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Malaysia urged to abolish death penalty

Total 34 criminal offenses still warrant death penalty under Malaysian law
Representatives from Amnesty hold copies of a report on the state of death penalty cases in Malaysia in 2019

Representatives from Amnesty hold copies of a report on the state of death penalty cases in Malaysia in 2019. (Photo: Sadiq Asyraf/AFP)

Published: February 28, 2024 09:36 AM GMT
Updated: February 28, 2024 10:57 AM GMT

Global rights watchdog Amnesty International has urged the Malaysian government to extend the moratorium on executions and fully abolish the death penalty.

During the past six months, the official figures indicated a “significant decrease in the number of death sentences imposed or upheld by the courts,” the London-based group said in a statement on Feb. 26.

The rights group urged the Malaysian government and its legislators to “indefinitely extend the official moratorium on executions until the death penalty is fully abolished and all death sentences commuted.”

Malaysia enacted the Abolition of Mandatory Death Penalty Act on July 4, 2023, after its parliament had passed a resolution in 2018 placing a moratorium on executions.

Under Malaysian law, 34 criminal offenses including murder, drug trafficking, treason, acts of terrorism, waging war against the King of Malaysia, and, since 2003, rape resulting in death, or the rape of a child warrant the death penalty.

The 2018 legislation removed the death penalty as a mandatory sentence and added alternate punishments such as life imprisonment between 30 to 40 years and whipping.

Based on the data collected from the Registrar of the High Courts of Sabah and Sarawak states, Amnesty analyzed 139 cases of individuals facing the death penalty.

It found that 42 people (28 percent) had their charges amended to a lesser offense or were acquitted in the High Court or on appeal.

In the remaining 97 cases, where defendants were charged with a capital crime, 26 cases (27 percent) resulted in the death penalty being imposed or upheld.

In a remarkable 71 cases (73 percent) individuals were handed alternative punishments instead of the death penalty.

“Discretion appeared to be embraced in favor of non-death penalty sentences proportionally more by appellate courts,” Amnesty said.

About 44 percent of recorded cases before the High Courts were handed down a death penalty, whereas this was reduced to 21 percent and 25 percent before the Court of Appeal and Federal Court, respectively.

The Federal Court had commuted all confirmed death sentences which were evaluated by it, Amnesty said. The offense of murder has seen a high number of death penalties being imposed (18 out of 26 cases).

Amnesty pointed out that the imposition of the death penalty for drug trafficking offenses was still being imposed in large numbers despite the sentencing discretion available to courts.

“Although it is encouraging that sentencing discretion has resulted in fewer death sentences, it remains greatly concerning that the death penalty continued to be imposed for drug trafficking, in violation of international law and standards,” Amnesty said.

Eight out of 26 cases (31 percent) of drug trafficking received the death penalty. The Malaysian High Courts had imposed the death sentence in six out of eight cases.

“The treatment of cases potentially subject to the death penalty pointed to systemic flaws that undermine the right to a fair trial at various stages of the proceedings,” Amnesty said.

The group cited media reports relating to 50 people – Malaysian and foreign nationals − who appeared before magistrates’ courts to be charged with capital crimes.

Of the accused, 28 people (56 percent) were reported as represented by a legal counsel, and a significant 20 individuals (40 percent) were unrepresented.

The defendants were unrepresented “despite existing legal aid schemes established across Malaysia to support defendants of less advantaged socio-economic backgrounds,” Amnesty said.

Amnesty also urged the Malaysian government to abolish the usage of whipping as a punishment for offences saying that it was a “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment.”

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