The Malaysian Cabinet on October 11, 2018, decided to abolish the death penalty for all crimes and halt all pending executions. The decision is a rare move against capital punishment in Asia.
The government has taken the decision to scrap capital punishment following strong domestic opposition to the practice. The amendments to the laws with capital punishment are expected to be tabled in the Parliament on October 15.
Activists contended that the death penalty is barbarous, unimaginably cruel and pointless, as it has never been proven to deter serious crimes. They say, once the sentence is scrapped, Malaysia will have the moral authority to fight for the lives of Malaysians facing death sentences abroad.
Capital punishment is currently mandatory in Malaysia for a wide range of crimes including murder, drug trafficking, treason, kidnapping, possession of firearms and acts of terror. The sentence is carried out in the nation by hanging, a legacy which has lived on since the British colonial rule.
Can capital punishment reduce crime rates?
Statistics have not been able to prove or disprove the efficacy of capital punishment as a deterrent. While the U.K. has seen an increase in murders since 1965 when capital punishment for murder was removed from the statute book, Canada has not seen any such impact since it abolished the death penalty in 1976. The underlying socio-economic conditions in a society that cause crimes seem to have as much of an impact on the increase or decrease of crimes as the law does.
It is not the severity of the punishment but the certainty and uniformity of it which will reduce crime. Even for capital punishment to work as a deterrent, the fairness of the investigation, the certainty of conviction, and the speed of the trial are vital. With the police and judicial independence being under a cloud, especially after the incidents in Kathua and Unnao, the deterrent value of capital punishment seems diminished unless police reforms and fast-track courts are a part of the package.