Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Torturous wait on Death Row

Torturous wait on Death Row
Baradan Kuppusamy
Sep 4, 07 12:19pm

"Hang me or release me but don't leave me to suffer a slow death," is the cry of anguish from Baha Jambol, 45, who has been suspended helplessly on Death Row for nine long years, unable to appeal the sentence.

He was sentenced to death in April 1998 for being in possession of 50kg of cannabis. He is unable to appeal because the trial judge has failed to put pen to paper and give the grounds sentencing him to ‘death by hanging’.

Jambol's desperate predicament is not unique. It is the result of a serious flaw in Malaysia’s criminal justice system.

"Without a written judgement, we can't appeal," Karpal Singh (photo), Jambol's lawyer and prominent human rights campaigner, told IPS.

Jambol, a driver, was at the wheel of a car when the cannabis was found inside. But the car owner who was with him at the time was acquitted.

The scandal of the ink-shy judge, who is loath to put his judgments on paper, has shocked the nation and led to renewed demands for a swift end to the death penalty.

"This case is a severe travesty of justice. Jambol has been languishing on Death Row for nine years… what can be crueller than this? I urge the government to immediately abolish the death penalty and end the misery of people on Death Row," said Karpal.

Others too wait in great misery in the country's overcrowded jails for the same reason.

Aziz Sharif, 28, was sentenced to death in 2001 for murdering his girlfriend, a conviction that his lawyer Harbahjan Singh said is deeply flawed. Six years on, Harbahjan is still blocked from filing an appeal because there is no written judgement.

Aziz is suffering severe mental torture while waiting to know his fate, according to his family, who are poor rice farmers from Negeri Sembilan.

According to a New Straits Times report, they have appealed to the court numerous times to get the judge to write his judgment but without success.

"I wrote five letters to the court over the matter and sadly they did not have the decency to reply to any of the letters," Harbahjan told the paper.

Haszaidi Hasan, also sentenced to death for drug trafficking in 2001, is another case in point.

Denial of justice

Opposition politicians and rights activists are now pressing for action against Malaysia's indolent judges.

"Their lackadaisical attitude has hamstrung the administration of justice to people who need it the most," DAP lawmaker M Kulasegaran said.

"If the judges had done their basic duties the convicted persons could have speedily filed their appeals and probably been acquitted. A long delay is a mark of a poor criminal justice system.”

He urged the government to set free Death Row inmates caught in this predicament, adding that “a more lasting and more humane solution is to abolish the death penalty".

The cases have also been taken up by the rights group Malaysians Against the Death Penalty.

"Prisoners facing capital punishment are under severe pressure if their appeals are delayed," said co-director and lawyer Charles Hector.

"Judges should understand the tremendous pressure the death penalty generates… delaying the right to appeal is an act of utmost cruelty. Family members are also left emotionally drained by the uncertainties and the long meaningless delays. It is an intolerable form of torture.

"This tragic delay is another reason to review the death penalty. We demand an immediate moratorium on all executions pending the abolition of the death penalty in Malaysia."

Amnesty International also wants an immediate moratorium on all further executions, while the Bar Council has asked lawyers to report back cases where clients are enduring a "slow death" because of long-delayed or non-existent written judgements.

The Council plans to present Chief Justice Ahmad Fairuz Sheikh Abdul Halim with a list of serious cases. The hope is that offending judges will be penalised, a sanction that might finally end such torment.

Malaysia imposes the death penalty for a raft of offences, from drug trafficking (15gm of heroin and 200gm of cannabis) to poisoning the water supply. Murder, possession of firearms and treason carry a mandatory death sentence.

More than 1,000 persons have been executed since independence in 1957 and some 300 are currently awaiting execution, many of them Acehnese from Indonesia convicted of trafficking cannabis. - IPS

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