Azalina criticises govt’s opaque death penalty policy shift

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A report on the death penalty prepared by former chief justice Richard Malanjum was not made public, although the government said its decision was based on this report.

The government should not work in silo, keeping everyone in the dark over its plans to abolish the mandatory death penalty, according to former Dewan Rakyat deputy speaker Azalina Othman Said.

The Umno MP said the government’s plan was still unclear and rife with speculation because there had been no public discussion about the issue.

“As a backbencher, I have witnessed the present Keluarga Malaysia government demonstrating political will to embark on many overdue law reform efforts, of which I applaud.

“However, with the present discourse on the abolition of mandatory death penalty, many of us are left in the dark on the breadth and depth of the potential change in policy and law here.

“We are left to speculate on many fronts, which inhibits MPs like myself from contributing constructively to the debate,” the Pengerang MP said.

She also revealed that a report on the death penalty prepared by former chief justice Richard Malanjum was not made public, although the government said its decision was based on this report.

Azalina said the lack of information from the government created more questions amongst MPs and the people.

“All that we have now are news headlines and brief government announcements, which are open to speculation.

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“The final say should rest in the hands of the rakyat, through their respective MPs,” the former deputy speaker of Dewan Rakyat said.

On Friday, the government announced that it had decided to abolish the mandatory death penalty, placing the decision at the discretion of the presiding judge, while at the same time offering alternatives for the judge to consider.

This decision was reached following the presentation of the Malanjum report during the cabinet meeting on June 8.

The cabinet has also agreed that further studies is necessary regarding proposed alternative sentences for 11 offences that carried the mandatory death penalty.

Crimes currently punishable by death in Malaysia include murder, drug trafficking, terrorism, kidnapping and possession of firearms.

Yesterday, Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob said the death penalty in Malaysia remains on the statute books, but it will no longer be mandatory for some cases and judges will be given discretion in sentencing.

The government decision has opened up questions as to what will happen to roughly 2,000 convicts who are at present on death row.

Azalina said that until the government decides on its next course of action, it could impose a moratorium on a policy basis by halting executions while a more detailed study is carried out.

She said various laws will have to be amended as the death penalty is entrenched in existing laws, including the penal code, Firearms (Increased Penalties) Act 1971, and Armed Forces Act.

“Many questions have to be addressed incrementally, accounting for not just the views and sentiments of members of the cabinet, but MPs too.

“What this entails is that the government will have to table bills in Parliament to amend the laws. MPs will have to be consulted and the bills debated upon.”

She suggested that the government takes a cue from the drafting of anti-party hopping legislation where a parliamentary special select committee is established to scrutinise all the existing laws to which a mandatory death penalty is attached.

By this way, the views of MPs across party lines, experts, victims, and next of kin of victims can be heard.

“The committee will be able to fast track the process for law reform by providing a platform for legal discourse and debates via a multi-party committee of MPs, organisations and stakeholders.

“This will help restore the public’s faith in a system that is transparent and inclusive,” she said. – TMI