Singapore: Landmark ruling lifts death penalty for drug offender

The reduction of a death sentence to life imprisonment for a convicted drug trafficker in Singapore is a landmark step, but must now be followed by continued reforms, Amnesty International said today. Yong Vui Kong, a 25-year old Malaysian man, has been on death row in Singapore since he was arrested on drug charges six years ago . A High Court in Singapore today reduced his death sentence to life imprisonment and 15 strokes of the cane. “This is a landmark ruling, and possibly the first time in history that someone sentenced to death under Singapore’s draconian drugs laws has had their sentence commuted,” said Roseann Rife, Amnesty International’s East Asia Research Director.  Under Singapore’s laws at the time of his sentencing, Yong Vui Kong’s possession of 47g of heroin amounted to drug trafficking and warranted the mandatory death penalty, which is prohibited under international law.  Legislative amendments to abolish the mandatory imposition of the death penalty under certain circumstances of murder and drug trafficking were adopted by the Singaporean Parliament on 14 November 2012. “Yong Vui Kong should never have had to suffer through six years on death row for a non-lethal offence which doesn’t warrant a death sentence under international law. He must also be spared the 15 cane strokes, which is a cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.” Following the legislative amendments, Yong Vui Kong was among 34 prisoners whose cases were pending review. Only four people had their death sentences commuted in 2013 so far, but Yong Vui Kong’s is the first drug-related case. “It is now up to the Singapore authorities to build on today’s ruling and start a genuine debate on the death penalty, with the view to its eventual abolition. Hopefully other commutations will follow and the moratorium on executions established in 2012 will be extended indefinitely. Singapore should put an end to mandatory death sentences for drug crimes once and for all,” said Rife.