This press statement is issued in response to comments made by a former Inspector General of Police, Tan Sri Abdul Rahim Noor, reported on 15 January 2019.

We refute the claim by Tan Sri Abdul Rahim that the Government was hasty in its decision to abolish the death penalty.  As early as 2010, Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri Aziz, the then de facto Minister of Law, had publicly stated that the death penalty is not suitable for Malaysia.  He recognised that Malaysia had an imperfect criminal justice system since there was a high risk of miscarriage of justice.

Since then there have been studies to review the efficacy of laws relating to the death sentence.

In October 2012, the Death Penalty Project commissioned Professor Roger Hood, Professor Emeritus of Criminology at the University of Oxford, to design and analyse the findings of a public opinion survey on the mandatory death penalty in Malaysia.  The survey of a representative sample of 1,535 Malaysian citizens from all over the country, was carried out by Ipsos Malaysia, a leading market research company.  These findings were released on 8 July 2013 and suggest that there would be little public opposition to abolition of the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking, murder, and firearms offences.  Public support for the death penalty for murder is also lower than is perhaps assumed, so may not be regarded as a definite barrier to complete abolition.  The findings were provided to the Government.

Subsequently, a study was commissioned by the Government through the former Attorney General, Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail and undertaken by the International Centre for Law and Legal Studies (“ICeLLS”) in Malaysia.  At the conclusion of the study sometime in 2016, ICeLLS recommended to the Cabinet the total abolition of the death penalty in Malaysia.  We call on the Cabinet to release the report and results of the study.

The ineffectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent was initially recognised in the amendment to the the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 effected in 2017 which removed the mandatory death penalty for drug-related offences.  The then Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of Law said that this was a “baby step” towards the eventual total abolition of the death penalty.

For the former Inspector General of Police to say that no proper study had been undertaken or that the present Cabinet’s decision to totally abolish the death penalty for all crimes is premature has certainly failed to take into account the existing facts in relation to the question of the abolition of the death penalty in Malaysia.

On the question of the effectiveness of the death penalty as a deterrent, Members of Parliament have expressly acknowledged that the death penalty was not a deterrent to the crimes of drug trafficking when the Dangerous Drugs Act 1954 was amended in 2017 to remove the mandatory death sentence.  The Hansard reports that Members of Parliament acknowledged that the death penalty primarily affected the “couriers”.  These “couriers” are made up of the poor, uneducated and disadvantaged sections of the society. 

There is no credible empirical evidence to show that the abolition of the death penalty in a particular jurisdiction has led or will lead to an increase in the rate of crime in that jurisdiction.  Professor Jeffrey Fagan of Columbia University in New York City, New York, in a paper presented at the recently-concluded Death Penalty Conference: Considering Perspectives, organised by the Malaysian Coalition Against the Death Penalty and hosted by Monash University Malaysia, shared empirical evidence gathered over 30 years that “claims that research demonstrates that capital punishment decreases or increases the homicide rate by a specific amount or has no effect on the homicide rate should not influence policy judgments about capital punishment”. 

Professor Fagan quoted from a study undertaken by the National Research Council and published in 2012 by The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine in the U.S. which found that:

  • “There is no reliable evidence of deterrence” when comparing states with death statutes and executions compared to the next most serious punishment: life in prison without the possibility of parole;
  • There is an overwhelming consensus among over 100 professors of criminology in the U.S. that the death penalty does not increase deterrence when compared to long periods of imprisonment; and
  • The recurring cases of wrongful conviction and actual innocence in the U.S. and other retentionist countries further undermine the normative basis for capital punishment.    

As the former Inspector General of Police will himself be personally familiar, the existence of even a harsh punishment does not deter a person from committing a crime, be it for an offence of causing hurt or for murder.

It is important to note that the abolition of the death penalty as a form of punishment does not mean that the perpetrators of crimes will be set free.  They will still be punished for the crimes that they have committed.  The discretion will be given to the judge to decide on the measure of punishment by exercising the necessary judicial power.  All persons in Malaysia are entitled to the right to expect that the criminal justice system will be independent and impartial, and function with integrity.

We have no doubt that the former Inspector General of Police is also aware of the fact that it is the elected Government of Malaysia that decides on the laws to be passed in Malaysia.  In the more than 61 years since Merdeka, and in the more than 55 years since the formation of Malaysia, we have never had a referendum on any piece of proposed legislation.  Even when the previous Barisan Nasional Government sought to introduce the far-reaching and all-encompassing goods and services tax, which affected every single person in Malaysia, it did not subject the proposal to any referendum.  The decision was simply made by the government of the day, and supported by a vote in Parliament.  As such, the question of a referendum does not arise.

As Malaysia evolves into a nation that protects human rights and respects human dignity, the notion of retributive justice is longer relevant.  Retributive justice, in the form of state-sanctioned and state-enforced revenge, is a descent to the very same level of cruelty perpetrated by those who commit crimes.

The Government must be lauded for showing leadership in deciding to abolish the death penalty.  The right to life of all Malaysians is protected by Article 5(1) of the Federal Constitution.  The decision to abolish the death penalty is a formal recognition of the sanctity of life of all individuals in Malaysia and that each life will be protected.  This also shows that Malaysia will no longer participate in state-sanctioned killings.

Malaysian Coalition Against the Death Penalty

18 January 2019

The Malaysian Coalition against the Death Penalty comprises of Amnesty International Malaysia, KL & Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall Civil Rights Committee, SUARAM and individual lawyers advocating for the abolition of the death penalty.

For more information on the statement, please contact Dobby Chew at [email protected] or Nisshanthan at [email protected]

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