Thursday, 23 March 2006

Renewed debate on death penalty in Malaysia

The Malaysia Bar's resolution on the death penalty at the weekend has reignited debate about whether the country should move towards abolition, with a government minister supporting abolition and a leading newspaper questioning the death penalty for drug offences.

A report on the website quotes Malaysia's Justice Minister Nazri Bin Abdul Aziz as saying that he supports abolishing the death penalty.

"For me, a life is a life. No one has the right to take someone else's life, even if that person has taken another life," he is quoted as saying to a local newspaper.

The report says he was responding to the Malaysia Bar Council's call for abolition.

"I welcome this proposal. This is definitely something which should be looked into," he said.

But the minister said it would not be possible to impose a moratorium on executions. "The death sentence has been part of our laws for a long time. It goes with the fabric of the whole system. After discussions are held, hopefully the attorney general will advise the government."

The New Straits Times responded to the resolution with an Editorial noting "this country's continuing inclusion on the steadily diminishing list of nations with the death penalty".

The Editorial cited the decreasing number of countries that retain the death penalty, and the even smaller number which carry out executions each year.

"In the process, the death penalty has become tainted as an indicator of a certain social primitivism; an institutionalised savagery that does not speak well of a mature or advancing society."

The New Straits Times said a "strong case could be made for the death penalty for illegal firearms possession" since it had helped spare Malaysia the perils of civil war faced by "so many" other countries.

But it said "death for drug trafficking has done little to stanch the dadah [narcotics] scourge".

"Opponents of the death penalty tend to be few and far between in this country," the newspaper said, and their arguments for compassion, human rights and the sanctity of life "butt the hard heads of a polity preferring simple and straightforward solutions over delicate philosophical conundrums".

But the way forward may be to review the crimes carrying a mandatory death sentence or to restore judicial discretion "especially as regards the dadah-related offences that account for most executions here".

It said the "mandatory death sentence for dadah was a statement of national disgust, but it has had the effect of tying the system’s hands while doing little to solve the problem. It may therefore be too high a price to pay. Such is the cost-benefit analysis that should inform this debate – especially if the death penalty is to be regarded as a measure of a society's respect for life."

The Malay Mail conducted a 'street poll' following Justice Minister Nazri Aziz’s comments.

It quoted several people as supporting the death penalty for major crimes "as it serves as a deterrent". The newspaper said its poll "showed a consensus on this".

"Many feel that without the death penalty, the rate of serious crimes will soar," it said.

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