Thursday, September 2, 2010

Laughing Criminals & Death Penalty

I was fairly amused to read the letter by BTH, Gombak, to The Star in support of the death penalty in Malaysia.

He opined that:

"Of course in any man-made judgment there is bound to be an innocent victim or two being wrongly charged and hanged as seen in the movie Shawshank Redempton."

It seems that he—I'm assuming that it's a he—spends too much time at the movies. Even if there is a chance that we might make just one mistake, that should be a very good reason for us not to adopt the attitude of the trigger-happy folks. Perhaps the author of that letter would feel differently if he is the one convicted and sentenced for the death penalty for a crime he did not commit.

And he added:

"I would even go further to suggest that acid throwers should be made to taste their own medicine. Once found guilty, the court should get the victim to splash acid on the perpetrator’s face. That is the only effective deterrent, one the perpetrator will remember for a long time and whenever he looks into the mirror."

When one acts from his heart, and not from his brain, we get stupid suggestions like the above. My idea of crime and its punishment should be for the purpose of, first and foremost, in the best interest of the public at large. If a person is liable to become dangerous to others around him, then he deserves imprisonment. And imprisonment is not on grounds of revenge, i.e. an eye for an eye. Rather, he is locked away, same as we would lock a tiger which could be dangerous to the humans around it in a cage. Beyond that, if it is determined that the criminal is beyond help, that there is no hope of rehabilitation, then, in the best interest of the rest of the population, I can live with the death penalty. I think we would be in serious trouble if we heed the suggestion of "splashing acid on the perpetrator's face". I mean, why would we want to bring ourselves down to the level of a psycho?

"Malaysia is fast becoming a land where criminals think they can do anything to anybody at any time of the day. Hardcore criminals just laugh their way to prison. They will never learn to be good citizens as crime brings them wealth, the good things in life as well as give them an ego boost."

I will admit that we have quite mind-blowing crimes in Malaysia these days, but I'm not too sure that these hardcore criminals are really laughing their way to the prison.

In a recent conversation I had with a friend, the topic of the death penalty came up. In particular, we were discussing about the young lad, Yong Vui Kong, who's apparently living his final days in a Singapore prison. For he was found guilty of drug trafficking and now sentenced to the death penalty. I'm neither for nor against the death penalty, but I am reluctant to sign the petition to free the young lad, who happens to be a fellow Sabahan.

As a side issue, I have been asked to sign (or vote online) before on numerous occasions. For example, I was asked to vote for Sipadan; and I think someone's daughter who was in a beauty contest or something like that. I thought to myself, how was I supposed to vote truthfully if I haven't even been to Sipadan; and I have never seen how that someone's daughter look like?

So likewise, how am I supposed to petition to free a criminal when I don't really know the fellow? I know our papers had a lot of good—and sad—things to say about him, but that is quite natural if you're trying to garner support for your cause. What if it is because of my single vote that this lad is freed, and then later on commits another crime which would cost someone's life? How am I ever gonna forgive myself for that?

But on the other hand, I can't help but wonder if all avenues have been exhausted to rehabilitate Yong. If there is still hope, then perhaps he deserves that chance?

What I'm trying to say is that I can live with the death penalty in our legal system. But that punishment must be reserved for the worst of the worst of the criminals, whom have no more chance of rehabilitation to become productive members of our society. It is in this sense that I'm not sure if Yong truly deserves the death penalty—whether he is beyond rehabilitation, especially when the mastermind(s) behind the scene is(are) still free today.

We ask ourselves if this is justice. The rich and powerful are free, and the poor and small fries become the scapegoats to take the fall. Is there no chance whatsoever to rehabilitate them? Or is this all about showing the might of a government which is bent on picking on the most convenient candidate to proof a point? Maybe I would feel differently if the mastermind(s) behind the scene have also been caught and given the death penalty.

Of all the hardcore criminals, ranging from child rapists to murderers who are bigger threats to the society, is it fair to terminate the life of a drug mule who committed the crime when he was just a teenager? As I said, I can live with the death penalty, but it must be reserved for the worst of the hardcore criminals whom we're satisfied beyond hope for rehabilitation. I really hope for our sake, that Yong is indeed beyond hope for rehabilitation.


Unknown said...

The writer who wrote that letter either he was joking or he must be raving mad! God forbid that an innocent man should die for whatever reasons.

While I sympathize with Yong, if we were to bow to public pressure and lift the death penalty for this case, would that not encourage the people behind the scene, the mastermind, to use more and more people in this category or worse children, maids and so on to do their evil deeds.

I think this is a classic case of 'damned if you do damned if you don't'.

That said, I think both our governments should abolish the death penalty. No matter what wrong, taking another life be it legally or not, is morally wrong.

Cornelius said...


I am free from the influence of sentimentality of Yong being a Sabahan etc, so I feel that I am free to consider the situation from a neutral position.

I don't think the mastermind would be effected by whatever happens to Yong - it's just business as usual to him.

The death penalty is a difficult topic, and I'm convinced that no amount of discussions here will come to the most ideal solution.

I'm not sure about morality having anything to do with the death penalty. When talking about morality, what right do any of us have to imprison an individual even?

I tend to see the thing from a slightly different angle. If for example we're talking about a dangerous animal, say, a tiger. How do we deal with the animal? Well, if we can be certain that the beast is far away from us in the deep jungle, then we probably won't be concerned about it. But if we must live together with the animal, then we would probably put it in a cage, or some sort of confinement. It is simply for the sake of protecting the human population. It's not so much about being cruel to the animal.

A criminal who's a threat to society is put behind bars for 2 reasons, i.e. for punishment and or rehabilitation; and for protecting the rest of the population. But if the criminal is really like an animal we may decide to kill that animal to protect the rest of us. It is difficult to argue if it's moral or not to do so, because we can also ask if it's morally right to allow that animal to live amongst us.

My problem with Yong is whether he really does represent the worst of the criminals in terms of threat to the rest of us, so as to justify ending his life. If he really is, then so be it - he should die for the sake of protecting the population. But I am not sure that is indeed the case here.

Socrates29 said...

Regarding the appeal for clemency in the Sabahan Yong's case,correct me if I am wrong in what I have digested regarding his case.

There is no question nor denying about his being found guilty for drugs trafficking and therefore under Singapore's law it is the death penalty,no more and no less.

My understanding about the clemency appeal was to give him another chance (that's to live)under the plea that he was quite young (19 I think)when he committed the crime.

Cornelius said...


I think most of us are fully aware of what's going on with Yong's case. On the surface, I must admit that there seems to be a good case to support the call for clemency. But unlike most people, I'm reluctant to act based on third party info. The truth is that I don't know this lad, Yong, well enough to move me to support the call for his freedom.

Many of those people who signed the petition don't even know Yong, but they're influenced by what they hear (or read) from others.

I'm not saying that all those articles in the papers are lies - maybe those are all the truth about Yong. But I can't count on the accuracy of those information; not with our journalism standard (or any journalism standard for that matter). I don't know for myself that the fellow is really rehabilitated and deserves a second chance.

Scho said...

Few years ago, an American teenager was whipped and just a few months ago, an adult Swiss man was also whipped for drawing graffiti on Singapore's MRT. The image of Singapore has always been clean. Until today the image is maintained. Isn't that what the fight for bersih is all about ? When in Rome, you do what the Romans do.

Cornelius said...


When discussing this topic with Dr Peter, my running buddy, I said more or less as much to him. We can't plead ignorance to the laws of the country. It means that once we set foot in Singapore, we must be subject to the laws of Singapore. Hence if the penalty for a drug mule is death, then I can accept that Yong deserves the death penalty. That is very straightforward - I suppose the law is very clear on that.

But the present discussion is beyond the scope of Yong's crime. As Socrates29 has correctly pointed out, we are not disputing Yong's crime. He has been found guilty of the crime based on Singapore's law, I don't think anyone is challenging that verdict.

The commotion right now is on the issue of pleading for clemency on Yong's behalf, in spite of our acceptance of the finding of the Singapore courts. That's why we see in our local papers a number of articles giving Yong's background in the hope of garnering sympathy from the people, but not so much challenging the crime for which Yong was convicted of (and sentenced to the death penalty).

While the people are not challenging on grounds of trying to deny Yong's crime, they are pleading for clemency anyway on grounds of whether the punishment meted out by the courts, though fully justified by the law of the country, commensurate with the severity of the crime.

For example, we might want to petition the Singapore Government if it sentences a person guilty of spraying graffiti on a public building to, say, life imprisonment, even if that penalty is provided for in the statute.