Convicted drug trafficker spared gallows

After a four-year fight and a string of unsuccessful bids to challenge his death sentence, drug trafficker Yong Vui Kong, 25, will finally be spared the gallows.

The Malaysian was yesterday re-sentenced to life imprisonment and 15 strokes of the cane by the High Court.

This follows changes to the law this year giving judges the discretion to impose life terms and caning, instead of the previously mandatory death penalty, on drug couriers who help the authorities in a substantive way.

Yong, who was certified to have helped to disrupt drug-trafficking activities, is the first convicted drug offender awaiting capital punishment to be spared the noose under the new law.

He was only 19 years old when, in 2007, he and a friend were caught with 47.27 grams of heroin. He was convicted the following year.

His case had attracted the attention of human-rights activists and was widely reported by the media here and in Malaysia.

His saga took a dramatic turn in 2009 when, four days before he was due to be hanged, his lawyer Mr M Ravi filed an eleventh-hour motion to revive an 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 ultimately spared his life.

Yong was sombre yesterday as he received his sentence in a packed courtoom.

Family members and supporters turned up at court yesterday, including Yong's older brothers, Yun Leong, 28, and Yun Chung, 27, who work here as chefs.

Yun Leong described yesterday's outcome as a "miracle", adding that he could finally heave a sigh of relief.

"If we had not fought the case, he would have been hanged four years ago," he said in Mandarin.

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