Malaysia carries out executions, despite moves for reform

By: Daniel Besant - Posted on: March 25, 2016 | Current Affairs

Three men were executed today under mandatory sentencing laws opposed by civil society groups and some senior officials

Malaysia this morning executed three men by hanging in a move that was widely condemned. And the sentences were carried out despite indications from the country’s attorney general and a leading politician that justice reforms would soon be submitted to parliament for consideration.

“The execution of these three men is a deeply sad development and an unspeakably brutal act that brings shame upon Malaysia,” said Josef Benedict, Amnesty International’s campaigns director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific. “Neither the family nor the prisoners had a clue that their last two appeals had been rejected and the notification of the imminent executions barely allowed the families time for a final visit.”

All three men were handed the mandatory death penalty after being convicted of murder. Under Malaysian law, judges are given no discretion to consider whether the circumstances of a case warrant death by hanging or a custodial sentence as punishment. Currently, sentences of execution are mandatory for offences including drug trafficking and murder.

Amnesty International reports that in October last year, the Prison Department stated publicly that 33 executions were carried out between 1998 and 2015, but no information was made available as to when these were carried out and in which cases. The organisation has been regularly receiving reports of executions being conducted, which it could not independently verify. Campaign group Death Penalty Worldwide estimates there are currently 1,000 prisoners on death row in Malaysia.

“We’re shocked but not surprised because executions happen all the time in Malaysia,” said Eric Paulsen, executive director of Malaysian reform group Lawyers for Liberty. “Reprieve comes very, very rarely.”

In November, in separate statements, Attorney General Mohamed Apandi Ali and Nancy Shukri, a cabinet minister in Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government, said that legislative reforms to review the mandatory death penalty would be introduced to parliament this month. The proposals were initially announced in October 2012.

“We’re a bit of a strange country. We know what is the right thing to do, but we don’t always do it all of the time,” said Paulsen. “The Malaysian authorities have acted like this several times, not just over the last few years but over decades.”

Paulsen believes that the mandatory death sentence is not the best way of punishing serious offenders. He points to a lack of statistics to back up claims that there will be an increase in serious crimes if the death penalty is abolished. “No government wants to look weak on crime. So it’s more about politics than what is right for the country,” he added.

In a statement released by the Malaysian Bar Association yesterday, before the executions, the organisation’s president, Steven Thiru, said: “All death sentences should be stayed pending the results of the review. It is unfair and unjust to carry out a death sentence when there is currently a possibility of reform which, if put into effect, should apply retrospectively.”

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