Death penalty: time for rethinking

Media statement by DAP MP for Bukit Bendera Liew Chin Tong on 2nd April 2011 in George Town, Penang

Death penalty: time for rethinking

441 persons have been hanged since 1960 while another 696 await their hanging in Malaysian prisons, according to the Home Minister in his reply to my question on Thursday 31st March 2011 in Parliament.

It is time for serious rethinking on the question of the death penalty.

Of the 441 persons who have been hanged, 228 were involved in drug trafficking, 78 in murders and 130 had charges relating to illegal processions of arms, and four had waged war against the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong while one was involved in kidnapping.

As of 22nd February 2011, there are 696 death row prisoners awaiting the gallows. Some are in the process of appeals while some are seeking pardons from the Pardon Board of the respective states. 676 are male while 20 are female, 90 percent are between 21 and 50 years old. 479 of them were involved in drug trafficking, 204 in murders and 13 in illegal processions of arms.

I call on the Government to initiate a comprehensive bipartisan discussion on the death penalty.

Given the imperfect nature of the justice system, it is impossible to eliminate human error. Yet this flawed system continues to enforce an irreversible and cruel capital punishment which has not been proven to deter crime. Preventing the criminals from reoffending can be achieved by serving a life sentence, without the neccesity to take their lives. Many nations are now rethinking capital punishment as a barbaric and abhorrent punishment fundamentally opposed to the nature of human rights. According to Amnesty International, 30 countries stopped the use of capital punishment in the last decade.

In a civilised nation that respects the dignity of the humankind, regard should be had for the legal maxim “better ten guilty men go free than an innocent man die”. A justice system that is not infallible must not pass an irreversible and cruel sentence in the name of justice.

In the larger scheme of national safety and crime deterrence, it is more important for the justice system to ensure that criminals are brought to justice through strong police investigative work with integrity and a judicial system that is just and seen to be just. Taking the lives of the criminals will not help eliminate crime.

To begin with, the Dangerous Drugs Act should be amended to return the discretion of sentencing to the judge. Currently, the hands of the judges are tied upon conviction as the death penalty is mandatory under Section 39B.

Liew Chin Tong

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