Malaysiakini
LETTER

Why the delay in abolishing death penalty?

Charles Hector

Published
Modified 10 Oct 2018, 9:03 am

LETTER | Today, on the 16th World Day Against the Death Penalty, Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet) wants to remind the Malaysian government that it has yet to make good its promise to abolish the mandatory death penalty in Malaysia.

In the Pakatan Harapan manifesto, it was clearly stated that “The Pakatan Harapan government will revoke the following laws: Sedition Act, Prevention of Crime Act 1959…Mandatory Death by Hanging in all Acts…”

Currently in Malaysia, the death penalty is mandatory for about 12 offences, while about 20 other offences are punishable by a discretionary death penalty.

Murder and drug trafficking carry the mandatory death penalty but many of these mandatory death penalty offences do not even involve in death or grievous injuries to victims.

The effect of abolishing the mandatory death penalty will restore judicial discretion when it comes to sentencing. Judges will thereafter be able to evaluate each and every convicted person and determine what the just and fair sentence should be, after taking into account all factors and circumstances.

The mandatory death penalty is undemocratic as it violates the democratic principle of separation of powers. The legislature (Parliament) has robbed the judiciary of their rightful role and power when it comes to sentencing.

When a law provides for just one mandatory sentence, in this case death, judges on finding a person guilty of the said offence, have no choice but to sentence the convicted to death, even if he/she does not justly deserve to be hanged to death.

Many of the politicians and political parties that are now in power, previously in opposition, were always for the abolition of the death penalty, but now when in power, it is disappointing to see that they are procrastinating.

Further, it must be reminded that they are yet to make good their election promise to repeal all laws that provide for ‘Mandatory Death by Hanging…’, which was a decision and commitment of all the four Pakatan Harapan parties.

As reported by The Star on June 28, there are 1,267 people on death row or 2.7% of the prison population of about 60,000 people. Thirty five executions took place from 2007 to 2017

The death penalty in Malaysia currently is provided for secular or ordinary laws, not in Islamic law.

As such, there is no reasonable justification for any Muslim in Malaysia to oppose abolition of the death penalty on the grounds that Islam allows death penalty for certain specified offences.

In Islam, there is a strict requirement to comply with Islamic Criminal Procedure and Evidential requirements. Even then, in Islam, there are ways that the death penalty can be avoided.

As the Acts that now provide for death penalty in Malaysia are in the secular law, politicians and their parties that use the argument that Islam allows for the death penalty to oppose the abolition, are very wrong. They need to demonstrate leadership, not fear.

The "best interest of the child" is certainly best served by incarceration of a parent, sibling or relative rather than having them hung to death by the state.

Malaysia, who has ratified the Child Rights Convention, has an obligation to do what is in the best interest of the child, and as such, this is yet another reason why the death penalty must be abolished.

The possibility of miscarriage or failure of justice in the implementation of the death penalty is irreversible and irreparable. This is yet another reason why the death penalty needs to be abolished.

We recall the words of the then minister in the prime minister’s department Nazri Abdul Aziz, who said “No criminal justice system is perfect. You take a man’s life and years later, you find out that another person did the crime. What can you do?”(as quoted in The Star on Aug 29, 2010)

In the Malaysian context today, it would have been great injustice if the two convicted for the murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu had been hanged, for then it may result in others involved escaping justice.

Likewise in other cases where perpetrators may still be at large, yet to be arrested, charged and tried.

Abolition of the death penalty is an ineluctable global trend as 106 countries had abolished the death penalty in law for all crimes by the end of 2017 while 142 countries had abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

Malaysia, embarrassingly, is amongst the few countries who still retains the out-dated penalty and carry out executions.

In 2018, Malaysia, under Umno-BN, brought into effect the abolition of the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking.

It has been about five months since the formation of the Pakatan Harapan-led government, but we have yet to see bills being tabled that will lead to the abolition of the death penalty.

Our hope is that we will see this happening in the next Parliamentary session or at least by the end of the year.

Being a reformist government, Malaysia needs to make rehabilitation and second chances the principal considerations in sentencing.

Madpet also calls for immediate moratorium of all executions pending the abolition of the death penalty.


This letter is written on behalf of Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet).

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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