During our first telephone conversation, lawyer Kitson Foong seemed suspicious of me. He was also reluctant to provide me with information I needed for a story about his clients, three Mexican brothers imprisoned on drug charges in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Foong has been defending the brothers since last January, but the brothers have been in prison for three years. They had been arrested in a raid outside of a meth lab. In the raid, police seized 64 pounds of meth valued at $15 million. In Malaysia, trafficking more than 15 grams of heroin or cocaine leads to death by hanging.
Over the phone, I set up an appointment to meet Foong in Bangsar village in Kuala Lumpur.
“Is this a safe neighborhood?” I asked him.
“My dear, this is the Beverly Hill of Malaysia,” replied Foong in a British accent. Foong had studied Law in London for four years.
Kitson Foong was very different in person than on the phone. Malaysian by birth, Chinese by race, Foong turned out to be a very energetic and passionate attorney. He had over twenty years of experience.
At a Starbucks in Bangsar village, we talked for hours.
He told me he’d initially distrusted me because another Mexican reporter has caused his clients a lot of harm by linking the three brothers to Mexican cartels.
The judge in charge of the case, Mohamed Zawawi, who is known as the ‘hanging judge’ made this leap of logic: Mexicans in a meth Lab means Mexican cartels are trying to extend into Asia. All that Malaysians see on the news about Mexico are stories about the number of people killed in the drug war, said Foong.
Foong calls the three brothers from Culiacán, México ‘my kids’. He says they were hired to work as cleaners not dealers.
“Could you imagine how the mother of Regino, Luis and Simon (González Villarreal) will feel if they are hanged on the same day, one after another? Oh my God! I do not want to imagine that!” Foong says, covering his face with his hands.
“Do you really believe in their innocence?” I ask him
People are arrested based on evidence, but in this case, 2/3 of the drugs found in the lab have gone missing. Seven of the materials found in the lab were altered. Without this evidence, there is no case, he stresses.
In addition, one of the three police officers involved in the drug theft committed suicide when Police caught him.
There is a long way to go in the defense of the three Mexican brothers. The case could take four to five years to close.
“Are you willing to go all the way to the end for this case?”
“I will do it!” he says with absolute certainty.
Lawyer Foong is defending the three brothers for free. He isn’t charging them anything.
I ask him, “Why are you defending these three brothers from a country you don’t know?
Nobody else in Malaysia cares about them.
“I imagine how I would feel if something happened to me in another country. I think of their mother too. Their parents don’t even have the money to come see them.”
He shows me the letters and drawings sent to the brothers by their family and kids in Culiacán.
“I am the only one that visits them every week.”
Speaking to lawyer Foong for two days is like taking a big bottle of vitamins. His great commitment, his passionate defense of his client and him compassion leave me very inspired.
I never expected to find this kind of inspiration in a country so far away from my homeland – a country whose laws seem strange and rigid.
I do not know if lawyer Foong will be able to save the three Mexican brothers, but I am sure he and his team of lawyers will do all that is humanly possible to save these men from death by hanging.
Editor: Maria Ginsbourg, journalism graduate from San Francisco State University.
Araceli Martínez Ortega is a Mexican journalist who has lived in California in the last nine years. This collaboration is about her personal journey through Las Americas and wherever she goes.