KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia has rowed back on an earlier plan to completely repeal the death penalty, saying that while the government will abolish mandatory capital punishment, it will leave it for courts to decide whether a person convicted of a serious crime will hang.
The mandatory death penalty for 11 criminal offences will be repealed, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Mohamed Hanipa Maidin told parliament on Wednesday (Mar 13).
These offences include committing acts of terrorism, murder and hostage-taking.
“We have made a decision. The government will only repeal the mandatory death penalty. We will make the amendments,” said Mohamed Hanipa.
“This is in keeping with the 27th pledge in the Pakatan Harapan (election) manifesto.”
To a supplementary question on whether there are plans to set up a parliamentary select committee to discuss the repeal of the death penalty before tabling the amendment Bill, Mohamed Hanipa said he would forward the suggestion to the government.
The minister in charge of law, Liew Vui Keong, had said last October that the Cabinet had decided to repeal the death penalty.
“All death penalty will be abolished. Full stop," he was quoted as saying.
LAWYERS GROUP CRITICISES U-TURN
Lawyers for Liberty, a human rights lawyers organisation in Malaysia, slammed the government’s U-turn on repealing the death penalty.
“The reversal of the earlier decision is shocking, unprincipled and embarrassing,” Lawyers for Liberty said in a press release.
“This is all the more so as the decision for total abolition had made international news and was praised throughout the region and the world,” it added.
“More seriously, the October 2018 announcement of total abolition had given hope and relief to thousands of convicted or charged persons and their families. To hold out hope of being spared the gallows, only to have the hope snatched away again is extremely cruel and unjust.”
The group also called on the government to keep the current moratorium on executions, pending the total abolition of the death penalty.
Malaysia's decision against a total repeal of the death penalty could also weigh on the future of a fugitive policeman, Sirul Azhar Umar, who fled to Australia just before a Malaysian court sentenced him to death for the 2006 murder of Mongolian model Altantuya Shaariibuu.
READ: Ex-Najib bodyguard held over Altantuya's grisly murder loses Australian asylum bid
Sirul and another policeman convicted of the crime had been serving as members of the personal security detail for Najib Razak, who was deputy prime minister at the time of the murder.
The question of whether anyone had ordered them to kill the woman has never been answered. Najib went on to become prime minister and led the country for nine years before his spectacular defeat at last year's general election.
Since then, Malaysian police have re-opened the case into the model's killing and Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has said his government could revoke Sirul's death penalty to make way for his extradition.
Sirul, who has been held at an Australian immigration detention centre since 2015, faces the prospect of deportation after failing a bid for asylum in Australia.
However, under Australian law, Sirul can only be deported if he does not face the death penalty.