KUALA LUMPUR: Families and friends of death row inmates petitioned the Malaysian government to repeal its mandatory death penalty on Friday. Earlier this month, the government backtracked on its decision to scrap capital punishment in the country.
Friends and kin of more than 20 death row inmates gathered in Putrajaya and sent a memorandum to the Malaysian Home Ministry, calling on the government to repeal mandatory capital punishment, and to pardon the inmates, some of whom have been in jail for decades.
“They are feeling very sad,” one friend of a death row inmate told Arab News. “Every family member was expressing their feelings about living without a child or a husband (to the government).”
The man, who asked to remain anonymous, is a friend of Mainthan, a death row inmate convicted of murder who has served 14 years in jail. Mainthan has maintained his innocence throughout his sentence and exhausted multiple avenues of appeal. “I’ve known him for the past two years,” his friend said. “I was really heartbroken — nobody should live like that. We are in 2019, not the 1990s.”
“The family is getting worse day by day,” he continued.
“It’s a family without a father. Even though the father is alive, he is not there to guide the family. It’s like there’s food in front of you, but you are not allowed to taste it. The kids are there (at the prison), but they are not able to hug … their father.”
In October last year, the Malaysian government announced it would abolish the mandatory death penalty for 33 offenses. However, in early March, Mohamed Hanipa Maidin, deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, told Parliament that the government would instead push for the abolishment of the mandatory death penalty for 11 offenses.
Those offenses include nine that fall under the Penal Code involving terrorism and serious crimes, including murder, hostage-taking, organized crime, offenses against the constitutional monarch, and the use of firearms.
Hanipa Maidin said that courts would be authorized to decide whether a person who had committed a serious crime should face capital punishment.
The March announcement met with criticism from human rights groups. The Malaysian Coalition Against the Death Penalty released a statement acknowledging the progress made by the government in abolishing the death penalty for 11 offenses, but expressing its concern over Malaysia’s justice system.
“We are concerned that, at the moment, there is still no developed jurisprudence, protection for the vulnerable, and no sentencing guidelines for the court to consider in exercising its discretion over whether to hand down a death sentence,” the group said.
Kasthuri Patto, a politician from the Democratic Action Party who attended last month’s World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Brussels is an advocate for the abolition of the death penalty, but emphasized the need for awareness and education on the matter.
“It is important to remember that … the death penalty cannot simply be (phrased) as a yes or no question,” Patto told Arab News. “There must be a series of questions that empower the person answering them with knowledge about the death penalty.”
She added: “We need to away from a retributive approach and move toward forgiveness and providing a second chance to death row convicts.”
The government has told Patto, she said, that the moratorium on executions would remain indefinitely, but that the final decision over prisoners’ fates lies with the Pardons Board.
“While no government should discount the emotional argument, as a government, we must also do what is right as per Article 5 of the Federal Constitution, the supreme law of the land, that the right to life must reign paramount to the act of extinguishing lives,” she said.
Mainthan’s anonymous friend told Arab News that he wants justice for his friend and for other long-suffering family members awaiting the fate of their loved ones on death row.
“Abolishing the mandatory death penalty is a secondary thing,” he said.
“What they are going to do with death row inmates should be the priority.”
He added that the Malaysian government must give hope to the people.
“For the past 60 years, the ruling party was Barisan Nasional, and nothing was changed. Now Pakatan Harapan (is in power). ‘Harapan’ means hope. For me, they should give families hope that they will be reunited with their loved ones on death row,” he said.