Harapan's unprincipled U-turn on death penalty abolition

N Surendran

Modified 13 Mar 2019, 8:52 am

COMMENT | Today, de facto Deputy Law Minister Hanipa Maidin (below) confirmed that the government will only repeal the mandatory death penalty for 11 offences. Apart from this, the death penalty will remain as a punishment in the country.

This is a complete U-turn from the announcement made by the cabinet in October 2018, in which it decided on the total abolition of the death penalty and gave a public undertaking to this effect.

The reversal of the earlier decision is shocking, unprincipled and embarrassing. This is all the more so as the decision for total abolition had made international headlines and was praised throughout the region and the world.

More seriously, the October 2018 announcement had given hope and relief to thousands of convicted or charged persons and their families. To hold out hope of being spared the gallows, only to have the hope snatched away again is extremely cruel and unjust. 

It is unacceptable for the convicts to be treated in this manner, and it is utterly devastating for their families.

Political expediency

The government's decision is clearly motivated by the fear of a political backlash in the event of total abolition.

We also understand that certain component parties and certain prominent Pakatan Harapan leaders had preferred to keep the death penalty, resulting in this U-turn.

In short, the government sacrificed principle at the altar of political expediency.

There is simply no justification to maintain the death penalty as a punishment. No statistical study has ever proven that the death penalty is a deterrent of serious crime. In the event of a miscarriage of justice, the penalty is irreversible.

In giving in to unjustified pressure and irrational objections, Harapan has failed to display moral leadership, but instead succumbed to moral cowardice.

We strongly urge the government to reverse their decision and table a bill in this session of Parliament to completely abolish the sentence.

Meanwhile, the current moratorium on executions must be maintained pending total abolition of the death penalty in Malaysia.

N SURENDRAN is the adviser for Lawyers for Liberty.

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