Pakatan succumbed to ‘moral cowardice’ in death penalty u-turn, says Lawyers for Liberty

N Surendran, the group advisor of Lawyers for Liberty, criticised the Pakatan Harapan administration’s decision to retain the death penalty for selected offences. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
N Surendran, the group advisor of Lawyers for Liberty, criticised the Pakatan Harapan administration’s decision to retain the death penalty for selected offences. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, March 13 — Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) has criticised the Pakatan Harapan administration’s decision to retain the death penalty for selected offences, calling it shocking and  unprincipled.

N Surendran, the group’s advisor, said Deputy Law Minister Hanipa Maidin’s announcement this morning that Putrajaya will only repeal the mandatory death penalty for 11 offences was a full turnaround from a Cabinet decision made in October 2018, and a key election promise.

The former Bagan Serai MP claimed the reversal followed conservative pressure, and that PH had failed to display moral leadership.

“This is a complete u-turn from the announcement made by the Cabinet in October 2018, in which the Cabinet decided for total abolition of the death penalty and gave a public undertaking to this effect,” he said in a statement.

“The reversal of the earlier decision is shocking, unprincipled and embarrassing.”

Hanipa told the Dewan Rakyat this morning that the mandatory death penalty for 11 criminal offences are to be repealed and substituted with the death penalty imposed at the discretion of the court.

Nine of the offences are listed under the Penal Code and two under the Firearms (Increased Penalties) Act 1971, the deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Department said.

Surendran alleged the decision was meant to prevent a political backlash.

He claimed certain component parties and prominent PH leaders had wanted the death penalty retained.

“In giving in to unjustified pressure and irrational objections, Pakatan Harapan failed to display moral leadership, but instead succumbed to moral cowardice,” the former MP said.

Civil society groups have long called for the death penalty to be scrapped. They argued no available study show judicial execution to be an effective deterrent of serious crime.

Surendran said the policy reversal is also unfair for the thousands of convicted or charged persons  on death row that would have otherwise been relieved.

“To hold out hope of being spared the gallows, only to have the hope snatched away again is extremely cruel and unjust,” the lawyer argued.

“It is unacceptable for the convicts to be treated in this manner, and it is utterly devastating for their families.”

LFL has urged the government to reverse their decision and table a bill in this session of Parliament to completely abolish the death penalty.

It also wanted the current moratorium on executions to be maintained pending total abolition of the death penalty.

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