Amnesty International Malaysia welcomes attorney-general Apandi Ali’s intended proposal to the cabinet to scrap the mandatory death penalty as it signals progress in one area of human rights in the country - the right to life.
“In light of this development, we call on the Malaysian government to impose an immediate official moratorium on the use of the death penalty until Cabinet reviews this proposal and laws which carry the death sentence can be reviewed and changed,” AI Malaysia executive director Shamini Darshni said in a statement.
“Half of over 1,000 people on death row in Malaysian prisons are awaiting results of appeals or clemency, thus as the government studies the AG’s proposal, these individuals need to know that they will not yet meet the noose. So it goes for any new case which carries the death penalty,” she added.
However, abolishing the mandatory death penalty, though welcomed, must be considered a first step towards total abolition, she said.
“Through our work globally, we have seen the death penalty - mandatory or discretionary - imposed on those below 18, people with mental health issues, the poor and minority groups. There is also a sore lack of proof that the death penalty is able to reduce crime rates or prevent new criminals from emerging.”
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty at all times, regardless of who is accused, the crime, guilt or innocence or method of execution. Most countries which practice executions have unfair legal systems and commonly justify its use as a crime-control measure. The application of the death penalty is discriminatory and in some countries used as a tool to punish political opponents.
Amnesty International has been working to end executions since 1977, when only 16 countries had abolished the death penalty in law or practice. Today, the number has risen to 140 - almost two-thirds of countries around the world.
“In many countries, including Malaysia, people on death row are imprisoned for many years in solitary confinement before an execution, causing severe mental torture not just to an inmate, but to their families who are innocent of any crime,” she said.
“For almost 40 years, Amnesty International has worked to see this cruel and inhumane punishment abolished worldwide. As the years pass, anti-death penalty advocates have become more successful. Now, there are only some 30 countries that retain the death penalty in their law books, including Malaysia.”
Malaysia uses the mandatory death penalty for drug offences, murder, treason and certain firearms offences.
In May, Prisons Department director-general Zulkifli Omar reported some 1,043 prisoners are on death row and that 46 percent of those awaiting their execution were convicted for drug offences.
Not meeting ‘most serious crimes’ threshold
Hundreds of executions are carried out worldwide annually for drug-related offences despite the fact that such offences do not meet the threshold of the ‘most serious crimes’ to which the use of the death penalty must be restricted under international law.
“The death penalty is a blatant denial of human rights. Sentencing someone to death denies them the right to life as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is irreversible and mistakes have happened. As long as the death penalty remains, the risk of executing an innocent person will never be eliminated,” she said.
AI Malaysia is currently running campaigns on Kho Jabing, a Malaysian on death row in Singapore; and Shahrul Izani Suparman, local man who has maintained his innocence of a drug trafficking charge for 12 years.