Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Is it time to 'retire' the hangman? (fz.com)

Is it time to 'retire' the hangman?

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'The Writest Thing' by Mohsin Abdullah
"THE hangman and his assistant arrive outside the condemned man's cell about five minutes before the scheduled time for execution. The prisoner is handcuffed behind his back and a loose fitting hood is placed over his head.
"In an ideal world, the prisoner cooperated by walking to the large single trapdoor capable of accommodating three people at one time. Once positioned on the trapdoor, it was the hangman's job to pull the noose tight under the prisoner's left jawbone.
"For those whose legs did not have the strength to hold them in their final moments, a small two legged support would be offered to enable them to rest their bodyweight.
"The executioner's assistant pinioned the legs and then, following the command from the senior officer, the lever was pulled, plunging the prisoner (or prisoners) to an instant death into the pit below". 
Terrifying moments that one. It was an execution by hanging in Kuala Lumpur's Pudu Jail as described by veteran journalist Tim Donoghue in his well written biography of lawyer cum politician Karpal Singh.
The book is entitled 'Karpal Singh - The Tiger of Jelutong'. And in it Donoghue also wrote that "Karpal agrees with former Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke that hanging is barbaric" as the lawyer believes there are more humane way of doing it, if at all, executions need to be carried out.
Karpal, as Donoghue tells us, "knows as he has had to help more than 50 mainly condemned men and their families to get through the process".
And the veteran journalist went on to write "there is also the toll the death penalty takes on the family of the prisoner to be killed by the state. In Malaysia the lives of the condemned person's family are placed in limbo for ten years - the average length of time the court process take - and very often parents and siblings can think of little else but the welfare of their loved one as he or she slowly works their way through the legal system".
Needless to say it is not easy for anyone involved including the hangman who, in the words of Donoghue, "get absolutely no satisfaction out of having to execute a prisoner by hanging, no matter what crime they have committed".
Capital punishment in Malaysia applies to murder, drug trafficking, kidnapping, treason, waging war against the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. And recently - acts of terrorism.
And as far as drugs and possession of fire arms are concerned, it's the mandatory death sentence for those found guilty. Most of those sent to the gallows were drug traffickers - the "low ranking drug mules who are the easiest to apprehend", as said by former Bar Council president Lim Chee Wee.  Many agree to that. 
The Karpal biography tells us death penalty for drug trafficking became mandatory in  April 1983 and the Malaysian government then helmed by Datuk Seri (now Tun) Dr Mahathir Mohamad was praised in 1985 by the UN International Narcotics Control Board for its efforts to curb drug trafficking.
In his biography we are also told that Karpal "genuinely sympathised with his government in its stringent efforts to clamp down on the illegal drug trade but he did not see well published weekly hangings as the answer to the problem".
To him the mandatory death sentence was no deterrent. Obviously he's still holding on to that stand. As recent as last year, Karpal – in his capacity as MP for Bukit Gelugor – had  asked in parliament then Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, if the tough laws carrying capital punishment had been effective in reducing drug related crime.
Based on Hishamuddin's written reply, the mandatory death sentence has not stopped drug dealers.
Also last year, Datuk Seri Nazri Abdul Aziz then minister in the PM's department went on record to say the government was looking into the possibility of withdrawing mandatory death sentence of drug offences, replacing it with jail terms.
One of the main reasons, said Nazri, was there were close to 250 Malaysians arrested as drug mules and sentenced to death abroad.
"It is difficult to justify our appeal to these countries not to hang them when our own country has the mandatory death sentence," said Nazri as quoted in the media.
Now there is at least one Malaysian, arrested and sentenced to death abroad who have escaped the gallows. And it wasn't because of our appeals.
Yes, by now we all know of Yong Vui Kong, the Malaysian, who was spared the hangman's noose after being on death row in Singapore since 2009 for drug trafficking.
The Singapore government had last year announced changes to the mandatory death penalty, allowing death row inmates to be given a lighter sentence if they met certain conditions.
And Yong became the first "beneficiary" of the amendment. He now will serve a life prison sentence and given 15 strokes of the rotan. 
So based on what Singapore has done should Malaysia follow suit?
Yes, said DAP's Liew Chin Tong - pointing out that the Singapore court, in Yong's case, had acknowledged that "mandatory death sentence is considered a cruel, degrading and inhuman punishment" and as such "it is time this is also recognised by the Malaysian court". 
Liew wants the Malaysian government to emulate Singapore and amend our laws to allow discretionary sentencing in cases of mandatory death sentences with a long term view to abolish the death penalty.
In fact, in January this year, the Office for Human Development of the Kuala Lumpur Archdiocese had launched a signature campaign for the death penalty be repealed in Malaysia.
Anyway back to Liew, for now, he wants the government to make good "its promise of October 2012" referring to the remarks made by Nazri who was then de facto law minister. But a fellow Malaysian who goes by the name CG Tiong wrote a letter to The Star newspaper recently to say: 'Don't repeal mandatory death sentence'.
Tiong viewed the DAP man's call "a misplaced and misconstrued plea supposedly on humanity grounds".
As Tiong sees it, those sentenced to mandatory death are criminals who "have caused countless deaths and tremendous hardship on families of victims" - going to write "all the do gooders clamouring for the removal of mandatory death sentence are idealists and have never suffered as victims in the hands of criminals".
CG Tiong ended the letter by saying "don't let misplaced sympathy and misplaced humanity cloud our judgment".
So where do we go from here?
A classic case of "damned if you do, damned if you don't", perhaps? 
Mohsin Abdullah is a specialist writer at fz.com. He likes rojak. And nasi campur. And durians. Perhaps that’s why he writes about this, that and everything else. Pretty much rojak and nasi campur. As for his writings, well, they can be like durians. Aromatic and delicious to some people, smelly and off-putting to others. - fz.com, 19/11/2013, Is it time to 'retire' the hangman?

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