Malaysia-Press Release | Justice Tempered with Mercy: Abolish the Death Penalty, and Commute Death Sentences to Life Imprisonment

Press Release | Justice Tempered with Mercy: Abolish the Death Penalty, and Commute Death Sentences to Life Imprisonment


Press Release
Justice Tempered with Mercy: Abolish the Death Penalty, and Commute Death Sentences to Life Imprisonment
The Malaysian Bar has just learnt that the authorities intend to carry out the death sentence on Chandran s/o Paskaran at the Kajang prison on 7 February 2014.  On 16 April 2008 Chandran s/o Paskaran was convicted of the offence of murder and sentenced to death under section 302 of the Penal Code.
The Malaysian Bar appeals to the authorities and the Government for clemency, and to stay the execution of Chandran s/o Paskaran.  The Malaysian Bar also appeals to the authorities and the Government to take appropriate steps to eventually commute his death sentence to one of life imprisonment.
In Malaysia, the death penalty is mandatory for persons convicted of murder, trafficking in narcotics of various specified amounts, and discharging a firearm in the commission of various specified crimes (even where no one is hurt).
The Malaysian Bar advocates for the abolition of the death penalty, in the belief that every individual has an inherent right to life.  This right is absolute, universal and inalienable, irrespective of any crimes that may have been committed.  The rationale for the abolition of the death penalty is made more compelling when we consider that:
(a) There is no empirical evidence to support the notion that the death penalty serves as an effective deterrent to the commission of crimes.  Arguably, there has been no significant reduction in the crimes for which the death penalty is currently mandatory.  This is particularly true of drug-related offences.  For instance, drug-related offences and addiction have been on the rise in Malaysia despite the 1983 amendment to the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952, which introduced the mandatory death penalty; and
(b) It is acknowledged that no criminal justice legal system in the world is foolproof, error-free or fail-safe.  In the instance of the death penalty, there is no opportunity to correct an error, as the execution of the death sentence is irreversible.  
There is no denying that guilty persons ought to receive punishment.  But that is not the same as saying that they therefore ought to be put to death.  Even in the case of a convicted murderer, the death penalty is a reflection of the notion that "an eye for an eye" provides the best form of justice, a concept that we should not embrace nor practise today, bearing in mind that at present there is no criminal justice system emplaced that is foolproof.
It is incongruous for Malaysia, as a civilised society, to condemn the barbarity of murder by responding with State-sanctioned taking of life.  The death penalty has no place in any society that values human life, justice and mercy.
The Malaysian Government has since 2010 announced its willingness to relook at the mandatory death penalty, with a view to its possible abolition or the reintroduction of a discretionary death penalty.  The then-de facto Minister for Law, Dato' Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz, said that the Government would be in favour of abolishing the mandatory death penalty if a majority of Malaysians were in favour of it.
In July 2012, the Attorney General announced that the Attorney General's Chambers was considering proposing an amendment to the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 to give judges the discretion not to impose the death sentence on drug couriers, commonly known as "drug mules".  The Attorney General's Chambers was reportedly also considering a proposal that those on death row be resentenced. 
On 8 July 2013, the Malaysian Bar co-launched the results of a major survey of Malaysian citizens, carried out in November and December 2012 through face-to face interviews, by IPSOS Malaysia. The survey was commissioned by the Death Penalty Project, a leading international human rights organisation based in the United Kingdom, and analysed by Professor Roger Hood, Professor Emeritus of Criminology at the University of Oxford.
The results of the survey showed that there was very little public support in Malaysia for the mandatory death penalty.  It showed that the majority of Malaysian citizens favoured a discretionary death penalty for murder, but the majority did not favour use of the death penalty at all, when presented with typical cases of drug trafficking and non-fatal firearms offences.
Given this, public opinion is not a barrier to the reform of the mandatory capital sentencing law for murder, or to its complete abolition for drug trafficking and non-fatal firearms offences.
At an event entitled "Dialogue with Members of Parliament on the Reintroduction of Discretionary Sentencing for Capital Punishment" held at Parliament on 14 November 2013, the Government and the Attorney General's Chambers informed those present that they were in the midst of reviewing the mandatory death penalty.
In light of such review, the authorities and the Government should, in the interests of justice, impose an immediate official moratorium on any and all executions of the death sentence. There are currently about 900 persons on death row awaiting execution.  All of these sentences, including that of Chandran s/o Paskaran, should be stayed pending the results of the review on the mandatory death penalty.  It is unfair, unjust and ghastly to carry out the death sentence when there is currently a possibility of reform of the mandatory death penalty.
The Malaysian Bar reiterates its call on the Malaysian Government to abolish the death penalty without delay.  Those who have been sentenced with the mandatory death penalty should all be resentenced.  In the meantime, there must logically be an immediate moratorium on all executions.

Christopher Leong
Malaysian Bar

6 February 2014


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