Malaysia sets example by abandoning the noose

Malaysia’s decision to abandon the death penalty is winning praise and adds further momentum to a growing global trend that human rights advocates hope will spell an end to state-sanctioned killing.

Nov 17, 2018

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s decision to abandon the death penalty is winning praise and adds further momentum to a growing global trend that human rights advocates hope will spell an end to state-sanctioned killing.

But there’s still a long way to go, particularly across Asia..

From Pakistan and India to Japan, Indonesia and Vietnam, executions for a range of crimes — murder and treason, to drug trafficking and blasphemy — remain on the statute books.

Of the 53 counties that maintain the death penalty, about a quarter are in Asia, with China topping the world in the number of state-sanctioned killings. Figures remain a state secret, but rights groups say at least 2,000 people were executed by lethal injection or firing squad in 2017.

That’s more than the rest of the world combined, but Beijing’s methods pale when compared to North Korea, where torture often precedes public executions.

The number of executions is also a state secret in the despotic communist state that is estimated to carry out 50-100 executions a year — by firing squad, hanging or decapitation — for crimes that include attempts to access unapproved media.

Pushing the Chinese and North Koreans into abandoning the death penalty might seem like a lost cause. But Malaysia has announced that by the end of this year, it will become the 107th country to end capital punishment, a significant increase on 64 nations just two decades ago.

Some other Asian countries have also jettisoned the death penalty, while several others have curbed its use or imposed moratoriums.

It was abolished in Cambodia in 1989 amid peace negotiations aimed at ending three decades of conflict amid fears that state-sanctioned executions could be used for retribution.

East Timor abandoned the death penalty, which it inherited from Indonesia, following a 1999 United Nations-sponsored vote on self-determination. The Philippines suspended the death penalty in 2006, Mongolia abolished it in 2017 and there is a moratorium on executions in South Korea.

Vietnam executed 1,134 people between mid-2011 and mid-2016, but the number of people currently on death row is not known. Thailand carried out its last execution in June, the first in nearly a decade.

Brunei retains the death penalty, but it has not been carried out since 1957, likewise in Laos, where the last known execution was in 1989, and in Papua New Guinea where there has not been a hanging since 1954.
Singapore ignores pleas

Malaysia announced its decision to end judicial killing on Oct 10, the World Day Against the Death Penalty, saying the practice was inconsistent with national sentiment.

That begs the question as to why Singapore has not followed suit, as its population is at least as civilised as those across the causeway border.

The case of Singapore, like Japan and Taiwan, is disturbing because it ranks “very high” on the Human Development Index and lays claim to be part of the first world where capital punishment has mostly long been spurned. The United States is a notable exception.

But the island state, famed for its squeaky-clean streets, had no hesitation in hanging Malaysian drug trafficker Prabu Pathmanathan in late October, ignoring pleas for clemency in what was branded “an unlawful and brutal act.”

In some countries, such as Pakistan, zealots claim religious justifications for the death penalty. In the Muslim-majority nation, there were 65 hangings in 2017 and a total of 499 since it ended a moratorium in 2014.

Yet, neighbouring India has executed only five people since 1995, the last being in 2015 in relation to 1993 terrorist bombings.

President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, where there have been up to 20,000 extrajudicial “drug war” killings since he came to power in mid-2016, has indicated that the nation’s suspension of official executions could be lifted.

In Myanmar — where all death sentences were commuted in 2014 — 66 people have been sentenced to death since Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi won historic elections less than three years ago.

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