Representatives from the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam), the Malaysian Bar and French group The Organisation Together Against Death Penalty urged Putrajaya to abolish the practice in favour of more humane sentences.
“The views on this and human rights by the Cabinet vary. Some are committed but some have not made a stand at all,” Suhakam chairman Tan Sri Hasmy Agam told reporters at the Asian Regional Congress on Death Penalty here.
“We must get the top leadership including the PM to be committed to this. There is intention but there is no follow up,” he added.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Paul Low had voiced his support for the abolishment of the death sentence in drug-related offences earlier today at the same event.
Low said the practice was “unfair” as more often than not, it was the drug mules who were caught and hanged instead of the syndicate leaders.
President of the Malaysian Bar Steven Thiru said the government has repeatedly promised a review of the death penalty in the past few years but there have been no developments since 2009.
The groups also urged the government to make public current data on the death penalty.
“We are quoting data that goes back to November 2013. We can't say… that abolishing death penalty would help deter drug cases because we have no exact data on that.
“That is the sorry state of affairs here. Data should be made public so that we know what is the breakdown,” Steven said.
Lawyer Julian McMahon commended Malaysia’s civil society for pushing for reform on capital punishment but said political willpower was needed to change the laws in the region.
“What is needed now is leadership at political level and civil society to lead the region in this matter,” said McMahon who represented two men who were part of the Bali nine recently executed for drug trafficking in Indonesia.
Malaysia is among 22 countries that executed inmates on death row last year.
In its Death Sentences and Executions Report 2014 by Amnesty International in April, the human rights watchdog noted that at least 38 people in the country were sentenced to death and two executed last year.
It added that 70 per cent of the convictions were for drug-related offences.
Friday June 12, 2015 MYT 7:25:42 AM
Review death sentence for drug offences, says Low
He told the First Regional Congress on the Death Penalty here that he supported the view of former de facto law minister Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz in 2010 that it should be abolished.
“It would be difficult for the Government to appeal for a reprieve on behalf of Malaysians caught abroad as drug mules,” said the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department yesterday.
Low added that the rising number of convictions raised the question of whether the death sentence was an effective deterrent against drug trafficking.
Bar president Steven Thiru and Suhakam chairman Tan Sri Hasmy Agam said at a press conference that Low was expressing his personal view, as acknowledged by Low himself in his keynote address.
They said this when asked if they were confident that there would be any change as Low is not the first minister to give his personal support for abolition or a moratorium on the death sentence, pending its repeal.
Quoting previous statements from the ex-minister and the Attorney-General’s Chambers, Steven said Low’s speech was more a repeat of a promise that had not been kept.
“If it is going to be baby steps – convert mandatory death sentences for drug mules to discretionary death sentences in the hands of a judge – then so be it and move on from there.
“But we’re neither here nor there, as though we’re back to the pre-2009 position,” he said.
The Government told the United Nations during its Universal Periodic Review in 2009 that it was considering returning discretionary powers for imposing the death penalty to the courts.
Australian lawyer Julian McMahon said he took a positive reading from Low’s speech.
“Looking at the whole region, one of the things he talked about was leadership. As an outsider, what I perceived was the opportunity for leadership in the region and the reality of momentum,” said McMahon, who was counsel for the two Australians recently executed in Indonesia for drug offences. - The Star, 12/6/2015