Malaysia: Repeal of Mandatory Death Penalty Should Be a First Step Towards Full Abolition

The announcement today that the mandatory death penalty will be abolished for 11 offences should be considered Malaysia’s first step towards total abolition of the death penalty.
“The government has sadly reneged on its earlier commitment to abolish the death penalty in totality, but we urge the government to keep its promise to abolish the death penalty once and for all at the soonest opportunity,” Amnesty International Malaysia Executive Director Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu said today. 
On 13 March 2019, Deputy Minister in charge of Law Mohamed Hanipa Maidin announced to Parliament that the Government is proposing to introduce sentencing discretion for 11 offences under the Penal Code and Firearms (Increased Penalties) Act 1971, which currently carry the mandatory death penalty. The change would leave the imposition of the death penalty at the hands of judges.
“The disappointing decision today seems to suggest that abolishing the mandatory death penalty is a watered-down compromise where the government appears to have bowed to political and public pressure to retain the death penalty. The government must reconsider. The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment that does not have a place in civilized society,” Shamini said.
It is expected that bills to abolish the mandatory death penalty will be tabled in Parliament in the current sitting which ends on 11 April.
“The abolition of the mandatory death penalty will be a critical change in Malaysian law that will lead to advances in the protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty. The introduction of full discretion at sentencing would allow judges to consider the individual circumstances of the offender as well as of the offence while taking into consideration any mitigating factors. This could potentially lead to a decrease in the number of death sentences imposed. However, this does not go far enough in bringing about the stated goal of abolition and should be a very first step in the direction,” Shamini said. 
Whether mandatory or discretionary, the death penalty does not serve as a deterrent nor does it reduce crime.
“The criminal justice system in any country is far from perfect, and mistakes can and will happen. Instances of wrongful executions could happen and would be an egregious error. The death penalty is irreversible in its nature, it is a punishment that perpetuates the cycle of violence into society. It is imposed and administered through justice systems that can be vulnerable to discrimination and error – particularly when safeguards protecting against use of torture or other ill-treatment to extract confessions from defendants are lacking. It perpetuates the cycle of violence it seeks to stop in society, while studies consistently show that it has no unique deterrent effect on crime,” Shamini said. 
Amnesty International Malaysia opposes the death penalty unconditionally as a violation of the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and as the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.
“The government must stay the course and abolish the death penalty once and for all. The full abolition of the death penalty would be an exemplary move for Malaysia’s commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights and will resonate widely in the Southeast Asian region where we believe Malaysia could emerge as a leader in human rights.”
Amnesty International Malaysia also calls on the Government and prison authorities across the country to maintain the moratorium on all executions established in July 2018.
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