Sabah lawyers support move to abolish death penalty

KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Law Society (SLS) has voiced support for the push by de facto law minister Liew Vui Keong to abolish the death penalty and impose a moratorium on all executions until then.

SLS president Brendon Soh told FMT the right to life was enshrined in the constitution.

“This makes the intentional taking away of life an affront to that right,” he said.

“The death penalty is contrary to the meaning of humanity, mercy and sanctity of life.”

He said such a harsh punishment, including for drug-related offences, had no place in any society that valued life, justice and mercy.

He also noted instances of trials in court which had been compromised, leading to a miscarriage of justice.

He said these individuals had been convicted thanks to false evidence given by prosecution witnesses but later overturned on appeal while the false witnesses were charged with perjury and imprisoned for their act.

“Retired High Court judge Ian Chin, who supports the abolishment of the death penalty, has said there is no judiciary in the world that can guarantee that innocent lives will not be taken.

“He also did not dismiss the fact that there has been evidence to indicate that even well-functioning legal systems have sentenced to death men and women who were subsequently proven innocent,” he said.

For example, Soh said, there were 83 cases of innocent people in the US who were wrongly sentenced to death between 2007 and 2017.

The contributing causes of their wrongful convictions included official misconduct, perjury or false accusations, false or misleading forensic evidence, inadequate legal defence, false or fabricated confessions and mistaken eyewitness identification.

In the case of Malaysia, Soh said the mandatory death penalty for certain crimes, especially drug-related offences, did not appear to have a sufficient deterrent effect.

Liew said in October that the total number of prisoners earlier that month stood at 59,997, with 1,279 on death row.

“In less than three weeks, there was an increase of 5,225 prisoners with two prisoners sentenced to death,” Soh said. “Of the 65,222 prisoners, about 55% or 36,313 are in prison for drug-related offences.

“Most of them were found to be drug abusers, which calls for treatment rather than imprisonment.

“The menace of drugs is also reflected in the 1,281 death row inmates as 927 of them were sentenced for drug trafficking, a capital offence under the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952.”

The statistics, he said, showed that victims of circumstances had been charged instead of the real perpetrators.

“Despite the death penalty, murder and drug trafficking have not decreased. In fact, there appears to be no significant reduction in the crimes for which the death penalty is currently mandatory,” he said.