Let judges decide on penalty for drug mules, say lawyers

Criminal lawyer Rosal Azimin Ahmad says it is possible to infer a mule’s knowledge of the drugs based on the amount and how well they were hidden. (Reuters pic)

PETALING JAYA: Two lawyers have suggested that judges be given the discretion to decide on penalties for drug traffickers so that “mules” who are duped into carrying narcotics will not be sent to the gallows.

Salim Bashir told FMT the law does not distinguish between the owner and the drug mule, but provides for a mandatory death penalty which is applied to both.

He said the Dangerous Drugs Act defines a trafficker as anyone found “carrying, smuggling, bringing, selling, transporting and possessing” scheduled drugs above a certain limit.

Salim, who is on the Bar Council committee for criminal law, suggested that the law be amended to give judges the discretion to determine punishments based on facts and evidence about the role of an accused in an alleged crime.

“The court can sieve through the facts and evidence to determine whether he was a trafficker or a mule.

“Upon taking that into consideration, the law must allow the presiding judge to decide whether or not the convicted person should be sentenced to death or, alternatively, imprisoned,” he said.

De facto law minister Liew Vui Keong recently called for a review of the death penalty for drug mules and addicts, saying not all deserve to be hanged.

He said the government is awaiting a report on recommended alternatives to the death sentence from a special committee on the mandatory death penalty, which he expects to receive by January.

It was reported that the review would include the mandatory death penalty for 11 serious offences under the Penal Code and the Firearms (Increased Penalties) Act.

Criminal lawyer Rosal Azimin Ahmad said drug mules who have no knowledge about narcotics in their luggage should not be sentenced to death.

He said it was possible to infer a mule’s knowledge of the drugs based on the amount and how well they were hidden.

“For example, if the drugs were hidden in a very special compartment, there’s a possibility that he (the mule) did not know about them,” he said.

Rosal, who has handled drug-related cases for 20 years, said most mules were usually unaware that they were carrying drugs.

“Some are asked to transport items while some are asked to go to a certain destination for a job,” he added.

He gave the example of a case in which he had acted as counsel for a 22-year-old woman caught carrying syabu at Narita airport in Tokyo in 2016.

He said the woman, Raja Munirah Raja Iskandar, had been asked to go to Japan for a job interview.

“She carried a bag, given by her supposed future employer, with a small amount of drugs – only the weight of a handphone.”

Raja Munirah was sentenced to prison in Japan in 2007 after pleading guilty to attempting to smuggle drugs.