“Abolition of death penalty needs to be thoroughly debated”

IT IS really shocking that the abolition of the mandatory death penalty is being replaced by harsher and even more inhuman laws. Replacing the death penalty with a jail sentence of 30 or 40 years imprisonment plus the possibility of whipping is against the spirit of the abolition of the death penalty in the country.

There is no doubt that the death penalty is a deterrent to serious criminal offences.

However, when the death penalty is going to be abolished, it gives the government a good reason to rethink effective but more merciful alternatives. The government wants to abolish the death penalty as it is now the international norm and also because it has been increasingly found to be ineffective, even though it is the most severe deterrent. 

The legislation concerning the abolition of the death penalty is now in parliament and being debated, where it is expected to be passed next week and sent to the senate. Too little time has been allocated for debate and discussion of an important piece of legislation like the abolition of capital punishment.

It is hoped that the MPs will consider amendments and opt for a 15 to 20-year sentence and also cancel the minimum 12 strokes of the cane. Whipping is a barbaric and primitive punishment and should be abolished together with the death penalty.

It will be better to have the jail sentence reduced to 15–20 years and give the person a chance to reintegrate with society. The long imprisonment will physically weaken them, make them realise and repent for their crime, and make them cherish their freedom for the remaining years of their lives.

All the MPs need to give the proposals more serious thought, as it is historic legislation that will be in effect for decades to come. There has been little or no debate about alternative forms of punishment other than those proposed by the government. 

Why wasn’t the Islamic concept of Diya brought up as an alternative to the equally cruel punishment of 30 or 40 years plus whipping, which was proposed to replace the abolition of the death penalty?

PAS politicians and leaders often crow their heads off in wanting to infuse elements of Islamic jurisprudence into the Malaysian legal system. This was a good opportunity for them to do so by presenting a positive replacement for the death sentence.

Diya refers to a system of monetary compensation to the victim’s family when death has occurred either intentionally or accidentally. It is a fair system in that the victim’s family will be financially compensated and their livelihood will somehow be reinstated. This is much better than the English law, which Malaysia practises, where the victim’s family gets nothing despite the offender going to jail or receiving the death sentence.

Malaysia does not have any system of compensation for criminal injuries or deaths.

PAS and the other Muslim MPs need to debate this alternative in the proposed new legislation

Not providing better insights or ideas to this new legislation will mean that they will forego a good chance to add a more equitable form of justice to criminal punishment. 

I refer to a case that happened in 2020 in Perak where an old Indian security guard was assaulted by a man for not allowing his small child to use the swimming pool in the condominium.

The security guard died in the hospital a few months later while undergoing treatment, and the offender could be charged with a more serious crime that could end up with the death penalty.

Later, the deceased security guard’s wife visited the family of the offender. She had a conversation with the man’s wife and found her to be remorseful and in a deprived situation, as the breadwinner has been remanded in custody. 

Realising the situation, she was ready to forgive. 

However, despite pitying the family, she was not able to do anything as the law as it is at present has to take its course. It is in a situation like this that the DIY system can be positively used.

It is no use sentencing a person to death when there is a better alternative, like monetary compensation, especially for an accidental death.

The Diya system of monetary compensation must be included alongside the new legislation abolishing the death penalty. It can be used by both Muslims and non-Muslims. 

Abolition of the death penalty must be replaced with a more merciful and meaningful system in line with international best practises.

Malaysian MPs have a historic opportunity not only to abolish the death penalty but also to replace it with better humanitarian alternatives that will be lauded and appreciated by the international community.

Malaysia can also look into implementing the pardoning system practised in some countries, where a large number of prisoners are either fully pardoned or have their prison terms reduced by the head of state or the government on important occasions relevant to the country.

A few dozen prisoners jailed for lesser offences can be freed or have their prison terms reduced on important occasions annually like Merdeka Day or the King’s or Prime Minister’s birthday and help reduce the swelling number of inmates in the local prisons. 

The Royal Pardons Boards are very much hampered by bureaucracy and other shortcomings, and few if any prisoners are released. — March 30, 2023

V. Thomas is a Focus Malaysia viewer.

The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.

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