The Association for Community and Dialogue is concerned about reports that a group of Malaysians has requested that a referendum be held on the abolition of the death penalty.
A group representing the kin of murder victims, including the families of fireman Muhammad Adib Mohd Kassim and lawyer Kevin Anthony Morais, are pushing for a public referendum before the government abolishes the mandatory death sentence.
Robert Phang of the Social Care Foundation Malaysia said the government should not make the country “a paradise for criminals”. He said the abolition of the mandatory death penalty for premeditated and heinous killings will encourage rogues from other countries to come to Malaysia and freely commit crimes here.
While there is concern that criminals could escape if there is no mandatory death sentence, there seems to be a lack of concern that the innocent could be victims of circumstance. The desire for justice should not be allowed to turn into revenge, where subjective feelings take precedence over objective reasoning and nuances in a given situation.
This is the reason that a judge, evaluating the facts from various angles, should exercise discretion before deciding whether a death sentence is just in a given case.
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To date, there has not been conclusive evidence that the death penalty deters crime. Some of the lowest crime rates in the world are in Switzerland, Denmark, Norway and New Zealand. These countries generally have effective law enforcement. There is no capital punishment in these countries.
By the same token, there are nations, such as Japan and Singapore, with capital punishment and low crime rates. What these countries have in common is effective law enforcement, which deters crime. It has nothing to do with whether the death penalty itself deters crime.
Therefore, the holding of a referendum, which is based on the dictatorship of the majority, does not take into consideration the complexities and contradictions of what constitutes the “right” deterrence for crime.
The uniqueness of human life and dignity, which is sacred, demands discretion and prudence and certainly should not be decided by popular will.