Singapore — Two convicted drug smugglers, one Malaysian and one Singaporean, may escape the death penalty after prosecutors ruled that they had provided substantive assistance to the police in fighting drug-related crime within and outside of Singapore, according to reports.
The two are 24-year-old Malaysian Vong Vui Kong and 29-year-old Singaporean Subashkaran Pragasam.
The decision means the two men could become the first drug traffickers to have their death sentences retroactively commuted after Singapore relaxed its sentencing guidelines in January for lower-level drug crimes.
If the two can prove to the court on the balance of probabilities that they were merely drug couriers – and not ringleaders, manufacturers, distributors, or sellers – then the courts would have the discretion of commuting their sentences to life imprisonment and at least 15 strokes of the cane, instead of the death penalty, said the Attorney General’s Chambers.
Yong and Subashkaran could not be reached for comment, but their attorneys said they would apply for their clients’ death sentences to be commuted.
Prior to the January change in sentencing rules, drug traffickers had faced a compulsory death sentence by hanging if the drugs were above specified amounts.
The revisions were made partly to encourage couriers to give authorities information to assist in apprehending higher-level drug dealers.
Some human rights groups had welcomed the relaxed rules, saying it was a first step in lessening an unnecessarily harsh criminal justice system.
Mr. Yong was convicted in 2008 of smuggling 47.27 grams of heroin, and was only 18 when he was arrested.
His family and anti-death penalty activists have mounted a high-profile campaign to spare him from the gallows.
Since imprisonment, he has taken up Buddhism and spends much time in prayer and meditation.
Mr. Subashkaran was convicted in 2011 of trafficking 186.62 grams of heroin. He lost an appeal against his conviction in March, said his lawyer.
Attorneys for the two said they are scheduled to appear in court on October 9 to discuss their clients’ cases. It was not immediately clear when the court would hear their applications for resentencing.
The Attorney-General’s Chambers said that Yong and Subashkaran are the first two persons on death row who the Public Prosecutor has decided to issue certificates of substantive assistance under the amended regulations.
They also said there are currently 26 persons awaiting capital punishment for drug offenses who are eligible to apply for resentencing under the new rules.
Though long criticized by human rights groups, the Singaporean government has consistently defended its strong stance on crime and the death penalty, arguing it has helped keep the nation’s drug usage and murder rates among the lowest in the world. Image/AFP/freemalaysiatoday.com