On the 14th World Day Against the Death Penalty, Oct 10, 2016, Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet) urges Malaysia to expedite the abolition of the death penalty, and to impose a moratorium on all executions against the death penalty.
Malaysia - on track toward abolition
Nancy Shukri, the then-minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, did say that she hoped to take her proposal to amend the Penal Code and abolish the mandatory death sentence to the Dewan Rakyat as early as March 2016. (The Malay Mail, Nov 17, 2015)
A few days before that, attorney-general Apandi Ali said he will propose to the cabinet that the mandatory death penalty be scrapped, so that judges are given the option to choose between sentencing a person to jail or the gallows. (The Malaysian Insider, Nov 13, 2016)
Malaysia was accorded a space of importance at the recent 6th World Congress Against the Death Penalty, organised in Oslo (Norway) from June 21 to 23, 2016, where the then-de facto law minister, Nancy Shukri, was expected make a positive announcement about Malaysia’s intention to abolish the death penalty.
Sadly, the minister could only confirm that Malaysia was still moving in that direction, but she could not be more specific about exactly when these proposed amendments would be tabled in Parliament.
Nancy told the World Congress that a government-backed study on the death penalty had been completed and a paper is being readied by the Attorney-General’s Chambers. The study was conducted by the International Centre For Law and Legal Studies (I-CeLLS). The consultant was then Professor Dr Roger Hood, Professor of Criminology and Emeritus Fellow of All Souls College Oxford. (The Star, June 22, 2016)
The minister also told Malaysiakini on the sidelines of the Sixth World Congress that the study had been completed about two months ago. (Malaysiakini, July 10, 2016)
Death penalty is no deterrent
Nancy Shukri had previously also said that empirical studies showed that the death penalty had not led to “the deterring effect that such a penalty was created”. (The Star, June 22, 2016)
This was consistent with the facts the then-home minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, revealed to the Malaysian Parliament in March 2012, which showed that police statistics for the arrests of drug dealers under Section 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952, which carries the mandatory death penalty, for the past three years (2009 to 2011) have shown an increase.
In 2009, there were 2,955 arrested under this section. In 2010, 3,700 people were arrested, whilst in 2011, there were 3,845 arrested. (Free Malaysia Today, March 19, 2012, ‘Death penalty not deterring drug trade’)
Malaysian Crime Prevention Foundation vice-chairperson Lee Lam Thye also did note in July 2013 that the death sentence had not deterred the drug trade.
Cases like that of Malaysian Umi Azlim Mohamad Lazim, 24, a graduate from a poor Malay family of rice farmers, and young Malaysian Yong Vui Kong who were once facing death for drug trafficking overseas, who since then had their sentences commuted, have opened the eyes of most Malaysians to the fact that many of the persons facing the death penalty for drug trafficking are really ‘mules’, many of whom are young people who have been tricked, or those who are financially disadvantaged.
They are certainly not the kingpins of drug trafficking, and certainly do not deserve to be hanged.
Mandatory death penalty
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.
Likewise, the Firearms (Increased Penalties) Act 1971 provides for the mandatory death penalty if firearms are discharged with intent to cause death or hurt to any person, shall, notwithstanding that no hurt is caused for offences like extortion, robbery, kidnaping, house breaking or house trespass, and such mandatory death penalty would also increase the risk the death of victims and/or potential witnesses.
It is all the more important for the mandatory death penalty be abolished where no hurt/death results.
The mandatory death penalty must be totally abolished, and considering Malaysia is on the verge of abolishing the death penalty, especially the mandatory death penalty, it was most disturbing that Malaysia in 2016 have executed 4 persons, who were convicted for murder which carried the mandatory death penalty.
Gunasegar Pitchaymuthu, Ramesh Jayakumar and Sasivarnam Jayakumar were executed on March 25, 2016, whilst Ahmad Najib Aris was executed less than three weeks ago on Sept 23, 2016.
Immediate moratorium on all executions needed now
We recall that Edmund Bon Tai Soon, Malaysia’s current Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) representative, was reported saying ‘...Malaysia’s moratorium, I understand, is only for drug trafficking cases...’ (The Star, July 10, 2015). It must be noted that Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam), also did reiterate on March 29, 2016 their recommendation that a moratorium on the use of the death penalty be put in place in Malaysia.
Madpet believes that there must a moratorium on executions of everyone, not just those convicted for drug trafficking.
Why the delay in the tabling of these amendments?
Madpet notes that Malaysia informed us that the study was completed in early April or May 2016, and all that is needed if for the Attorney-General’s Chambers to draft and thereafter submit the proposed amendments to be tabled by the government in Parliament, which we hope will happen soon in the upcoming Parliamentary session this October 2016.
Madpet urges Azalina Othman Said, who replaced Nancy Shukri in mid-July as the new de facto Law Minister, will expedite the tabling of the much needed amendments that will abolish the death penalty.
Madpet also urges that Malaysia to announce a moratorium on all executions, not just for drug trafficking, pending the tabling of amendments, that would see the abolition of mandatory death penalty, and hopefully also the abolition of the death penalty. As of May 16, 2016, there are 1,041 persons on death row.
Madpet also urges Malaysia to vote in favour of the upcoming United Nations General Assembly Resolution calling for a moratorium of executions pending abolition of the death penalty, or at the very least record a vote of abstention.
Madpet reiterates its urging for Malaysia to abolish the death penalty, and hopes that by the next World Day Against the Death Penalty, Malaysia will proudly stand amongst countries that have abolished the death penalty.
CHARLES HECTOR is coordinator, Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet).