Lifelong imprisonment abolishment needs to be detailed out, say activists

24 Mar 2023 04:36pm
Photo for illustrative purposes only. 
Photo: 123RF
Photo for illustrative purposes only. Photo: 123RF

SHAH ALAM - The abolishment of lifelong imprisonment as an alternative to the mandatory death penalty is a good move by the government yet it still lacks minor details on how it will be implemented, say human right activists.

"While we wholeheartedly agree with the government's direction, there are of course, still some concerns with the minor details of how the proposed amendments will be implemented," said Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN) executive director Dobby Chew.

"This is especially with regards to how the appeal process would take place, and the expected timeline, and the issues of rehabilitation and recidivism for inmates that will be released," he added.

On the question of recidivism, Chew said judges can still sentence someone to death for certain offences entailed in the new Bill but there must be very good mitigating factors.

"For instance, they are mentally ill but not enough to be considered insane in law or the commission of the offence may have been driven by other factors - coercion by third party or even poverty," he explained.

Chew pointed out that Malaysia's expected lifespan is around 75 years old so a 30-year-old convict would be 70 if given a 40 years sentence.

"The odds of reoffending are very unlikely to begin with, assuming they are even physically or mentally capable of committing violent offence," he highlighted.

"Additionally, data wise, we know very well this is not likely to be a problem as prison department revealed in 2018 that since independence, there has been no incidences where a death row inmate was granted clemency reoffended after their release," he said.

He also stated that the government has yet to publicly discuss or explore parole systems, rehabilitation programme, sex offender registers, and other system or institutions that can prevent recidivism.

Suhakam commissioner Ragunath Kesavan agreed that the move to abolish mandatory death penalty is a very good move as it is an important area of reform for the crime justice system.

"Everyone deserves a second chance. The average life expectancy for a person is 70 so if he or she offends and sentenced at 20-years-old, 30 or 40 years prison sentence is a sufficient punishment," he told Sinar Daily.

The Cabinet during its meeting last Friday has given a nod to several new policies in a bid to abolish the mandatory death penalty.

Minister in the Prime Minister's Department (Law and Institutional Reform) Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said said the policies include no more lifelong imprisonment as an alternative to the mandatory death penalty.

She said the proposed alternative was a jail term of no less than 30 years and not exceeding 40 years, as well as no less than 12 strokes of the rotan.

"In addition, lifelong imprisonment as a punishment would be abolished completely.

"The mandatory death sentence would be abolished for offences which do not cause death, except for three offences namely Sections 212 and 121A of the Penal Code, as well as Section 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952.

"A new Bill (RUU) will also be introduced to enable death sentences of lifelong imprisonment already imposed by courts to be reviewed by the Federal Court.

"This will have an impact on 957 people who are on death row and those on lifelong imprisonment who had exhausted their appeal process in court," she said in the Dewan Negara yesterday.

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