An appeal to review the death penalty

The overwhelming injustice that confronts the poor and the disempowered needs to be urgently tackled before the judiciary hands down further death sentences, says Syerleena Abdul Rashid.

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The Malaysian system of criminal law and punishment needs further scrutiny and must be questioned.

Imprisonment, the whole penal system and most importantly, the death penalty should be reviewed. There is without a doubt that people who commit crimes and offences must be punished as this is retribution for their misdeeds. It is widely accepted that when a criminal suffers pain, physically or emotionally, that must or might equate to the wrongdoings he or she may have committed – and justice is served.

But how feasible is the death penalty in curbing crimes? And how can the system ensure the evidence provided was not tampered with or that cases were thoroughly investigated to ensure a person was given a fair trial and therefore given the right judgment?

These are ethical question that examine the morality and logic of such a punishment. There are obvious elements that influence people to go against individual rights and commit crimes that violate existing laws. Issues such as poverty and education have always been highlighted as one of the main causes of such behaviour. Calls to implement Hudud or Sharia laws by conservative Islamists do not solve the problem; ignoring the problem will be an unhealthy step in understanding human welfare and the rights of every man, woman and child.

According to Amnesty International, in 2012, there were approximately 900 inmates sitting in death row in Malaysian prisons. The actual number for 2013/2014 is vague as our government is not transparent. The Malaysian government is known for its secrecy in releasing such data especially relating to the death penalty. So we can only assume that the numbers have increased.

Malaysians must understand the complexity of this situation, especially when there are so many reported cases of injustice and police abuse. Our prisons are filled with inmates who were not just guilty of the crimes they committed but were unable to obtain a reputable defence lawyer due to financial difficulties or simply were too uneducated to acquire basic language skills needed to communicate effectively in court.

The overwhelming injustice that confronts the poor, the illiterate, the racially discriminated and racially profiled needs to be urgently addressed before the judiciary can hand down further death sentences to Malaysians and citizens of other nations who were unfortunate to be thrown in Malaysian prisons, who although they may have committed crimes but these may not have been severe enough crimes to warrant the death sentence.

Our courts are also perceived by some to favour the affluent and the politically connected. There are too many reported cases that suggest this.

On 7 February 2014, P Chandran will be executed for a crime he committed over 11 years ago. His unfortunate death, if his family had failed to repeal his sentence, would mark a dark moment for Malaysians who respect human rights and believe that the rehabilitated should be given another chance.

Syerleena Abdul Rashid, an Aliran member, is a water sports instructor and part-time postgraduate student in tourism development.

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