Sunday, July 29, 2012

Malaysia may abolish death penalty for drug offenders

Reduced sentences for couriers should be considered

ALTHOUGH the attorney-general's statement that he was considering giving judges discretionary powers in deciding whether to award the death penalty to drug mules convicted of trafficking appears to be a bolt out of the blue, this is actually only another step in the process that the country has gradually been taking towards lessening its use of the death penalty. In its 2009 Universal Periodic Review report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, Malaysia had declared that it was proposing to amend "existing anti-drug trafficking legislation to reduce the maximum sentence to life imprisonment" from the currently practised mandatory death. Last year, a parliamentary roundtable agreed to a resolution calling for an immediate moratorium on the mandatory death penalty, and in particular, its use on drug offenders. The A-G's proposed review will also afford those currently on death row the avenue to go back to the courts for re-sentencing.

The proposed amendment hopes to address drug mules -- the smallest fish in the long chain of the drug trade -- who are too stupid not to get caught and too poor to afford competent defence lawyers. Drug lords and kingpins -- who bear the greatest responsibility for the drug trade and reap the most profit -- hardly ever get caught or are charged with possession, let alone convicted. Yet, the current mandatory death penalty gives no leeway for the justice system to differentiate between a mule and a lord. Indirectly, too, adjusting the penalty may address an imbalance in justice that is currently being practised. Section 37 of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952, regarding legal presumptions, pushes the burden of proof on the accused. Anyone found to have dangerous drugs in his custody is presumed to be in possession. And, anyone found in possession of dangerous drugs above a specified limit is presumed to be trafficking. The accused has to disprove these presumptions. As a result, of the over 900 people on death row today, about 640 are drug cases.

Low-level drug offenders should not be let off scot-free, of course, but neither should they be given a penalty that exceeds the severity of the crime. Couriering drugs can hardly be said to be an offence worthy of the ultimate sanction. And there is as yet no scientific proof that the gallows have a deterrent effect on serious crime. So, this move is not an attempt to diminish the serious effect that drugs have on the lives of addicts and on society. Rather, it is a progressive attempt to ensure that justice is done; that the penalty does not outweigh the crime. - New Straits Times, 17/7/2012, Editorial - Drugs, death and justice

Only 98 pardons since 2001 in Malaysia

Natural life prisoners and those on death row need society's compassion

FOREVER is a very long time to pay for one mistake made in the stupidity of youth. For the people who are counting away the seemingly endless breaths of their days on death row or as natural life prisoners, just one thing done in haste, anger, bravado  or recklessness -- so incredibly easy to do without thought  --  and one must pay with one's life.

Whether it be spending 10 to 20 years waiting for "The Drop" that always threatens but takes forever to happen; or whiling away the decades waiting for the Angel of Death to extend an invitation, prisoners on death row and natural life know that once they have been thrown into prison, the only way they are going to get out is either through a pardon, or in a body bag. And so, they wait; the majority of them being young adults when they went in, youth and middle age passes them by within the four walls of the prison; and still they wait.

So, for the eight prisoners who were granted a pardon and immediate release by the Sultan of Johor yesterday, freedom must be nothing short of a miracle. For, once all legal and judicial appeals have been exhausted, technically, there are no other avenues of release. A pardon, if it is given, is a privilege, not a right; and it depends purely on the compassion of one person: the ruler of the state or territory in which the crime was committed. So few and far between are these that prior to yesterday, there have only been 98 pardons since 2001 of various sorts of crimes; of these, 50 were outright releases, and 48 reduced sentences. Compare this with the thousands of ordinary people who end up in prison every year, and the over 900 on death row today.

Admittedly, most of these people did commit serious crimes during their day (the attorney-general is considering reviewing the death penalty for drug mules), and they should make reparations to society for the damage and loss they have inflicted. But does that have to be paid for at the end of the noose or with the eternal torment of life behind bars? Is there no room for redemption and society's mercy? For, forgiveness is not just about the state of grace of the prisoners, but also of society -- to have enough compassion for a human being who has done wrong to give him another chance, and to return him to society. But, second chances should not be left to chance. Natural life prisoners must be given a tangible date of release. Life must have real hope or else redemption will be meaningless. - New Straits Times, 22/7/2012, Editorial, Second chances

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Malaysia may abolish death penalty for drug couriers

M’sia mulls scrapping death penalty for drug couriers

Wednesday, July 11, 2012 - 14:36
by Andrew Sagayam

may follow Singapore’s move to abolish the mandatory death penalty for drug couriers. Attorney-General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail said his Chambers was working towards proposing an amendment to the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 to give judges the discretion of not imposing death sentences on couriers.

“We are getting advice from law experts throughout the world regarding drug laws and how are they applied in their country,” Abdul Gani told The Malay Mail, yesterday.

“Since late last year, we have been doing research and studies, and one of the suggestions is that we want to allow those on death sentence to be resentenced.

“This means those on death row would be referred back to the courts, with legal representation, to be re-sentenced,” he said, in response to a query following Singapore’s decision to scrap the mandatory death penalty for drug couriers.

On Monday, Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said the proposal would give judges the discretion to sentence drug couriers to life imprisonment and caning.

Teo, who is also Minister for Home Aff airs, had said in parliament that the changes would apply to drug couriers and those convicted of homicide where intention to kill could not be established.

However, the mandatory death penalty for drug kingpins and traffi ckers remains.

Bar Council president Lim Chee Wee said Malaysia should abolish the mandatory death penalty or at least begin with a moratorium on execution.

‘Executions have not reduced drug trafficking’
He said leaders and lawmakers should stop thinking of politics namely the impact of such abolition would have on votes adding that the statistics show that mandatory death penalty has not reduced the number of drug trafficking cases.

“The Bar has consistently taken the position that the government must abolish the death penalty if we are to be called a just, democratic and progressive society in the eyes of the world.

“We urge the government to demonstrate leadership by immediately declaring a moratorium on any imposition for the death penalty,” Lim said.

He said the majority of arrests for drug trafficking is usually of low-ranking “drug mules” who are the most visible and easy to apprehend.

“In other words, while policymakers hope that the death penalty serves as a deterrent, the reality is that the majority of these arrests of “minor offenders” would not impact the scale or profitability of the drug market,” he said.

Lim said as it is well-acknowledged that no legal system in the world is foolproof or error-free the opportunity to right a wrong is, however, not available if the death sentence on a person has been carried out.

“In such event everyone will be collectively responsible for having sent an innocent man or woman to the gallows. We should take no risks to subject a person to death, as the execution of the death sentence is irreversible,” he said. - Malay Mail, 12/7/2012, M’sia mulls scrapping death penalty for drug couriers

See earlier post:

Abolition of Death Penalty for Drugs - Singapore doing it, when will Malaysia follow suit?