Malaysia Considers Exempting Drug Mules from the Mandatory Death Penalty
On July 14, following the announcement of Singapore’s plans to ease its mandatory death penalty for low-level drug couriers, Malaysia’s Attorney General declared that he was also considering introducing discretionary sentencing for drug mules. Drug trafficking has been a crime in Malaysia since 1952, but it was not until 1983 that the death penalty became the mandatory sentence for anyone convicted of involvement with trafficking. Under the proposed amendments to the 1952 Dangerous Drug Act, the court would retain the ability to sentence a drug courier to death, but would also be able to consider mitigating factors and hand down an alternative sentence. Attorney General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail also stated that if the amendment is implemented, “those on death row would be referred back to the courts, with legal representation to be resentenced.” The death penalty would still be mandatory for other drug offenses, such as involvement in the supply or distribution aspects of trafficking.
Malaysia is a retentionist state according to the UN definition, meaning that it has carried out executions in the last 10 years. The last execution in Malaysia took place in 2011, according to Amnesty International, but given the secrecy surrounding executions, little is known about the application of the death penalty. Malaysia has consistently voted against the United Nations General Assembly’s proposal to institute a global moratorium on executions.
The mandatory death penalty for drug-related crimes is a contentious issue in Singapore and Malaysia. In 2011, the Malaysian Bar Association, Members of Parliament and six non-governmental organizations met at a public forum to commemorate World Day Against the Death Penalty. They discussed the relevance and efficacy of their laws as well as their compliance with international human rights standards, under which the mandatory death penalty is illegal. Earlier this year, the Malaysian Bar Association also unanimously passed a mandate calling for abolition of the death penalty and for life imprisonment to replace it. Under pressure from its civil society and with the influence of Singapore’s initiative to relax its strict sentencing scheme, the Malaysian government may bring its laws closer to international human rights standards. Abolishing the mandatory death penalty for certain crimes is a significant first step towards this goal.
-- Anna Jackson