Friday, 19 June 2015

Death penalty does not deter crime, says Malaysian Bar president

Source: The Rakyat Post (11 June 2015)

Malaysian Bar president Steven Thiru said there was no empirical evidence or data to confirm that death penalty served as an effective deterrent to preventing crimes.

"There has been no significant reduction in the crimes for which the death penalty is currently mandatory, particularly true of drug-related offences," he said.

Malaysia remains one of the 13 countries which imposes mandatory death penalty sentence for drug-related offences.

Pointing out that there is lack of official data of prisoners on death row to conclusively support that death penalty is working as a deterrent, Thiru warned it could well have the opposite effect where courts could choose to stop convicting persons because the penalty was too severe.

"Nevertheless, the Malaysian Bar's primary opposition to the death penalty is because life is sacred and every person has an inherent right to life.

"This is guaranteed under Article 5(1) of the Federal Constitution that eschews arbitrary deprivation of life.

"We take the view that the right to life is a fundamental right which must be absolute, inalienable and universal, irrespective of the crime committed by the accused person," he said during the opening of the first Asian Regional Congress On The Death Penalty at the Renaissance Hotel here this morning.

The two-day event is organised by French organisation Together Against Death Penalty (ECPM) and Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network under the sponsorship of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Also present were Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Paul Low and Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) chairman Tan Sri Hasmy Agam.

Thiru pointed out that a public opinion survey in 2013 conducted by Malaysian Bar and the Death Penalty Project, a leading human rights organisation based in United Kingdom, revealed that mandatory death penalty for trafficking and firearms offences could be abolished without any public outcry in the country.

"As regard of the mandatory penalty death for murder, the majority favoured the exercise of discretion whether or not to sentence persons convicted of murder to death.

"As a whole the findings showed that the majority of public surveyed did not support mandatory death penalty, whether for drug trafficking, murder or firearms offences," he said.

Thiru further said that the reluctance to discard the death penalty might well be fuelled by the perception that a large portion of Malaysian society still felt that the sentence should remain as the convicted persons had indeed committed heinous crimes and found guilty by the legal process.

The campaign to abolish the death penalty, he said, was not to confer   licence to commit serious crimes with impunity.

"Persons convicted of serious crimes must receive the proportionate punishment but this does not mean that they, therefore, ought to die in the notion that 'an eye for an eye' provides the best form of justice."

Thiru urged the government to abolish the death penalty and, in the meantime, put in place an immediate moratorium on its use pending abolition, instead of merely making promises.

According to rights group Amnesty International, as of October 2012, death row in Malaysia held a population of 900 prisoners, with at least two reported executions last year.

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