27 March 2023
Responding to the bills introduced in Parliament to abolish the mandatory death penalty, Amnesty International Malaysia’s Executive Director, Katrina Jorene Maliamauv said:
“We commend the government’s resolve to recommence reforms to abolish the mandatory death penalty, and grant discretionary sentencing powers to the judiciary. We welcome that the two new bills go further than ever before and abolish the death penalty for some offences, remove life until natural death as an alternative and grant the possibility to all those on death row to benefit from the reform. The bills to abolish the mandatory death penalty, if successfully adopted by Parliament, will have a direct impact not only on the individuals currently on death row, but also on each of their family members who have been long awaiting this promised reform. These historic amendments to the national legislation is a critical step that Malaysia simply must take in order to improve the protection of human rights in our criminal justice system. We call on all members of Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara to lend their support to both bills.
In a significant advance from last October, it is a welcome move that the amendments will see the measures applied retroactively and that all individuals on death row will have a chance to apply to have their sentences reviewed. However, it is imperative that the authorities ensure that any resentencing process, and all the more so when the choice is between life or death, is in line with international fair trial standards. This means ensuring that those applying have adequate time, resources including language support and access to legal representation, to support their application, as well as that their right to appeal the decision is guaranteed. This is of critical importance, including as many of those under sentence of death have disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds or are foreign nationals – and none of those previously sentenced to the mandatory death penalty had the chance to present to the courts the full extent of mitigating circumstances in their cases. It ought to be a fair second chance.”
It is also concerning that whipping, which constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, and as such is prohibited under international law, will remain part of the limited alternative punishments available to judges at sentencing under the amended law. As Malaysia progresses towards eliminating the mandatory imposition of the archaic and cruel death penalty, Malaysian leaders must ensure that any alternative punishments that take its place are not in contravention to the prohibition against torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Amnesty International Malaysia also urges that the moratorium on executions, which has been in place since 2018, be maintained until the death penalty is fully abolished and all death sentences are commuted. Since 2018, Malaysia has consistently supported the UN General Assembly resolution calling for a moratorium on executions with a view towards its ultimate abolition. The removal of the mandatory death penalty is an important step, but it should not be the last. Malaysia can and must swiftly work towards ending this cruel, inhumane, and degrading punishment once and for all.
On 27 March 2023, bills relating to the abolishment of the mandatory death penalty—the Abolition of Mandatory Death Penalty Bill 2023 and the Revision of Sentence of Death and Imprisonment for Natural Life (Temporary Jurisdiction of The Federal Court) Bill 2023–were introduced in Parliament for its first reading.
The death penalty is currently retained for 33 offences in Malaysia, including 11 for which it is the mandatory punishment. An official moratorium on executions has been in place since July 2018, but the courts in Malaysia have continued to sentence countless people to death.
Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception, regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime, the guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the offender or the method used by the state to carry out the execution.
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