"Let the law take its course": The desertion of Jabing and his family
Note: I am a co-founder and active member of We Believe in Second Chances, a group campaigning for the abolishment of the death penalty in Singapore.
“Just (as) we do not want other countries to interfere in our justice system, we also do not want to interfere in the justice system of other countries... Let the law takes it course." This was what Tan Sri Dr James Masing, a senior minister in the Sarawak government, had to say about a man about to hang in two days.
He was referring to 31-year-old Kho Jabing, scheduled to die in Singapore at dawn on Friday. Time is running out; a fact that both his family and us anti-death penalty activists are only too aware of.
Reading over my shoulder, Jabing's sister Jumai was speechless with horror and disappointment. "Why Singapore people can help us, but my government cannot help my family?" she asked.
"If my government helped me 100 per cent, maybe my brother can home to me," Jumai said. "If government don't help, I Malaysian citizen for what?"
Malaysia, like Singapore, still retains capital punishment, making it awkward for the Malaysian government to condemn executions in Singapore. Yet clemency appeals from one country to the other are not unheard of; pleading for mercy, after all, occurs outside the courtroom. In death penalty cases, the willingness of the inmate's home country to appeal for clemency and lobby for their citizen's life is key.
"Don't show my mum," Jumai added. Her mother, distraught from the thought of losing her only son in a matter of days, would not take the news well.
Refusing to take action was one thing. But the minister in charge of land development in the east Malaysian state of Sarawak had gone further, saying that Jabing's case should be taken as a lesson to all Sarawakians to abide by the rules of the countries in which they work. It was the ultimate slap in the face to a bewildered, desperate family.
Stressed out and betrayed, Jumai swung into action, calling friends and appealing to anyone and everyone she could think of for support. She spoke to a journalist asking for her response to the minister's callous comments, then turned to me. "Everyone you can tell about this, you tell. Ask them why my own government cannot help my family."
Very often the ones put to death – not just in Singapore, but every country in which the death penalty is retained – are the ones who have run out of people to speak for them. These people tend not to be the big drug lords or evil criminal masterminds. They are, like Jabing, poor, undereducated, and deemed too unimportant to really risk any political discomfort. For Tan Sri Dr James Masing, Jabing's life is not even worth a letter from the Sarawak government pleading for a reprieve.
"Can you write for me? Write in English on my Facebook," Jumai asked me before I left her at the hostel for the evening. "Ask the government to help Jabing."
I wrote a line, then another. But Jumai wasn't satisfied. "You have more ideas?" she pleaded, pointing at the screen. "Add more, please."
Last-ditch efforts are still being made to save Jabing. We continue to urge people – particularly Singaporeans – to write in to the President, Prime Minister and Law Minister of Singapore, asking them to grant clemency to Kho Jabing.
Jumai understands that hope is slim, but also knows that everything we can do will be done to try to save Jabing. The Sarawak government, though, has done far less, and it was this knowledge – confirmed so brutally today – that left her with a painful sense of desertion.