Sunday, July 31, 2011

Saving Yong Vui Kong – A Need for Balance between Compassion and Punishment

Remember the last time I wrote about Yong Vui Kong and the support campaigns launched by NGOs (including Young Buddhist Association of Malaysia) to save Yong Vui Kong? If you do not know who he is, refer back to my blog dated Auguest 27th last year. Or, google him and read about his case. The last I read about his case is that his lawyer is contemplating appealing his case to the International Court of Justice. Well, I do hope his lawyer and those responsible to support his case in both Malaysia and Singapore will read what I have written here. If you know his lawyer (Mr Ravi) or any of his family, please forward my blog to them.

I hope you guys have not forgotten him. I am writing to all those who support for his clemency to be more consistent in efforts to save him, in the sense that we must also support the moratorium on the mandatory death sentence or amend it to be applicable to only certain limited cases. We do not support the death penalty but advocate that if at all there needs to be a death penalty, then it must be for people who are repeat or unrepentant offenders, serial killers, the drug lords (yes, these drug lords are the real people who should be punished, not those young kids that have been fooled by these drug lords). So, we only support the death penalty for these types of people. But for people who have learned their lessons, and have had a transformation in character, we must appeal to both the Singapore and Malaysian Governments to spare them. If Malaysia also happily applies the death penalty, how are we supposed to expect Singapore to listen to our appeal? They won't. So, the first thing we need to do is to get our philosophy on the death penalty right. Then we tell the whole world that not only Vui Kong must be saved but also others like him. Then in that way, we will not appear to be merely supporting one person. In this way, our appeal will be stronger and hopefully, the Singapore President will listen and grant clemency to Vui Kong. Otherwise, our appeal to the Singapore Government will seem rather hypocritical.

We can only do our best to save a life and at the same time not doing it only to save one person and ignoring the rest. We do not want to give the impression that we are happy to bend the rules for offenders to save him. Indeed, we must still emphasize the fact that he (and others like him who work for drug lords) still needs to be punished, just not the death penalty. Anything else but the death penalty, for first time offenders.... unless the first time offence is so serious it involves killing /murdering many people such as proven terrorists. Yes, we agree that drug addiction is serious but it is different in the sense that it is not taking away the precious human rebirth immediately. You must realise that the victims of drug addiction does have the right to refuse such habits, whereas if you are killed by someone else, often you are not able to defend yourself. So, we are not down-play the seriousness of the drug pedalling menace, but merely telling the authorities that it is the drug lords that need to be punished. They are the ones who normally get away with punishment by getting others (often young boys like Vui Kong) to do the job for them. Then when Vui Kong gets caught, they just get another youngster to take over. And the problem will go on and on. Meantime they hide themselves in safety from the authorities but expose others to risk of the death penalty. The Governments and law enforcers must not be too trigger happy to impose the death penalty upon young fellas like Vui Kong (unless he is the drug lord himself, then that's a different story. But as we know, he is not) until you forget to see the reality behind the issue.

Both the Malaysian and Singapore Governments should amend their laws on death penalty and only impose it for certain restricted circumstance as mentioned above. As such, I would strongly urge the Singapore President to grant clemency to Yong Vui Kong and others like him. I send the same urge to the Malaysian Yang Dipertuan Agung to grant clemency to those similar to Vui Kong’s case in Malaysia. I send the same message to all heads of nations worldwide. You can pardon them for their first offence. But if ever, they are caught working for the drug lords again, we will not be able to appeal for them again. To those who cry foul and say that we are forgetting the victoms of drug addiction, I would like to remind everyone that giving them clemency does not mean releasing them into society without any punishment at all. Of course, you can mete out the necessary punishment, be it 10 years or 20 years imprisonment or more. Make them do social work and force them to expose their former drug lords they had worked for. But in doing so, the law must protect them because these drug lords will seek revenge if they know their former drug mules have exposed them. So, if you follow my advice, the drug mules get their due punishment as insisted by the prosecutors, and sending the right message to the public that you do not manufacture drugs for drug addiction and that hiring people to pedal drugs for you will result in the death penalty. So, if the Singapore Minster is afraid of releasing Vui Kong, that it might send the wrong message, then please consider my suggestions as afore-mentioned. It will NOT send the wrong message by granting clemency to Vui Kong but putting his former drug boss to the noose. The way I see it, it is a win-win situation.
That's all my suggestion to save Vui Kong and to save Singapore’s face for granting him clemency and at the same time, not appear to be lenient on the drug menace. Indeed, we will be sending a powerful message to the drug lords who are the ultimate root cause of the drug menace i.e. hiring others to pedal drugs will result in death. Singaporeans are said to be smart people and they should be able to recognise that the problem is the act of hiring people to market the drugs for them, and not the people whom they have hired. Yes, while we agree that the people hired should be punished too, but we believe that the act of hiring is a more serious offence. They cannot be punished in the same degree. Malaysians and Singaporean authorities must not be stupid to punish the people hired with the death penalty in the same degree as the people responsible for the act of hiring. The death penalty being the apex of punishment, hence it should be reserved for the drug lords and other criminals like them. They are the real criminals, the real mastermind behind hiring kids like Vui Kong! Do not hang young kids like Vui Kong who had been taken disadvantaged due to his poor and broken family background. Yes, he may have sold drugs to others but it is really his former bosses that should be punished with the death penalty. Not Vui Kong!

Here in my appeal, I am trying to balance the delicate need for compassion for a life and the need to give punishment where it is due. I have tried my best to balance these two needs and the fact that we need to punish the right people with the right type and severity of punishment. Only in this way, can the authorities ensure proper social justice. Buddhism is not only about compassion but no punishment. Perhaps many Buddhists have this fantasy that we should leave punishment only to karma. They say, “Let karma takes it course.” That may be true, but in the practical world, there will be chaos if there is no police or judges to mete out the proper punishment for offenders. Even in temples, there are disciplinarian monks in charge of ensuring the rules and precepts of monks are followed. Those who do not follow them will be subjected to do hundreds and thousands of bowings or they have to do other tasks such as cleaning the kitchen or toilets. Therefore, there is definitely a role of punishment even within Buddhism, which emphasizes a lot on compassion and forgiving. Having said that, the punishment must be fair and in accordance to the weight of offence. It is not an easy task and it is not always fair (due to us being imperfect humans, unlike the Buddhas). And sometimes it takes someone else to point out and suggest a better way to make it fairer. That’s the purpose of this letter and I sincerely hope we will have a fair solution to the problem posed by Vui Kong’s case. For this to work, both Governments need to amend their laws and agree to impose the death penalty only on the right people (e.g. the drug lords, serial killers, and people like them) but to also announce that drug mules will not go unpunished. If possible, show drug mules being whipped on national television. Yes, you can go ahead to whip Vui Kong too. Whip him 20 or 30 times. The whipping can be done every year for as long as he remains in prison. Let him scream in pain every year. Send him to long years in prison. (To Vui Kong: You must be mentally prepared for this, ya!) That will make a lot of people to rethink that working for drug lords will only result in little punishment. On the contrary, hearing and seeing them scream in pain as well as the long years in prison will deter youngsters from pursuing a life as a drug mule. The other thing is serving the right punishment to Vui Kong will prevent him from being reborn in the lower realms. All the screaming and pain he will experience now in this life, coupled with his true repentance, will help him to avoid being reborn in the lower realms. So looking at punishment from this angle, administering the proper  punishment is indeed part and parcel of compassion. Think about it!

For drug lords who hire others to pedal the drugs for them, they will have the heaviest punishment, but even then we can give them 3 to 5 years in prison time to allow them time to repent and reform. If they take the chance properly, they can still avoid the lower realms even though they will still be subjected to the death penalty at the end of the 3 to 5 years. Unless they are not repentant of their crimes, even when given a chance, then sorry to say, they are the real criminals and deserve the lower realms. When punishment is done in secret, the public do not take the punishment seriously. In Tibetan Buddhism’s Lam Rim teachings, we are told to contemplate the sufferings of the hell beings again and again for the simple reason that we want to understand the seriousness of committing crimes and that such crimes will result in being reborn in hell where there is unrelenting pain. And such Lam Rim contemplations do work to scare people away from committing crimes. In ancient times, many criminals are paraded in the streets before they are hanged. It may seem uncivilised in today's society but such things do have a purpose. Their faces can be covered but I think it is okay to show such whipping on television. So, the authorities must rethink their strategy of not showing punishments of offenders.

A perfect balance between compassion and punishment may never be achievable but we can try our best to reach about there. And I think what I have suggested above is about the fairest balance I can think of.

May Buddha bless Vui Kong and others like him, who had been “disadvantaged” due to their family situation!

For petition to save Vui Kong, please go here:

note: Pic taken from

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