9 February 2017
Malaysia: Commutation of death sentence must lead to a moratorium on further executions
Amnesty International welcomes the recent commutation in Malaysia of the death sentence imposed on Nigerian national Osariakhi Ernest Obayangbon. The organization encourages the Malaysian government to build on this positive development and immediately establish a moratorium on all executions. Further the authorities should commute all other existing death sentences and swiftly reform the country’s death penalty laws as critical steps towards full abolition of this punishment in the country.
In response to the news, the family of Osariakhi Ernest Obayangbon said, “Amnesty International did not only save Osariakhi’s life, [it] restored hope to the family whose lives would have been shattered and meaningless had the execution been carried out. The result of that effort is what we celebrate today; the commutation of his death sentence to life imprisonment.”
Amnesty International has received information indicating that in August 2016 the King of Malaysia commuted the death sentence imposed on Nigerian national Osariakhi Ernest Obayangbon, whose execution had been scheduled for the early hours of 14 March 2014. Amnesty International was notified about the execution just over 24 hours before it was due to take place and immediately began campaigning to bring to the authorities’ attention the serious concerns related to his case and to halt the execution.
Osariakhi Ernest Obyangbon, also known to Malaysian courts as British national “Philip Michael”, based on a passport found in his possession when he was arrested, had been convicted of and sentenced to the mandatory death penalty for murder in June 2000. He had been diagnosed as having schizophrenia before his appeal in 2007 and had been received treatment since then. Amnesty International was also concerned that his ability to make use of legal and clemency avenues available to him to defend himself was seriously undermined by his mental health condition. International law prohibits the imposition of mandatory death sentences and the use of the death penalty on those with mental disabilities.
While Amnesty International welcomes the news of the commutation of Osariakhi Ernest Obyangbon’s death sentence, his case also highlights the many flaws associated with the use of the death penalty in Malaysia and in the region. These include the use of the mandatory death penalty and use on people with mental disabilities, the wide scope of offences for which this punishment can be imposed – in contravention of international law – and lack of transparency on its use.
Amnesty International also calls on the Malaysian authorities to do more to intervene in cases of Malaysian nationals abroad. At this time two Malaysian nationals –Prabagaran Srivijayan and Datchinamurthy Kataiah− are in fact facing imminent execution in neighbouring Singapore for drug-related offences, which do not meet the threshold of the most serious crimes” to which the use of the death penalty must be restricted under international law. It is imperative that the Malaysian authorities call for the commutation of their death sentences and support their families.
The authorities must also step up their efforts to bring about the now overdue legal reforms to the country’s death penalty laws. Attorney General Tan Sri Apandi Ali, and the then Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department and de facto Law Minister Nancy Shukri had publicly stated in November 2015 that legal amendments to this aim, first announced in October 2012, would be drafted and tabled by end of March 2016. However, no progress has been reported to date.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty unconditionally as a violation of the right to life as proclaimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. As of today, 141 countries have abolished the death penalty in law or practice; in the Asia Pacific region, 19 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes and a further eight are abolitionist in practice. Mongolia is poised to give effect to its new Criminal Code abolishing this punishment in July 2017.