The Malaysian Government has agreed to abolish mandatory death sentences

·2-min read

When the Malaysian Government protested the recent execution of Malaysian national Nagaenthran Dharmalingam by Singapore, they were criticized by some human rights activists for hypocrisy, considering Nagaenthran would likely also have been sentenced to death in Malaysia under its own harsh laws which, like Singapore, mandate the death sentence for drug trafficking crimes.

That charge of hypocrisy can no longer be made. According to a statement released today by Law Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, the Malaysian Government has agreed to abolish the mandatory use of the death penalty and instead leave sentencing up to the discretion of the courts.

According to the statement, the decision was made following the presentation of a report on a study on substitute sentences in place of the mandatory use of the death penalty was presented at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday. It says the government has agreed to follow the recommendation of a committee of experts who will further study the use of substitute sentences for the 11 offenses that currently carry a mandatory death penalty under the law, including the one for drug trafficking that has been in place since the passage of the Dangerous Drugs Act in 1952.

The statement quotes the law minister as saying “The decision in this matter shows the government’s emphasis on ensuring that the rights of all parties are protected and guaranteed, thus reflecting the transparency of the country’s leadership in improving the country’s criminal justice system.”

Malaysia has had a moratorium on executions in place since July 2018, but previous progress towards abolishing the death penalty entirely faltered and mandatory death sentences for crimes including drug trafficking remain on the books. There are still 1,341 people reported to be on death row in Malaysia who have been stuck in legal limbo since the moratorium was put in place.

Human rights groups and activists working to oppose state-sponsored killing heralded the news but said the government needed to continue moving towards a total repeal of the death penalty.

“We applaud the government’s decision to abolish the mandatory death penalty and to grant judges discretion in sentencing. It’s a welcome step in the right direction, and we urge it to go further and work towards full abolition of this cruel punishment,” Amnesty International Malaysia’s Executive Director Katrina Jorene Maliamauv said in a statement responding to the news. “The government should table the necessary amendments in Parliament without delay and establish a full review of all cases involving the mandatory death penalty with a view to commuting these sentences.”

Related: Singaporeans rally against death penalty as two more head to gallows

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