Malaysia plans to end life sentencing in slew of prison reforms

Malaysia plans to end life sentencing in slew of prison reforms

If proposed legislation is approved, death penalty may be only option in offenses related to causing death, harming royal rulers and drug trafficking

The sun rises as motorists cross over the Penang Bridge in George Town on Malaysia's Penang Island on March 11, 2023. (Photo: AFP)
The sun rises as motorists cross over the Penang Bridge in George Town on Malaysia's Penang Island on March 11, 2023. (Photo: AFP)

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia plans to do away with life imprisonment and drop capital punishment for six offenses, as the new government seeks to reform the Southeast Asian nation’s criminal justice system.

The move expands on the Southeast Asian country’s earlier plan to end the mandatory death penalty, allowing judges the discretion to mete out alternative punishment. A bill on the proposed changes will be tabled in Parliament on March 27, Law Minister Azalina Othman Said told the Senate in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday.

Thirty-four offenses, including murder, drug trafficking and terrorism, are currently punishable by death in the Southeast Asian nation. Eleven of them carry a mandatory death sentence. 

If lawmakers approve the proposed legislation, the death penalty may only be an option in offenses related to causing death, harming the royal rulers, and drug trafficking. And with life sentencing off the table, Malaysia is proposing imprisonment of between 30 to 40 years and whipping as an alternative to hanging in those offenses. 

Due to its retrospective nature, the move would affect 476 prisoners who have yet to complete their appeals process in the courts, said Azalina.

Meanwhile, under the new proposals, capital punishment will no longer be applicable to offenses related to discharging or trafficking in a firearm, manufacturing arms without a license, and kidnapping, according to a spokesperson from the ministry. 

Malaysia will also seek parliament’s approval to allow the Federal Court to review past sentencing of capital punishment and life imprisonment, Azalina told the Senate. The move could impact 957 prisoners, she said.

The changes would result in a criminal justice system that is “more holistic and inclusive for the common good, while not denying the individual’s basic right to justice,” said Azalina.

More than two-thirds of nations have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice, according to Amnesty International.


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