All death penalty will be abolished. Full stop.Liew Vui Keong, de facto Law Minister, 10 October 2018
Current Status of the Death Penalty in Malaysia
The death penalty is currently retained for 33 offences in Malaysia, including 11 for which it is the mandatory punishment, and in recent years has been used mostly for murder and drug trafficking. As of February 2023, 1,320 people were reported to be on death row in Malaysia, more than quarter of which represent foreign nationals. Of the total, more than half have been convicted of drug trafficking. Some ethnic minorities are over-represented on death row, while the limited available information indicates that a large proportion of those on death row are people with less advantaged socio-economic backgrounds.
There is, however, an important opportunity for change in Malaysia. On 27 March 2023, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reform) Azalina Othman Said tabled two bills in Parliament to abolish the mandatory death penalty and give judges discretionary powers, remove imprisonment for life until natural death as an alternative punishment, and grant the possibility to all those on death row to benefit from the reform. Amnesty International welcomes these announcements as an important step towards the full abolition of the death penalty in Malaysia.
Crimes punishable by death in Malaysia
- Drug trafficking
- Waging war against the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (the King)
- Kidnapping or abducting in order to murder
- Possession of Firearms
- Abetting Mutiny (Armed Forces)
- Hostage taking
Other concerns associated with the death penalty
Secretive pardons process
Only the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong (the King) and Sultans of each state have the power to grant clemency to death row prisoners, through a pardons board, to commute their sentence to life imprisonment — in which the inmates will serve time for a minimum of 30 years. According to the Prisons Department, the pardons board of various states in Malaysia commuted the death sentences of 165 people who had been sent to death row from 2007 to 2017. During the same time, 35 executions took place. As of February 2023, 1,320 people are on death row.
Malaysia’s International commitments
Malaysia is neither a party to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) nor its Second Optional Protocol aiming at the abolition of the death penalty (1989). In March 2014, Malaysia rejected all recommendations to establish a moratorium on executions and abolish the death penalty made by fellow UN-member states at the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review, aimed at improving the country’s human rights situation.
A public opinion survey carried out in 2012 by, the Death Penalty Project (DPP) in association with the Malaysian Bar Council, found that “Malaysians believed in the death Penalty but were not willing to mete it out”. This encouraging outcome indicates that with the right amount of awareness and education the public can be convinced that the death penalty is in fact an infringement of one’s human rights.
Lack of transparency in meting out death sentences in Malaysia
Malaysia has earned a reputation for meting out death sentences in secrecy. Along with countries like India, Indonesia, Japan, and South Sudan, as well as in some cases in Iran, neither prisoners nor their families or lawyers were informed of their forthcoming execution. AI Malaysia criticises Malaysia for continuing to carry out executions in secrecy which is in direct violation of international standards. In 2013, there were at least two executions which were known to have taken place in Malaysia and both executions were shrouded in secrecy as the authorities did not make any public announcement about the imminent executions nor were there any posthumous information about the executed individuals.