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Malaysia Set to Scrap Mandatory Death Penalty for Range of Serious Crimes

April 4, 2023 Malaysia Events & Announcements

Malaysia’s parliament has approved a bill that would scrap mandatory death penalties for a range of serious crimes as part of wide-ranging reforms, bringing possible reprieves to more than 1,300 prisoners on death row.

Currently, courts must mandate hanging as punishment for 11 serious crimes including murder, drug trafficking, treason, kidnapping and acts of terror. Now, courts will be given the option of handing down jail sentences of between 30 and 40 years and caning, deputy law minister Ramkarpal Singh said.

Natural life imprisonment, in which prisoners are kept behind bars till death, will also be replaced with jail terms of 30 to 40 years.

Singh called the reforms a significant step forward for Malaysia’s criminal justice system. “A review of this sentence reflects the government’s commitment to always be open to renewing and improving legislation and justice in this country,” Singh said.

He said 1,318 people are on death row, including 842 who have exhausted all avenues of appeals. Most cases are linked to drug trafficking. Foreigners account for more than 500 of those on death row, according to the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network.

Once the bill comes into effect, prisoners will have 90 days to file a review of their sentences but not their convictions, he said. He stressed that courts still have the power to uphold a death penalty after review.

The bill has yet to go to the upper house and the king but it is expected to become law.

Malaysia has had a moratorium on hanging since 2018. The government also proposed last year to abolish mandatory death penalties, but the move was scuppered after parliament was dissolved for a general election.

“Essentially, we have now narrowed down our death penalty to only three main groups of offences: murder, drug trafficking and treason,” said Dobby Chew of ADPAN. “This is a good first step forward. It brings Malaysia closer in line with international standards for those countries that retain the death penalty.”

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