Thursday, July 06, 2006

Mkini: Death penalty debate needs to go beyond emotions

Death penalty debate needs to go beyond emotions
Sad Malaysian
Jul 6, 06 4:21pm

I refer to your report It’s the gallows for abolish death penalty call.

The death penalty has always been a controversial subject. There are many arguments used by both the proponents and opponents of the death penalty. The usual arguments that you would receive from the proponents would be is one, the death penalty is a preventive measure and two, our judicial system is well equipped to deal with this issue.

In Malaysia, the death penalty is reserved for what is deemed ‘the most heinous of crimes’ which include murder, treason, trafficking of drugs and being in possession of firearms. And the most famous of all arguments, ‘If someone you loved was brutally raped and murdered, wouldn’t you want the murderer to die?’ Make the victim a child, and you have a winning argument to sway almost anyone into in saying we need the death penalty.

So then, why are there people who keep saying the death penalty is a form of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment? That the death penalty goes against one of the holiest tenets of all religions, which is the sanctity of life? Why do these people persist in saying that there is no concrete evidence to say that the death penalty works as a preventive measure?

Let us take a look at the Malaysian scenario and all the necessary actors in the death penalty drama.

We will start with the police. How many of us are of the firm belief that the Royal Malaysian Police Force is one of the best in the world? Are corruption and abuse of power not rampant within the police force? No, you say, our police are decent and incorruptible. How about the cases where people died in police custody and the reports made about police abuse by countless Malaysians? Hearsay, hearsay!

Now let us look at our judiciary. Have there been any allegations of corruption and judicial misconduct? No, never. Our ‘house of Denmark’ smells of roses! Our judges have always exemplified the highest standards of professionalism, even when they go on holidays with lawyers that they have cases with. All right then, so we have the best judiciary in the world. All appeal cases are heard in record time since there is no backlog in our courts.

Let us not forget, that the poor and marginalised (who seem to constitute a large number of those on death row) always get the best defence lawyers pro-bono. We have a state-run institution that provides for the best lawyers to defend someone’s life right? I am sure we do. Just check with the Legal Aid Centres on the numbers of lawyers lining up to do their part in ensuring everyone gets the best defence possible even if they cannot afford it.

And we have an excellent track record of the Pardons Board, who meets up on a frequent basis to discuss any clemency appeals by those who have exhausted all avenues with the courts. I mean the reports in the papers about them meeting up only in 10-15 years was just a lie, wasn’t it?

Well, since everything is in place that guarantees that only those who are guilty beyond a doubt get the death penalty, I guess the death penalty serves its purpose in getting rid of the scum of society. Therefore, Malaysians have nothing to fear. We live in a perfect society. Only the bad get punished.

But wait a minute... if the death penalty works and we have punished all those people who have committed heinous crimes by taking their lives, why is there an increase in the crime rate? Why are the crimes becoming more heinous by the day? Why isn’t the death penalty preventing all those who continue to commit heinous crimes? Why do people who have been on death row for decades still maintain their innocence, when we know for a fact that our perfect system of justice found them guilty?

In conclusion, the death penalty will always be a contentious issue simply because people delude themselves in thinking that the ‘eye for an eye’ argument make sense and it will provide them with security from the barbarians out there. No amount of data and facts will make them think otherwise.

It is my sincere hope that people educate themselves about the death penalty and evaluate the circumstances in which a person is killed, even if it is state-sanctioned. The death penalty deserves more than just an emotional response to the heinousness of a crime. It needs to go beyond emotions to justify going against the fundamental right of all people – the right to life.

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