PETALING JAYA: Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) has called for a moratorium on capital punishments pending amendments to Section 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952.
Speaking to FMT, LFL executive director Eric Paulsen said he “cautiously” welcomed an announcement that the cabinet had agreed to amend the act to provide judges with discretion in sentencing.
He said the right thing to do now was to hold off all hangings until the amendments are passed. He also called for similar changes to other laws that provide for mandatory death sentences.
Yesterday, in a written reply to a parliamentary question, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Azalina Othman Said said the cabinet was unanimous in agreeing to amend the act and relevant ministries and agencies were preparing proposals for the amendments.
Paulsen said: “This is indeed good news but the government has said this in the past and did not carry through with it. So we cautiously welcome the announcement.”
In November 2015, another minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Nancy Shukri, said the government wanted to abolish the mandatory death sentence for drug-related offences and leave the punishment to the discretion of the presiding judge.
Nancy said the government was planning to table a motion during the March 2016 Parliament session, but this didn’t come through.
Paulsen said another concern was that the amendments would affect only drug cases while there were other laws that provided for the mandatory death penalty as well, such as the Penal Code and Firearms (Increased Penalties) Act 1971.
“In these laws,” he said, “the same arguments can also be made to give the judges the discretion of whether to impose the death penalty. After all, they are in the best position to assess the facts, circumstances and background of the accused person.”
He claimed that in the “absence of a fair and just criminal system” and the lack of access to competent legal representation, the death penalty disproportionately affected the poorer classes.
“Although this is a good first step, in the long run we would like to see the death penalty abolished altogether. The death penalty has never been an effective deterrent of serious crime.”
Suaram adviser Kua Kia Soong echoed Paulsen’s statement, saying the death penalty was not only against international human rights but was judicially faulty as there was no “100% certainty” that the person sentenced to death was guilty of a crime.
“Suaram has always maintained that mandatory death sentences are wrong,” Kua told FMT. “A respectable judiciary should allow judges the wisdom to decide the severity of sentence depending on the circumstances and the crime.”