One of their own – A community asks for a second chance

The rain came down in a steady drizzle, and the water streamed down from the tarps sheltering the stalls in the Johor Jaya pasar malam. But a small crowd gathered at the corner of the market, lending their support to a forum organised by the family of Cheong Chun Yin, in the very area where he used to tend his stall with his father.

The forum featured speeches by Yow Boon Choon and Chu Yin Leong, chairman and advisor of the local Hawker’s Association respectively, Singapore human rights lawyer M Ravi, Chun Yin’s father Cheong Kah Pin and sister Joanne Cheong. Chun Yin’s second sister Jesleen was also on the panel to translate Mr Ravi’s speech from English to Mandarin.

The event was moderated by Ralph Chong, a friend of Chun Yin’s sister. Although he had never personally met Chun Yin, he stepped forward to support the campaign after he heard about the case.

“[Chun Yin] is just like us,” he told the assembled crowd. “But he made the wrong decision and trusted the wrong person. This is where he grew up, this is his community… We hope that you will support him.”

Chun Yin’s arrest

Cheong Chun Yin was arrested in Singapore three years ago and charged with trafficking in 2.7kg of heroin. To this day, Chun Yin maintains that he had believed himself to be carrying gold bars for the purposes of tax evasion. He had assumed that gold bars had been hidden in the lining of a bag handed to him in Myanmar, and nothing had happened during the journey to suggest otherwise.

During interrogation, Chun Yin had divulged the details of his contact, “Lau De”. However the Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) officers did not attempt to investigate or trace the phone numbers of “Lau De”.

The trial judge Choo Han Teck did not believe Chun Yin’s story, and said that it was “immaterial” that the authorities did not make “adequate efforts” to investigate “Lau De”. He then sentenced Chun Yin to death under the Mandatory Death Penalty as stipulated in the Misuse of Drugs Act.

Calling for Chun Yin’s case to be reopened

In his speech, Mr Ravi mentioned the case of Yong Vui Kong, another young Malaysian on death row in Singapore for drug trafficking, highlighting that the two cases were similar in that both young men had been led to where they are today by a “lack of good social circumstances”.

He thanked everyone for their attendance despite the rain. “I hope that at the end of the day you can give support to Chun Yin’s family,” Mr Ravi said, urging the community to appeal to the respective Members of Parliament to put pressure on the Malaysian government to take action on Chun Yin’s behalf.

He also said that the family could get a reply to their clemency petition “any day now” and hoped that the community would step forward to support the family in case “things don’t go well”.

As long-time friends of Chun Yin’s father, Mr Yow Boon Choon and Mr Chu Yin Leong both asked for Chun Yin’s case to be reopened and investigated.”Things look different from different angles,” said Mr Chu. “We must look at this from every angle.”

Mr Chu said that he had know Chun Yin for almost 20 years, from when he was a child. He said that he could vouch for Chun Yin’s character, and that he was an obedient boy. He felt that Chun Yin had been tricked, and urged the Malaysian government to do their best to get Singapore to reopen the case.

Mr Cheong stood up and addressed his friends and supporters, saying, “My son would always put others first, and was very eager to help people. I hope he will be given a chance.” This hope was echoed by his daughter Joanne, who was speaking on her mother’s behalf.

A community of support

“We hope that the Singapore government can give everyone a fair chance,” said Ralph as he brought the forum to a close. “Death is irreversible, and cannot be compensated by all the money in the world.”

He thanked everyone for their attendance and support, encouraging people to come forward to sign the petition for Chun Yin, or to share any knowledge they might have of “Lau De”.

After the forum, friends and neighbours lingered to chat with Chun Yin’s family. Mr Cheong especially received words of comfort from those who had lived near him or worked alongside him at the pasar malam.

With the community mobilised to support one of their own, the family hope that they will be able to convince the Singapore government to give Chun Yin a second chance and re-investigate his case.