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Malaysia scraps mandatory death penalty, natural-life prison terms


A general view of Malaysia’s Parliament House in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia April 3, 2023. REUTERS/Hasnoor Hussain

Malaysia’s parliament on Monday passed sweeping legal reforms to remove the mandatory death penalty, trim the number of offences punishable by death, and abolish natural-life prison sentences.

Malaysia has had a moratorium on executions since 2018, when it first promised to abolish capital punishment entirely.

The government, however, faced political pressure from some parties and rowed back on the pledge a year later, saying it would retain the death penalty but allow courts to replace it with other punishments at their discretion.

Under the amendments passed on Monday, alternatives to the death penalty include whipping and imprisonment of between 30 to 40 years. The new jail term will replace all previous provisions that call for imprisonment for the duration of the offender’s natural life.

Life imprisonment sentences, defined by Malaysian law as a fixed term of 30 years, will be retained.

Capital punishment will also be removed as an option for some serious crimes that do not cause death, such as discharging and trafficking of a firearm and kidnapping, according to the new measures.

Deputy law minister Ramkarpal Singh said capital punishment was an irreversible punishment that had not been an effective deterrent for crime.

“The death penalty has not brought the results it was intended to bring,” he said while wrapping up the parliamentary debates on the bill.

The amendments passed will apply to 34 offences currently punishable by death, including murder and drug trafficking. Eleven of them carry it as a mandatory punishment.

The move by Malaysia comes even as some Southeast Asian neighbours have stepped up their use of capital punishment.

Last year, Singapore executed 11 people for drug offences, government data showed, while Myanmar carried out its first death sentences in decades against four pro-democracy activists.

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