On 10 October 2016, the 14th World Day against the Death Penalty, Malaysians Against Death Penalty And Torture (Madpet) called on Malaysia to expedite the abolition of the death penalty and to impose a moratorium on all executions against the death penalty.
Malaysia – on track towards 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 (Malay Mail, 17 November 2015).
A few days before that, Attorney General Apandi Ali said he woud 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, 13 November 2015).
Malaysia was accorded a space of importance at the recent sixth World Congress Against the Death Penalty, organised in Oslo, Norway on 21-23 June 2016 where the de facto minister of law, Nancy Shukri, was expected to 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, 22 June 2016).
The minister also told Malaysiakini at the sidelines of the sixth world congress that the study had been completed about two months ago (Malaysiakini, 10 July 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, 22 June 2016).
This was consistent with the facts the then Home Minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, revealed to 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, 19 March 2012, ‘Death penalty not deterring drug trade’).
Malaysian Crime Prevention Foundation vice-chairperson Lee Lam Thye also noted 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, kidnapping, 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 mandatory death penalty to 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, executed four persons, who were convicted for murder, which carried the mandatory death penalty. Gunasegar Pitchaymuthu, Ramesh Jayakumar and Sasivarnam Jayakumar were executed on 25/3/2016, whilst Ahmad Najib Aris was executed less than 3 weeks ago on 23/9/2016.
Immediate moratorium on all executions needed now
We recall that Edmund Bon Tai Soon, Malaysia’s current Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Right, representative, was reported as saying, “Malaysia’s moratorium, I understand, is only for drug trafficking cases…’ (The Star, 10 July 2015).
It must be noted that the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam), also did reiterate on 29 March 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 of 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 is 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, who replaced Nancy Shukri in mid-July as the new de facto minister of law, to expedite the tabling of the much needed amendments that will abolish the death penalty.
Madpet also urges Malaysia to announce a moratorium on ALL executions, not just for drug trafficking, pending the tabling of amendments, that would see the abolition of the mandatory death penalty and hopefully the abolition of the death penalty. As of 16 May 2016, there were 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 to record a vote of absention.
Madpet reiterates its call 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 released this statement on behalf of Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture.