Drug trafficker on death row spared gallows

Yip (above) is the third convicted drug courier to have successfully applied to the High Court to be re-sentenced on the grounds of having substantially assisted the Central Narcotics Bureau in the fight against drugs.
Yip (above) is the third convicted drug courier to have successfully applied to the High Court to be re-sentenced on the grounds of having substantially assisted the Central Narcotics Bureau in the fight against drugs.

A 42-year-old Singaporean who has spent more than four years on death row for drug trafficking yesterday smiled with relief as he was spared the gallows.

Yip Mun Hei, who attended the High Court hearing, was instead given life in prison and the minimum 15 strokes of the cane.

He is the third convicted drug courier to have successfully applied to the High Court to be re-sentenced on the grounds of having substantially assisted the Central Narcotics Bureau in the fight against drugs.

This follows changes to the law which give judges the discretion to impose life terms and caning, instead of the death penalty, for drug couriers who help the authorities in a substantive way.

Yip, represented by lawyer Wee Pan Lee, was convicted in September 2009 of trafficking in not less than 18.43g of heroin and given the then-mandatory death penalty. His appeal was dismissed the following year.

Under laws that came into effect last year, the death penalty is no longer mandatory for drug couriers in certain capital cases. Life sentences - and at least 15 strokes of the cane - can be imposed on those certified by the prosecution to have helped substantially in disrupting drug-trafficking activities.

The first to be given a reprieve under the new law was Malaysian Yong Vui Kong, 25, whose case attracted the attention of human rights activists and was widely reported. He was re-sentenced to life in prison and 15 strokes in November last year.

Singaporean Subashkaran Pragasam, 30, was the second to be spared the hangman's noose, in January this year. He was given a life term and 15 strokes.

Yesterday, Justice Tay Yong Kwang, saying that Yip satisfied the requirements of the new law, exercised his discretion and set aside his death sentence.

In March, another condemned drug trafficker, Dinesh Pillai Reja Retnam, 31, a Malaysian, escaped the death penalty because he was suffering from depression. Under the amended laws, drug couriers with mental illnesses that make them less responsible for their actions must be given a life term, without caning.

There are currently 20 condemned drug offenders whose cases are pending re-sentencing.

selinal@sph.com.sg