KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s government has taken its first step to abolish the mandatory death penalty for 11 offenses including drug trafficking, illegal firearms possession and kidnap.
Its parliamentary bill, introduced on Monday, will also replace life sentences with prison terms between 30 and 40 years and whipping of more than 12 lashes.
“The abolition of the mandatory death penalty aims to value and respect the life of every individual … The policies proposed through this bill are a middle ground to ensure justice is preserved for all,” Law Minister Azalina Othman S, who tabled the bill, said in a statement.
“I am very grateful that the unity government has taken concrete steps in abolishing the mandatory death penalty.”
The move championed by the unity government of Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, who took office in November, is expected to affect hundreds of prisoners who have yet to complete their appeals in court. Those cases will instead be reviewed by the Federal Court.
While the new bill does not completely remove capital punishment, it allows judges the discretion to pass alternatives.
“The effectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent is questionable at best,” Dobby Chew, executive director of the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network, said in a statement.
“There are significant indicators that demonstrate that the death penalty is counterproductive in that it supports or enables crime syndicates, especially for drug offenses,” he said.
He called Malaysia’s move “a progressive step towards significant reform of the criminal justice system.”
A moratorium on the death penalty has been in effect since 2018 in Malaysia, where more than 1,300 prisoners are on death row, representing a disproportionately high number compared to other countries in the region.
“It is timely and I am pleased with the decision by the government,” Malaysian politician and anti-death penalty activist Kasthuri Patto told Arab News.
“Let’s not forget that the death penalty is a colonial law but even colonial masters have removed them from their country, take for example the UK,” Patto said.
“This alternative is worth exploring now. I hope with this announcement, the government will seriously look into prison reforms as well.”