Yong bows to judge after decision is read out

PETALING JAYA - Death row inmate Yong Vui Kong turned vegetarian and found religion again while waiting for the day he would be taken to the gallows.

His prayers were answered when, thanks to a change in law, his death sentence was commuted and he was jailed for life instead with 15 strokes of the cane imposed.

When High Court Judge Choo Han Teck announced the decision yesterday, the Sabahan fell to his knees and bowed before the judge.

Life imprisonment in Singapore is 20 years and Yong has already spent some seven years in custody.

Three previous appeals to overturn the judgment had been earlier rejected, while an appeal for presidential clemency was also denied.

Last year, however, the Singapore government announced changes to the mandatory death penalty, allowing death row inmates to be given a lighter sentence if they meet certain conditions.

In a written submission, state prosecutors vouched for Yong's cooperation in "disrupting drug trafficking activities within and outside Singapore", while the Judge ascertained that he was just a courier, AFP reported.

Since being imprisoned, Yong had taken up Buddhism and a new name, Nan Di Li, from the Buddhist Dharma.

His lawyer M. Ravi said the Malaysian "had seen the error of his ways and has repented".

"This is the happiest day of my client's life. He feels intense gratitude towards all those who have worked so hard to save him from being executed," Ravi said.

The Malaysian has been in death row since he was convicted on Jan 7, 2009, for trafficking 47gm of a controlled drug diamorphine on June 13, 2007, a capital offence under Singapore's Misuse of Drugs Act.

He was only 18 when he was arrested.

In a telephone interview, Vui Kong's elder brother Yun Chung, 27, said: "It is really a miracle. We believe it is divine intervention. Our family feels very relieved by this decision."

Yun Chung was at the court hearing with his other brother Yun Leong, 28, and former Tawau MP Datuk Dr Chua Soon Bui who has been helping the family in the battle to save Vui Kong.

Yun Chung said the family had gone through many ups and downs since Vui Kong's death sentence and had many times believed that they were fighting a lost cause against Singapore's strictly enforced laws.

Dr Chua said she was very thankful to the judge for sparing the young man's life and would be working with the lawyers to appeal to reduce the 15 strokes of the rotan.

She said Vui Kong was not too well since becoming a vegetarian.

"They will need to get a doctor's assessment of his health condition to make the appeal. When I first started, everyone told me not to give false hope to the family. There was no light at the end of tunnel when we started. Today, we are very happy that this young boy has been spared the noose," she said.