THIRTY-five people were hung to death in Malaysia for the crimes they committed over the past decade.
These numbers, as recorded by the Prisons Department, will end here.
With the Government determined to remove the death penalty, some hailed it as the more humane approach – upholding the right to life.
Others, however, feel the hangman’s noose is still needed to answer to the heinous crimes man is capable of.
Murder, rape resulting in death, drug trafficking and committing terrorism are examples of offences punishable by death.
With a moratorium imposed on the penalty, 1,281 death row inmates are spared.
But abolishing the death sentence doesn’t mean zero punishment, says Anti Death Penalty Asia Network (Adpan) executive committee member Ngeow Chow Ying.
“It is just not an appropriate sentence.
“The alternative is imprisonment and it has to be culpable to the crime,” she tells Sunday Star.
Last month, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Liew Vui Keong said those on death row will have their sentence commuted to imprisonment for life or life imprisonment.
Imprisonment for life means convicts will spend the rest of their lives in prison without any release date.
Life imprisonment requires them to be jailed for a minimum of 30 years.
Looking forward, Ngeow says the concern is to look into prison reform, jail sentences for serious crimes and what can be done to rehabilitate prisoners.
“After the death penalty is abolished, these are the issues that should be looked into.
“About 55,000 people are in prison now. But the criminal justice system isn’t supposed to lock them up and forget about it.
“Its purpose is to rehabilitate them and see if they can be reintegrated into society,” says Ngeow.
But she acknowledges the feelings of some victims and their families, who may want the death penalty as the means for justice to be served.
“If they feel the death penalty is the only way to cure their pain, we have to respect that.
“But for us, we believe that you can’t send a message that murder is wrong by killing another person,” says Ngeow, from Adpan which consists 80 organisations across 22 countries.
In Western countries, she observes that some families believe that their suffering cannot be compensated by the death penalty.
“Some just want answers to what happened,” she adds.
Calling it cruel and inhumane, senior criminal lawyer Datuk V. Sithambaram says the death penalty belongs in the past.
“In the old days, justice was always an eye for an eye.
“But as Mahatma Gandhi would say, this will only make everyone blind.
“We need to move on to a more humane form of justice. Studies show that the death penalty hasn’t been proven to deter crimes,” he says.
Drawing from experience, he says many accused persons claim they would rather die than to be imprisoned for life.
“They don’t want to languish in jail. They would rather accept death.
“So, to me, the minimum 30-year jail term or being jailed for life is more of a deterrent than death,” Sithambaram says.
He says other forms of punishment can be included in the sentence, such as community service.
“The Pardons Board should review cases to see if the convict is able to change.
“Many can make themselves better and useful through rehabilitation.
“We all regret the wrong things we have done. Those who genuinely repent should be given a second chance,” he says.
Human rights lawyer Andrew Khoo says community work should be made possible as part of the replacement sentence.
For the 1,281 people on death row, he suggests that there should be a provision for the High Court to review the sentences imposed.
“There should not be a simplistic replacement of, say 30 years.
“Each case must be considered based on its own facts and situation,” he says.Khoo stresses that the whipping should not be part of the replacement punishment.
“Corporal punishment is against the United Nations Convention Against Torture.Malaysia has said we will also accede to that. So we should not violate that as well,” he says.
On the death penalty giving victims and their families a sense of retribution, Khoo says the state should not be involved in the business of revenge.
“Justice needs to be dispassionate. It should not be influenced by emotion.
“When we allow our feelings to influence our sense of justice, there is a risk we will arrive at an unjust outcome,” he adds.
Deputy Home Minister Datuk Azis Jamman says the government’s decision on the death penalty was made after taking all views into account.
“As part of the ministry that will implement the policy, we support the Cabinet’s decision.
“Let the Cabinet decide on the finer details, such as the replacement sentences and the possibility of incorporating community service, later,” he says.
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