PETALING JAYA: Sirul Azhar Umar, who was sentenced to death for the murder of Mongolian national Altantuya Shaariibuu, has until next month to apply to the Federal Court for his sentence to be commuted, a former Malaysian Bar president said.
Under the Review of Sentence of Death and Imprisonment for Natural Life (Temporary Jurisdiction of the Federal Court) Act 2023 (Act 847), convicts on death row are allowed to apply for their sentence to be commuted to a jail term following the abolition of the mandatory death penalty.
Salim Bashir said the law, which came into force on Sept 12, gives convicts a period of three months to file their applications.
“Any extension of time for filing the application will only be given if an offender can provide cogent reasons,” he told FMT.
Salim, who practises criminal law, said this after Sirul was released from an immigration detention centre in Australia last week.
The release was made possible after an Australian High Court ruled that it was unlawful to hold anyone indefinitely in immigration detention if there was no realistic prospect of that person’s deportation.
Sirul’s lawyer, William Levingston, was reported as saying Australia will not allow his client to be deported to Malaysia as he faces the death penalty here.
Salim said Sirul’s conviction and sentence for Altantuya’s murder would remain if he does not file his application for the consideration of the apex court.
“He has to appoint counsel here and file the application by next month,” the lawyer said, adding that Sirul must also be present in court when his matter is heard.
However, Salim said Sirul is at risk of being detained as soon as he arrived in Malaysia due to his status as a convict.
Altantuya, then aged 28, an interpreter, was murdered between 10pm on Oct 19, 2006 and 11am the following day in the jungles of Puncak Alam in Shah Alam, Selangor. She was shot in the head before her body was blown up with explosives.
In 2009, Sirul and Azilah Hadri, both part of the police’s Unit Tindakan Khas (UTK), were convicted and sentenced to death by the High Court for her murder.
Their conviction and sentence were overturned by the Court of Appeal in 2013, but restored by the Federal Court two years later.
Sirul fled to Australia prior to the apex court’s pronouncement of its verdict.
He was detained by Australian police in 2015 and had been held at the Villawood immigration detention centre in Sydney.
Azilah is currently on death row at Kajang Prison.
The law abolishing the mandatory death penalty was passed by Parliament earlier this year and came into force on July 4. It gives judges the option of imposing either capital punishment or a custodial sentence.
For those convicted of murder, the court has the discretion to substitute the death sentence with imprisonment of between 30 and 40 years, and a minimum of 12 strokes of the rotan for male convicts below 50 years of age.
If the court decides to maintain the sentence, the prisoner may appeal to the state pardons board for clemency.