Kuala Lumpur play rails vs death penalty

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – Human rights activists in Kuala Lumpur have produced a play that takes a hard look at the death penalty, taking off from the story of a young Malaysian sentenced to hang in Singapore.

‘Banduan Akhir Di Sel Akhir’ or ‘The Last Prisoner in the Last Cell,’ staged in Bahasa Malaysia with English subtitles and produced by Amnesty International Malaysia in collaboration with Rumah Anak Theater, ran from 10-14 October at the Black Box Theatre in Kuala Lumpur.

The 50-minute performance, which commemorates World Day Against The Death Penalty, tells the true story of Chinese-Malaysian Yong Vui Kong, who was found guilty of drug trafficking.

It took Rumah Anak Theater two months to prepare the play. Xavier Fong, who plays Yong Vui Kong, only recently joined the troupe after they ran into some problems with casting.

“We are doing this play as an awareness campaign to people not only to (campaign to) abolish the death penalty but also raise the question of whether we should or should not abolish the death penalty,” Xavier said.

Yong Vui Kong, then 19 and from a broken family in Sabah, was arrested on 13 June 2007 with 47 grams of heroin. He was sentenced to death in January 2009.

The play follows the struggle of his sister, Vui Fung, and Singapore human rights lawyer M. Ravi, to have Yong Vui Kong’s death sentence revoked.

The Singapore High Court recently rejected Yong’s application for a judicial review of his sentence.

M. Ravi has appealed this decision before the Court of Appeals, which has set hearings from 17 January 2011, giving Vui Kong another lease on life.

Vui Kong’s case has attracted the attention of many Malaysians, including Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman, who wrote a letter seeking clemency from his Singaporean counterpart.

Malaysian activists have also set up a site, 2ndChance4Yong, and launch the Save Vui Kong petition campaign that has gathered more than 100,000 signatures and has been presented to President S.R. Nathan by Vui Kong’s family, who knelt down at the gates of the Istana to beg for his life.

Singapore is 1 of the 18 countries that still impose the death penalty. Death by hanging is mandatory in Singapore for persons found guilty of crimes such as murder, treason and drug trafficking.

Thailand and Malaysia, too, still has the death penalty.

In July this year, Singapore police arrested Alan Shadrake, the 71-year old Malaysia-based British author of ‘Once a Jolly Hangman – Singapore Justice in the Dock’, a book that criticizes the city-state’s use of the death penalty.

He was arrested during a visit to Singapore to promote his book and is being detained on criminal charges that could bring him a two-year prison sentence.

BBC reported that Singapore government told it in July that Shandrake’s book has not been banned but that the government has the right to advise bookshops not to stock it.

(Pong Pan is a reporter for Thai online newspaper Prachatai. He is currently on a fellowship with the Southeast Asian Center for e-Media in Malaysia.)

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