PUTRAJAYA, Nov 14 — As many as 95.8 per cent of eligible death row and natural life imprisonment inmates — 978 out of 1,020 — have since applied for their sentences to be reviewed since November 9, Law Minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said said.

Based on the latest data, the Office of the Chief Registrar of the Federal Court of Malaysia disclosed it has received a total of 871 applications for death sentence review and 117 applications for natural life imprisonment review respectively under the Revision of Sentence of Death and Imprisonment for Natural Life (Temporary Jurisdiction of the Federal Court) Act.

“The unity government wishes to reiterate that the death penalty is still retained as a punishment for criminal offences under Malaysia's criminal justice system,” said the minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in a statement.

“However the imposition of the death penalty is no longer mandatory and the amendments to the law have now given judges the liberty to use their discretion to mete out the appropriate punishment.

“This matter is in line with the government's commitment to give a second chance to death row inmates and allow them to continue their livelihood as a common citizen,” she added.

Earlier, the Federal Court commuted the death sentence and natural life imprisonment of 11 inmates convicted of drug trafficking to life imprisonment and whipping after Malaysia abolished the mandatory death penalty.

Under the Abolition of Mandatory Death Penalty Act, the courts will now have the option of choosing between giving a death sentence or other alternatives for certain offences, including the offence of murder.

This is unlike previously when it was compulsory or mandatory to give out a death sentence for such offences.

Under this new law, murder is now punishable with either the death penalty; or the alternative of between 30 and 40 years’ jail and whipping of not less than 12 strokes.

Azalina said today's sentence review hearing was evident of the principle of restorative justice under the Malaysia's criminal justice system is always preserved and reflective of the government's commitment to defending basic human rights.