KUALA LUMPUR, June 10 — Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram), a local human rights watchdog, said today it welcomed Putrajaya’s move to abolish the mandatory death penalty following years of campaign to repeal the capital punishment.

“Suaram applauds the Malaysia government in the historic move to abolish the mandatory death penalty,” the group said in a statement issued this afternoon.

“Though the death penalty continues to exist in Malaysia, this abolishment would empower the judge with the discretion to mete out alternative sentencing,” it added.

“We also welcome that the cabinet agreed on the abolishment after the Law Minister had presented a report on alternative sentencing as Suaram has always advocated that the application of alternative sentencing is far superior to the death penalty.”

Rights groups have long argued that capital punishment betrays the principle of human rights and is seen as cruel, inhumane, and degrading under international law.

De facto law minister Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar made the surprise announcement through a statement issued earlier today, nearly two years since the proposed abolition was first mooted by the former Pakatan Harapan administration.

The proposal was left hanging after a power grab ousted the PH government.

The moratorium issued under the coalition on all executions since 2018 remained while awaiting recommendations from the committee tasked to oversee the repeal of the mandatory death penalty.

Suaram said there were 1,366 people on death row as of September 2021, a majority of them found guilty under section 39(B) of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952.

“Therefore, we are also delighted that the government, in working towards abolishing mandatory death penalty, will be looking into revising section 39(B) of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952,” it said.

Wan Junaidi said the Cabinet agreed that further scrutiny and study be carried out on the proposed substitute sentence for 11 offences carrying the mandatory death penalty, one offence under section 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 [Act 234] 2 and 22 other offences which carry the death penalty but at the discretion of the court.

Several other human rights groups have also lauded the decision but maintained said that Malaysia should be looking at the total abolishment of the death penalty.

“Nevertheless, the announcement today is a significant step forwards toward seeing a Malaysia that is free from the inhumane practice of the death penalty,” Suaram said.