Delay in abolishing death penalty delays justice in Altantuya case

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Graphic: freemalaysiatoday

Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet) is saddened by the delay in the abolition of the death penalty, which would also most likely delay justice in the case of Altantuya Shaariibuu, the Mongolian mother of two.

Altantuya was murdered and her body was blown up in a forest with explosives in 2006.

Sirul Azhar Umar and Azilah Hadri, who were then serving as Najib’s personal security detail at the time of the murder, were arrested and convicted for the murder by the High Court.

In 2013 the Court of Appeal overturned the convictions and both were released.

The Federal Court in January 2015 allowed the appeal by the prosecution, and the murder conviction and death sentence was restored. Murder carries the mandatory death penalty.

A co-accused, former political analyst Abdul Razak Baginda, a confidant of then Deputy Prime Minister Najib Razak, was acquitted in 2008 without his defence being called on a charge of abetting Azilah and Sirul. The prosecution did not appeal the acquittal.

Najib, at the time of the murder was the Deputy Prime Minister, and in March 2009 he became the Prime Minister. His tenure lasted until the last general election in May 2018, when Umno-Barisan Nasional was defeated and a new Pakatan Harapan government was formed.

Sirul Azhar, after his release by the Court of Appeal, left for Australia, and he did not turn up for the Federal Court hearing, which again sentenced him to death. Since 2015 he has been detained at the Immigration and Border Protection Department’s facility in Sydney.

In 2015 Sirul was reported saying, ‘”I was under orders. The important people with motive (to commit murder) are still free,” he said in a phone interview published in Malaysiakini (Straits Times, 18 February 2015).

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This raised serious doubts that the individual(s) who ordered the Altantuya’s killing or paid for it may still be at large. Australia, which is an abolitionist state, will not send Sirul back to Malaysia, knowing that he may be hanged if he returns to Malaysia.

So it is good that the current Malaysian cabinet has decided to abolish the death penalty, and all that needs to be done is the passing of bills in Parliament to abolish the death penalty.

Hopefully, this will result in the death sentence of all on death row being commuted. This will also enable Sirul to be brought back to Malaysia. His evidence may be vital for the successful prosecution of any other remaining perpetrators to finally happen.

In a recent United Nations General Assembly resolution calling for a moratorium on executions pending the abolition of the death penalty, Malaysia, consistent with the new government’s declared position for the first time voted in favour of the resolution.

The Altantuya case has also made us aware that there may be others out there still free who may have ordered or paid for some other person to commit murder. As such, justice is not yet fully achieved. All these other persons who ordered or paid for such murders should also be identified, prosecuted, convicted and sentenced.

In any criminal trial, it is of no use for a person who was involved in the commission of the crime to confess or plead guilty. Most will exercise their right to silence until all appeals are exhausted.

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These individuals may also be subject to threats against themselves and their family members by those who ordered or paid them to kill. Those who admit they killed because they were paid to kill are still guilty of murder – so there is little reason to speak up and identify other accomplices who have not yet been identified or prosecuted

When the death penalty – better still, any mandatory life-in-prison sentence – is abolished, the courts will then have the ability to impose a lower prison term for any or all who cooperated in making sure all others involved are also identified and prosecuted. This would be another mitigating factor that the courts can consider while always ensuring that a just sentence is imposed.

The abolition of the death penalty is needed to prevent the ‘innocent’ from being wrongly killed; there is always the risk of a miscarriage of justice, which could be due to lawyers, prosecutors, police, judges, court procedures and many other factors.

It has been shown in Malaysia, that the death penalty, even if mandatory, does not deter crime.

Further, it is against religious values, even Islam, as death in Malaysia is not provided for under Islamic laws but under civil laws, and the trial itself does not comply with Islamic evidential and procedural requirements.

Note, that in Islam, even for murder, execution is a possibility as there is ‘diyat’ (diya), where compensation and forgiveness from the victim’s family can save a murderer from death. This suggests that repentance or forgiveness from victims is important; so it is not simply punishment meted out if you are are involved in crime.

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In Malaysia, for a long time, the lack of political will and strength by the government, despite the global trend towards abolition, may have kept the death penalty in our law books. The government’s fear of doing the right or of a possible loss of political support is pathetic. Hopefully, this new Pakatan Harapan, unlike its predecessor, will not weaken and backtrack on its decision to abolish the death penalty.

Many expected that the relevant bills leading to the abolition of the death penalty would have been tabled at the last parliamentary session in 2018. The hope now is that it will be tabled in the upcoming parliamentary session starting on 11 March 2019.

It is sad that some have been calling for the retention of the death penalty.

They may simply be those who are unaware of the just reasons for abolition.

They may simply be opposing because this was the decision of the current government, and as such it may be just a political strategy rather than one based on justice or values.

They may also be people who fail to also appreciate the suffering of the children and the families when a parent or sibling is executed.

They fail to appreciate that even the mandatory death penalty has failed to reduce murder or drug trafficking in Malaysia.

Therefore, Madpet calls on the Malaysian government to:

  • ensure that all those, if any, who ordered or paid for the murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu are identified and prosecuted. The abolition of the death penalty will also make it less likely for accomplices (including those who ordered or paid others to carry out the crime) to escape justice. Those already caught or convicted will more likely assist in the investigations, if such assistance can affect or reduce sentences
  • immediately, preferably during this upcoming parliamentary session beginning in March 2019, to bravely table the relevant bills for the abolition of the death penalty
  • to immediately commute the death sentences of all those on death row, numbering aabout 1,267 in July 2018

Charles Hector issued this statement on behalf of Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet).

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