Abolish death penalty now, urges MP

Batu Kawan MP Kasthuri Patto, addressing the Suhakam conference, says there is nothing to stop the present government abolishing the death penalty.

KUALA LUMPUR: Batu Kawan MP Kasthuri Patto said the turning point in her opposition to the death penalty was on a Good Friday two years ago when three men were hanged at Kajang Prison while she kept vigil outside.

One of those men executed was possibly innocent, she said.

She claimed since then numerous inmates had been hanged, some quietly and some riddled with controversies like the Batumalai brothers, who were both executed on March 15, 2017.

“I remember standing under a drizzle that night at the entrance of the Kajang Prison in a candlelight vigil with other MPs, Amnesty International activists, lawyers and the family of the two brothers.

“What hit me hard was that I did not see fancy cars or people in expensive clothes waiting outside the prison on the five-foot pavement, begging the (former) government for some time while awaiting the decision of their clemency appeal.

“What I saw were family members who looked poor and helpless.”

She said those executed were the marginalised, school dropouts, unemployed, illiterate, and others from the lower-economic segment of society.

“If one had the financial standing, will they still be subjected to this heinous punishment?

“If one had strong cables with the authorities, could they then escape the gallows? Did money, prestige and power play the role of God — the one who gives and takes?”

The DAP MP said the concerned public could not wait any longer for the law reforms when more than 1,000 Malaysians and foreigners were on death row in the country for various crimes.

Speaking at Suhakam’s National Conference on the Death Penalty, she said there was nothing to stop the present government from abolishing the death penalty if it wished to do so.

Anti-death penalty proponents have been arguing that capital punishment does not reduce or discourage offenders.

In the meantime, she and her fellow activists have pledged to continue pushing for a moratorium on those on death row.

“We don’t know who is next, or when. When I was doing my research on a case, it was impossible for me to get any information from the Prisons Department,” she said.

She said the Prisons Department’s answer was that the information was under the Official Secrets Act 1972.

She added that no one deserved to be waiting, not knowing when it was time to be hanged.

“It is no business of any government to play Russian roulette in determining who will be executed first and who later and for which crime,” she said.

Kasthuri said executions are normally carried out on Fridays.

“What kind of agony the prisoners have to face, waiting for their turn to die, wondering which Friday would be their turn?

“Death penalties in Malaysia have notoriously been carried out in a secretive manner, often leaving no time for the family to make burial arrangements.

“Inmates serve up to 10 years or even longer on death row, which is solitary confinement, 23 hours a day in a 10ft by 10ft cell,” she said.

However, Kasthuri said the abolition of the death penalty will never see the light of day without the political will of the government of the day.

She said Malaysia is one of the few countries still carrying out the mandatory death penalty.

The death penalty is meted out for offences that include drug trafficking, discharge of firearms, murder, being an accomplice in the discharge of firearms, hostage-taking resulting in death, and offences against the person of the King.