Lawyers for Liberty refers to the statement issued by MCA youth wing leader Heng Zhi Li, who lauded its party president, Transport Minister Wee Ka Siong, for the cabinet’s decision not to fully abolish the death penalty.
It is shameful and retrograde that the 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 Nagaenthiran 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 the MCA not care about these victimised Malaysians and their suffering families here?
The core issue that needs to be addressed, which the MCA fails to do, is whether the death penalty achieves its objective of being a deterrent to the commission of serious crimes. None of the quantitative studies done throughout the world show that the 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, whilet the drug lords behind them remain free to exploit other unsuspecting or vulnerable individuals to replace those hanged.
Furthermore, it is erroneous to assume that all families of 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 any wrongdoing and mete out necessary punishment which is commensurate to 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 then the state would 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, instead of the death penalty.
The MCA statement, however, though wrongheaded, narrows into 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, then how can it be that such a final and absolute sentence, such as death, can be accepted?
If the MCA accepts that the aim is to avoid innocent persons from being wrongfully convicted, then the abolition of the death penalty is the only way forward. As long as the wrongfully convicted are alive, then any judicial error can be rectified. On the other hand, death by hanging is irreversible. – LfL
Zaid Malik is director of Lawyers for Liberty