Friday 31 March 2023

ADP Blog is on the move! We have a new home on Twitter...

Dear Readers,

From April 2023, the Asia Death Penalty Blog will have a new home on Twitter. For the most up-to-date Asia death penalty-related news and advocacy, please follow @ADP_Blog_Tweets 

This site will no longer be updated but is kept for legacy purposes. On this site you may view articles posted from February 2006 to February 2023.


يستمر الكفاح

संघर्ष जारी है

perjuangan terus berlanjut


투쟁은 계속된다


مبارزه ادامه دارد


جدوجہد جاری ہے

Cuộc chiến đấu vẫn tiếp diễn

Yours in solidarity,

ADP Blog

Saturday 4 February 2023

Opinion: Myanmar’s junta keeps on killing

Source: The Washington Post (2 February 2023)

In the two years since Myanmar’s generals seized power, they have steered the country into one of the worst human rights disasters on the planet, with mass killings and detentions, torture, sexual violence and attacks on civilians. Attempts to stop them have so far failed — but there is more the United States can do.

On Feb. 1, 2021, Gen. Min Aung Hlaing grabbed power from a parliament elected the previous November in what had been an overwhelming victory for the National League For Democracy, led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. She previously was de facto leader of a nascent democratic government in a power-sharing arrangement with the military. Since the coup, security forces in Myanmar, also known as Burma, have detained more than 17,600 pro-democracy activists, human rights defenders and their supporters and killed more than 2,900 civilians, according to the nongovernmental Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

The military has waged indiscriminate ground and air attacks on civilians in villages. About 1.5 million people have been displaced. Not to be forgotten are the more than 940,000 Rohingya Muslims who fled to neighboring Bangladesh after a scorched-earth campaign the military launched in August 2017. A broad opposition, the National Unity Government, is fighting back, along with numerous ethnic groups.

To spread fear, the junta last year began using the death penalty, executing four political prisoners, the first executions of political prisoners in over three decades. In December, seven students and three others were sentenced to death after sham trials. In total, the junta has put at least 139 people on death row. After closed military trials on politically motivated charges, Aung San Suu Kyi was sentenced to 33 years in prison.

The junta has blocked humanitarian aid from reaching millions in need. A five-point “consensus” plan by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which called for an end to violence and access for humanitarian relief, lies in ruins. The generals have called for an election in August — but with rules that will prolong the military’s control.

Congress recently boosted U.S. efforts to support democratic forces in Myanmar. On Tuesday, the United States, Canada, Britain and Australia imposed a new round of sanctions on the generals, some of them aimed at cutting off supplies of aviation fuel the military uses in aerial attacks on civilians. But the United States and its allies need to do more to liquidate a spider network of businesses and opaque financial deals that sustain the junta, including ties to China and Russia. A new report by the group Justice for Myanmar documented examples in which the junta drew support from 64 foreign governments and organizations. Sanctions and other tools could help take down these networks.

Myanmar’s agony should not slip out of sight. Action now might return the country to the democratic road on which it had previously embarked.

Monday 30 January 2023

165 sentenced to death in 2022, highest in 2 decades | India News – Times of India

Source: The Times of India (30 January 2023)

NEW DELHI: Trial courts in the country sentenced 165 people to death in 2022, the highest in a year in the last two decades. This is up from 146 prisoners who were sent to death row in 2021. In almost a third of the capital punishment cases, the offender had committed a sexual crime.

At the end of 2022, 539 were on death row, the highest since 2016. The population has steadily increased over the years – up 40% in 2022 from 2015. This is attributed to the large number of death penalties handed down by trial courts and the accompanying low rate of disposal of such cases by appellate courts.

These conclusions are part of the ‘Death Penalty in India: Annual Statistics 2022’ published by Project 39A at NLU, Delhi. The death sentence given to 38 people in February 2022 by an Ahmedabad court in the 2008 serial blasts case contributed to the sharp rise in the number in 2022. In 2016, death penalty for sexual offences was given in 27, or 17.6%, of the 153 cases. This number shot up to 52, or 31.5%, out of 165 cases in 2022.

Anup Surendranath, law professor and executive director of Project 39A, says the increased numbers also reflect the growing trend in trial courts. “Trial courts have resumed imposing a high number of death sentences since the dip in 2020 due to the pandemic (which was the lowest at 77),” he said.
This, Surendranath said, is in stark contrast to the Supreme Court’s efforts to highlight the serious problems with the manner in which death penalty sentencing is being carried out. In May last year, the SC held that it was the duty of the trial courts to proactively elicit materials on mitigating circumstances while sentencing in death penalty cases, and issued guidelines for the collection of such information.
Surendranath said, “The Supreme Court acknowledged the necessity for reform and identified a set of crucial questions for determination by a five-judge constitution bench. The ever-widening gap between SC guidance and the trial courts’ blatant disregard for procedural guarantees has been repeatedly established in research by Project 39A.”

Another issue of concern is the increasing number of prisoners on death row. The number has increased from 400 in December 2016 to 539 as of December 2022. The highest number of death row prisoners are in UP (100), followed by Gujarat (61) and Jharkhand (46).

“Appellate courts continue to commute or acquit a majority of the death penalty cases considered by them. But they are disposed of too slowly to match the volume of death sentences coming from trial courts. This results in the death row population increasing each year. All of this highlights the crisis in India’s death penalty regime and forces us to ask the question whether it is a punishment that can ever be administered in a constitutionally acceptable manner,” Surendranath said.

Iran executes more than 50 people so far this year

Source: UCA News (28 January 2023)

Iranian authorities have executed 55 people in 2023, Norway-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) said Friday, adding that the surging use of the death penalty aims to create fear as protests shake the country.

Meanwhile, rights group Amnesty International said three young people sentenced to death over protests -- the youngest aged just 18 -- had been subjected to "gruesome torture" in detention.

IHR said it has confirmed at least 55 executions in the first 26 days of this year.

Four people have been executed on charges related to the protests, while the majority of those hanged -- 37 convicts -- were executed for drug-related offenses, IHR said.

At least 107 people are still at risk of execution over the demonstrations after being sentenced to death or charged with capital crimes, the group added.

With Iran's use of the death penalty surging in recent years, IHR argued that "every execution by the Islamic Republic is political" as the main purpose "is to create societal fear and terror".

"To stop the state execution machine, no execution should be tolerated, whether they be political or non-political," said IHR director Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam.

He added that a lack of reaction from the international community risked lowering "the political cost of executing protesters".

'State-sanctioned killing'

Activists have accused Iran of using the death penalty as an instrument of intimidation to quell the protests which erupted in September following the death of Mahsa Amini, 22, who had been arrested for allegedly violating the country's dress code for women.

UN rights chief Volker Turk has said Iran's "weaponization of criminal procedures" to punish demonstrators "amounts to state-sanctioned killing".

On Friday, Amnesty said three men sentenced to death in December had been subjected to torture "including floggings, electric shocks, being hung upside down and death threats at gunpoint".

They were convicted of inciting arson and vandalism during protests in September in Mazandaran province in Iran's north, Amnesty said in a statement.

Javad Rouhi, 31, suffered torture that included being "sexually assaulted by having ice put on his testicles," Amnesty said.

Mehdi Mohammadifard, 19, was kept for one week in solitary confinement in a mice-infested cell and was raped, leading to "anal injuries and rectal bleeding, which required hospitalization," it said.

Arshia Takdastan, 18, "was subjected to beatings and death threats, including having a gun pointed at his head if he did not 'confess' in front of a video camera".

Surging executions

IHR and other rights groups have yet to publish figures on executions in Iran for 2022.

But IHR said in early December that more than 500 people had been hanged by then -- the highest figure in five years -- while according to its data, at least 333 people were executed in 2021, a 25 percent increase compared to 267 in 2020.

As well as arresting thousands of people, Iranian security forces have also used what campaigners describe as lethal force to crack down on the protests.

IHR said that according to its latest count, security forces have killed at least 488 people, including 64 aged under 18, in the nationwide protests.

Of the 64 children, 10 were girls, it added.

Mohsen Shekari, 23, was executed in Tehran on December 8 for wounding a member of the security forces, while Majidreza Rahnavard, also 23, was hanged in public in Mashhad on December 12 on charges of killing two members of the security forces with a knife.

On January 7, Iran executed Mohammad Mehdi Karami and Seyed Mohammad Hosseini for killing a paramilitary force member in November.

In another high-profile execution, Iran said on January 14 that it had executed British-Iranian dual national Alireza Akbari after he was sentenced to death on charges of spying for Britain. He had been arrested more than two years earlier.

Analysts say demonstrations have subsided since November, but the protest movement still remains a challenge to the Islamic republic under Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Sunday 22 January 2023

Kuwait: leading MEPs deplore mass executions

Source: European Interest (17 November 2022)

Statement by Maria Arena, (S&D, Belgium), Chair of the European Parliament’s subcommittee on human rights and Hannah Neumann, (The Greens/EFA, Germany), Chair of the European Parliament’s delegation for relations with the Arab Peninsula, following seven people being put to death in a mass execution in Kuwait.

“We are deeply dismayed by the mass execution of seven individuals in Kuwait. We reaffirm the European Parliament’s strong opposition to the death penalty at all times and in all circumstances. The use of capital punishment has been consistently condemned by the European Parliament, constituting as it does the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

We wish to express our full support for EU diplomacy and the summoning of the Ambassador of Kuwait. Furthermore, we expect the EU to actively address the recent executions and the death penalty in Kuwait as a matter of priority within the framework of the upcoming EU-Kuwait Human Rights Dialogue.

The resumption of executions in the country is a negative signal coming after no executions in five years. We call upon the Kuwaiti authorities to immediately suspend the death penalty as a step towards its abolition.”

Resolve fate of 1,300 death row prisoners, govt urged

Source: FMT (9 January 2023)

PUTRAJAYA: The Malaysian Bar has urged the government to work with the Pardons Board to ensure that more than 1,300 convicted persons currently on death row are also spared the death penalty.

This follows a statement by law minister Azalina Othman Said last month that Putrajaya will amend laws that carry a mandatory death sentence to allow for alternative sentencing.

Bar president Karen Cheah said these prisoners should not be allowed to linger in prison uncertain of their fate.

At present, there is a moratorium on the execution of death row inmates.

“It is an inhumane way of treating convicts on death row,” she said at a ceremony to mark the opening of the legal year here today.

Cheah said as Malaysia progressed democratically, it must shift away from killing people in the name of justice.

She said these convicts deserve some baseline protection.

“We, therefore, welcome the announcement that the mandatory death penalty will be done away with in respect of 11 offences carrying such sentences, with the discretion as to sentencing returning to the unfettered domain of the judiciary,” she said.

Azalina had said amendment to the penal laws will be tabled at the next session of Parliament.

Cheah said the death penalty is cruel and degrading, and breaches the rights to life and to live free from torture.

She said sentencing should focus on rehabilitation and restoration, adding that the death penalty achieves very little except to satisfy the need for retribution.

“The irreversible, irreparable and non-deterrent nature of the death penalty should in and of itself be sufficient (reason) to abolish the death penalty,” she said.

On another matter, Cheah said that as of November last year, the National Legal Aid Foundation, or YBGK, had assisted 222,361 Malaysians.

It was established in 2012 with the help of the government, which had provided RM5 million to kickstart the programme.

Under the scheme, lawyers assisted the poor and needy by representing them in cases involving arrests, remands, mitigation and bail, trials and appeals.

Cheah said access to justice is the hallmark of a strong presence of the rule of the law in the country.

“The Bar, therefore, seeks to continue facilitating the provision of access to justice by lending the assistance of our members to Malaysians,” she said.

Cheah said it is the duty and responsibility of the government to ensure that access to justice remains strong and present.

“We urge that sufficient resources be made available for this programme to continue to be a success,” she said.

Monday 2 January 2023

Open letter to the President on the moratorium on executions and the abolition of the death penalty

Source: FIDH (29 December 2022)

December 29, 2022

Yoon Suk-yeol
President of the Republic of Korea
22, Itaewon-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul 04383
Republic of Korea

Speaker of the National Assembly Kim Jin-Pyo
National Assembly of the Republic of Korea
1 Uisadang-daero, Yeongdeungpo-gu, Seoul 07233
Republic of Korea
Fax: +82 6788 4351

President of the Constitutional Court Yoo Nam-seok
Constitutional Court of Korea
15 Bukchon-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul 03060
Republic of Korea
Fax: +82 2 708 3566

Prime Minister Han Duck-soo
Office for Government Policy Coordination / Prime Minister’s Secretariat
Government Complex-Sejong
261 Dasom-ro, Sejong-si 30107
Republic of Korea
Fax: +82 44 200 2144

Foreign Minister Park Jin
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
60 Sajik-ro 8-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul 03172
Republic of Korea
Fax: +82 2 2100 7934

Justice Minister Han Dong-hoon
Ministry of Justice
47 Gwanmun-ro, Gwacheon-si, Gyeonggi-do 13809
Republic of Korea
Fax: +82 2 2110 0350

Re: Republic of Korea’s moratorium on executions and the abolition of the death penalty

Dear Mr. President,

We welcome the Republic of Korea’s vote in favor of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly’s resolution 77/222 on December 15, 2022, which called upon states that maintain the death penalty to establish a moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing capital punishment and to consider acceding to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty. We take this opportunity to renew our calls on the Republic of Korea to take further steps towards the complete abolition of the death penalty for all crimes.

The global trend towards the abolition of the death penalty is clear. At the end of 1997, when the Republic of Korea carried out its last execution, there were 102 countries that had abolished the death penalty in law or practice. [1] By the end of 2007, when the Republic of Korea became an abolitionist country in practice, the number of countries that had abolished the death penalty in law or practice jumped to 134. [2] By 31 December 2021, that number further increased to 144. [3]

This global trend is reflected in the voting patterns at the UN General Assembly. In 2007, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 62/149, the first ever biennial resolution on the moratorium on the death penalty, by a 106-46 vote, with 34 abstentions. [4] In December 2020, the Republic of Korea for the first time joined the growing number of countries that supported the UN General Assembly resolution with its vote in favor of resolution 75/183, [5] adopted by a 123-38 vote, with 24 abstentions. Earlier this month, resolution 77/222 [6] was adopted by an all-time high of 125 votes in favor, with 37 votes against and 22 abstentions.

We recall that the use of the death penalty is inconsistent with the Republic of Korea’s international legal obligation to respect fundamental human rights, including the right to life. With 59 persons still on the death row, including one who has been under death sentence since November 1993, the Republic of Korea may also be in breach of its international legal obligation to prevent torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. UN human rights experts have recently reiterated that the “death row phenomenon” (the psychological effects on prisoners of being on death row for a prolonged period while awaiting an imminent execution under harsh conditions of confinement) has long been characterized as a form of inhuman treatment. [7]

We also note that lawmakers have proposed bills to abolish the death penalty in every session of the National Assembly, including the current one, since 1999. [8] The Constitutional Court twice upheld the constitutionality of capital punishment by a 7-2 vote in 1996, and by a 5-4 vote in 2010. However, it now has the opportunity to declare the death penalty unconstitutional in a case pending before it, and to pave the way for its abolition.

We respectfully call on you to immediately take the following steps to make progress towards the abolition of capital punishment, in keeping with the Republic of Korea’s support for the UN General Assembly’s biennial resolution:

Declare an official moratorium on executions.
Commute all death sentences to prison terms.
Repeal or amend all laws that prescribe the death penalty for various criminal offenses, with a view to abolishing capital punishment for all crimes.
Ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.

We also urge the Republic of Korea to stop the extradition or refoulement of persons to countries that retain the death penalty - including the United States, Japan, China, [9] and North Korea [10] - as they could be in danger of being subjected to the death penalty.

We thank you for your attention to this important matter.

Sincerely yours,

Alice Mogwe
President, FIDH

Ethan Hee-Seok Shin
Legal Analyst, Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG)

[1] Amnesty International, The death penalty worldwide: Developments in 1997 (31 March 1998), Index Number: ACT 50/004/1998, pp. 3 and 23;

[2] Amnesty International, The death penalty worldwide: Developments in 2007 (15 April 2008), Index Number: ACT 50/002/2008, APPENDIX 1- LIST OF ABOLITIONIST AND RETENTIONIST COUNTRIES AS OF 1 JANUARY 2008;

[3] Amnesty International, Death sentences and executions 2021 (24 May 2022), Index Number: ACT 50/5418/2022, ANNEX II: ABOLITIONIST AND RETENTIONIST COUNTRIES AS OF 31 DECEMBER 2021;




[7] OHCHR, UN experts warn of associated torture and cruel punishment, 10 October 2022;

[8] ROK National Assembly, Bill for the “Special act to abolish the death penalty” (Bill no. 152463) proposed by 90 members on 7 December 1999;; Bill for the “Special act to abolish the death penalty” (Bill no. 2112795) proposed by 30 members on 7 October 2021,

[9] Kim Ki-Yoon, The killer of a Chinese Public Security officer from 30 years ago who had laundered his identity repatriated, Donga Ilbo, 18 May 2022;

[10] HRW, South Korea Investigates Forcible Return of Two North Koreans: Inquiry Should be Credible, Impartial, Independent, 22 July 2022;

Monday 26 December 2022

9th Resolution for a moratorium on the death penalty: the trend is growing

Source: World Coalition Against the Death Penalty (20 December 2022)

On 15 December 2022, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the 9th resolution for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty with 125 votes in favor (2 more than in 2020), 37 votes against, 22 abstentions and 9 absent.


For the 1st time, 3 countries that had abstained in previous votes voted in favor of the resolution:

These changes in votes reflect ongoing debates in these countries to abolish the death penalty. In 2022, 29 countries in Africa voted in favor of the resolution compared to 17 in 2007.


For the second or third time in a row, the following countries confirmed their support for the resolution:
South Korea

Also, Papua New Guinea moved from a vote against to an abstention (it abolished the death penalty in 2022), and Myanmar from an abstention to a vote in favor.


Since May 2022, the World Coalition and its member organizations have coordinated a campaign to gather more support for the resolution.

Of particular focus this year was the USA, which voted against the resolution for the 9th time. Of concern also the Democratic Republic of the Congo voted against for the 1st time.

Finally, Vanuatu and Venezuela were absent for the 1st time, they had always voted yes before.


With 2 more votes in favor compared to 2020, the resolution has now reached 125 votes. The text of the resolution has also evolved over the years.

The next moratorium resolution, the 10th resolution, will be adopted in December 2024 and the goal will be to reach 2/3 of the United Nations Member States voting in favor.

Sunday 11 December 2022

UN rights chief: Myanmar junta has issued over 130 death sentences in private proceedings

Source: Jurist (4 December 2022)

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk Friday condemned military courts in Myanmar for handing out over 130 death sentences in proceedings not accessible to the public. Seven college students were sentenced to death on November 30, and the UN is working to confirm four additional death sentences against youth activists on December 1. The military continues to hold proceedings in secretive courts in violation of basic principles of fair trial and contrary to core judicial guarantees of independence and impartiality. Military courts have consistently failed to uphold any degree of transparency contrary to the most basic due process or fair trial guarantees.

Myanmar’s National Unity Government, the nation’s democratically elected government in exile, continues to call for aid. In an interview with Radio Free Asia this week, acting President Duwa Lashi La said more than 2,500 people have been killed by the military junta since a coup d’état on February 1, 2021. La also reported that the junta has detained more than 13,000 people, but the UN estimates that figure is closer to 16,500.

On April 21, 2021, The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) agreed to a Five Point Consensus regarding Myanmar. Türk argues that the junta has clearly acted with “disdain” the Consensus, and rights groups like Human Rights Watch believe ASEAN “has failed to fulfill its pledges or take meaningful steps toward pressing the junta to end its human rights violations.”

UN Iran expert concerned about death sentences for protesters

Source: Reuters (30 November 2022)

GENEVA, Nov 29 (Reuters) - A U.N.-appointed independent expert on Iran voiced concern on Tuesday that the repression of protesters was intensifying, with authorities launching a "campaign" of sentencing them to death.

The United Nations says more than 300 people have been killed so far and 14,000 arrested in protests that began after the Sept. 16 death in custody of 22-year-old Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini.

"I'm afraid that the Iranian regime will react violently to the Human Rights Council resolution and this may trigger more violence and repression on their part," Javaid Rehman told Reuters, referring to a UN Human Rights Council vote to establish a probe into the crackdown last week.

Tehran has rejected the investigation and says it will not cooperate.

"Now (authorities) have started a campaign of sentencing (protesters) to death," he added, saying he expected more to be sentenced.

Already, 21 people arrested in the context of the protests face the death penalty, including a woman indicted on "vague and broadly formulated criminal offences", and six have been sentenced this month, Rehman said.

Tehran has rejected the investigation and says it will not cooperate.

"Now (authorities) have started a campaign of sentencing (protesters) to death," he added, saying he expected more to be sentenced.

Already, 21 people arrested in the context of the protests face the death penalty, including a woman indicted on "vague and broadly formulated criminal offences", and six have been sentenced this month, Rehman said.

The U.N. resolution is seen as being among the more strongly-worded in the body's 16-year history and urges the mission to "collect, consolidate and analyse evidence".

Past investigations launched by the council have led to war crimes cases, including the jailing of a Syrian ex-officer for state-backed torture in Germany this year.

Rehman said he expected the new Fact-Finding Mission to provide a list of perpetrators and share that with national and regional legal authorities.

"It will ensure accountability and it will provide evidence to the courts and tribunals," he said. A U.N. document showed the mission would have 15 staff members and a budget of $3.67 million.

Singapore tightens rules on last-minute death penalty appeals

Source: Al Jazeera (30 November 2022)

Singapore has passed new legislation to tighten rules surrounding last-minute legal appeals against executions.

The Post-Appeal Applications in Capital Cases Bill, adopted on Tuesday, was drafted in response to a series of cases in recent years where condemned prisoners have filed legal applications after exhausting the appeal and clemency process.

“The amendments will provide greater clarity and guidance on the process and considerations which PACPs [prisoner awaiting capital punishment] and their counsel should have regard to when making post-appeal applications,” senior parliamentary secretary for law and ruling party member Rahayu Mahzam told parliament as she presented the bill. “The amendments also do not affect access to justice. PACPs are not prevented from filing their applications and ventilating their arguments in court.”

The new law says a convicted prisoner can only take post-appeal and clemency actions with the permission of the Court of Appeal, and that applications can only be filed if the prisoner has “new relevant evidence” that they could not have presented earlier.

Among the other measures, the Court of Appeal will be the only court empowered to grant a stay of execution.

“Singapore seems to be more interested in preserving the perceived sanctity of their courts than ensuring people facing death have every opportunity to appeal their sentence,” Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch told Al Jazeera. “For such a grievous, rights violating penalties like capital punishment, Singapore should be bending over backwards to facilitate appeals rather than trying to chop off death row prisoners’ last chance at justice.”

Singapore resumed hangings after the coronavirus pandemic, attracting global attention over its execution of 33-year-old Malaysian Nagaenthran Dharmalingam, whose lawyers and family fought to the last minute to stop his hanging.

The Court of Appeal dismissed the legal efforts to save the life of Nagaenthran, who had been convicted of drug trafficking, describing them as a “blatant and egregious abuse” of the legal process and adding that it was “improper to engage in or encourage last ditch attempts” to delay or stop an execution.

At least 10 people have been hanged in Singapore this year, and about 60 people are on death row, according to the Transformative Justice Collective, a Singapore activist group calling for an immediate moratorium.

Most of those facing the death penalty in the country of 5.5 million have been convicted for drug offences, with people carrying more than a tiny amount of a substance such as heroin presumed to be trafficking.

“Under international law, States that have not yet abolished the death penalty may only impose it for the ‘most serious crimes’, involving intentional killing,” a group of United Nations experts said in July. “Drug offences clearly do not meet this threshold.”

Singapore’s government says capital punishment saves lives because it deters drug crime, and has the support of the majority of the population.

Thursday 10 November 2022

Death row prisoners launch legal challenge to Japan’s no-notice executions

Source: Vatican News (24 October 2022)

Two prisoners sentenced to death in Japan have launched an appeal against how the country applies the death penalty.

Japan gives prisoners on death row only one or two hours' notice of their hanging, a policy that authorities say safeguards the victim’s “emotional stability.”

Campaigners say it deprives prisoners of their legal rights, as well as the chance to say goodbye to family or receive Church ministry.

Harrowing testimony

The case, brought by two anonymous death row prisoners in Osaka district court, contains harrowing testimony.

“When the prison officer opens the door of the prisoner’s room and announces the execution, the prisoner is immediately detained and taken to the place of execution,” the case quotes death row prisoner Hiroshi Sakaguchi as writing to lawyers. “The prisoner is tied up, handcuffed, and taken to the execution table in the same clothes, where he is hanged with a noose. … We, the condemned, are not allowed to object to the execution.”

Other testimony takes the form of an audio tape recorded in 1955, which shows the final hours of an unnamed prisoner at a time when notice periods were longer. In the tape, the man receives three days’ notice of his upcoming execution and spends the time making affectionate farewells to inmates and his visiting sister, who sobs. The tape includes sound of the man being hanged as Buddhist priests chant sutras.

Japan now has tightened the notice period to one to two hours, giving prisoners insufficient time to contact anyone outside the prison or even to reflect on their upcoming death.

Criticism of the policy

Takeshi Kaneko, a lawyer acting in Osaka for the two anonymous prisoners, says the policy is wrong.

“If you give notice on the day, you can’t prepare well,” Kaneko said. “It’s only due to the convenience of the authorities that they let the prisoner know on the morning of the day. That is a mistake.”

Moreover, the policy denies prisoners the chance to contact a lawyer, and therefore the right of appeal. At least one prisoner was executed while an appeal was underway.

Japan’s Justice Ministry has never said why or when it adopted immediate executions. It says only the policy ensures the prisoner’s “emotional stability.”

Campaigners believe it may be an attempt to prevent suicide. One death-row inmate killed himself in 1975, and the policy may date from that time.

Secrecy surrounds executions

The uncertainty points to the secrecy surrounding executions in Japan. The Justice Ministry announces a victim’s name and conviction but nothing else, citing non-disclosure and privacy rules. Some prisoners are held for more than a decade on death row before being killed on an apparently arbitrary date.

The secrecy means there is almost no public debate in Japan about the death penalty or how it is applied. Campaigners believe many people are even unaware that all prisoners are hanged, a policy unchanged since the 19th century.

“Since only two pieces of information are disclosed by the authorities, this is a situation in which it is impossible to discuss the death penalty system,” Kaneko said.

Hoping for a wider discussion

The current court case does not seek to overthrow the death penalty. The lawyers are challenging one small part of the procedure as a way to start a wider discussion.

“I’d like to ask everyone what they think about the death penalty,” Kaneko said. “Should the notice period be 30 days, 90 days, or even longer? Since there’s no discussion in Japan, we can raise awareness of the problem.”

Kaneko recommends that Japan consider following procedures in the United States, where prisoners in some states are given freedom to meet guests, write letters and eat a last meal of choice. This retains some of their dignity and offers a measure of healing.

If Japan adopted advance notice, it might allow prisoners a final tea ceremony and a chance to write haiku poetry, the Osaka court case argues.

International commitments

In 1979, Japan became a member of the Covenant on Civil Liberties, which prohibits “painful and humiliating” methods of execution. The Committee on Civil Liberties, which oversees implementation of the covenant, has several times expressed concern that death row inmates are executed without prior notice, and that their families cannot prepare themselves. This, it says, is cruel.

Meanwhile, the legal team in Osaka fears retribution against the two prisoners in this court case. They could be executed any day, for an undisclosed reason.

Because of that, the court is not being told their names.

Indonesia Mulls Introduction of a 'Probationary' Death Penalty

Source: Al Jazeera (10 October 2022)

When Indonesia recently unveiled the latest plans to overhaul its ageing Criminal Code, one of the articles that caught everyone’s eye was the one about the death penalty.

While Indonesia has long executed those convicted of crimes such as terrorism, murder, and drug trafficking, the draft of the new Criminal Code describes execution as a “last resort” and offers an alternative: a 10-year probationary period during which those condemned can have the sentence replaced with a life term if they meet certain conditions.

According to the draft, which is expected to be signed into law in the coming months, judges will be empowered to hand down a death sentence with a probationary period of 10 years if the defendant “shows remorse, there is a chance of reform, they did not play a large role in the crime committed, or there were mitigating factors in the case”.

The so-called probationary death sentence, which has echoes of the two-year ‘reprieve’ that China offers to some of those convicted to death, has raised some concerns, however.

Usman Hamid, the head of Amnesty Indonesia, which campaigns for an end to the death penalty in its entirety, says that if a probationary period is going to be used, it should be granted to everyone who is sentenced to death.

“The concept of the death penalty as an alternative punishment is inconsistent, because the government’s formulation has regressed to where the waiting period is dependent on the judge’s decision, something that is prone to abuse,” he said.

Kirsten Han, a Singapore based anti-death penalty campaigner and independent journalist, says Indonesia’s plans for a probationary death penalty were interesting, but that it remained to be seen how it would actually work in practice.

“It is an improvement from what we have because at least it says that the death penalty should be a ‘last resort’ and that there are mitigating factors, whereas what we have here is mandatory death,” she said. “My main question would be how and who evaluates the criteria like ‘good behaviour’ and ‘chance for reform’.”

Dobby Chew, the executive coordinator of the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network based in Malaysia, agrees.

“It is not a bad idea per se and could be described as somewhat progress. But the conception and framework can be highly problematic as the starting point still requires a person to be sentenced to death,” Chew said.

“A probationary death penalty would put inmates in this odd circumstance where they have to live with the idea they need to prove themselves redeemed with the knowledge that their life would be forfeited if they don’t hovering over their head. In such circumstances, can any repentance even be considered genuine by any standards?”

Chew also agreed that the state would need to be careful in determining the criteria or context of the probationary period and have objective and measurable benchmarks in relation to perceptions of reform.

“The impact on the mental health of inmates and families differs substantially, some families are fundamentally broken, traumatised or damaged by the incarceration as the foundation for their family and lives were destroyed with the conviction and sentence. Occurrences of mental breakdown, or inmates living on a knife edge is relatively common,” Chew added.

He worries that a probationary death sentence in Indonesia will become a compromise that fails to address either reform or punishment.

“Trying to sugarcoat it in a probationary system does not solve the fundamental issues around the death penalty, nor would it provide society with the justice expected,” he said.

“And if a person was able to prove their repentance, or was able to show a lesser degree of culpability, would they have suffered unnecessarily on death row for the 10 years?”

“Do they deserve to have a metaphorical gun pointed at them for the 10 years of their incarceration?”

Malaysia and the Politics Behind the Death Penalty: A Tumultuous Relationship

Source: World Coalition Against the Death Penalty (24 October 2022)

Being one of the few countries around the world to still retain the use of the death penalty in the 20th century, it was a pleasant surprise when the Malaysian Government announced their agreement to abolish the mandatory death penalty on 10 June 2022, following the completion of research that was tabled to push for alternative punishments. Suffice it to say, many Malaysians, international bodies, and abolitionist advocates warmly welcomed this long-awaited news, almost 4 years in the making since the Pakatan Harapan government’s commitment to making Malaysia a no-death penalty zone in 2018.

But to say that our road towards abolition has been smooth sailing would be a far cry from the truth: prior to the announcement, the commitment to do away with the death penalty was filled with multiple delays and setbacks by Parliamentarians, not to mention a political crisis in between which resulted in the changing of government three times which slowed our progress. Adding on to this, advocates continue to face challenges in combatting age-old ideologies that were influenced by government policies of the yesteryears regarding the use of the death penalty, especially with drug offences.

But all in all, from our observations, these events brought to light one factor that played an incredibly significant influence in Malaysia’s abolitionist journey – namely, politics.

Thus, this article will attempt to break down how Malaysian politics has shaped the death penalty as our country knows it today. Firstly, we will explore the background context behind our country’s inheritance of the death penalty, and the political events that have occurred over the years to shift our nation’s view from retentionist to abolitionist.


As a previous member of the British colonial administration from 1826-1957, it is of no surprise that the then British Malaya not only inherited the legal and political systems of its British counterparts, but also the laws and punishments that were present at that time – this included the death penalty, of which the United Kingdom (‘UK’) was notoriously famous for in the course of its history. Although Malaysia liberated itself from British rule on 31st August of 1957, it still retained a good majority of these systems and laws that continue to be implemented to this day.

Ironically, the UK took their first steps in abolishing the mandatory death penalty in 1964, just a mere few years after Merdeka, Malaysia’s Independence Day before doing away with it in totality in 1998: One could attribute this to their obligations as signatories and members of various international treaties and bodies, including the European Council of Human Rights and many United Nations Conventions.

Malaysia however, did not follow suit, choosing to focus its resources and policies in favour of stabilising the socio-political changes that were occurring within the country, considering that we were fresh out of independence – an exploration of this can be found later in the article. As of today, the mandatory death penalty applies for 11 offences, ranging from murder, drug trafficking, terrorism, kidnapping, and possession of firearms. A parliamentary reply in February 2022 listed approximately 1,341 persons on death row, of which 905 death row inmates are convicted of offences involving the mandatory death penalty.


As mentioned earlier, Malaysia’s commitment towards abolition has come a long way considering the politics that have shaped the existence of the death penalty in our country over the years. This section will explore some of these events that have occurred and their respective influences.
The 1980s – The Mahathir Administration, and the War on Drugs.

No discussion on the politics behind the death penalty in Malaysia would be complete without diving into the infamous ‘war on drugs’ that most ASEAN countries undertook since the 1960s: this was often associated with that of the Mahathir administration for Malaysians.

Pre-1980s, the British colonial government introduced the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 (‘DDA 1952’) in Malaysia as a response to the growing threat of drug-related substances in the 1950s. The Act aimed to govern offences related to drug use and trafficking in the country and still continues to be in force to this day. However, it was only during Mahathir’s administration that the death penalty was introduced into the DDA 1952 in 1975, and was made mandatory in 1983.

This amendment was a result of efforts conducted by the government’s campaign against drugs since it was viewed as a security concern in light of the early stages of Malaysia’s development as an independent country fresh out of colonisation. Quintessentially, the issue was framed in a way that depicted drugs as something incredibly harmful to society, not the mention the dangerous threat it represented to Malaysia’s national security because it could possibly derail national development and cause major incitement to violence.

Thus, it was thought that in order to eliminate drug addiction, action must not only be taken through intensive efforts such as education, advertising, testing, and rehabilitation for relatively small amounts of drugs like heroin, cocaine, or marijuana, but also extremely harsh penalties to nip it at the source: to contextualise a few things, one could associate the increasing rates of drug use in Malaysia the early 80s to the fact that we were situated nearby the ‘Golden Triangle’, an area comprising of Thailand, Myanmar, and Vietnam that were known to be the main producers of heroin poppies – hence, it was of no surprise that the country was used as a point of supply to other regions in South East Asia and the world.

In light of this context, ‘nipping it at the source’ meant targeting the use of the death penalty on those involved in drug trafficking rings, to discourage those who intend to use Malaysia as a transit point for international smuggling to the rest of the world. Hence, the introduction of the death penalty in drug laws was seen as a convenient tool to instil fear in drug suppliers and, rather hopefully, deter them from carrying out their trade.

Suffice it to say, this framing dominated the political space from the 1970s to 1989s: that the mandatory death penalty was a necessary evil needed to combat drug offences. This framing largely influenced public perception at the time to retain the death penalty for drugs because of the threat it posed to breaking down family relations and taking away lives, of which those of the older generation continue to hold onto such sentiments today. To further put it succinctly, this mandate was reflected even in the judiciary’s judgment in various cases, most significantly in Chang Liang Sang & Ors v Public Prosecutor [1982] 2 MLJ 231:

other than in the most exceptional circumstances, a sentence of death should be imposed following a conviction for trafficking, in order to mark the gravity of the offence, to emphasise public disapproval, to serve as a warning to others, to punish the offender and most of all the protect the public

Henceforth, it is of no surprise that our country’s drug laws then were considered to be one of the harshest in the world, even more so with the implementation of the ‘no mercy’ policy for those applying for clemency in the 1990s. According to statistics by Amnesty International, Malaysia saw the hangings of more than 120 death row inmates convicted solely on drug offences from 1983 to 1992, of which 1992 saw at least 39 executions, the highest minimum amount recorded in one year. On average, this meant 15-16 executions per year.

Reflecting upon this period, however, 22 years after Mahathir’s administration, studies have shown that the then Prime Minister’s attempts were somewhat fruitless, especially in relation to heroin: it was found by the US Central Intelligence Agency that almost 2 in 3 Malay youths had used heroin throughout that era, proving that the extreme measures to tackle the issue were insufficient. Additionally, an article published by the New York Times in 1989 showed that the country’s addiction rate still rose, and the intensive war drained much of the country’s financial resources (at that time, it was estimated that $22 million was spent a year).
2010s: A Change of Heart – The Roger Hood Research on Public Opinion of the Death Penalty, and Amendments to s39B(2A) DDA 1952.

It was only at the beginning of 2010 that Malaysia began to see an uptick in the abolitionist agenda following a few events.

Firstly, the case of Yong Vui Kong drew more attention towards the flaws of the laws administering the death penalty, most particularly in relation to how it unfairly targets vulnerable communities: members of the public and leaders questioned the injustice that was meted out against innocent drug mules and carriers, especially since these individuals often came from poor socioeconomic backgrounds and had no choice but to turn to such trade in order to sustain themselves, or their family. As a result of his case, a 2010 campaign to save his life and commute his sentence in Singapore saw more than 109,346 signatures being collected, and members of the Bar Council, NGOs, and civil society organisations coming together to mobilise on public action. Most significantly, members of the public came together to form a clemency petition that was submitted to the Istana in Singapore – an impressive and collective feat that had never been seen before.

It was through the collective efforts of Parliamentarians, lawyers, and activists that likely brought a great change of framing within the community, namely that we started to view things from a human rights and injustice perspective in order to humanise the criminal and focus more on improving our legal procedures to adhere to international fair trial standards. In short, effort needed to be put in place to prevent miscarriages of justice in light of the irreversibility of the death penalty, a key argument that runs through abolitionist rhetorics. Particularly, there was a focus on how the death penalty represented the state impugning upon the constitutional rights and liberties of the accused: most importantly, the right to life: these human rights ideologies that the older generation used to despise was slowly becoming more ingrained into our communities – namely, the growing acceptance of human rights in Malaysian laws.

Thus in light of the growing popularity of the abolitionist agenda, a research study on public opinion conducted by the late Roger Hood in 2013 found that there was minimal opposition to the abolition of the death penalty – even more so for drug offences. In response to this report, Nazri Aziz (a then-law Minister of the Barisan Nasional Government) cited that this would not have been possible without the support of the public. This was explicit proof that public support for certain issues do play a big part in determining the existence of certain laws in place.

Further, Parliament passed an amendment to Section 39B of the DDA 1952 which saw the mandatory death penalty replaced with discretionary sentencing instead – however, some criticisms of the amendment include the fact that it is not retrospective for previous convictions, which makes it unfair for those that have assisted authorities in the past (a now mandatory element in to fulfil for discretion to be exercised in the amendment Dangerous Drugs Act 1952, s.39B(2A)(d). Additionally, it has been cited to be unsatisfactory in tackling the issue of drug offences as found by research studies conducted in 2022.

All in all, it could be said that the political climate and society, in general, were slowly changing to reflect one that was leaning towards mercy and forgiveness.
2018: A New Hope…? Reflecting on the Political Turbulence and Achievements of Pakatan Harapan and Perikatan Nasional.

Prior to the Pakatan Harapan coalition’s victory in the 14th Malaysian General Elections in 2018, the coalition released a manifesto in terms of the promises that the coalition would bring about should they be elected as government of the day – perhaps most significantly was the promise to abolish the death penalty totality in from Malaysian laws, despite their manifesto stating the mandatory death penalty only.

As per their promise after being elected, the then-government affirmed their position and proceeded to impose an official moratorium on all executions in October 2018 which continues to remain in place to this day, something that was widely praised as our first steps towards abolition. Additionally, they also took it upon themselves to review the country’s drug offences, whereby Mahathir, who was the ruling Prime Minister for the second time, declared that the mandatory death penalty which he imposed was seen as “too harsh and effective as a deterrent”.

The coalition were met with resistance by other parties, and very sadly, a slight setback in 2019 occurred when the coalition announced that it would not be abolishing the death penalty in totality just yet, but rather, to focus on abolishing offences that held the mandatory death penalty first and allowing for discretion to be given to judges for certain crimes.

Making matters worse, we saw the coalition’s power as government of the day fall apart following the infamous ‘Sheraton Move’ in 2020, which saw a new government under the coalition of Perikatan Nasional taking over (to last only 17 months before then Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin resigned) – in light of 2 Cabinet reshuffles and the political instability that took place, not to mention the Covid-19 pandemic that put Parliamentary work on a hold due to the declaration of national emergency in the country, this meant that any progress to do with abolition suddenly came to a halt and resulted with a standstill in development. Since the move, progress on the presentation of findings were riddled with postponement after postponement due to the need for further scrutiny and research.

This hiatus, however, did not last long: we saw discussions on the death penalty beginning to gain traction again in late 2021 as a result of the international uproar and heavy campaigning from local and international NGOs fighting against the imminent execution of the late Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam. For the first time in a long time, this saw the culmination of Members of Parliament and Government Officials from the Ministry of Home Affairs coming together and actively taking action to communicate with their Singaporean counterparts to halt his execution in light of his circumstances. Post-execution, calls to abolish the death penalty in Malaysia were made even stronger, emphasising the fact that we could not possibly criticise the acts of our neighbours if we also retained the exact same punishment in our own backyard.

Alongside this period, Parliament also saw Ministers bringing up plans to review and legalise cannabis for medical purposes, an issue which has slowly been gaining traction in the recent years across the globe. Malaysia also saw itself gaining membership in the United Nations Human Rights Council for 2022-2024. All in all, these efforts publicly displayed our commitment towards the abolitionist cause, which brought about praise from the international community.

It was finally in June 2022 that there was an announcement to present the proposals to the alternatives for the mandatory death penalty soon. This was a result of the presentation of a report on the study of alternative sentencing for capital punishment during a Cabinet Meeting, and would mean that the 11 offences holding the mandatory capital punishment will be replaced with alternative forms of punishment. The Malaysian Government will be expected to see a tabling of the relevant legislative amendments needed to abolish the mandatory death penalty in October during a parliamentary setting, and hopefully be on a road towards seeing these amendments take effect by January 2023.

In light of all that has happened, Malaysia’s journey proves to be a prime example of how vital public support and collective action from various stakeholders are, as this in turn changes the laws to reflect the ever-changing societal values that Malaysians uphold. From the CSOs, we saw the agenda being framed in light of the justice and human rights angle to appeal to the public understanding of the death penalty. But all in all, the awareness that has grown over the years among the public has provided sufficient pressure on government bodies in creating bipartisan support in the issue to continue and finish the work of their predecessors in pushing for the relevant amendments.

Overall, despite the turbulent journey that Malaysia has undergone towards being an abolitionist country, recent events and activities that have taken place since still demonstrate the ever-present commitment towards the agenda. This was a result of the collective effort through legal complexes (lawyers, bar council and the judiciary) and civil society organisations (national, transnational, and international advocacy groups) that have utilised the use of litigation, networking, and advocacy – a rather potent combination – in incrementally and successfully highlighting the injustices of the death penalty in our country towards the masses and pressing Parliamentarians for change. This in turn helped to change the political climate regarding the death penalty to steer the change that is very much needed to actualise Pakatan Harapan’s original vision of abolishing the death penalty from Malaysian laws.

All that is left now is for the Malaysian government to follow through with their decision. While it might take time for change to be implemented, hope still remains for Malaysia to turn over a new leaf.

Tuesday 20 September 2022

Malaysia confirms pledge to end death penalty

Source: UCA News (16 September 2022)

Malaysia will abolish the mandatory death penalty and replace it with other types of punishment for several offences, a government minister said.

Minister of Law, Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said the decision was made after a series of meetings held on Sept 6 and 13, Channel News Asia reported on Sept. 14.

The meetings of the Substitute Sentences for the Mandatory Death Penalty Task Force Technical Committee were led by Minister Jaafar and key members of government agencies who agreed in principle to a proposal to substitute the sentences for 11 offences that carry the mandatory death penalty.

The minister also announced a moratorium for 1,337 death-convict inmates in Malaysia.

He also reiterated his stand on abolishing the death penalty and bringing in punishments that match the gravity of the offence.

“I remain committed to fighting for fairer and compassionate laws on the issue of whipping and the death penalty,” the minister stated in a Facebook post.

The recommendations of the Technical Committee will be submitted to a cabinet meeting and then presented in parliament this month.

Representatives of the Malaysian Prison Department, Ministry of Home Affairs, Royal Malaysia Police, and representatives from various agencies attended the meeting

In June, the Malaysian government initiated the process to abolish the mandatory death penalty, which was a long-standing demand from activists. The move was hailed across the globe.

Amnesty International Malaysia's executive director Katrina Jorene Maliamauv hailed the move as "a welcome step in the right direction, and we urge [the government] to go further and work towards full abolition of this cruel punishment,” AFP news agency reported in June.

In Malaysia crimes punishable by death include drug trafficking, terrorism, murder, rape resulting in death, kidnapping, and the possession of firearms wherein the judge does not have the option to give any alternate or lesser punishments.

The Catholic Church in Malaysia has been vehemently opposing capital punishment and is vocal in supporting its removal from the justice system.

Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (MADPET) is an abolitionist campaign supported by people from all levels of society including Christians.

In Oct. 2018, Charles Hector, a member of MADPET voiced his support for the then government's move to end capital punishment.

Hector said that they were “waiting for the day when we can celebrate the abolition of the death penalty, and death row will disappear in Malaysia,” the Vatican’s Fides news agency reported.

Malaysia carried out its last execution in 2018 and then imposed a moratorium.

In contrast to Malaysia, Singapore has drawn the ire of the international community for the recent executions of 10 prisoners for the crime of drug trafficking.