Has The Death Penalty In Malaysia Been Abolished? Short Answer Is No, But Here’s What We Know So Far
Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said noted that the legal amendments did not abolish the death penalty entirely, and instead gave discretion to the court on deciding the appropriate punishments.
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On 6 October 2022, the Malaysian government tabled bills to abolish the mandatory death penalty.
However, following the dissolution of Parliament on 10 October, the bills have not been passed.
The Road To Abolishing The Death Penalty
Malaysia’s commitment towards abolishing the death penalty has come a long way considering the politics that have shaped the existence of the death penalty in our country over the years.
Back in the 1980s, the Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad administration waged a war on drugs with several other Asean countries following suit.
At that time, it was thought that in order to eliminate drug addiction, action must not only be taken through intensive efforts such as education, advertising, testing, and rehabilitation for relatively small amounts of drugs like heroin, cocaine, or marijuana, but also extremely harsh penalties to nip it at the source.
The increasing rates of drug use in Malaysia from the early 80s were possibly due to the fact that we are situated near the ‘Golden Triangle’, an area comprising of Thailand, Myanmar, and Vietnam – three countries known to be the main producers of heroin poppies.
Thus at that point in time, the mandatory death penalty was a necessary evil needed to combat drug offences.
However, over time, the people’s views on this issue changed rapidly.
It was in 2010 that Malaysia began to see an uptick in the abolitionist agenda following certain events such as the case of Yong Vui Kong.
In 2018, prior to their winning, the Pakatan Harapan coalition released a manifesto in terms of the promises that they would bring about to abolish the death penalty from Malaysian laws – however, take note that this was to abolish the mandatory death penalty.
As per their promise, after being elected, the then-government proceeded to impose an official moratorium on all executions in October 2018.
Following a long hiatus caused by the crumbling of the Pakatan Harapan government due to the infamous Sheraton Move back in 2019 and the Covid-19 pandemic which saw a halt in all parliamentary sessions, discussions on the death penalty gained traction again in late 2021 as a result of the international uproar and heavy campaigning from local and international NGOs fighting against the imminent execution of the late Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam.
Then in June 2022, Malaysians were surprised with the announcement that the government would present the proposals to the alternatives for the mandatory death penalty.
This was a result of the presentation of a report on the study of alternative sentencing for capital punishment during a Cabinet Meeting, and would mean that the 11 offences holding the mandatory capital punishment will be replaced with alternative forms of punishment.
Finally, on 22 December, after the new Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim government had secured its place, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reform) Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said noted that the Cabinet had agreed to continue with reviewing laws related to the mandatory death penalty.
In a statement, as reported by The Star, she said the Attorney General’s Chambers had examined the implementation of the proposed alternative sentence involving 11 offences that carried the mandatory death penalty as provided in the Penal Code and the Firearms (Increased Penalties) Act 1971 and 23 offences that carried the mandatory death penalty subject to Court discretion under the Penal Code, the Arms Act 1960, the Firearms (Increased Penalties) Act 1971 and the Kidnapping Act 1961.
Azalina was also reported as saying that the government had agreed to amend related acts and presented seven related Bills for amendment.
The moratorium is still maintained for death penalty offenders until all amendments to the bill are implemented. The implementation of alternative sentences to the mandatory death penalty is expected to have a direct impact on a total of 1,327 prisoners who have been sentenced to death by the court while for other individuals who have not been accused, alternative punishment to the death penalty can be enforced prospectively.Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reform) Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said
Additionally, she also noted that the legal amendments did not abolish the death penalty entirely, and instead gave discretion to the court on deciding the appropriate punishments.
Overall, while it might take time for change to be implemented, the death penalty may slowly cease to exist here.
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