Saturday, July 22, 2006

Malaysia's 'inexcusable' position on death penalty

Malaysia's 'inexcusable' position on death penalty

Leading human rights activists and a newspaper columnist have rejected the Malaysian Government's claim that the death penalty was needed to deter serious crime and safeguard public interest.

Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk M. Kayveas told Parliament on 28 June that: "The Government has no intention of abolishing the death penalty."

The Deputy Minister said the death penalty was "only provided for serious crimes" such as murder and drug trafficking, and there were "enough safeguards" in the judicial system to ensure it was not handed out easily.

N. Surendran and Charles Hector, from the group Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (MADPET), said they were "disappointed" by the Deputy Minister's "unsubstantiated and false statement".

They said in a media release posted on the website of the Malaysia Bar that the statement was "baseless and cannot be justified by any facts or statistical proof", citing studies that have "failed to find convincing evidence that capital punishment is a more effective deterrent of crime than long-term imprisonment".

"The Malaysian government ought to have conducted a thorough study on the effectiveness or ineffectiveness of the death penalty as a deterent to serious crime before having a Deputy Minister, who is a lawyer, stand up in Paliament and attempt to turn a myth into an empirical truth," they said.

Umran Kadir, a columnist with publication Sun 2 Surf, described the Deputy Minister's stance as "an inexcusable position to take when international studies overwhelmingly support the notion that the death penalty is not an effective deterrent to crime".

He said "the ugly truth is that in dispensing justice mistakes can and do happen".

"Civilisation has moved far beyond the time of Hammurabi when "an eye for an eye" was the basis of all laws. The death penalty creates a senseless and vicious cycle of violence. I firmly believe that we are in no position to take away that which God has bequeathed upon each of us," Umran Kadir wrote.

What safeguards?
MADPET also rejected the Deputy Minister's statement that there were adequate safeguards in the judicial system, and described as "laughable" the claim that the country's experienced police provided an additional safeguard against a miscarriage of justice.

"What safeguards is the Honourable Deputy Minister speaking of? In Malaysia there is no immediate access to a lawyer upon arrest, immediate right to a phone call and no right to full pre-trial disclosure [of all evidence to the accused]," they said.

"It must be reiterated that even in jurisdictions where all these safeguards exist, the number of persons wrongfully condemned to death have been frighteningly high. Human justice is dangerously fallible, and the only acceptable choice for any civilized nation is to abolish the death penalty.

"The fact that a person has the right to appeal to the Court of Appeal and then the Federal Court, and thereafter to the Pardons Board for clemency is grossly insufficient to justify the keeping of the Death Penalty in our law books.

"It is laughable that the Deputy Minister even suggested, at this day and time in Malaysia, that thorough investigations carried out by an experienced and effective police force is yet another safeguard to prevent miscarriage of justice," the MADPET statement said.

World turning away
Umran Kadir and MADPET both noted the worldwide trend of countries rejecting the death penalty and referred to the Philippines, which abolished the death penalty last month.

Umran Kadir wrote that: "Malaysia is among a shrinking group of 71 countries that continue to cling on to an unmerciful and irreversible punishment."

"It is high time we let compassion guide us on this issue."

In a footnote to his newspaper column, Umran Kadir noted "with sadness" that from 1970 to the present, 359 people had been condemned to death byMalaysian courts while 159 were currently on death row.

MADPET called for an immediate moratorium on all executions and the complete abolition of the death penalty in Malaysia.

The Deputy Minister tabled a written statement in Malaysia's Dewan Rakyat in response to a question from parliamentarian Karpal Singh.

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