Yun Leong had bags under his eyes. He told us he’d been up all night, writing a personal letter to President SR Nathan, pleading for his brother’s life. He was sleep deprived. Had lot his voice. But despite the fatigue, he’d gone and gotten a smart new haircut. He wanted to look his best.
It was a big day for his family. The climax of weeks of hard campaigning. They were going to present 109,346 signatures to Nathan – each one representing an appeal to him to spare their brother, Vui Kong’s life.
We’d arranged to meet at the Starbucks in Plaza Singapura before walking to the Istana. Vui Kong’s lawyer, M Ravi, had informed the press and they were out in force – surrounding the family almost as soon as they arrived. Some reporters were nicer than others. They seemed to understand the family’s pain and approached them with tact and empathy. Others were sorely lacking in EQ. One local journalist couldn’t stop asking irrelevant questions. It was as if the Yongs were there for the sole purpose of helping her write her story.
They couldn’t present the petition at the front gate of the Istana and had to hike to a side entrance a 15 minute walk away. It was a long, sticky, climb, in blazing heat. Along the way, we asked Vui Fung if she thought the President would read the petition, would read the letter she’d spent all night writing a few weeks back.
“I don’t think so,” she said.
“I hope so.”
She’d been following the debate over the President’s powers to grant clemencies in Singapore.
The Istana guards were ready for the family when they arrived. Ravi had made sure to inform them in advance. They quickly accepted the petition and signatures, then a guard curtly told the family, “You may leave now.”
But the Yongs were not done yet. Their father had prepared a simple message for President Nathan, and Yun Leong asked if the guards could help deliver it. “Just a few words,” he said. In effect, it was a single statement – a father’s personal plea for his son’s life. But the guards would not listen.
The old man looked distraught. Datuk Chua Soon Bui, the Sabahan MP accompanying the Yongs tried to convince the guards to just let the father speak. They ignored her. And old Mr Yong and his children did the only thing they felt they could do then.
They knelt down, on the ground… and silently begged. Wept.
They stayed there for several minutes. It was heartbreaking to watch. The family had split up years ago. Now, Vui Kong’s six brothers and sisters, and their father were together again – together, pleading for his life.
Pleading, until the guards came back and chased them all away.