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Reviewing the relevance of mandatory death penalty

  • Progressively withdrawing death penalty is a global trend we must come to terms with.

Sin Chew Daily

The cabinet has unanimously agreed to review Section 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952, allowing for judges' discretion on cases involving mandatory death penalty.

As a matter of fact, mandatory death penalty has been in place in this country for over 50 years. Besides drug trafficking, possession of firearms, kidnapping and murder are among twelve capital crimes punishable by death.

More and more countries in this world have moved to abolish death penalty on humanitarian grounds, while Malaysia is one of few countries still enforcing death penalty.

The amendment to the Dangerous Drugs Act marks a first step towards the eventual abolition of death penalty in this country.

Malaysia has been waging an uncompromising war on dangerous drugs for years, while mandatory death penalty has been in place since decades ago. Nevertheless, these efforts have failed to effectively curtail the problem of drug trafficking.

Those supporting the abolition of death penalty for drug traffickers believe that death penalty is not the most effective approach.

The government had the intention of reviewing the Dangerous Drugs Act several years ago, replacing death penalty with term imprisonment. The proposal drew polarized views from the public then.

Mandatory death penalty is generally perceived as inhuman and extraordinary, and does not conform to the universal values of human rights, justice and compassion.

When a person is sentenced to death, he or she is denied of the opportunity to rectify the mistake. Amnesty International has pointed out that an overwhelming majority of condemned convicts have been drug traffickers, including many doing so outside of their own knowledge.

In addition, Section 37 of the Dangerous Drugs Act deals with "presumptions". For instance, if any syringe or dangerous drug suitable for hypodermic injection is found in any premises, it is presumed that the premises are being used for the purpose of the administration of the dangerous drug, until the contrary is proved. Under such circumstances, the burden of proof is on the accused, and this contravenes the presumption of innocence and right to fair judgment.

Among those sentenced to death for drug trafficking are foreigners, and the mandatory death penalty involving foreigners here would invariably develop into major international issues. And when Malaysians are sentenced to death for drug trafficking abroad, pleas by families to save the convicts often go in vain as it is hard for the government to help given the fact death penalty is very much in force back in Malaysia.

Many people are against the abolition of death penalty for the simple reason drugs have done irreparable damages to individuals, their families and the nation. Our enforcement units have come up with strategies to tackle challenges posed by international drug syndicates, but often such measures do not fundamentally solve the problem.

From the humanitarian point of view, progressively withdrawing death penalty is a trend we must come to terms with. Meanwhile, we must not let up in our effort to battle drug addiction and trafficking, and these two can actually be carried out side by side.


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