Malaysia plans to abolish the death penalty for all crimes and halt all pending executions, a rare move against capital punishment in Asia that human rights groups hailed yesterday as a major advance.
More than 1,200 people are on death row in Malaysia, which mandates hanging as punishment for a wide range of crimes, including murder, drug trafficking, treason and acts of terror.
Malaysian Minister of Law Liew Vui Keong on Wednesday said that the Cabinet had agreed to abolish the death penalty and that amendments to laws with capital punishment were expected to be tabled when parliament resumes on Monday, local media reported.
Amnesty International said the move would be a major advance, but urged the government to “completely abolish the death penalty for all crimes, with no exceptions.”
It said the death penalty has been a “terrible stain” on Malaysia’s human rights record, and death row prisoners often have to wait years for their appeals to be processed.
“There is no time to waste; the death penalty should have been consigned to the history books long ago,” Amnesty secretary-general Kumi Naidoo said in a statement, adding that 142 countries worldwide have rejected capital punishment.
Lawyers for Liberty praised the decision, saying the death penalty is barbarous and pointless, as it has never been proven to deter serious crime.
Its adviser, N. Surendran, said the government has shown that “it is a force for moral good and an example for the region and the world.”
Surendran urged the government to not forget the hundreds of Malaysians who are also on death row in Singapore and other countries, particularly for being drug mules.
“We call upon the government to vigorously speak up for our citizens facing death in distant shores. Having rejected the death penalty in this country, we now have the moral authority to fight for the lives of our citizens abroad,” he said in a statement. “The death penalty is abhorrent and we must try and save our countrymen and women from judicial murder abroad.”
The Cabinet has also ordered the suspension of the colonial-era Sedition Act, widely used to rein in dissent, as it prepares to repeal both the act and the death penalty by the end of the year.
Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo yesterday said that the Cabinet decided to suspend use of the act as they prepare a bill to repeal it altogether.
“As far as we are concerned, a decision has been made and it has to be communicated to the attorney-general, and, of course, it’s for him to decide what to do next,” he said in a recording of a news conference heard by Reuters.