A street urchin's journey to Death Row and back

A street urchin's journey to Death Row and back
Yong Vui Kong with his mother in a photograph taken in 2003, when he was 15 years old. Yong's parents divorced when he was five and he, his brother Yun Leong, and two other siblings were brought up by their mother. Relatives took in the other three siblings.

It was Wednesday, Dec 2, 2009. Yong Vui Kong's family had flown in from Sabah, not for a visit, but to make his funeral arrangements.

In two days, the young Malaysian, convicted of being a drug trafficker, was to be executed.

Today, he is still alive. And he no longer has a date with the hangman.

Two weeks ago, the 25-year-old became the first condemned drug trafficker to be spared the noose under changes to the law this year.

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

Yong will serve life imprisonment and receive 15 strokes of the cane. His family says he has become a devout Buddhist who hopes to counsel others against drugs, a major turnaround from his days as an illiterate street rat.

Bad company

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Yong's elder brother Yun Leong recalls how they grew up in a poor village in Sabah.

Their parents divorced when Yong was five. The seven children - Yong is No. 6 out of four boys and three girls - were split up.

Yong, his brother Yun Leong, and two other siblings were left to his mother, a dishwasher, to raise. Relatives took in the other siblings.

Yong dropped out of primary school, doing odd jobs from when he was 11 and squandering his income at game arcades. He soon started mixing with bad company.

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