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Asia Minute: Malaysia says it will abolish its mandatory death penalty

Malaysia Death Penalty
Vincent Thian/AP
An activist holds a sign against the impending execution of Nagaenthran K. Dharmalingam, sentenced to death for trafficking heroin into Singapore, during a gathering outside the Singaporean Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Saturday, April 23, 2022. Rights groups say the Malaysian man with a mental disability is to be hanged next week in Singapore after losing a final appeal, but his Malaysian lawyer has mounted a new bid to halt the execution. (AP Photo/Vincent Thian)

Malaysia is abolishing its mandatory death penalty.

It's a law that has been on the books for decades. It’s a practice that’s drawn the attention of groups from the United Nations to Amnesty International.

Up to now, the country has been one of the few in the world with a mandatory capital punishment for certain offenses — including murder, terrorism and certain types of drug trafficking.

On Friday, the government’s Law Minister announced judges will be able to seek “alternative punishments” at their discretion — though details are still to come on how that will be put into practice.

According to a parliamentary report, more than 1,300 people are currently on death row in Malaysia — more than two-thirds of them under mandatory death sentences related to drug trafficking.

Some non-governmental organizations expressed a bit of skepticism about the move.

Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch put it bluntly, saying:

“Before everyone starts cheering, we need to see Malaysia pass the actual legislative amendments to put this pledge into effect.”

Still, Robertson called it “an important step forward,” adding that trends in capital punishment are “heading in precisely the opposite direction in neighboring countries like Singapore, Myanmar and Vietnam.”

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