Drug courier spared the gallows

Drug courier spared the gallows
Yong (above), 25, was certified to have substantively assisted in disrupting drug-trafficking activities. On the right, his brother Yun Leong with Yong's lawyer M. Ravi.

SINGAPORE - After a four-year fight and a string of unsuccessful bids to challenge his death sentence for drug trafficking, Yong Vui Kong was finally spared the gallows.

The High Court on Thursday re-sentenced the Malaysian, who was 19 when he was arrested six years ago, to life imprisonment and 15 strokes of the cane.

This followed changes to the law this year which give judges 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 was certified to have substantively assisted in disrupting drug-trafficking activities. Now, 25, he is the first convicted drug offender awaiting capital punishment to be spared the noose under the new law.

On Thursday, Justice Choo Han Teck said he was satisfied that the requirements of the amended law applied to Yong and that he only acted as a courier.

The thinly-built man, who has been in prison since his arrest in 2007, was solemn yesterday as he received his new sentence in a packed courtoom.

Yong's life sentence was backdated to the day he was charged in June 2007. A life sentence in Singapore lasts for a person's natural life, but he is eligible for a review of his sentence after he serves 20 years in jail.

His case had attracted the attention of human rights activists and was widely reported by the media here and in Malaysia. His family and supporters, including a Member of Parliament from his home state of Sabah, had also presented a petition for clemency to the President bearing more than 100,000 signatures.

It took a dramatic twist in 2009 when lawyer M. Ravi - four days before Yong was due to be hanged - filed an eleventh-hour motion to revive the appeal that Yong had dropped.

Mr Ravi's subsequent attempts in court to overturn the death sentence eventually failed, but as a result of the numerous challenges, Yong lived to see changes in the law that spared him a date with the hangman.

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