THE Malaysian Bar has called on the government to halt all pending executions amid a review of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 to remove the mandatory death penalty.
In a press release on Saturday, Bar president George Varughese welcomed the review and made an appeal to the government to hold-off on carrying out any executions during the review process.
“Given the imminent amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952, the Malaysian Bar renews our call to the government to officially declare and implement a moratorium on all pending executions,” he said.
Varughese’s comments follow a decision by the Cabinet to amend Section 39(B) of the Dangerous Drugs Act to include an additional clause providing discretionary powers to the courts in sentencing drug traffickers. In its current form, the mandatory sentence for drug related offences is death, regardless of any extenuating circumstances.
In light of the imminent amendments, Varughese urged the government not to carry out pending executions in the “interest of justice and fairness”, and ensure that the amendments are applied retrospectively to those currently on death row.
“It is only right that when the reforms come into effect, they should be applied retrospectively,” he said.
The Bar also called on the government to “act swiftly to abolish the death penalty” for all crimes, and to “uphold the right to life, which is absolute, universal and inalienable,” calling the punishment “extreme, abhorrent and inhumane.”
On Thursday, Azalina Othman, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of legal affairs, announced the government’s decision to review the law and allow courts to decide on the penalty for drug offences.
The Bar welcomed the move, stating that it is “prudent and just that the decision regarding whether to impose the death penalty be left to the discretion of the Judge,” stating that in its current form, the legislation “prohibits Judges from considering mitigating factors and circumstances that surround each case, before sentencing.”
According to the Bar, examples of such mitigating factors could include the offender’s age, rehabilitation goals, past criminal record, role played in the offence, mental capacity, reparations made, fear of another person, use of violence, harm done to property or persons, and degree of cooperation with the authorities.
Varughese also defended the Bar’s call for the abolition of capital punishment by highlighting the point that there is “no conclusive evidence of the deterrent value of the death penalty, particularly in respect of drug offences.”
Malaysia has one of the strictest narcotics policies in the world, with capital punishment for the sale of any drugs, as well as the risk of jail and deportation for possession.
There are currently an estimated 800 people on death row for offences related to narcotics.