Malaysia continues to grapple with death penalty abolition


The number of global executions fell by a third last year, making it the lowest number of executions in at least a decade, according to a report released on Wednesday by human rights group Amnesty International.

The report comes as the Malaysian government continues to grapple with whether or not to abolish the death penalty, a move fiercely opposed by conservative and opposition groups.

The Pakatan Harapan government, led by prime minister Mahathir Mohamed, had initially outlined plans to fully abolish the death penalty as part of its election manifesto in March 2018 – a move that would have granted reprieve to more than 1,200 people on death row. But since taking power in May, the coalition government has backpedalled on the initial promise. It has instead debated whether to remove the mandatory death penalty on certain crimes and leave it to the courts' discretion to enforce the death penalty – much to the dismay of human rights groups and pro-abolitionists.

"The reversal of the earlier decision is shocking, unprincipled and embarrassing," N. Surendran, advisor to human rights group Lawyers for Liberty, said last month.

The government has however placed a moratorium on the death penalty, which means any death sentence handed down in the meantime cannot be carried out until the moratorium is lifted, or a final decision is reached on abolition.

"We believe the Malaysian government knows exactly what is the right thing to do," said Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu, executive director of Amnesty International Malaysia, during the official launch of the organisation's report in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday.

Parliamentarian Kasthuri Patto, a pro-abolition politician who was also at the launch, said the minister for law Liew Vui Keong is "very much on board with abolishing the death penalty."

However, she added "the challenge is for him to convince the Cabinet to speak in that same language." Opposition parties Parti Se-Islam Malaysia (PAS), an Islamist party that controls the eastern states of Kelantan and Terengganu, along with the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), have expressed their reluctance in doing away completely with the death penalty.

MCA deputy president Wee Ka Siong said the government should not abolish capital punishment for the sake of fulfilling its election manifesto, in comments reported by The Star, while PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang recommended that a detailed study first be undertaken on the issue.

Meanwhile, parliamentary sittings are due to end on Thursday, making it unlikely that a landmark abolition decision will be reached within the next 24 hours. The next parliamentary sitting is scheduled to occur in July.

Till then, the decision will remain in the balance.    (dpa)

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