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LETTER | Ending mandatory death sentence – a step in the right direction

LETTER | The government’s recent decision to abolish the mandatory death penalty is indeed a step in the right direction toward completely abolishing the death penalty.

The death penalty will still exist in our system as it would be still available for certain offences subject to the discretion of the courts. This move, however, would probably result in a significant reduction in executions in future.

Most executions worldwide take place in Asia. A survey conducted by the Singaporean Ministry of Home Affairs seems to indicate that more than 80 percent of Singaporean believe that the death penalty should be retained for certain offences. This is an indication that many still believe in capital punishment.

In contrast, European countries, apart from Russia and Belarus, have completely abolished the death penalty. In fact, this is a precondition for countries entering the European Union, and it is also a key objective for the union’s human rights policy.

For supporters of capital punishment, deterrence is probably the most expressed rationale for the death penalty. It is argued that the threat of being executed would deter such people from committing such crimes in future.

However, one will be quick to notice that the introduction of the death penalty in Malaysia for certain offences, such as drug-related offences, did not significantly reduce the number of offences being committed. As such, there is no proof that the death penalty deters criminals.

Some would argue that the death penalty is a form of retribution. Those who have taken the life of another would have to forfeit their own right to life, and therefore, capital punishment is appropriate. In other words, an eye for an eye. The penalty is seen as a moral balance to the wrong done by the criminal.

Reformative justice is a better alternative, as innocent people can be killed in the search for retribution. An eye for an eye sometimes can make the whole world blind. Regardless of the country, a fair criminal justice system does not mean a perfect one. Errors can occur.

The death penalty does not improve public safety, nor does it significantly reduce the crime rates of a country. In fact, some of the safest countries in the world have abolished the death penalty.

The death penalty does not address the root causes of the crime. The execution of Nagaenthran in Singapore, for example, will have very little impact on the criminal syndicate behind drug trafficking. Most people executed are the mules and not the masterminds behind the syndicates; as such death penalty is obviously not a solution here.

As far as murder is concerned, opposing the death penalty that does not mean there is a lack of sympathy for murder victims. In fact, murder itself demonstrates a lack of respect for human life. We are trying to solve violence with more violence. State-authorised killings should be deemed immoral because a society that respects life does not deliberately kill human beings. This is not a solution to difficult social problems.

Ultimately death penalty is cruel and inhuman. It has no place in a civilised society. Punishing criminals should be more focused on rehabilitation. Ending the mandatory death sentence would be the first step in completely abolishing the death penalty. I do hope that we get there one day.

PRABU MANIKAM is a lecturer of Law at the University of Reading Malaysia

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

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