Reforming the death penalty

By Liew Chin Tong, MP for Kluang

rope-nooseThe 12th World Day Against the Death Penalty focuses on “drawing attention to people with mental health problems who are at risk of a death sentence or execution.

While opposing the death penalty absolutely, abolitionists are also committed to see existing international human rights standards implemented. Among these is the requirement that persons with mental illness or intellectual disabilities should not face the death penalty.

The death penalty is a controversial subject in most societies. The most important argument against the death penalty is that it is irreversible upon execution of a person, even if found innocent much later.

In Malaysia, a Parliamentary Roundtable was held in June 2011 which reached the view that there should be 1) moratorium of execution upon a thorough review of the death penalty; and 2) an immediate end to mandatory death sentences by returning discretion to the judges.

There has not been much progress since the June 2011 meeting apart from the Attorney-General’s commitment to review the death penalty following the framework of Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

One aspect that requires attention is that of relating to mandatory death sentences for drug offences. I would like to refer a parliamentary reply by the Home Minister in reply to my question in March 2011.

The reply shows that out of the total number of executed inmates between 1960 and 2011, 51 percent or 228 out of 441 persons are convicted for drug offences. Meanwhile, of the inmates on death row as of 2011, 67 percent or 479 out of 696 persons were convicted under drug offences.

Executed inmates (1960-2011) Inmates on death row (as of February 2011)
Reason Number Reason Number
Drug offences 228 Drug offences 479
Firearm-related crime 130 Murder 204
Murder 78 Firearm-related crime 13
Waging war against Agong 4
Kidnapping 1
Total 441 Total 696
Drug offences 51% Drug offences 67%


It is alarming that when I next received another parliamentary reply in June 2013, there were already 964 death row inmates, compared to 696 in February 2011. This is a whopping increase of 38 percent. From what I understand, most of the new death row inmates were convicted under drug offences.

Such an increase of new death row inmates just shown that the death penalty fails to deter the occurrence of crime in the first place.

Many of those convicted under drug offences are drug mules of very young age, this category of offenders should be distinguished from hardened drug traffickers.

Singapore has recently amended its law to allow drug mules on death row who cooperate with the prosecution to be re-sentenced. Thus far, two Malaysians, Yong Vui Kong and Cheong Chun Yin, have been given a second chance in life.

On the occasion of the World Day Against the Death Penalty, I call on the Malaysian Government to commit to the following:

  1. to impose a moratorium on executions pending a thorough review of the death penalty;
  2. to return discretion to the judges by removing the mandatory death penalty;  and,
  3. to improve the prison conditions of death row inmates.

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