Malaysia: Full abolition of death penalty must swiftly follow suspension of executions

Amnesty International Malaysia welcomes the 2 July announcement by Datuk Seri Nadzri Siron, deputy secretary-general of the Ministry of Home Affairs, that the government of Malaysia has put the implementation of the death sentences of 17 prisoners on hold, pending the review of the country’s death penalty laws.
The announcement comes only days after Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Deputy Prime Minister, confirmed the government’s commitment to consider abolishing the mandatory death penalty for all crimes.
“We have long waited for the suspension of executions in Malaysia and yesterday’s announcement of a reprieve for 17 people fills us with hope for a new chapter in the protection and promotion of human rights in the country. This first step must promptly be followed by the total abolition of the death penalty for all crimes,” said Gwen Lee, Interim Executive Director at Amnesty International Malaysia.
According to figures revealed by the deputy director of the Prisons Department, 1,267 people are under sentence of death in Malaysia, including 442 who have had their legal appeals finalized.
“It is critical that an official moratorium on executions is established to include all cases and cover all stages of Malaysia’s journey towards abolition. As other countries consider similar steps, the authorities must not hesitate further and make Malaysia join the majority of the world’s countries that have consigned the death penalty to history”, said Gwen Lee.
The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. Amnesty opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception – regardless of who is accused, the nature or circumstances of the crime, guilt or innocence or method of execution.
Those supporting the death penalty in countries that execute commonly, such as Malaysia commonly cite the death penalty as a way to deter people from committing crime. This claim has been repeatedly discredited, and there is no evidence that the death penalty is any more effective in reducing crime than life imprisonment.
“The time is ripe for Malaysia to put human rights principles at the centre and become a catalyst for positive change in the Asia Pacific region. The Malaysian government must put forward draft legislation to abolish the death penalty at the coming Parliamentary session and have the political will to abolish the death penalty in totality, once and for all in Malaysia,” said Gwen Lee.
Deputy Prime Minister Wan Azizah Wan Ismail’s announced on 29 June  that the Malaysian government is considering to abolish the mandatory death penalty in national legislation.
Lack of transparency has surrounded the use of the death penalty in Malaysia, with figures and information on scheduled executions not being publicly available. Amnesty International was informed that at least four executions were carried out in 2017, but the organization believed that the total figure was likely to be higher. The relatives of three of the men told Amnesty International that prison officials invited them to visit their relatives on death row two days before the executions were carried out; they were only informed of the exact date on their last visit, 24 hours before the executions. The execution of a Filipino national was scheduled for 18 August in Sabah state, but was subsequently stayed.
On 30 November 2017 the Lower House of the Parliament adopted Bill D.R.45/2017, amending the Dangerous Drugs Act, 1952, only a week after the previous government introduced it in Parliament. The amended law, which came into force in March 2018, retained the mandatory death penalty for all but those convicted of transporting, sending or delivering a prohibited substance who were also found to have co-operated with law enforcement in disrupting drug trafficking activities – an extremely narrow range of circumstances. In such cases, the only available alternative sentence was life imprisonment and no less than 15 strokes of the whip – a cruel punishment prohibited under international law. Contrary to international law and standards on reform, the revised law would apply to individuals who had not yet been convicted when the amendment would come into force. Those already under sentence of death for drug trafficking would therefore remain on death row.
As of today, 106 countries have abolished the death penalty for all crimes and 142 are abolitionist in law or practice.