Tuesday, 9 May 2006

Malaysia: Opposition to water pollution death sentences

Opponents of the death penalty in Malaysia have seriously questioned the practicality and effectiveness of government proposals to apply the death penalty for contaminating water.

The IPS newsagency reports that the death penalty provisions are part of a bill that "seeks to revamp the way water is managed in the country, transferring control of state water authorities and privatised firms to a single federal regulatory body".

IPS reports the new Water Services Industry Bill, which also provides for the death penalty for serious water contamination that results in loss of life, is due for a second reading in parliament this week.

It said the death penalty could apply to a person who contaminated the water supply with the intention of endangering lives or causing death, as well as to someone who contaminated the water supply with any substance that would be likely to endanger lives.

'Absurd' penalty
The IPS report said opponents of the law saw it as draconian, unworkable and ineffective in addressing the true causes of water pollution.

It quoted Charles Hector, a human rights lawyer and one of the coordinators of the campaign network Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (MADPET). Mr Hector said: "Most of the time, the real offenders are likely to be companies and you can't hang the companies.

"So who would face the death penalty then -- the chairman of the board? All the directors? The general manager? The administrative officer? It's absurd," he said.

Hector told IPS there were already provisions in the penal code that covered an intention to kill.
IPS reports that more than half of Malaysia's rivers are polluted by "raw or partially treated sewage as well as industrial effluents, agricultural run-offs, waste from animal husbandry and land development, and municipal rubbish".

Opposition Parliamentarian Teresa Kok said she thought that, when the government framed the bill, it had in mind terrorists who might deliberately contaminate water sources.

In April, Amnesty International Malaysia condemned the death penalty provisions in the bill, saying the move was "bucking" the worldwide trend towards abolition of the death penalty. (See the ADP report here.)

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