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LETTER | Removing mandatory death penalty is just the beginning

LETTER | The press statement yesterday by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Parliament and Law) Wan Junaidi Jaafar, announcing the government has agreed to the abolishment of the mandatory death penalty and replacing them with the discretionary power of the courts is indeed a historic decision and a milestone for our country.

I welcome this move. According to the press statement, the cabinet had agreed to this stand during their meeting on June 8, 2022. Despite the present government, and by its extension, the cabinet, is a fragile one, it nonetheless managed to make a bold decision on an issue that attracts passionate debate and with a strong lobby group championing the abolition of the death penalty.

Although this decision is welcomed, especially among the abolitionists, some cautions must be read into the decision. First, it is not recommending the abolishment of the death penalty per se. It is about replacing mandatory sentences with discretionary sentencing, where the death sentence can still be imposed.

There are 33 offences in Malaysia that attract the death penalty. Out of these, 12 are mandatory, and the most commonly used are for murder (section 302 of the Penal Code) and drug trafficking (section 39 (b) of the Dangerous Drugs Act, 1952). The majority of the mandatory death sentences imposed are for drug trafficking, with foreigners and women forming a disproportionate number of those sentenced.

The second caution is that although the cabinet accepts the recommendation made by the Special Committee on Substitute Sentences on the Mandatory Death Penalty, the matter is still subject to scrutiny and study. Thereafter, the relevant laws will need to be amended. This will take time and continuing political will from the government of the day.

I am fully supportive of this decision. However, it will be some time before this decision can be realised. In the meantime, the government should consider granting a moratorium on all mandatory death sentences that have been imposed but not carried out.

ROBERT LAU is a senator and also Sarawak United People's Party assistant treasurer.

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

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