Monday, July 4, 2022

Why oppose total abolition of death penalty, MCA?

If MCA accepts that the aim is to avoid innocent persons being wrongfully convicted, then the abolition of death penalty is the only way forward.

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We refer to the statement issued by MCA Youth leader Heng Zhi Li, who lauded its president, Transport Minister Wee Ka Siong, for the Cabinet’s decision not to fully abolish the death penalty.

It is shameful and retrograde that MCA continues to support the brutality of judicial executions. It is worse when this comes just over a month after the sickening execution of mentally disabled Malaysian, Nagaenthran K Dharmalingam, by the authoritarian regime in Singapore. The government’s failure to go further and totally abolish the death penalty will only make it harder to save the lives of other Malaysians facing execution abroad.

This includes Malaysian Pausi Jefridin who has an IQ of 67 and is facing execution in Singapore’s notorious Changi prison. By totally abolishing the death penalty, Malaysia would have had the moral ascendancy and political leverage to speak up on behalf of these desperate Malaysians. Or does MCA not care about these victimised Malaysians and their suffering families here?

The core issue that needs to be addressed, which MCA fails to do, is whether the death penalty achieves its objective of being a deterrence to the commission of serious crimes. None of the quantitative studies done throughout the world show that capital punishment has resulted in a reduction in the incidence of capital punishment offences.

Nothing exemplifies this more than capital punishment for drug related offences, where low-level drug mules are repeatedly convicted and hanged, while the drug lords behind it remain free to exploit other unsuspecting or vulnerable individuals to replace those hanged.

Furthermore, it is erroneous to assume that all families of the victims of such crimes are out for blood. Even if some do seek some sort of retribution, it is not the role of the government to facilitate this. The government is there to arbitrate wrongdoing and mete out the necessary punishment which is commensurate with the gravity of the crime committed. That, however, does not permit it to use cruel and unusual forms of punishment such as the death penalty, as the state would then debase itself to the same level of the criminals it seeks to punish.

This, of course, does not mean that those who commit serious crimes are to go unpunished; that has never been the position. There are effective alternatives such as life imprisonment in lieu of the death penalty.

The MCA statement, however, though wrongheaded, narrows down on the one of the strongest arguments for abolition, which is the reduction of harm caused by “misjudgement” or miscarriage of justice. The legal system, despite attempts to put in safeguards, is not impervious to mistakes. If this is admitted, how can it be that such a final and absolute sentence such as death can be accepted?

If MCA accepts that the aim is to avoid innocent persons being wrongfully convicted, then the abolition of death penalty is the only way forward. As long as the wrongfully convicted are alive, any judicial error can be rectified. On the other hand, death by hanging is irreversible.

Zaid Malek is the director of Lawyers for Liberty.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.

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