MALAYSIA’s government has announced it will remove the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking crimes, in a decision welcomed by rights groups.
Cabinet agreed unanimously on Monday to amend the colonial-era Dangerous Drugs Act of 1952 to do away with mandatory capital punishment for drug traffickers and allow judges discretion in sentencing, but the decision must still be approved by Parliament.
The Malaysian Bar association welcomed the move, however, said it was of the view the death penalty should be removed for all offences, irrespective of the crime that may have been committed. The death penalty has no place in a society that values human life, justice and mercy.”
Some 800 people are currently on death row for offences related to narcotics in Malaysia and it is unclear whether they will still face execution.
“The Malaysian Bar regrets despite the government’s repeated announcements, over the past several years, it has been looking into abolishing the mandatory death penalty, no draft legislation has yet been tabled,” it said.
“We welcome the move as a recognition the mandatory death penalty is an egregious form of punishment,” said Amnesty International Malaysia executive director Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu in a statement.
“While the announcement for changes to the mandatory death penalty in its limited form to drug trafficking is a welcome move, it must only be considered the first step towards total abolition.”
Malaysia currently imposes the death penalty for drug trafficking, murder and some terrorism-related offences. Under the proposed changes, violent crimes will still be punishable by death.
An Amnesty report from 2016 showed Malaysia was ranked 10th in the world for the number of people it executes, among 23 countries who killed 1,032 people globally.
Monday’s announcement came just weeks after a Malaysian national was executed by Singapore for drug trafficking crimes, despite his appeal against the sentence still pending.