'Mandatory death sentence takes away more than life'

14 Dec 2014 / 16:58 H.

    KUALA LUMPUR: The mandatory death sentence takes away more than just a life, it robs every shred of hope for those convicted.
    Criminal lawyer Amer Hamzah Arshad said the mandatory death penalty which is served in Malaysia are for offences such as murder, drug trafficking and kidnapping which, unfortunately, are plenty.
    "At the investigation stage, the families of the suspect are so desperate to save a life that they become victims of unscrupulous individuals who exploit and exhort them by promising to get the charges reduced for a huge sum of money," he said at the recently concluded death penalty forum 2014.
    He added that this scenario is why 80% of such cases did not make it to court.
    "Besides that, there are also issues such as corrupted police witnesses who lie in court, individuals who fabricate or withhold critical evidence, use underhanded tactics to secure an involuntary admission and others who exploit legal loopholes all in the name of prosecuting a suspect."
    "In the criminal court, if custody or control of drugs can be established, it is pre assumed that the suspect had knowledge of the crime and will be prosecuted accordingly. There is no room for circumstances."
    Amer commended Singapore's positive step towards drug trafficking by making the death sentence discretionary instead of mandatory.
    "If a mistake has been made and the death penalty has been carried out, how does one raise the dead?" he asked.
    He proposed imprisonment for life to replace the death penalty as it would give the suspect an opportunity to turn over a new leaf and if new evidence is unearthed, the suspect could be released and given a new lease on life.
    "We should not be so quick to decide matters pertaining to lives because we have no right to play God," he stressed.
    Amer also spoke about the psychological impact the sentence has on death row inmates, adding that he has seen even tempered individuals turn violent as they struggle to accept the sentence handed out to them.
    "The death sentence takes away all hope as they see the end of their lives before them."
    Meanwhile, Amnesty International campaigner Gwee Lee said Malaysia voted against the resolution of the Global Moratorium on Death Penalty recently at the United Nations General Assembly 2014.
    She said the number of countries global wide which are against the death penalty have been increasing over the years but Malaysia is not one of them.
    She added that as of last year, 22 countries still practised the death penalty and a total of 778 executions were carried out, excluding China where details of executions are a State secret.
    "A huge majority of the executions are from Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia for offences such as blasphemy, adultery, drug offences and others. In North Korea, the death sentence is served for offences like watching banned videos, corruption and pornography".
    She emphasised that the death penalty is cruel and infringed on the basis of human rights which is the right to live.
    She was speaking at the Forum on Death Penalty in Malaysia organised by Hakam in conjunction with Human Rights Week (Dec 8-12),
    Co organizer of the forum, Andrew Choo said Malaysia's blanket of secrecy on the number of executions in the country made it difficult to gauge the situation.
    "We do not know how many people are on the death row or how many people have been executed. The government is tight lipped about the matter and we can only broach the subject in Parliament. We hope forums like this will provide a platform where people can share their opinions and experiences on the mandatory death penalty and also raise awareness," said Andrew who is also the Co chairman of Human Rights Committee.


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