California: With state executions on hold, death penalty foes rethink ballot strategy

California advocates of abolishing the death penalty got a jolt of momentum in March, when Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he would not allow any executions to take place while he was in office.
But after trying twice this decade to persuade voters to end capital punishment, they have no plans to go to the ballot again in 2020. Rather than seeking to build on Newsom’s temporary reprieve for Death Row inmates, activists are taking their own pause.
Grappling with the legacy of their two failed initiatives, advocates are reassessing their strategy and retooling their message. Natasha Minsker, a political consultant who has long been involved with abolition efforts, said the governor’s moratorium has given advocates the opportunity to do long-term planning.
“There’s this excitement and energy in our movement that we haven’t had in a long time,” Minsker said.
Newsom’s executive order caught many Californians by surprise. Although he supported the unsuccessful ballot measures to abolish t…

Yong Vui Kong gets to see his next birthday

In a court ruling on 31 Aug, Yong Vui Kong (left) gets another stay of execution from the High Court when it ruled that the date for appeal of the High Court's judgement on judicial review will be on the week commencing from 17 Jan 2011.

Vui Kong, who will be 23 in January next year, will have spent almost 4 years in prison after his incarceration.

The average waiting time for convicts in death row in recent years have reduced dramatically as the court processes become more efficient.

The judges seem to have a compassionate streak to give Vui Kong's lawyer another 4 months to prepare and Vui Kong another 4 months to continue his daily ritual of prayers and maintain a tiny sliver of hope that one day, the Singapore President can grant him clemency.

Before passing the judgement, trial judge Justice Choo Han Teck summoned both the defence and prosecution into chamber and asked the prosecution if they would consider reducing the charge given the relatively young age of the drug offender, who was not even 19 at the age of the offence. The prosecution declined and the death sentence was handed to Vui Kong.

On 14th May, the Court of Appeal duly rejected Vui Kong's first appeal. But it acknowledged that the mandatory death sentence is considered a cruel, degrading and inhuman punishment.

The judges seem to favour giving Vui Kong a second chance, but they are unable to because of the lack of discretion due to the mandatory nature of the death penalty applicable to drug traffickers.

This is unfortunate, because day in and day out these judges see criminals, some sentenced to death, others not. High court judges should be given the powers to decide whether a person has committed a crime so heinous that he/she deserves the death sentence.

Malaysia has had a minister speaking up about abolishing the death penalty recently, when would it be Singapore's turn?

Source: Save Vui Kong, August 31, 2010

Vui Kong’s appeal set for Jan 2011

January 2011 – that’s the date the Registrar of the Supreme Court has set for the Court of Appeal to hear Yong Vui Kong’s appeal against the High Court’s decision on his judicial review application.

Vui Kong’s lawyer was today informed that the appeal hearing has been set “for the week commencing 17 January 2011”.

“This early notice is to give sufficient time for parties to be ready for the hearing, though we are aware that the record of appeals and cases have still not been filed,” the Registrar’s letter said.

The High Court had, on 13 August, dismissed Vui Kong’s appeal for judicial review concerning the authority to grant presidential clemency. Justice Chong ruled that the power to grant clemency “rests solely with the Cabinet” and that the President has no discretion in this.

Justice Chong also laid down that the courts have no power to review the clemency process.

The court was asked to adjudicate on Law Minister K Shanmugam’s remarks made in public before Vui Kong had filed his appeal for presidential clemency and while the Court of Appeal was deliberating Vui Kong’s appeal against his sentence. Vui Kong’s lawyer, Mr M Ravi, argued that the minister’s remarks had prejudiced Vui Kong’s appeal. Justice Chong, in his ruling, said he saw “nothing objectionable about the Minister’s statement”.

Mr Ravi later submitted a notice of appeal to the courts informing them that he intends to appeal Justice Chong’s decisions.

Vui Kong was originally scheduled to be hanged on 4 December 2009.

The original deadline for Vui Kong to submit his presidential clemency appeal was 26 August. The Singapore Prison Service has since informed Mr Ravi that it has extended the deadline until after the Court of Appeal’s hearing.

In the meantime, the Malaysian government sent a letter of appeal for clemency to the Singapore government on Vui Kong’s behalf on 29 July. The Singapore government has yet to respond to the letter. On 26 August, a group of Malaysian lawyers and parliamentarians handed a memorandum to the Singapore High Commission in Kuala Lumpur asking for Singapore to show mercy to Vui Kong.

Vui Kong’s family, together with MP for Sabah, Datuk Chua Soon Bui, and supporters, paid a visit to the Istana on 24 August to plead for Vui Kong to be given a second chance. The family members handed over 100,000 signatures collected in both Malaysia and Singapore in support of the plea. (Read TOC’s report here.)

The campaign to save Vui Kong has gathered pace in recent weeks, with many non-governmental organizations, politicians (both from the ruling party and from the opposition), Buddhists associations and youth groups, giving their support to the clemency request.

Singapore’s President, SR Nathan, has never granted any clemency appeals in his 11 years in office as Head of State.

Source: The Online Citizen, August 31, 2010

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