Ending the Death Penalty is a Win for Malaysia

The Cabinet of Malaysia has announced tabling a bill to abolish the death penalty for all crimes lately. It may halt all pending executions and those on death row might see a reprieve.

The idea to abolish capital punishment raised different views.

Human rights groups celebrate the decision as they see capital punishment as a breach of human rights. The abolishment could be Malaysia’s big step forward.

But the groundswell of opposition implies a hurriedly made decision by the government to fulfil its election pledges.

Indeed, beyond Malaysia, an end to death penalty has been a global controversy.

But I stand with Malaysia’s decision this time.


Human error

Capital punishment, once done, is irreversible. No one can save the mistake.

“Death penalty is based on a false utopian premise. That false premise is that we have had, do have, and will have 100% accuracy in death penalty convictions and executions.”

There are always cases where the innocent are convicted of murder.

George Junius Stinney Jr.—an African-American convicted of murdering two white girls in 1944—received the penalty after a less than 10 minutes of a one-day trial by an all-white jury.

70 years later, his conviction got posthumously rescinded. The court recently ruled he had not received a fair trial: “his confession was likely coerced and thus inadmissible.”


George Junius Stinney Jr. Image from wikimedia.org


Mohamad Zulkifli Ismail of Malaysia got charged with the murder of a home intruder.

A difficult case it was.

The intruder—who basically broke the law—died, but Zulkifli couldn’t prove he was acting in self-defence. Yet we tend to self-defend out of instinct, especially where Zulkifli had to deal with two intruders.


Mohamad Zulkifli Ismail. Image from New Straits Times


Without absolute accuracy, the death penalty has fundamental flaws. Not even a ‘developed’ justice system can avoid arbitrary human failure. It can thus still bring the innocent to brutal punishment.


Effective… or not so

The Star conducted a survey with Malaysians during which a 45% believed that ending capital punishment could lead to a rise in criminal activities.

In the same report, however, “several criminologists were of the opinion that there has been no scientific studies to back this argument.”

There is little concrete evidence as to the deterrent value of capital punishment. Thus a misconception it might be about capital punishment resolving all problems.

Malaysia has a total of 1,267 prisoners languishing on death row. 900 of them are convicted of drug offences. However, a lot of these offenders are drug mules or dealers. The real bosses remain ‘behind the scene’.

For instance, Yong Vui Kong, a Malaysian, 19, got the death sentence in Singapore after his arrest for carrying more than 15 grams of heroin.

Nevertheless ‘workers’ like Yong most probably serve an unidentified criminal ‘boss’. The capital punishment therefore seems ineffective to eradicate the real drug problems running under the carpet.


Yong Vui Kong. Image from deathpenaltyproject.org


If the main purpose of this method is to curb crimes, it has failed so as to addressing the root cause.


Resources zapper

Maintaining the death penalty is way more expensive than locking the convicts up for life.

The process, from arrest, to sentencing, and eventually the execution, might take about 10 to 15 years.

The inmates receiving a special custody are to face individual confinement for 23 hours a day.

Housing inmates on death row amount to additional costs as compared to housing them within the general prison population.

Who knows how much more from the Malaysian taxpayers will the penal system require to sustain this regular, albeit modifiable, zapper of resources.


Malaysia’s right decision

Law Minister Datuk Liew Vui Keong stresses: “The abolishment of death penalty in Malaysia should be done with no exceptions.”

Yet some still believe that capital punishment is key to addressing heinous crimes.

I hence say that when justice is vulnerable to human error, when the effectiveness of this punishment is uncertain, when costs can lead to a strain, a moratorium on death penalty is necessary for Malaysia, and the wider world.



Written by Low An Qi

Featured image from New Straits Times

DISLAIMER: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and they do not necessarily represent the position of UNMC IGNITE.


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