I asked the CJ [Chief Justice], are you then saying that an innocent man can be hanged in Singapore just because of procedural matters? That means you can't reopen the case even if the man is innocent? The Chief Justice just replied, "Yes, the answer is yes." When I looked at that reply, it just shook my conscience beyond belief.

Please watch the rest of the interview to hear Ravi speak on why drugs shouldn't be given the death penalty, the problem with check and balances between the "three arms of the state", and on the Singapore Law Society, and the need for lawyers to speak up.

Lastly, follow also activist, Rachel Zeng's, heartwrenching account of Yong's final meeting his mother behind a glass panel because apparently death row inmates are deemed undeserving human touch from their loved ones by our prisons. Zeng, artist Seelan Palay, and art educator Lucy Davis are all members of the Singapore Anti-Death Penalty Campaign, the very good people who brought us the World Day Against the Death Penalty Forum.

I humbly extend my Awesome Possum salute to all of them, and wish Yong the best in his fight against the death penalty.

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