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A hangman's noose

Malaysia to table Bill to abolish death penalty, says Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department

A Bill on the abolishment of the death penalty will be tabled in the next Malaysian Parliamentary sitting, which will begin on Monday (15 Oct), according to Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Liew Vui Keong.

“Death penalty will be abolished. Full stop. Since we are abolishing the sentence, all executions should not be carried out," said the de facto law minister.

Speaking to reporters after chairing the Law Reform Talk at the Faculty of Law at the University of Malaya yesterday (10 Oct), Liew said: “We will inform the Pardons Board to look into various applications for convicts on the (death penalty) waiting list to either be commuted or released.”

“Drug-related offences," however, "will be different, and considerations must be given to convicts who, for example, were drug mules compared to those who committed heinous crimes.

“We also need to comprehensively consider all cases, especially when it concerns the families of murdered victims,” he added.

President of the Malaysian National Human Rights Society (HAKAM) Mr Gurdial Singh Nijar labelled the decision as "historic," and a fulfilment of the Pakatan Harapan government's manifesto, according to Malaysiakini.

"A death penalty is irreversible. There have been cases where the wrong people have been sentenced to death for a variety of reasons - including poor quality of defence. Thus innocent lives are put at risk.

Separately, he said: "Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in the US in 1976, 138 innocent men and women have been released from death row, including some who came within minutes of execution. No such research has been conducted in Malaysia."

While Mr Gurdial does not wish to invalidate the grief of victims' families, particularly in cases where murder was involved, he warned that the execution of the perpetrator will not be productive in helping them heal and to move forward.

Instead, he suggested that the state should assist victims' families in other ways, such as channelling funds that are now being used for executions to those families.

Singapore holding on to firm retentionist stance regarding death penalty; problematic stance as convictions and sentencing lack transparency and might unjustly implicate the innocent

Meanwhile, as recent as March this year, Singapore executed 56-year-old Hishamrudin Bin Mohd, who was found guilty of possessing 34.94 grams of diamorphine for the purpose of trafficking.

According to a report by Amnesty International, Mr Hishamrudin maintained his innocence since his arrest and held that proceedings against him were unfair, with him testifying during both his trial and appeal that he was assaulted by Central Narcotics Bureau officers while he was arrested, on top of being framed by the authorities by tampering with and planting evidence that implicated him.

Mr Hishamrudin's execution marked the 19th execution under death penalty laws in Singapore since the 2012 legislative reforms, out of which 16 of them were due to drug-related offences.

There has been a lack of transparency observed in the process of conviction and sentencing of individuals on death row in Singapore, with the authorities only "making official announcements of executions" to the public "only on some occasions after they have been carried out," and even "lawyers and judges are only informed of the outcome of the Public Prosecutor’s decision on cooperation and so are not given information as to how the assistance was tendered," according to Amnesty International.

Amnesty International further stated in its report on Mr Hishamrudin's case that "The mandatory imposition of the death penalty contradicts international law," citing the example of the UN Human Rights Committee, which maintains that “the automatic imposition of the death penalty constitutes an arbitrary deprivation of life, in violation of article 6, paragraph 1, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, in circumstances where the death penalty is imposed without any possibility of taking into account the defendant’s personal circumstances or the circumstances of the particular offence”.

Quoting a finding by the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Amnesty International stated: "The UN Human Rights Committee has, on numerous occasions, found that drug-related offences do not meet the criterion of “most serious crimes,” which is in contradiction to what international law mandates -- that is, the death penalty is only justifiable in the case of the “most serious crimes”.

Amnesty International, in its conclusion, strongly "opposes the death penalty in all cases, without exception, regardless of the nature or circumstances of the crime; guilt, innocence or other characteristics of the individual; or the method used by the state to carry out the execution," adding that "As of today, 106 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes, and more than two-thirds of the world’s countries are abolitionist in law or practice."

Singapore remains one of the few countries in the world to maintain the death penalty as the highest, most severe sentence for crimes such as murder, kidnapping, treason and, more frequently, drug-related offences.

Law Minister Mr K Shanmugam has repeatedly reiterated the Singapore Government's justification for retaining the death penalty sentence, stating that while the government does not "take any joy or comfort in having the death penalty," the enforcement of the death penalty is done "reluctantly" for "the greater good of society," as it "saves more lives," resting on the assumption that a death sentence acts as a strong deterrent against drug trafficking and other drug-related offences.

However, following the incorporation of the Misuse of Drugs (Amendment) Act 2012 and the Penal Code (Amendment) Act 2012 on 14 Nov four years ago, Singapore courts are now given the discretion should they not wish to impose the death penalty under certain circumstances.

In drug-related cases, for example, defendants may be spared the death penalty if they are found to have been involved only in transporting, sending or delivering a prohibited substance (as “couriers”), and if the Public Prosecutor is able to certify that they cooperated with the Central Narcotics Bureau to disrupt further drug-related activities.

The mandatory death penalty remains for all other drug-related offences.