Malaysia has executed three men for murder, their lawyer said, in what rights groups called a “secretive” hanging in which the men’s families were given only two days notice.
“The execution was done between 4:30 and 5:30 this morning,” lawyer Palaya Rengaiah told the Guardian. “They were hanged to death.”
Rengaiah said the families received a letter two days before the execution, advising them to make a last visit to the men and funeral arrangements. He said the men were told on Thursday that they would be hanged on Friday.
Gunasegar Pitchaymuthu, 35, Ramesh Jayakumar, 34, and his brother Sasivarnam Jayakumar, 37, were sentenced to the gallows after they were found guilty by the high court of murdering a 25-year-old man in a playground in 2005.
The trio claimed during court sessions that they were acting in self-defence after being attacked by a group that included the victim.
The Malaysian prison’s department said there were currently more than 1,000 inmates awaiting execution, although none had been killed since 2013, according to Death Penalty Worldwide.
Amnesty International has condemned what it called a “last-minute” execution of the men accused of murder, an offence that carries a mandatory death sentence.
In Malaysia, information on scheduled hangings are not made public before, or sometimes after, they are carried out – a practice Amnesty said was “secretive” and contrary to international standards on the use of the death penalty.
Several high-level officials have spoken against mandatory death sentences in Malaysia, a decades-old law that is also imposed on serious drug, treason and firearms offences.
These voices include the attorney-general, Apandi Ali, who said in November that he would propose to the cabinet that the penalty be scrapped, calling it a “paradox” as it robbed judges of their discretion to impose sentences on convicted criminals.
“If I had my way, I would introduce the option for the judge in cases where it involves capital punishment. Give the option to the judge either to hang him or send him to prison,” he said.
Days after, government minister Nancy Shukri, said she hoped to amend the penal code to abolish the death sentence.
“It is not easy to amend, but we are working on it. I hope to table it next year in March,” Shukri told reporters, adding that the punishment had done little to reduce the number of crimes committed. The motion has not been put to parliament.
Charles Hector, coordinator for Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture, on Thursday called for the Sultan of Kedah and the Sultan of Perak, state royalty in the two regions where the men were on death row, to use their power to stop the hangings.
He also urged Skukri, who is the de facto law minister, and the attorney-general, to obtain a stay of execution.
The Guardian was unable immediately to reach the government for comment.
Josef Benedict, Amnesty International’s deputy campaign director for south-east Asia and the Pacific, said ahead of the execution that “as discussions on abolishing the mandatory death penalty in Malaysia continue, the Malaysian government must immediately put in place a moratorium on all executions as a first step towards full abolition of the death penalty”.