Be bold and abolish death penalty, government told

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PETALING JAYA: Human rights groups have urged the government to be bold and abolish the mandatory death penalty in its entirety.

In applauding the Cabinet decision to amend Section 39(B) of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 to include a clause providing discretionary powers to the courts in sentencing drug traffickers, they said capital punishment was not right.

Amnesty International, Lawyers for Liberty and Suara Rakyat Malaysia all agreed that there was no evidence to show the death penalty reduced crime.

They called on the government to make the anticipated removal of the mandatory death penalty for drug offences the first step towards complete abolition of that particular form of punishment.

“Malaysia is one of some 30 countries that still use the death penalty, including mandatory death penalty, which remains one of the most abhorrent methods of punishing crime,” said Amnesty International Malaysia executive director Shamini Darshini.

“Death penalty robs lives, has no impact on crime rate, and gives Malaysia a black mark where its human rights record is concerned.”

She said there was concern about the fate of current death row prisoners should the 1952 Act be amended to allow discretionary sentencing by judges on certain death penalty cases.

Prison Department statistics show there are almost 800 prisoners, both Malaysians and foreigners, currently on death row for drug trafficking offences.

On March 23, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Azalina Othman Said told the Dewan Rakyat that a review of the Act would enable judges to mete out suitable jail sentences instead of the mandatory death penalty, especially in marginal cases.

Lawyers for Liberty executive director Eric Paulsen echoed Shamini’s call for the government to extend the review to all death penalty offences.

“The judges are in the best position to decide on the appropriate sentence for each individual case, whether it is for murder, kidnapping, waging war, or firearms offences.”

He said contrary to popular belief, there was no “cogent empirical evidence” to show the death penalty was a more effective deterrent of crime than long-term imprisonment.

“The death penalty disproportionately affects the poorer and lower classes, and the risks of wrongful convictions cannot be excluded.”

Paulsen also urged the government to impose a moratorium on all death penalties pending the review and amendments.

Suara Rakyat Malaysia executive director Sevan Doraisamy said the “long-awaited baby move” – it was promised to be tabled in Parliament last year – was a positive first step towards abolition of the death penalty.

“Everyone deserves a second chance. The death penalty is not a solution; it is a violation of human rights and should be abolished.

“We are aiming to become a developed nation, and one of its important elements is human rights.

“Many countries have abolished the death penalty and we should aim for the same,” he said.