MALAYSIA – An appeal to review the death penalty

february 7, 2014

FMT LETTER: From Syerleena Abdul Rashid, via e-mail

The Malaysian system of criminal law and punishment needs further scrutiny and must be questioned. Imprisonment, the whole penal system and most importantly, the death penalty should be reviewed. There is without a doubt that people who commit crimes and offences must be punished as this is retribution for their misdeeds.  It is accepted that, when the criminal suffers from pain, physically or emotionally, that must or might equate to the wrong doings- justice is served.

How feasible is the death penalty in curbing crimes? How can the system execute Malaysians when the burden of proof is necessitated? Moreover, how can the system ensure the evidence provided was not tampered with or that cases were thoroughly investigated, to ensure a person was given a fair trial therefore given the right judgment?

These are ethical question that examines the morality and logic of such a punishment. There are obvious elements that influence people to go against individual rights and commit crimes that violate existing laws. Issues such as poverty and education have always been highlighted as one of the main causes of such behaviour. Calls to implement Hudud or Syariah Laws by the conservative Islamists do not solve the problem, ignoring the problem will be an unhealthy step in understanding human welfare and the rights of every man, woman and child.

According to Amnesty International, in 2012, there were approximately 900 inmates sitting in death row in Malaysian prisons. The actual number for 2013/2014 is vague as our government is not transparent. The Malaysian government is known for its secrecy in releasing such data especially relating to the death penalty.  So we can only estimate that the numbers have increased.

Malaysians must understand the complexity of this situation, especially when there so many reported cases of injustice and police abuse.  Our prisons are filled with inmates who were not just guilty of the crimes they committed but were unable to obtain a reputable defense lawyer due to financial difficulties or simply were too uneducated to acquire basic language skills needed to communicate effectively in court?

The overwhelming injustice that confronts the poor, the illiterate, the racially discriminated and racially profiled needs to be urgently addressed before the judiciary can hand down further death sentences to Malaysians and citizens of other nations who were unfortunate to be thrown in Malaysian prisons, who although may have committed crimes but were not severe enough to be given the death sentence. Our courts are also well known to favour the affluent and the politically connected. There are too many reported cases that verify this.

Today (Feb 7, 2014), P Chandran will be executed for a crime he committed  over 11 years ago. His unfortunate death, if his family fails to repeal his sentence, will be a dark day for Malaysians who respect human rights and believe that the rehabilitated should be given another chance.

The writer is an Aliran member based in Penang

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