THE Malaysian government’s announcement on its decision to abolish the death penalty for all crimes has given a ray of hope for anti-capital punishment campaigners in the region.
Yesterday, the country’s defacto Law Minister, Datuk Liew Vui Keong said Cabinet has decided to come up with a bill to be tabled in the next parliament sitting which begins on Oct 15.
This came after the country announced a moratorium on executions in July 2018.
Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International’s Secretary General, said the announcement was a major step forward for all those who have campaigned for an end to the death penalty in Malaysia, adding the country will be joining 106 countries that have “turned their backs for good on the ultimate cruel, inhumane, degrading punishment.”
“Malaysia’s resort to the death penalty has been a terrible stain on its human rights record for years. In Malaysia death row prisoners are often cruelly kept in the dark about the outcome of their clemency applications and notified of their executions just days or hours before they happen,” Kumi said.
“There is no time to waste – the death penalty should have been consigned to the history books long ago. Malaysia’s new government has promised to deliver on human rights and today’s announcement is an encouraging sign, but much more needs to be done.”
According to Amnesty, at least 93 executions in nine countries were known to have been carried out throughout the Asia Pacific in 2017 – down from at least 130 in 11 countries in 2016.
The decrease, it said in a report earlier this year, was linked to a decline in Pakistan, where executions reduced by 31 percent. However, these figures do not include the thousands of executions that the rights group believed were carried out in China.
Singapore doubled its number of executions last year, from four to right, compared to 2016, all of which were for drug-related offences, according to Amnesty.
Kirsten Han, co-founder of Singapore anti-death penalty advocacy group, We Believe in Second Chances said since the execution of Malaysian national Kho Jabing for murder in 2016, he has seen “the gap between the denial of a presidential pardon and the scheduling of an execution shrink, leaving families less time to anticipate the execution and prepare themselves mentally and emotionally, and also depriving anti-death penalty activists of the time and opportunity to act.”
“I doubt the abolition of the death penalty in Malaysia will have any immediate or short-term impact on Singapore’s capital punishment regime, which is practically one of the pillars of our criminal justice system,” Han said in the Malaysian Insight.
“But a Malaysia free of the death penalty will find itself in a much less awkward position; it was previously difficult for the Malaysian government to say very much about Malaysians on death row in countries like Singapore precisely because Malaysia itself executes people.”
Although hanging is a recognised form of punishment in Brunei, the small country is largely abolitionist in nature when it comes to the death sentence.
Crime punishable by death include murder, terrorism, drug trafficking, abetting suicide, arson, kidnapping, treason, mutiny, and perjury, but no known executions have occurred in Brunei since 1957.
However, in April, 2014, the majority Muslim country adapted Sharia law into its justice system and imposed the stoning by death for adultery, sodomy, rape, apostasy, blasphemy, and insulting Islam.
Vietnam is largely retentionist with regards to capital punishment. For many years, the method of execution was shooting by firing squad, according to a Cornell Law School database. Previous reports said tn the past, a deathrow inmate is tied to a wooden post and has his mouth stuffed with lemons before being shot by a firing squad of five to seven people. After the firing, an office would use a pistol to shoot the condemned in the ear.
In June 2010, Vietnam’s National Assembly voted to replace shooting with lethal injection, which was considered a more humane method of execution, the database pointed out.
However, due to a shortage of the necessary drugs, the National Assembly has mulled a return to shooting as the method of execution.
Last year the Filipino government made move to revive the death penalty sets the country on a “dangerous path in flagrant violation” of its international legal obligations, according to Amnesty.
The draft that gained approval is a watered-down version of the original and has been amended to exclude crimes like rape, kidnap-for-ransom and plunder.
The draft law was passed amid over 8,000 deaths since Duterte was sworn into office in June 2016, many through extrajudicial executions in the country’s “drug war”.
The group points out under international law, the death penalty must be restricted to the most serious crimes, but drug-related crimes “do not meet this threshold”.
After World War II, the death penalty has been imposed on and off in the country.Since then, dozens of convicts were executed by electric chair between 1950 and 1986.
A year later, the death penalty was abolished, but restored in 1993 under President Fidel Ramos, before being scrapped again in 2006.
Amnesty pointed out in 2007, the Philippines ratified an international treaty which categorically prohibited executions and committed the country to the abolition of the death penalty.
Since 2006, the Philippines has been a strong advocate against capital punishment and has championed several initiatives to this end in international forums.
After a nine-year moratorium, Thai authorities executed a 26-year-old man by lethal injection on June 18, 2018, the country’s first execution since August 2009.
“Thailand’s resumed use of the death penalty marks a major setback for human rights,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.
“The Thai government’s many pledges about moving toward abolishing the death penalty clearly meant nothing.”
The Corrections Department stated that the execution of Theerasak Longji, who was found guilty of aggravated murder six years ago, reflected Thailand’s standpoint that “focuses on protecting society, rather than the rights and freedoms of wrongdoers,” and sends a warning message that serious crimes will be severely punished, he said.
According to the Corrections Department, as of April, there were 517 prisoners (415 men and 102 women) on death row in Thailand. Most were convicted of drug-related offenses, HRW pointed out.
Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo last year pointed out that a private opinion poll from 2015 showed 85 percent of Indonesians support the death penalty for drug traffickers.
In Indonesia, death-sentenced inmates are executed by firing squad and only learns of their impending execution 72 hours in advance.
Under former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Indonesia had a four-year unofficial moratorium which ended in March 2013. Another former President, BJ Habibie, in 2016 denounced Indonesia’s continued use of the death penalty.
But enthusiastic use of capital punishment has been a hallmark of Jokowi’s presidency despite widespread international criticism.
At least eighteen people have been killed for drug trafficking since his election in mid-2014, 15 of whom were foreign citizens. Jokowi has previously justified capital punishment on the basis that drug traffickers had “destroyed the future of the nation.”
In May 2016, Jokowi introduced new laws that punish paedophilia with the death penalty and chemical castration, in response to public outcry after a schoolgirl was brutally gang-raped.
Jokowi has previously declared drug trafficking a “national emergency” for Indonesia. In fact, public health experts estimate that only 0.5 percent of the country’s 250 million people “experiment” with drugs.
Jokowi’s administration has remained adamant in its refusal to grant clemency to foreigners on drug convictions.