Giving false hope? A tired nonsensical allegation against lawyer M Ravi

“Mr M Ravi’s actions were later criticised by senior lawyers as ‘publicity stunts’ that were cruel because they gave Shanmugam’s family false hope.”

The above was carried in a report by the Straits Times on 1 March 2012. (Picture, above.) The report, by Fiona Low and Tham Yuen-C, was headlined: “Fewer criminals sent to the gallows”. The above quote refers to the case of Shanmugam Murugesu who was sentenced to and hanged in 2005 for trafficking in more than 1kg of cannabis, which entailed mandatory death under Singapore’s laws.

The remarks by the “senior lawyers” referred to by the Straits Times which, by the way, saw it fit to repeat such unfounded allegations, were swiftly rebutted by the late clinical psychologist, Anthony Yeo. Of course, the Straits Times does not mention this at all. Mr Yeo had said – in a letter to the Straits Times in 2006 which the Straits Times declined to publish:

“It would appear from the reaction of the various legal colleagues that M Ravi was seeking publicity for personal gains in his attempts to be part of a concerted effort to appeal for clemency from the President. My observations informed me otherwise.The efforts of M. Ravi has been aimed at helping the two sons and other of Shanmugam Murugesu to garner support for a last ditch attempt at having the death sentence be reduced to life imprisonment. This laudable involvement of M. Ravi should be applauded…”

Mr Yeo went on:

“It has also been said that getting the sons and mother involved in the process could be damaging to them as M. Ravi would be giving them false hopes as claimed by the various lawyers. This is a rather unfair criticism as M. Ravi did not act alone although he had invested much time for this cause at his personal expense. As a mental health professional it is my belief that no one should be denied the opportunity to have hope of any kind. By involving the sons in the appeals they were given the opportunity to do whatever they could to fight for their father’s life. This can only help with their grief as the death sentence of their father can only become a life sentence for them as they will have to live with the stigma of being sons of a condemned man for the rest of their lives. At least now the sons can release their father without any need to suffer the guilt of having done nothing for him in a situation they have absolutely no control over.”

Mr Yeo’s explanation, coming as it did from a well-known and highly-respected mental health professional, has been entirely ignored by the Straits Times. Instead, much credence is given to “senior lawyers” who have no professional expertise whatsoever in psychological matters, or who do not have any substantiation to the charges they make against Mr M Ravi – save for some vague and rather juvenile allegations which are most unbecoming of professional lawyers.

I have known Ravi for some years now, since being part of the campaign to save Yong Vui Kong. Ravi has become a close personal friend of mine, and one whom I have the utmost respect and admiration for. The personal challenges and trials that he goes through with each capital case he undertakes make the charge of doing it as “publicity stunts” laughable. It can only come from several quarters – those who have an axe to grind with Ravi (for whatever reasons), those who feel inadequate in their own work, those who do not even bother to find out what motivates Ravi (such as those at the Straits Times), or those who simply dislike the man (again, for whatever reasons).

But having known Ravi and having spent time with the man, I know that Ravi does what he does for one simple reason: he believes in the sanctity of life, besides being a (spiritual) man of great compassion. These are the sides which the public does not see and will not understand.

Not everyone here in Singapore does things for personal gain, or for political reasons, or for fame and fortune. Indeed, there is no fame or fortune to be gained in what Ravi does. Instead, it is infamy and loss that he receives for doing the work that he truly believes in. If it is fame and fortune he seeks, he could easily uproot and seek it elsewhere, at a bigger stage.

But Ravi will not let these foolish accusations and allegations stop him from doing what he does, because this is his home and we are his people. And as such, his heart is here.

It is because of his tireless work that in 2010, there were no executions in Singapore.

Now, which lawyer whose clients are on death row would say that Ravi is giving his client “false hope”? Which of them would say this to the families of those on death row?

Which lawyer would tell their client on death row today that he should have been hanged two years ago, or even one year ago, and that that would have been better?

What utter nonsense.

On the contrary, as Anthony Yeo pointed out, the delay in execution gives the convict and his family precious time to reconcile and come to terms with what is the ultimate, irreversible punishment.

It therefore stumps me that anyone would even think of hurling such accusations against Ravi.

And as lawyers, is it not their job also to do whatever they can for their clients? And to do so with full conviction and effort?

Instead of mumbling some mumbo jumbo about “publicity stunts”, lawyers would do well to take a leaf from Ravi’s book. They should be as courageous as he has been and fight for what they truly believe in. If they prefer not to, then please let them go back to their nice offices, take  a seat, bow their heads and cover their ears and eyes.

For those who, like Ravi, carry on the difficult path of effecting change, let them continue.

For it is only those with conviction, courage and steadfast beliefs that will change things for the better.

Change has never been effected by those who are envious, jealous or who whine about what others are trying to change.

Understand this and one will understand what Ravi is trying to do.

And I stand with him, on this matter of the mandatory death penalty (MDP). It is one of the most flawed pieces of legislations in our book.

And oh, the Straits Times report mentioned above did not even squeak a word about the MDP, which is the main thing that M Ravi has been challenging. So, if the Straits Times can’t even get this fundamental point right, it should stop repeating the tired, nonsensical allegations against M Ravi.

If it doesn’t, it would tell you lots, wouldn’t it?


M Ravi has been trying to save Yong Vui Kong since 2009. Vui Kong was scheduled to hang on 4 December 2009. It has been more than 2 years since then and Vui Kong is still on death row at Changi Prison. Those are two precious years for Vui Kong and his family, which they never thought they would have, until M Ravi came along. And because of the constitutional challenges that Ravi brought before the court, there were no hangings in 2010, giving all on death row a sort of reprieve or unofficial moratorium. More importantly, it gives them precious time with families. 


6 thoughts on “Giving false hope? A tired nonsensical allegation against lawyer M Ravi

  1. It is so frustrating when people accuse Ravi or other campaigners of giving the family “false hope”, as if the death penalty is some terminal illness. The death penalty is an archaic punishment inflicted by Man, and if there is the will, it can be removed. Therefore, why are we blaming people for trying all avenues and possibilities instead of giving up?

  2. Straits Times did not name the lawyers and we should give the senior lawyers the benefit of a doubt that they did not say what ST said they said.

    What I am disappointed is the inactivity of the Singapore Law Society concerning the death penalty and so many other important issues concerning our country.

  3. Thanks Andrew for this article, giving a much-needed rejoinder to redress a rather one-sided passage which is unfairly critical of M. Ravi.

    I note that ST, in mentioning at the end of the passage that “senior lawyers” were critical of M. Ravi’s actions (indicating perhaps ST’s own view of M. Ravi’s actions?), did not consider including the qualifying word “some” to “senior lawyers”.

    Good that you have reminded us of the opinion of noted clinical psychologist, Anthony Yeo that M. Ravi’s efforts should in fact be “applauded”. I agree. By the way, I am a senior lawyer myself.

    As regards M. Ravi’s efforts as a whole, the table of executions 1991-2011 shows zero executions in 2010 – an unprecedented aberration in the death toll. This life-extending moratorium is a direct result of M. Ravi’s actions.

  4. While Ravi’s intentions may be laudable, I fail to see how his actions benefit anyone other than his client’s family. If Ravi wants to save even more life, he should dedicate himself to preventing people from committing crimes that carry the MDP in the first place.

  5. Don’t be an idiot. There is no hanging not because of Mr Ravi. The author has an admiration for the lawyer which is a bias judgement of character. And even Jean can get in on this. Disappointing.

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