KUALA LUMPUR, April 12 — Amnesty International Malaysia (AIM) has lauded the government’s move to amend the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 to give judges discretion over the previously mandatory death penalty.
At the launch of its Global Report: Death Sentences and Executions 2017, AIM executive director Gwen Lee said the move, though small, was still positive and that the government was progressing towards eliminating capital punishment.
However, she questioned the impact the amendment will have on reducing executions in the country.
“Those convicted of transporting, sending or delivering a prohibited substance who were also found to have cooperated with law enforcement in disrupting drug trafficking activities have an alternative sentence of life imprisonment and no less than 15 strokes of the whip.
“While this might seem like a positive move, it is unclear what impact these changes will have on reducing the number of people executed as the alternative punishment still amounts to torture.
“It creates an impossible choice for people who have been wrongly accused of crimes — admit to a crime they did not commit or maintain their innocence at the risk of death,” Lee said.
She then told reporters after the launch that the first case after the amendment had taken place still put three men on death row.
“Based on a news article on April 4, the High Court Judge sentenced three men to the mandatory death penalty.
“The lawyers tried to use the new amendment but according to the judge there was no proof that the men actually helped bust a drug trafficking ring, thus they were not eligible for life imprisonment,” she said.
Lee also presented that last year Malaysia had carried out at least four executions — three for murder and one for discharge of firearm — although she believed there could be more as data on the death penalty is not made public.
She also disclosed that 38 new mandatory death sentences were imposed for 21 drug related offences, 16 murders and one discharge of firearms. Four of those sentenced were women and 12 were foreign nationals.
As of February, data compiled from the Prisons Department showed that 1,122 convicts are on death row. Malaysia was also one of the 11 countries that had consecutively executed convicts over the past five years.
Lee also brought to attention the case of Hoo Yew Wah who was arrested in March 2005 when he was 20 years old for being in possession 188.5 grams of methamphetamines and was automatically presumed and later convicted of trafficking.
Hoo was convicted based on a statement he made at the time of arrest without a lawyer present. All his appeals had been rejected by the courts and his petition for pardon to the Sultan of Johor, where the offence took place, is still pending.
The launch was also attended by members of the diplomatic corp including the Mexican Ambassador to Malaysia, Carlos Felix Corona and the Spanish Ambassador to Malaysia Carlos Dominguez Diaz.