Malaysian government decides to abolish capital punishment

Oct 12, 2018 13:04 IST
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The Malaysian Cabinet on October 11, 2018 decided to abolish the death penalty for all crimes and halt all pending executions. The decision is a rare move against capital punishment in Asia.

The government has taken the decision to scrap capital punishment following strong domestic opposition to the practice. The amendments to the laws with capital punishment are expected to be tabled in the Parliament on October 15.

Applauding the government’s decision, the Malaysian human rights group ‘Lawyers for Liberty’ said that the death penalty is barbarous, unimaginably cruel and pointless, as it has never been proven to deter serious crimes. It further said that once the sentence is scrapped, Malaysia will have the moral authority to fight for the lives of Malaysians facing death sentences abroad.

Key Highlights

Capital punishment is currently mandatory in Malaysia for a wide range of crimes including murder, drug trafficking, treason, kidnapping, possession of firearms and acts of terror.

The sentence is carried out in the nation by hanging, a legacy which has lived on since the British colonial rule.

The decision will have a huge effect on those on a death row, such as the two women accused of assassinating the estranged half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in 2017.

A Malaysian court had ruled last year that the case could proceed against Indonesian national Siti Aisyah and Doan Thi Huong of Vietnam after Kim Jong-Nam's murder at Kuala Lumpur Airport.

The International Human Rights group, Amnesty International, labelled the Malaysian government’s decision to abolish capital punishment as an encouraging sign.

In April 2017, the Amnesty International had ranked Malaysia at the 10th spot in the use of the death penalty among the 23 countries that carried out capital punishment in 2016. Between 2007 and 2017, 35 individuals were hanged in the nation.

Overall, a total of 1267 prisoners are currently on a death row, making up 2.7 per cent of the 60,000-strong prison population.


According to Amnesty International, the move would be a major advance. It said that the death penalty has been a "terrible stain" on Malaysia's human rights record and death row prisoners often have to wait years for their appeals to be processed.

The international body urged the Malaysian government to "completely abolish the death penalty for all crimes, with no exceptions."

The Current Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad’s alliance won a stunning election upset on May 9, ousting a scandal-tainted coalition in the first change of government since independence from Britain in 1957. The new government’s promises included eradicating corruption and bolstering human rights.

Rest of the World on Capital Punishment

Around 142 countries across the world have rejected capital punishment as a form of punishment for crimes.

Only 23 countries retain the death penalty. However, in Asia, many nations including India, China, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam still impose capital punishment.

According to Amnesty International’s report on capital punishment in 2017, China is believed to be the ‘world’s top executioner’.

Overall, 993 executions were recorded in 2017 in 23 countries. However, Amnesty says that these numbers do not include the “thousands” that it says are believed to have been executed in China, which classifies this information as a state secret.

Excluding China, Amnesty says Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan, in that order, carried out 84 per cent of all executions in 2017.

In Southeast Asia, Indonesia, Singapore and Thailand have death penalty laws.

Capital Punishment in India

India does not have a mandatory death penalty. Though murder is punishable by death under Article 302 of the Penal Code, in Mithu v. State of Punjab, the Supreme Court of India had ruled that the mandatory death penalty is unconstitutional.

In Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, the Supreme Court had held that the death penalty was constitutional only when applied as an exceptional penalty in ‘the rarest of the rare’ cases.

The crimes punishable by death in India include murder, terrorism-related offenses, rape, kidnapping, drug trafficking, treason and military offences.

Recent Executions in India

Yakub Memon: The last execution to take place in India was the July 30, 2015 hanging of Yakub Memon, whowas convicted of financing the 1993 Mumbai bombings.

Afzal Guru: On February 9, 2013, Muhammad Afzal, also known as Afzal Guru, was executed by hanging. He was convicted for the December 2001 attack on India’s Parliament, in which five gunmen armed with grenades, guns and explosives opened fire, killing nine people.

Ajmal Kasab: On November 21, 2012, the sole surviving gunman of the 2008 Mumbai attacks Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab was hanged for several crimes, including waging war against India, murder and terrorist acts.

Dhananjoy Chatterjee: The hanging of Dhananjoy Chatterjee was carried out in 2004. He was given the death sentence for the murder and rape of a 14-year old girl. This was the country’s first execution since 1995.

The following offenders are excluded from the death penalty in India:

Individuals below age 18 at time of crime: According to the Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2000, individuals who were under the age of 18 at the time of the crime cannot be executed.

Pregnant Women: According to a 2009 amendment, a pregnant woman sentenced to death must be granted clemency.

Intellectually Disabled: According to the Indian Penal Code, individuals who were mentally ill at the time of the crime and who did not understand the nature of the act or know that the act was wrong or against the law cannot be held criminally liable.

Mentally ill: According to the Indian Penal Code, individuals who were mentally ill at the time of the crime and who did not understand the nature of the act or know that the act was wrong or against the law cannot be held criminally liable. 

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