Unjust for death row prisoners to serve 30 years in jail, says MP

Bukit Gelugor MP Ramkarpal Singh.

PETALING JAYA: It is ridiculous for death row prisoners to serve another 30 years following the government’s move to abolish the death penalty, a backbencher said.

Bukit Gelugor MP Ramkarpal Singh said these prisoners were already serving time in jail, for between five and 20 years, from the time they were arrested and convicted by the courts.

“It is totally unjustified to order them to serve another 30 years in prison. This is akin to natural life imprisonment,” he told FMT.

Ramkarpal said this in response to the announcement by de facto law minister Liew Vui Keong in the Dewan Rakyat yesterday that death row inmates would serve 30 years’ life imprisonment under the proposed abolition of the death penalty.

“Their jail term will run from the date the Pardons Board commutes the death sentence to life imprisonment,” he said.

There are 1,267 prisoners on death row, about 900 of whom were convicted of trafficking in dangerous drugs.

Ramkarpal, who is a lawyer and has appeared for accused persons charged with offences that carried the death penalty, said the changes in the law would be meaningless to death row prisoners.

“Those aged between 40 and 50 will die in prison as I understand the additional 30-year jail term is mandatory and cannot be commuted.”

Malaysian Bar president George Varughese said the cases of these condemned prisoners should be brought before the Federal Court for review.

“The bench can substitute the death penalty with a jail term after taking into account mitigating and aggravating factors,” he said.

Varughese said for new cases before the court, judges should be given the discretion to impose a jail term of up to 30 years.

“All death sentences should not be automatically replaced with a minimum 30-year life imprisonment,” he said, adding that only then will the jail punishment meted out be just and effective.