Amnesty International urges Malaysia to end death penalty

Amnesty International urges Malaysia to end death penalty

Shamini Darshni Kalimuthu, Executive Director of Amnesty International Malaysia, seeks during a press conference in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. Amnesty International has urged Malaysia to abolish the death penalty, saying unfair trials and the use of harsh treatment to obtain confessions put people at risk of execution. AP Photo 

Amnesty International urged Malaysia’s government on Thursday to keep its promise to abolish the death penalty, saying unfair trials and the use of harsh treatment to obtain confessions put people at risk of execution.

The rights group released details of nearly two years of research on 150 cases as well as interviews with prisoners’ families, lawyers and embassy officials in a report that it said showed the use of the death penalty was “fatally flawed.”

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s government promised shortly after taking power in May 2018 to scrap capital punishment, which mandates hanging as punishment for a wide range of crimes including murder, drug trafficking, treason, kidnapping and acts of terror.

But the government backtracked after public objection. Parliament, which resumed meeting this week, will instead remove mandatory death penalties for some offenses and give courts discretion in imposing the sentence.

The report said 73% of the 1,281 people on death row as of February were convicted of drug offenses, including 568 foreigners from 43 countries and many poor members of ethnic minorities.

It said some prisoners were tortured and beaten to make them confess. In one case, a Malaysian man detained in 2005 for possessing drugs and later sentenced to death had his finger broken by police, who also threatened to beat up his girlfriend, it said.

Those who are poor often go without legal assistance until they are brought to court, it said. Some were asked to sign documents in the Malay language that were not translated for them, according to the report.

The group said the pardon process was also not transparent, with no clear criteria and access to pro-bono legal services controlled by prison officials. It said half of the foreigners on death row didn’t seek pardons.

“Our research found a pattern of unfair trials and secretive hangings that itself spoke volumes. From allegations of torture and other ill-treatment to an opaque pardons process, it’s clear the death penalty is a stain on Malaysia’s criminal justice system,” Amnesty Malaysia director Sharmini Darshni Kaliemuthu said.

The group said its requests to meet Malaysian authorities including the police and officials in the attorney-general’s office for more details were rejected or unanswered.

It said government sources indicated 469 people had been executed since Malaysia’s independence from Britain in 1957, half of them for drug trafficking.

The death penalty is currently retained for nearly three dozen offenses. Amnesty International urged Malaysia to move toward scrapping capital punishment by repealing mandatory death sentences for all crimes and maintaining a moratorium on executions until then.

Government officials couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Many Asian countries including China, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam impose capital punishment. – The Charlotte Observer, 10/10/2019

Amnesty International Malaysia is a member of ADPAN

Malaysia – Abolition of Mandatory Death Penalty should happen in this Parliamentary Session

* This statement was carried by Malay Mail, 10/10/2019

Media Statement – 10/10/2019 (World Day Against Death Penalty)

Abolition of Mandatory Death Penalty should happen in this Parliamentary Session

17th World Day Against the Death Penalty – Rights of Children of those on Death Row and those executed

On the occasion of the World Day Against the Death Penalty, which falls on 10th October, MADPET (Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture) notes sadly that Malaysia has yet to abolish the Death Penalty, let alone the mandatory Death Penalty.

In 2018, on the World Day Against Death Penalty, it was announced that the Malaysian Cabinet had decided to abolish the death penalty not just the mandatory death penalty.

This abolition would have facilitated the return of Sirul Azhar Umar, now in Australia, an abolitionist nation, that refuse to repatriate him back to Malaysia as he faces the risk of execution. Sirul was seen by many as an important witness that may lead to the identification and prosecution of the other persons who were behind the murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu, the Mongolian mother of two.

The abolition of the death penalty would also eliminate the possibility of execution of innocent persons – miscarriage of justice. The police, prosecutors, judges and even lawyers of the accused, all being human beings, are not infallible and could cause the wrongful execution of persons. We recall the case when in January 2011, when Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice admitted that Chiang Kuo-ching, a private in the Air Force, had been executed in error in 1997 for a murder committed 15 years previously.

In Malaysia, it has also been shown that death penalty, even the mandatory death penalty has not deterred crime. In 2017, it was revealed in Parliament that there was an increase of drug cases every year despite the drastic measures taken by the police, which we could take as including the fact of the existence of the mandatory death penalty for section 39B DDA 1952 – drug trafficking. It may be same for murder, but it is difficult as Malaysia stopped revealing actual statistics under the previous government.

The failure of government resulting in poverty may also be the cause of many crimes including those that now carry the death penalty.

On 10 October 2019, the 17th World Day Against the Death Penalty aims at raising awareness on the rights of children whose parents have been sentenced to death or executed. Malaysia, a party of the Child Rights Convention, now should have the best interest of the child as a major concern. The execution of a parent, sibling or relative of any child is certainly never in the best interest of the child.

The abolition of the death penalty is also consistent with the Malaysian policy with crime and sentencing. We believe in second chances. When one pleads guilty, the sentence is reduced by a third. For those in prison, good behavior and rehabilitation will lead to remission of sentence and early release. All these values and principles cannot apply when one is sentenced to death or mandatory death penalty.

U-Turn on Decision To Abolish Death Penalty

However, on 13th March 2019, Malaysian cabinet did a U-turn on abolishing the death penalty for all 33 offences, and instead agreed to only abolish the mandatory death penalty for all 11 mandatory death penalty offences.

Since the Pakatan Harapan is a coalition government made up of 4-5 parties, it would be interesting to know which party changed its position on abolition and why. Through its MPs, we believe that DAP was an abolitionist party, but its current position now is a mystery.

Sadly, we have yet to see any tabling any Bills in Parliament to date that will effectively abolish the mandatory death penalty. The earlier indication was that these Bill/s will be tabled in the current Parliamentary session which began in October 2019.

MADPET was concerned about the recent setting up of a special committee in September 2019 to look into alternatives to the death sentence which may end up just being yet another excuse to delay abolition of the mandatory death penalty. Such committees or task force could have been set up last year since the decision to abolish the death penalty. It could have been even earlier, for the abolition of the mandatory death penalty was an election promise of Pakatan Harapan.

We reiterate that the mandatory death penalty could be immediately abolished, which will mean that judges will then have the discretion to sentence people to imprisonment or death. For the time being, it could simply be life imprisonment or natural life imprisonment. Later, if a better ‘alternative sentence’ comes from this or that ‘committee’, ’task force’  or consultations, the Act can always be further amended later.

The abolition of the mandatory death penalty should not be further delayed by the government.

Accused persons now on trial or whose trial starts before the abolition will be greatly prejudiced as both prosecution and defense lawyers may be adducing evidence only towards finding of guilt or innocence. They will not be adducing evidence as to why a person should receive a lesser sentence since the courts have no discretion as to sentence when they can only provide the one mandatory sentence.

MADPET is also against all mandatory sentences, as it removes judicial discretion when it comes to sentencing. Laws should only provide for maybe maximum sentences, and trust in our judges to impose a just sentence on each and every convicted after taking all facts and circumstances into consideration.

Malaysia created history in December 2018, when it voted in favour of the United Nations General Assembly Resolution on the abolition of the death penalty.

MADPET hopes that the abolition of the mandatory death penalty is just the first step, towards a total abolition of the death penalty which we hope will happen soon, certainly before the next General Elections.

MADPET calls for the immediate tabling of the Bill/s to abolish the mandatory death penalty in this current Parliamentary session, for any other additional amendments could very easily be brought in by subsequent amendments later on;

MADPET calls for the passing of an Act of Parliament that will have the effect of commuting the death sentence of about 1,200 on death row, especially those that have exhausted their appeals in court;

MADPET also calls for further amendment to the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952, where mandatory death penalty has already been abolished, to allow judges to consider all mitigating and aggravating circumstances and remove the limitations/conditions now in that law;

MADPET calls for a moratorium on all executions, pending the total abolition of the death penalty in Malaysia.

Charles Hector

For and on behalf of MADPET(Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture)

Abolition of mandatory death penalty should happen in this parliamentary session ― Charles Hector

Thursday, 10 Oct 2019 04:26 PM MYT

OCTOBER 10 ― On the occasion of the World Day Against the Death Penalty, which falls on October 10, MADPET (Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture) notes sadly that Malaysia has yet to abolish the death penalty, let alone the mandatory death penalty.

In 2018, on the World Day Against Death Penalty, it was announced that the Malaysian Cabinet had decided to abolish the death penalty not just the mandatory death penalty.

This abolition would have facilitated the return of Sirul Azhar Umar, now in Australia, an abolitionist nation, that refuse to repatriate him back to Malaysia as he faces the risk of execution. Sirul was seen by many as an important witness that may lead to the identification and prosecution of the other persons who were behind the murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu, the Mongolian mother of two.

The abolition of the death penalty would also eliminate the possibility of execution of innocent persons ― miscarriage of justice. The police, prosecutors, judges and even lawyers of the accused, all being human beings, are not infallible and could cause the wrongful execution of persons. We recall the case when in January 2011, when Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice admitted that Chiang Kuo-ching, a private in the Air Force, had been executed in error in 1997 for a murder committed 15 years previously.

In Malaysia, it has also been shown that death penalty, even the mandatory death penalty has not deterred crime. In 2017, it was revealed in Parliament that there was an increase of drug cases every year despite the drastic measures taken by the police, which we could take as including the fact of the existence of the mandatory death penalty for section 39B DDA 1952 – drug trafficking. It may be same for murder, but it is difficult as Malaysia stopped revealing actual statistics under the previous government.

The failure of government resulting in poverty may also be the cause of many crimes including those that now carry the death penalty.

On October 10, 2019, the 17th World Day Against the Death Penalty aims at raising awareness on the rights of children whose parents have been sentenced to death or executed. Malaysia, a party of the Child Rights Convention, now should have the best interest of the child a major concern. The execution of a parent, sibling or relative of any child is certainly never in the best interest of the child.

The abolition of the death penalty is also consistent with the Malaysian policy with crime and sentencing. We believe in second chances. When one pleads guilty, the sentence is reduced by a third. For those in prison, good behaviour and rehabilitation will lead to remission of sentence and early release. All these values and principles cannot apply when one is sentenced to death or mandatory death penalty.

U-turn on decision to abolish death penalty

However, on March 13, 2019, Malaysian cabinet did a U-turn on abolishing the death penalty for all 33 offences, and instead agreed to only abolish the mandatory death penalty for all 11 mandatory death penalty offences.

Since the Pakatan Harapan is a coalition government made up of four to five parties, it would be interesting to know which party changed its position on abolition and why. Through its MPs, we believe that DAP was an abolitionist party, but its current position now is a mystery.

Sadly, we have yet to see any tabling any Bills in Parliament to date that will effectively abolish the mandatory death penalty. The earlier indication was that these Bill/s will be tabled in the current Parliamentary session which began in October 2019.

MADPET was concerned about the recent setting up of a special committee in September 2019 to look into alternatives to the death sentence which may end up just being yet another excuse to delay abolition of the mandatory death penalty. Such committees or task force could have been set up last year since the decision to abolish the death penalty. It could have been even earlier, for the abolition of the mandatory death penalty was an election promise of Pakatan Harapan.

We reiterate that the mandatory death penalty could be immediately abolished, which will mean that judges will then have the discretion to sentence people to imprisonment or death. For the time being, it could simply be life imprisonment or natural life imprisonment. Later, if a better “alternative sentence” comes from this or that “committee”, “task force”  or consultations, the Act can always be further amended later.

The abolition of the mandatory death penalty should not be further delayed by the government.

Accused persons now on trial or whose trial starts before the abolition will be greatly prejudiced as both prosecution and defence lawyers may be adducing evidence only towards finding of guilt or innocence. They will not be adducing evidence as to why a person should receive a lesser sentence since the courts have no discretion as to sentence when they can only provide the one mandatory sentence.

MADPET is also against all mandatory sentences, as it removes judicial discretion when it comes to sentencing. Laws should only provide for maybe maximum sentences, and trust in our judges to impose a just sentence on each and every convicted after taking all facts and circumstances into consideration.

Malaysia created history in December 2018, when it voted in favour of the United Nations General Assembly Resolution on the abolition of the death penalty.

MADPET hopes that the abolition of the mandatory death penalty is just the first step, towards a total abolition of the death penalty which we hope will happen soon, certainly before the next general elections.

MADPET calls for the immediate tabling of the Bill/s to abolish the mandatory death penalty in this current Parliamentary session, for any other additional amendments could very easily be brought in by subsequent amendments later on;

MADPET calls for the passing of an Act of Parliament that will have the effect of commuting the death sentence of about 1,200 on death row, especially those that have exhausted their appeals in court;

MADPET also calls for further amendment to the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952, where mandatory death penalty has already been abolished, to allow judges to consider all mitigating and aggravating circumstances and remove the limitations/conditions now in that law;

MADPET calls for a moratorium on all executions, pending the total abolition of the death penalty in Malaysia. – Malay Mail, 10/10/2019

Singapore’s execution of drug offenders tripled in five years(Think Centre)

 

 

Press release: Monday, 29 July 2019, Singapore

 

Singapore’s execution of drug offenders tripled in five years

 

Singapore’s execution of drug offenders tripled in past five years compared to previous period before law review

 

Year Drug Murder /
Firearms
 2019 1 0
2018 11 2
2017 8 0
2016 2 2
2015 3 1
2014 2 0
Subtotal 27 5
Year Drug Murder /
Firearms
 2013 / 2012 0 0
2011 2 2
2010 0 0
2009 3 2
2008 2 4
2007 2 1
Subtotal 9 9
Source: Judicial Executions, Ministry of Home Affairs – Singapore Prison Service, accessed from Data.gov.sg

Note: For 2019, figure is derived from public news reporting 

 

 

Think Centre expresses grave concerns over the disturbing trend of executions in Singapore in recent years.

 

Key observations

 

  • Total number of executions from 2014 to 2019 is 32
  • Executions for drug offence stand at 84 percent of the total executions till date since 2014
  • A noticeable spike in execution numbers for drug offence occurred in 2017 and 2018

 

The number of executions (drug) in the past five years (2014-2018) represented a 3 times jump from the previous five year period (2007-2011) before the laws on mandatory death penalty for both drug and murder offences were reviewed in 2012-2013. In terms of total executions, the 2014-2019 period exhibits 1.8 times more executions compared to the 2007-2011 period.

 

It is tragic that Singapore’s amended legislative framework for drug trafficking offences has elicited an increase in the number death sentences carried out. The majority, if not all, of those executed on drug offences since 2014 were due to the failure of the Attorney General Chambers (AGC) to issue a ”Certificate of Cooperation (COC). Absent this certificate, an accused still faces the mandatory death sentence.  Otherwise the judge could exercise the option to pass an alternate sentence of life imprisonment rather than the death penalty.

 

Problematic trend

 

The issue of how and when a COC can be issued is the sole prerogative of the AGC. What is problematic is the trend of those who should rightly be considered socially vulnerable but were executed instead due to their failure to obtain the COC. First, owing to their status as low level couriers, it would be deeply questionable if they were able to provide the level of intelligence that can “disrupt drug trafficking activities”. Second, and even more problematic, is when the cases involved persons who were assessed to have sub or borderline intelligence level, and were found to have played the role of a mere courier.

 

Any of these two factors would significantly reduce the likelihood of the COC being granted. Further aggravating the situation are the statutory presumptions in the Misuse of Drugs Act which shifts the burden on accused persons to produce the necessary evidence to rebut the presumptions. It is therefore not an exaggeration to think that a person may be condemned to die because he has been deemed un-useful, or was limited by his inherent capacity to assist with his own defense at the point of first trial. While not all executions occurred under this unfortunate matrix of factors, but when they do, the outcome is devastating. Such persons are most indubitably victims of cognitive inequality. The case of Nagaenthran a/l K Dharmalingam (alias Naga) is one perturbing example.

 

First arrested in 2009, and originally sentenced to the mandatory death penalty in 2010, he spent the next eight years fighting for his life. During this arduous period, his first appeal was rejected in 2011. The sentence was delayed when the Misuse of Drugs Act was amended in 2012 and given effect in 2013. In late 2014, on the occasion of the international human rights day, the public prosecutor informed the court that Naga was not eligible for the certificate of cooperation. The next four years were spent on seeking a judicial recourse in challenging this denial, and to appeal for re-sentencing. It emerged between 2013 and 2017, when Naga was referred for a forensic psychiatric evaluation, that medical experts assessed him to possess a borderline range of intelligence. This essentially meant he could rightfully be described as a person with intellectual disability.

 

The Singapore government ratified the Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons on 18 July 2013. Since then, some spotted improvement or developments may be observed in the way that the criminal justice system here manages cases of persons with intellectual disabilities coming into conflict with the law. However any improvement remains to be assessed when it comes to death penalty cases. In Naga’s case, the courts have consistently adopted the position that his disability does not square with the meaning or effect of “abnormality of mind” as defined in the MDA.

 

International human rights law has recognised that the death penalty should not be imposed on persons with mental or intellectual disabilities. It also calls for laws and sentencing guidelines to be developed or amended to prohibit the imposition of the death sentence on such persons and their execution. In lieu of such needed developments in Singapore, and with his final judicial appeal for re-sentencing denied earlier on 27 May 2019, Naga’s final recourse lies with petitioning the President for clemency. This however presents another worrying challenge.

 

Blemished clemency process

 

Disturbingly, his chances of success are reasonably cast in doubt, if we observe the case of P. Pannir Selvam. Pannir was arrested in September 2014 and convicted in 2017 for trafficking 51.84g of diamorphine. Like Naga, he was denied the certificate of assistance by the public prosecutor despite the best efforts by him and his family who worked hard to provide information to the Singapore authorities.

 

His clemency petition to the President was rejected earlier in May this year on the advice of the Singapore Cabinet. The troubling aspect stemmed from the manner such grave news was communicated to his family. They received both letters dated on the same day – 17 May – from the President’s office informing of the clemency denial, and the letter from the Singapore Prison Services informing of his scheduled execution on 24 May.

 

Pannir narrowly gained a reprieve when the court granted a rare leave for him to challenge his execution based on this troubling circumstance. This sliver of hope is overshadowed by the disturbing revelation that as many as 13 clemency petitions have already been rejected by the President, as shared by Mr. N. Surendran the legal adviser to Malaysia based Lawyers for Liberty. It is a sombre fact that Singapore has not seen any clemency granted for the past twenty years since 1998.

 

Keen observers of the death penalty’s application in Singapore will know that the weight of granting clemency derives from the Cabinet’s prerogative. In a 2003 BBC interview, the then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong infamously said, “Each execution comes to the Cabinet and we look at it. If we decide that a certain person has got to be executed, he is executed.”

 

To date, we have yet to witness any evidence that would suggest the President possess the powers to decide independently from the Cabinet’s advice.

 

Think Centre reiterates our longstanding belief that the death penalty is a cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. We oppose the use of capital punishment in all circumstances, and especially the mandatory death penalty for non-violent crimes in the case of drugs offences. It has no place in any society that wants to pride itself as being modern, developed and civilised. The death penalty in Singapore today is an anachronistic and incongruous practice; it should only be as fashionable as the ongoing bicentennial commemoration – not to be celebrated, but to be remembered only as a part of history.

 

* Think Centre is a member of ADPAN