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 12 for which it is the mandatory punishment, and in recent years has been used mostly for murder and drug trafficking. As of February 2019, 1,281 people were reported to be on death row in Malaysia, including 568 (44%) foreign nationals. Of the total, 73% have been convicted of drug trafficking. This figure rises to a staggering 95% in the cases of women. 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. In July 2018, a newly formed government established an immediate moratorium on executions and later committed to fully abolish the death penalty. The government is expected to table legislation in the Malaysian Parliament that will be a step in the right direction by removing the mandatory death penalty for 11 offences, but that falls far short of the previous commitment of full abolition. Amnesty International recommends that the authorities promptly table draft legislation to address the significant flaws outlined in this report to prevent the arbitrary imposition of the death penalty, as a first step towards the full abolition of this punishment.
Who is on death row in Malaysia?
- Prisons: The facility with the largest number of people under sentence of death was the male division of Kajang prison, in Selangor state, with 19% of the national total. This was followed by Tapah prison in Perak state (9%) and Simpang Renggam prison in Johor state (8%).
- Gender: Those under sentence of death in Malaysia were mostly men, 89% (or 1,140). The 141 women were held in nine facilities, with just 8 detained in East Malaysia.
- Nationalities: A startling 44% (568) of all those under sentence of death were foreign nationals, from 43 countries. Nationals from Nigeria made up 21% of this group, with those from Indonesia (16%), Iran (15%), India (10%), Philippines (8%) and Thailand (6%) following suit.
- Of the 1,140 men on death row, (39%) were categorized as foreign nationals; while for women that increases to 86% (121).
- Convicted of drug trafficking: A significant 73% of all those under sentence of death have been convicted of drug trafficking under section 39(b) of the Dangerous of Drugs Act, 1952 – an extremely high figure for an offence that does not even meet the threshold of the “most serious crimes” under international law and standards and for which the death penalty must not be imposed
- Ethnic groups: Figures provided to Amnesty International by official sources as of 28 October 2018 indicated that out of the 713 Malaysian nationals on death row, 48% belonged to the Malay ethnic group; 24% to the Chinese group; 25% to the Indian group; and 4% to other ethnic groups. This indicates that the Indian population and people belonging to other ethnic minorities are overrepresented on death row, while the Malay ethnicity has a lower proportion compared to its national comparative.
- Socioeconomic background: According to official sources, 440 people, or 34%, of all those on death row were classified as unemployed or not having a permanent job; and a further 126, or 10%, as “labourers”.
- Pardon applications: More than half of those on death row (60%) had their legal appeals finalized as of February 2019. Of these 764 people, just 425 had submitted their petition for pardon. Approximately half of the foreign nationals at the final stage of their case did not file their pardon petition, while the figure is slightly higher in the case of Malaysians (approximately 60%).
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. Durin the same time, 35 executions took place. As of June 2018, 1,267 are people 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 meeting 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.