Thursday, October 31, 2013

Malaysian death penalty under revaluation

By: Emily Bamforth
Produced & Edited by: Katie Foglia
It has been over a year since Malaysia’s attorney general announced that the Attorney General’s Chambers was considering an amendment to make the death penalty discretionary in terms of drug trafficking.
Bar Council of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur.
Photo by Kaihsu Tai via Wikimedia Commons. 
The change would drop the number of cases where the death penalty is mandatory from six to five. The current cases to which mandatory sentencing applies are firearm offenses or being an accomplice in a crime utilizing a firearm, murder, drug trafficking and treason, according to the Malaysian Bar.
Malaysia is one of 29 countries that still carry a death penalty.
“Obviously, the death penalty is a severe punishment,” said Kin Chai Ho, a senior lecturer at HELP University College, in an email. “It shows the severity of the crime and the government’s determination to curb the crimes.”
Execution is by hanging. Anil Netto, treasurer for ALIRAN, a Malaysian social reform movement, said that some on Death Row have been in jail for long periods of time.
“ALRIAN has always been against the death penalty,” said Netto in an email. “We feel that it is against the fundamental right to life.”

Malaysia compared to other countries

Although the sentence may be mandatory, Malaysia sits low in terms of executions compared to other countries. A total of 324 people have been sentenced to death in Malaysia between 2007 and 2012, but only two have been executed, according to data from Amnesty International.
In comparison, so far in 2013, 30 people have been executed in Texas. The Texas death penalty is discretionary. Ho said, however, that it is unwise to stack countries up against each other.
“A country’s law is supreme in that country and is meant to serve the people of that country,” he said. “You cannot use someone else’s standard to judge your law. In doing so, you are implying someone’s law is superior to your law.”
Pathman Sundramoorthy, associate professor of criminology at University Sains Malaysia, said the lack of executions could be due to a potential change and current questioning of death penalty laws.
“There’s demand that these kinds of punishments be reviewed,” he said.
Organizations such as the Malaysian Bar have been working towards abolishing the death penalty for years, Christopher Leong, president of the organization, said. “Even in the case of a convicted murderer, the death penalty is a reflection of the notion that ‘an eye for an eye’ provides the best form of justice, a concept that we should not embrace nor practice today bearing in mind that at present there is no criminal justice system emplaced which is foolproof.”
Sundramoothy said the penalty in regards to drug trafficking may not deter individuals from trafficking in the first place, but will remove their impact from the community, a concept called specific deterrence.
“Don’t forget, we’re all still developing countries,” Sundramoorthy said. “We cannot afford to have this problem.”
Surrounding countries such as Singapore and Indonesia also maintain mandatory death penalties.

Mixed public opinion on penalty 

Sharon Wilson, an assistant professor in the Department of Mass Communications for Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR), said she sees a mixed bag of opinions amongst the public on the topic.
“For those who agree, they believe it is proper in accordance to the crimes committed,” she said in an email. “The death penalty ensures that criminals do not get involved again or (become) repeat offenders. As a lesson there are many countries that carry out the death penalty in public for all to see in the public square. In Malaysia, the death penalty is done in closed doors.”
Wilson supports the death penalty in the case of serious crimes. She added that she would like to see the punishment extended to offenses such as sexual crimes against minors.
In a recent study commissioned by The Death Penalty Project in London, 56 percent of a group of 1,535 Malaysian citizens said they were in favor of a mandatory execution sentence for murder, with between 25 and 44 percent in favor for drug trafficking offenses and 45 percent for firearm possession.
Emily Brokaw, a student at Taylor University studying music education, lived in Malaysia for 14 years. She said as an expatriate, she was advised to be cautious in her actions and to avoid situations that could compromise her security.
“Instances of the death penalty and the severity of the rule do not frequently demand attention in the common populace, or at least the long term expat residents,” she said in an email. “I have heard from second hand sources of instances where people have been tried for a crime and sentenced to death, usually for possession of drugs even if they were transporting drugs unknowingly. This serves as a reminder to expats that we need to take care to not place ourselves unwittingly in a compromising situation.”
Wilson said the trial process for these kinds of crimes is quite long, extending to the high court, Court of Appeals and federal court. Defendants can request a Royal Pardon if found guilty.
Members of the Royal Malaysia Police force.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
“Malaysia has been very strict with its drug laws and we don’t tolerate possession or distribution,” she said. “The Malaysian courts have not been ‘trigger happy’ in implementing this law unless they are sure that all evidence puts the individual as the criminal.”
Sundramoorthy said there are many misconceptions about the death penalty in the country, like the harsh punishments are tied to religion. He said he urges people to examine the economic, historical and political factors tied into the punishment.
"Every country has specific reasons why certain types of punishment are (given) out to offenders,” he said. “Every country has its reasons. What might appear right to you might look wrong to me. You have to look at the context.”  

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