Thursday, November 03, 2011

'People must drive the change in death penalty' (NST)

before we can make any amendments, there must be a healthy debate about this. — Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz minister in the prime minister’s department

KUALA LUMPUR: Society must push for the abolition of the death penalty, if that is what they want, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz said yesterday. 

He said although he was for the abolition, there were few on the ground who agreed with him.

"There must be more efforts to create awareness. Even during parliamentary deba
tes, the issue is barely raised when you compare it with issues like the Internal Security Act or the Emergency Ordinance which the government has decided to abolish. There is no urgency."

He said the government was open to the idea of making changes where the death penalty was concerned, but society must make enough of a stir to warrant it.

"It doesn't have to be like the ISA, where people demonstrated in the streets. There are more civil ways to do it. At the moment, there is no civil movement towards abolishing the death penalty."

Nazri said it would take a long time to change the acceptance of the death penalty.

"It's an emotional topic. You can see it in the way people react when they read about unwanted babies getting killed or of women being raped and murdered.

"People get angry and demand an eye for an eye, what more when you talk about wanting to spare the perpetrators."

He said this was reflected at a recent seminar to promote the abolition of the death penalty in Malaysia.

Instead of supporters coming in droves, the ones who showed up were those who demanded that the death penalty remain, he added.

In Malaysia, where the majority of crimes that warranted the mandatory death sentence revolved around drug trafficking and possession of firearms, Nazri said sentencing the perpetrators to death might not have much impact on society.

"But, it's emotional to the family members when the person sentenced to death had unknowingly become drug mules. There's always the probability that those caught are innocent."

For starters, Nazri said, the judiciary system could look at giving discretionary powers to judges in deciding whether the crime committed warranted a death sentence.

He said the death penalty had not proven much of a deterrence in reducing serious crimes in the country and the next best solution was to commute death to a life sentence in jail.

"But before we can make any amendments, there must be a healthy debate about this."

For example, he said, some people saw the death sentence as something that was prescribed by syariah from an Islamic point of view.

"There is a misconception that syariah is about 'an eye for an eye'. In the context of murder, syariah provides space for the family of the murdered kin to forgive or to ask for payment of blood money (compensation)."

He said the argument was that in Malaysian law, when there was a crime such as murder, the crime committed was not against the family of the murdered kin but against the crown (government).

"So, the choice of whether to spare or condemn the person's life is in the government's hands and no longer the family's.

"The government has a moral standing to forgive those who commit offences and it should be reflected in commuting it to a life sentence."

Nazri said it was important for the public, particularly non-governmental organisations, to call for the abolishment of the death penalty.

Several religious associations say the death penalty should be abolished following a thorough review.

Federation of Taoist Associations Malaysia president Tan Hoe Chieow said in Taoism, it was prohibited to take one's own life, let alone another.

"It is our belief that three feet above one's head, God is watching every action and decision we make in life."

He said Taoists believed in Judgment Day and that punishment or rewards would be meted out accordingly.

But he said the death penalty should be abolished only after reviewing if indeed it did not prove to be a deterrent to serious crimes.

Tan, who is also the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) president, said it was wise to consider the alternative punishments thoroughly before any abolition.

MCCBCHST executive councillor V. Harcharan Singh said most religions advocated compassion and forgiveness.

He said in Sikhism, there was no punishment till death as it was considered cruel to take one's life.

an eye for an eye only makes 
the whole world blind.  — Datuk A. Vythilingam former president 
Malaysia Hindu Sangam

Malaysia Hindu Sangam former president Datuk A. Vythilingam said death sentences were carried out since the existence of ancient Hindu kingdoms.

In modern times, he said, the sentence should be carried out sparingly as it created an emotional uproar in society.

"Human beings naturally want to exact revenge for their hurt, hence they feel strongly about the death penalty.

"But an eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind."

Former Bar Council president Yeo Yang Poh said although there were pockets of people in society who believed that having a death penalty made for an effective deterrent, studies in other parts of the world showed that the crime rate did not drop because of it.

"The argument has been that no matter how good a system is, it will never be error-free.

"If it is found that someone was wrongfully jailed, he can be released. It is reversible. You can't say the same for someone wrongfully executed."

It was reported last year that there were 114 death sentences, with 744 persons on death row and one execution.

Some of the criminal offences that carry the death penalty include Section 121 of the Penal Code for waging war against the Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Section 364 for kidnapping or abducting in order to murder, Section 396 for gang robbery with murder and Section 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 for drug trafficking, which comes with a mandatory death sentence.

According to the Global Overview on the Death Penalty for Drug Offences 2010 conducted by International Harm Reduction Association, 32 states provided the death penalty for drug-related offences.

Of these, Malaysia is one of 13 that have the mandatory death sentence. - New Straits Times, 1/11/2011, 'People must drive the change in death penalty'

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