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

Asean Moves Boldly To End Death Penalty (Bangkok Post, 10/10/2016)

# This was an opinion of Seree Nonthasoot, Thailand’s representative to the AICHR, that was published by the Bangkok Post.

To mark World Day Against the Death Penalty today, Thailand and other members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) have reason to revisit and recommit efforts to abolishing capital punishment.

Much work remains to be done. Thailand, which has not executed anyone for seven years, and a few other Asean countries with capital punishment continue to hand down the death penalty on drug-related offences, which is unlikely to deter crime. It is the ultimate denial of the right to life and a violation of fundamental human rights.

Of the world’s 198 countries, 102 have legally abolished the death penalty for all crimes. An additional 32 countries are abolitionist in practice since they have not executed anyone in the last 10 years and they have a policy or commitment not to carry out executions. Six countries reserve the death sentence only for the most serious crimes of culpable homicide and murders. Of the 58 countries that have not abolished the death penalty, just 25 carried out executions in 2015. However, of those 25 exceptions, four are member states of Asean. Thailand is not among them.

Though the death penalty is still on our statutes, no one has been executed since 2009. However, we still have prisoners sitting on death row and, following a ruling by the Supreme Administrative Court in July, those on death row may be held in shackles permanently.

Thailand is among the first group of countries that voted in 1948 to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 3 of the UDHR states that “everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”, while Article 5 confirms that “no one shall be subject to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.

About half of those on death row in Thailand and a few other Asean countries are convicted of drug-related crimes. In accordance with Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which Thailand is a party, the death penalty should only be applicable in the case of the most serious crimes. Drug offences hardly fall under that category. I therefore support the initiative by the Thai Ministry of Justice to embark on the reform of drug offences such as those related to methamphetamine.

Crime determent has always been the rationale for handing down the death penalty. Empirical data proves this wrong. For example, drug use has been steadily on the rise in the region despite the death penalty. This clearly indicates that capital punishment does not work as a deterrent and it is time to reconsider it.

Studies carried out in different countries paint a consistent picture. The overwhelming majority of people who end up on death row are poor and not well-educated. They cannot afford proper legal counsel. Many, such as migrant workers, do not even understand the charges of which they are accused.

Further, many drug offenders are duped in the first place. They are executed for crimes they were not even aware of committing, often without even knowing the kingpins who planned their downfall. Once they are prosecuted, drug barons can easily recruit other vulnerable groups who are not aware of the grim fates they will be facing.

To tackle crime, we need to find ways to reduce it. Thailand’s National Human Rights Plan of Action (2014-2018) which outlines a plan to abolish the death penalty is a promising step. It suggests an opportunity and an obligation for civil society to work harder to influence this movement and to do more to develop a regional aversion to the taking of life by the state. But much needs to be done.

At the regional level, Asean governments have formally set the community on a bold and clear 10-year direction of being “people-centred, people-oriented” as well as rule-based. What is happening now seems to be the opposite. We are seeing thousands of people in the region being summarily and extra-judicially executed for allegedly being involved in drug crimes.

A lesson from this alarming phenomenon is the dynamics of politics that can equally lead to progress or regress. We cannot afford to be complacent; even countries that have ratified the Optional Protocol to the ICCPR and have thus committed themselves to abolishing the death penalty can create fanciful ways to bypass that obligation and institute state-instructed and inspired programmes to kill their own people.

I welcome the recent formation of the Coalition on the Abolition of the Death Penalty in Asean (CADPA) among like-minded persons and groups to campaign for the end of the death penalty. CADPA has launched a campaign called “End Crime, Not Life”, aiming to raise public awareness of the difficulties with the application of the death penalty and to focus on improving criminal justice systems. It is time for all of us to stand up for a justice system that punishes offenders in a fair and appropriate manner. The region’s people-centred and people-oriented vision must be underpinned by its drive towards abolishing the penalty.

# Seree Nonthasoot is Thailand’s representative to the AICHR. This article expresses his personal views.

Source: Bangkok Post, 10/10/2016