Malaysia’s Parliament Monday began its consideration of two bills introduced to abolish mandatory death penalties for certain sentences.
The Abolition of Mandatory Death Penalty Bill of 2023 would reverse prior laws that require a mandatory death sentence for 33 different offenses. While the bill would not completely abolish the use of the death penalty, it leaves the determination of sentences to the discretion of judges. Judges would have the option to issue a life imprisonment sentence for these offenses instead. The bill also edits the current definition of a life imprisonment sentence. Older legislation required imprisonment until the end of “natural life.” The new bill would limit life sentences to terms of 30-40 years but adds an additional requirement of whipping for those given life imprisonment instead of the death penalty.
Parliament is also considering the Revision of Sentence of Death and Imprisonment for Natural Life (Temporary Jurisdiction of The Federal Court) Bill of 2023, which would allow for the revision of sentences for those currently on death row.
The bills are not the first step Malaysia has taken towards the abolition of the death penalty. In 2018, a moratorium was issued on executions, which temporarily halted all executions while the government considered policy changes. This moratorium is currently still in effect and is expected to remain at least until the current bills pass.
Amnesty International Malaysia’s Executive Director Katrina Jorene Maliamauv praised Parliament for taking steps in the right direction, but criticized the inclusion of whipping as an alternative punishment. Maliamauv commented:
It is also concerning that whipping, which constitutes cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, and as such is prohibited under international law, will remain part of the limited alternative punishments available to judges at sentencing under the amended law.
As Malaysia progresses towards eliminating the mandatory imposition of the archaic and cruel death penalty, Malaysian leaders must ensure that any alternative punishments that take its place are not in contravention to the prohibition against torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
Parliament is expected to pass the bills by April 4, within its current sitting. Malimauv urged, however, that Parliament continue to take steps toward the complete abolition of the death penalty and capital punishment.