In 2018, Singapore hung 13 people—its highest number of executions since 2003. We Believe In Second Chances is a youth-led NGO that advocates against capital punishment in Singapore and provides support for family members of death row inmates.
“My journey in advocacy began 10 years ago. I came to know of Yong Vui Kong, a Malaysian boy who had been sentenced to death for drug trafficking. He was 18 years old (the same age as I) when he was charged. I didn’t condone his actions but I couldn’t stop thinking how differently his life would have turned out if he had had the opportunities I had.
“I co-founded We Believe In Second Chances in 2010 as a campaign to help save Vui Kong. But as we started studying other cases that involved the death penalty, our conviction strengthened. It is unjust to impose the mandatory death penalty on anyone because such sentences don’t permit for mitigating circumstances to be taken into account. There’s also a limit as to how far a punishment may go—and the death penalty crosses that limit. Also, the possibility of a wrongful conviction cannot be ruled out. We felt strongly against the death penalty and started advocating for the abolishing of the death penalty and a moratorium on its use in Singapore.
“Through Second Chances, I also want to help create a community of support for the families of death row inmates. They are often alone in this process. Family members live with the agony and fear of not knowing when the final hour of their loved one on death row will be. As one of them has shared with me, ‘When you pass the death sentence on an accused, you effectively also pass the death sentence on his family.’ So we want to be there for them to, for example, explain the legal process, grieve with them after the execution, and to assist in making funeral arrangements when required.
“My work with Second Chances inspired me to go to law school. Being equipped with legal knowledge allows me to serve the community in a different capacity, such as through pro bono representation. In 2017, the Presidential elections in Singapore took place. It was hotly discussed, especially in light of the public consultation by the Constitutional Commission to study and recommend on specific aspects of the Elected Presidency. My friends and I decided to organise a forum, which culminated in Let’s Talk Singapore in 2017 to discuss the Elected Presidency.
“I sense that younger Singaporeans do care about social, economic and political issues, especially social mobility and equality. But we lack access to information and knowledge, as well as a safe space to share freely on such issues. Let’s Talk Singapore was set up with these objectives in mind. We were encouraged by the positive response and went on to organise talks on other issues. These included poverty and social inequality, the special status of Malays under our Constitution, and the future of Singapore after former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
“One key challenge we must overcome is advocating in an environment with restrictive laws on freedom of speech and assembly. For one discussion for Let’s Talk Singapore, we had to decide if we had to apply for a permit under the Public Order Act due to the topic. We became worried that our application would be rejected, and we’d have to cancel the event. It was eventually approved, nonetheless, albeit with conditions.
“So why am I still involved with advocacy work? Advocacy work provides me a platform to serve the community, especially marginalised communities that I care for deeply. I believe that advocacy is a necessary step towards chipping away at structural injustices and inequalities, and I am grateful to be standing on the shoulders of many giants in civil society, all of whom have dedicated their lives towards achieving a more equal and just society.”
This story first appeared in the August issue of A.