After a year, death penalty report to be looked into

PETALING JAYA: A special report on the death penalty in Malaysia will be reviewed early this year and the government will decide on its recommendations, says Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.

The Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Parliament and Law) said the report, presented in 2020 by the special committee to review alternative sentences to the mandatory death penalty, will be brought to the Cabinet soon.

“The report contains extensive recommendations on several amendments and reforms by the government.

“The Cabinet will make the decision on the implementation of those recommendations after reviewing them,” Wan Junaidi said when contacted.

The chairman of the committee, former Chief Justice Tun Richard Malanjum, had presented the 128-page report in February 2020.

There has been no update since, with Malaysia seeing several changes in government in the past two years.

Sunday Star reported that fewer people have been handed the death sentence every year since 2018, falling from 172 in 2018 to 76 as of November 2021.

While some believe the penalty should be done away with entirely, others believe it should stay to deal with serious crimes.

In October last year, the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) urged the government to make the committee’s report public.

The committee, appointed by the de facto law minister at the time Datuk Liew Vui Keong, who has since passed away, concluded its four-month study in January 2020 after consulting people from all segments of society.

The special committee had held discussions with government and enforcement agencies, religious groups and civil society organisations.

It had also spoken to families of death row prisoners, the inmates themselves, and the families of victims.

At present, the death sentence can be applied to 33 offences in Malaysia, including drug trafficking, kidnapping, possession of firearms, and terrorism.

For crimes like murder, the death sentence is mandatory.

In 2018, Malaysia amended the Dangerous Drugs Act to allow judges more discretion in meting out punishments for drug trafficking.

Under the changes, they can sentence drug traffickers to life imprisonment and whipping of not less than 15 strokes instead of the death penalty.

On whether the government will consider amending more laws to allow more discretion for judges when imposing the death sentence, Wan Junaidi said the report would also address this issue to a certain extent.

“Any decision on this will only be made once the Cabinet reviews the report,” he added.

Recently, there were criticisms that the amended Act allows very little room for leniency for drug trafficking – it is either the death sentence or life imprisonment with whipping.

To allow the option, one must also have assisted the authorities in disrupting drug trafficking, but this is not possible if one is innocent or merely a drug mule.

On proposed government reforms including limiting the term of a prime minister to 10 years, Wan Junaidi said such legislative amendments are being studied by the Legal Affairs Department under his ministry with the assistance of the Attorney General’s Chambers.

“We have targeted these laws and amendments to be brought to Parliament during the July 2022 meeting,” he said.

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