Government opts for abolition due to growing Malaysian opposition to the death penalty / AFP
The Malaysian government has decided to abolish the death penalty, a punishment that has become increasingly contentious in the country, which has more than 1,200 death row prisoners.
"The government agrees to abolish the death penalty," Malaysian Communications Minister Gobind Singh Deo told AFP. "I hope the law will soon be amended."
Capital punishment, by hanging, is currently provided under Malaysian law for a range of crimes ranging from murder to kidnapping, to possession of firearms and drug trafficking.
The government opted for abolition because of growing opposition from Malaysians to the death penalty, the minister said.
A senior executive, Liew Vui Keong, said on Thursday that a moratorium on executions of convicts would be applied, according to local media.
"As we abolish this punishment, executions should not be carried out," he told Star newspaper.
The amendment removing the death penalty will be submitted to Parliament next Monday.
In a statement in New York, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the decision of Malaysia, a "major step forward" in his view towards universal abolition of the death penalty. He "takes this opportunity to call all countries that keep it to follow the encouraging example of Malaysia," said the statement.
Among those at risk of execution was Australia's Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto, 54, who was sentenced on appeal in May for drug trafficking.
In April 2017, Amnesty International ranked Malaysia tenth among the countries that had executed the most death row inmates the previous year.
Between 2007 and 2017, 35 individuals were hanged in Malaysia, according to the New Straits Times.
There are 1,267 prisoners on death row in Malaysia, accounting for 2.7% of the prison population.
The decision to abolish the death penalty has been hailed by human rights organizations who argue that the deterrent effect of the death penalty is by no means established.
"The death penalty is barbaric and unimaginable cruelty," said N. Surendran, of the organization Lawyers for Freedom.
He said that after abolishing capital punishment, Malaysia would have the moral authority to fight for people sentenced to death abroad.
At the end of 2017, Amnesty International counted 142 abolitionist countries in their legislation or de facto, that is, those that have not carried out executions in the last ten years.
Worldwide executions in 2017 / AFP
In total, according to Amnesty, 993 executions were registered in 2017 in 23 countries, a 4% decrease compared to 2016, and 39% compared to 2015, a record year that recorded 1,634 executions.
These figures do not include China, where Amnesty estimates that there are "thousands" of executions every year, but statistics on the subject are still a state secret.
Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Pakistan have carried out four to 84% of executions recorded in the world. However, executions have decreased by 31% in Pakistan and 11% in Iran last year compared to 2016.