Drug courier challenges caning sentence

Drug courier challenges caning sentence
Mr Yong Yun Leong (left), the brother of Yong Vui Kong, and lawyer M. Ravi at the Supreme Court.

Malaysian drug courier Yong Vui Kong, who had his death sentence commuted in November last year, is now challenging the caning regime here.

Yong, 25, was re-sentenced to life in jail and 15 strokes of the cane under new laws giving judges wider sentencing discretion.

Judges now have the discretion to impose life terms and caning - instead of the previously mandatory death penalty - for drug couriers who help the authorities in a substantive way.

Yong filed court papers last week, appealing for his caning sentence to be quashed.

His lawyer M. Ravi is challenging the constitutionality of caning, in particular, the manner in which the punishment is carried out.

Mr Ravi is arguing that the way caning is implemented in the prisons "takes it out of the realm of acceptable punishment and into the realm of torture".

He says the "severity of the strikes and intensity of the pain" is evidenced by the fact that women, men aged over 50 and boys under 16 cannot be caned.

Also, doctors have to be present when prisoners are caned.

Mr Ravi is also arguing that Yong is being made to suffer a greater punishment than was prescribed by law at the time of his offence.

The lawyer contends this is because, before the law was changed to make the death penalty discretionary, it did not provide for caning for drug traffickers at the time.

Yong's case had attracted the attention of human rights activists and was widely reported by the media here and in Malaysia. He was 19 years old in 2007 when he was arrested after making two drug deliveries.

Yong was convicted of trafficking 47.27g of heroin in November 2008 and sentenced to death.

He filed an appeal but later withdrew it.

In 2009, four days before he was to hang, Mr Ravi revived his appeal on the grounds that the mandatory death penalty was unconstitutional.

Mr Ravi's subsequent court bids, including seeking judicial review of the clemency process, to quash the death sentence failed.

But as a result of the challenges, Yong lived to see changes in the law that ultimately spared his life, as hangings were put on hold in 2011 when the Government began a review of death penalty laws.

This article was published on April 29 in The Straits Times.

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