Drug mule escapes gallows after Singapore law reform

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Yong Yun Leong (L) and Yong Yun Chung, brothers of convicted Malaysian drug trafficker Yong Vui Kong, leave the High Court with lawyer M. Ravi, in Singapore, on April 4, 2011

A Malaysian man on Thursday became the first convicted drug trafficker to escape the gallows in Singapore following recent legal reforms in the city-state.

Yong Vui Kong, 25, was re-sentenced to life imprisonment and 15 strokes of the cane under Singapore's new discretionary death-penalty regime, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Chambers told AFP.

Under reforms that took effect this year, Singapore judges are now allowed to spare drug traffickers from execution if they were mere couriers and provided "substantive assistance" to police in the fight against the drug trade.

Prior to the changes, judges had no choice but to impose death by hanging on drug traffickers found to be carrying illegal substances beyond specific limits.

For heroin dealers, anyone found trafficking in more than 15 grams (half an ounce) faced the mandatory death penalty. Yong was found in possession of 47 grams when he was arrested in 2007.

In a written submission, state prosecutors vouched for Yong's cooperation in "disrupting drug trafficking activities within and outside Singapore", while High Court Judge Choo Han Teck on Thursday ascertained that he was just a courier.

In a media statement, Yong's lawyer M. Ravi said that the Malaysian "has 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.

Yong, who is from the eastern Malaysian state of Sabah, was only 19 when he was first sentenced to hang in 2008.

Three previous appeals to overturn the judgement were rejected, while an appeal for presidential clemency was also denied.

Changes to capital punishment laws were passed in November last year following a year-long review of the mandatory death penalties for murder and drug trafficking, which critics said were too harsh and sweeping.

But Singapore, widely regarded as one of the world's safest societies, rejected calls to abolish the death penalty altogether, saying it must be preserved as a deterrent to crime.

The latest official statistics showed that no one was executed in 2012, while four people were executed in the previous year.