As rights groups commemorated World Day against the Death Penalty, the Malaysian government on Wednesday took its first step toward abolishing capital punishment, while a Bangladesh court ordered 19 people be executed for participating in a 2004 assassination attempt.
And in response to a call by Amnesty International (AI) to abolish capital punishment in all cases, Indonesia’s attorney general said the death penalty was needed as a deterrent.
In Malaysia, Law Minister Liew Vui Keong announced that the cabinet of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad had decided to make a motion to parliament to get rid of the death penalty as a punishment for 17 crimes, including drug offenses.
“We need to look into it and hear the views of all, but as it stands today, the decision is to abolish the death penalty,” Liew told reporters.
“New Malaysia, new look, new hope where everyone has a right to life,” he told BenarNews, adding, “All death penalties will be abolished. Full stop.”
Parliament’s next session begins on Oct. 15 and runs through Dec. 11.
Amnesty International later responded with a statement on its website praising Malaysia’s move.
“Today’s announcement is a major step forward for all those who have campaigned for an end to the death penalty in Malaysia. Malaysia must now join the 106 countries who have turned their backs for good on the ultimate cruel, inhumane, degrading punishment – the world is watching,” AI Secretary General Kumi Naidoo said in a statement.
Bangladesh’s sentencings stemmed from a grenade attack 14 years ago targeting Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who served as opposition leader at the time.
The court sentenced 19 others to life in prison, including Tarique Rahman, the son of Hasina’s nemesis, then-Prime Minister Khaleda Zia. He has been living in exile in London while his mother has been in prison since February after both were sentenced for their roles in an embezzlement case from a trust fund.
Earlier this week, Hasina’s cabinet approved draft legislation allowing capital punishment in drug-related cases. Parliament must approve the legislation before it can become law.
In Indonesia, Attorney General Muhammad Prasetyo said the government would exercise prudence and transparency in carrying out executions and only after a death-row inmate had exhausted all legal avenues to get the sentence overturned.
“The death penalty isn’t something pleasant,” Prasetyo told reporters in Jakarta. “But it has to be done, considering the danger posed by criminals who deserve the death penalty.”
Indonesia has not executed anyone over the last two years after 18 drug traffickers were put to death in 2015 and 2016. Of those executed, only three were Indonesian citizens.
President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo defended the government’s tough stance at that time, saying the country faced a drug emergency.
Philippines and Thailand
In the Philippines, where President Rodrigo Duterte declared a war on drugs when he took office two years ago, leading to the deaths of about 4,500 drug suspects, according to police estimates, and as many as 12,000, as claimed by rights organizations, capital punishment has been illegal since 2006.
Duterte has said he would like to change the law.
“Capital punishment is not only about deterrence, it’s about retribution,” he said during his annual address in 2017.
The president could run into a road block getting lawmakers to approve any changes in the majority Catholic nation. House Speaker Gloria Arroyo served as president when the punishment was abolished.
In Thailand, a 26-year-old man was put to death for aggravated murder in June, the first use of capital punishment since two convicts were executed in August 2009.
At the time, AI called the move a major setback for Thailand.
“This is a deplorable violation of the right to life. Thailand is reneging on its own commitment to move towards the abolition of the death penalty, and is putting itself out of step with the current global shift away from capital punishment,” AI’s Katherine Gerson said.
AI recorded nearly 1,000 executions in 23 countries in 2017. It said the figures did not include executions in China where the death penalty is classified as a state secret.
The World Coalition against the Death Penalty said two thirds of countries across the globe have abolished the death penalty in law and practice, but 56 countries and territories use capital punishment.
“All governments retaining the death penalty must immediately abolish it and put an end to the appalling conditions of detention that too many death row prisoners are forced to endure,” said Stephen Cockburn, deputy director of AI’s global issues program.
Arie Firdaus in Jakarta, Hadi Azmi in Kuala Lumpur, Felipe Villamor in Manila and Kamran Reza Chowdhury in Dhaka contributed to this report.