Malaysia renews pledge to abolish mandatory death penalty

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KUALA LUMPUR - Malaysia has agreed to abolish the mandatory death sentence and replace it with other punishments at the discretion of the court, its law minister said on Friday (June 10), revisiting a pledge made over three years ago.

The cabinet also agreed to study substitute sentences for all offences carrying the death penalty, Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said.

Malaysia has had a moratorium on executions since 2018, when it also made a promise to abolish mandatory and discretionary capital punishment.

But the government backtracked in 2019, saying it would scrap mandatory capital punishment but leave it for courts to decide if a person convicted of a serious crime should hang.

Wan Junaidi said the decision followed a recommendation by a government committee reviewing alternative punishments, but not did provide a timeframe for when it would initiate processes to changes the laws.

"The decision shows the government's priority in ensuring the rights of all parties are protected and secure, and reflects the transparency of the national leadership in improving the country's dynamic criminal justice system," he said in a statement.

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Malaysia has mandatory death penalty for some offences, including drug trafficking and murder, while the law also allows capital punishment for some other crimes at the court's discretion.

Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said on Twitter that all relevant laws will be amended to accommodate the changes.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch welcomed the announcement as a positive step, but said it was important to ensure Malaysia follows through.

"We need to see Malaysia pass the actual legislative amendments to put this pledge into effect because we have been down this road before, with successive Malaysian governments promising much on human rights but ultimately delivering very little," its deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said.