Monday, June 04, 2012
Hundreds on death row in Malaysia (ABC Radio Australia)
Updated 22 May 2012, 16:15 AEST
Just this week, five men received the death sentence for drug trafficking - an offence that carries the mandatory death penalty in Malaysia.
Presenter: Bill Bainbridge
Speaker: Charles Hector, lawyer, Malaysians Against Death Penalty & Torture
HECTOR: No at present, as of February 28th this year the number that was given to us by the government is 860 people are waiting on death row.
BAINBRIDGE: And can they all expect to finally be executed or do people remain on death row in Malaysia for many years without ever meeting their ultimate fate?
HECTOR: At the present moment I think for the past few years the Malaysian government has been slow on executions, so a lot of people actually stay on death row for quite some time, because even the 860 who are actually on death row they've still not gone through all the processes, they're pending appeal or they're waiting for a pardon at the present moment.
BAINBRIDGE: As we heard in that earlier report just 50 grams of drugs can be enough to earn the death penalty in Malaysia, that's in most jurisdictions that's a fairly small amount of drugs. What other kind of criminal offences carry the death penalty in Malaysia?
HECTOR: I think in regards to the other criminal offences murder is one, then also in terms of the unlawful possession of firearms if you're judged under the Internal Security Act, and the discharging of firearms with the intent of extortion, robbery, preventing or resisting arrest, abduction, kidnapping, house-breaking or house trespass. In this case just discharging of firearms, there's no question of anybody actually getting shot or injured, so these are the things. But the main thing is still drug trafficking.
BAINBRIDGE: And is drug trafficking, is it mostly foreigners who get caught up in drug trafficking, or are the majority Malaysians?
HECTOR: I think still the majority is Malaysians who are actually arrested and convicted and even executed, because for the reason of drug trafficking.
BAINBRIDGE: And so how difficult is it for lawyers in Malaysia to actually get somebody off death row?
HECTOR: It's quite difficult because the thing is as far as drug trafficking is concerned the presumption comes into play. So as long as you're arrested with a certain amount of drugs, the first presumption is that the presumption is that you are the owner, the person in possession of the drugs, and the second presumption is that you are guilty of drug trafficking. So the difficulty is in terms of actually overturning this presumption, which is not exactly very easy. So it's very rare that people actually manage to overturn the presumption.
BAINBRIDGE: And so therefore is there a very high risk of executing people in Malaysia who turn out to actually be innocent?
HECTOR: Yes there is because the thing is how do you actually disprove the fact that somebody places drugs in your car for example? How do you disprove and say it's not my drugs?
BAINBRIDGE: And are there cases like that, are there examples you can give us where somebody has been executed and later found to be innocent of the crime?
HECTOR: At present there is no such cases kind of thing based on fact or admission by the authority, but this is the story with regards to a lot of people who are actually been convicted or executed, that the drugs were not theirs or they did not know it was drugs. They're not actually involved in any form of drug trafficking, but it doesn't matter, because the thing is that is why in terms of there's indication that actually Malaysia might be actually moving towards abolishing, especially with regards to drug trafficking. More so that since there has been quite a number of Malaysians who have been actually arrested and charged for drug trafficking in China, in Singapore, who are facing execution and that somehow has actually opened the eyes of the government in a way to realise that these people could be innocent mules.
BAINBRIDGE: So you say Malaysia is moving towards abolition, do you see that there's actually support within the government and within the population there to have abolition sometime in the near future?
HECTOR: I think within the government actually we have the minister coming out actually two or three times, and personally stating that he is actually for abolition, but he says that is his personal opinion and he hopes that more people will actually come forward and express that intention. And as far as the Malaysian Bar, we have actually passed a resolution several years ago calling for abolition, and recently about 12-thousand lawyers, multiracial, multi-religious, reflective of the citizenry in the country, in this year, 2012. What is interesting the similar abolition for death penalty resolution was passed, but this time it was unanimous. And so I think the trend it seems to be that it's actually moving towards abolition rather than the other way around.