KUALA LUMPUR • Malaysia yesterday proposed an amendment to its drug laws to remove the mandatory death sentence on drug traffickers and return sentencing powers to the court.
The amendment to the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 was tabled in Parliament for its first reading by Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Azalina Othman Said.
According to the Malay Mail news site, the amendment seeks to reinstate Section 39B, which had allowed judges to sentence a person convicted of drug trafficking to be punished with jail and whipping, or death. Section 39B was removed in 1983 so that drug traffickers could be punished only with death.
Datuk Seri Azalina defended the proposal, saying Putrajaya's bid to remove the mandatory death penalty does not mean the administration is becoming lenient towards narcotics abuse.
She said the move was simply to allow the courts the discretion to decide on the maximum penalty for offences under the law, the Malay Mail reported. She also noted that the proposed minimum sentence was still life imprisonment with no fewer than 15 strokes of the cane.
"All parties should view this amendment as a proactive step by the government to ensure appropriate justice for those who should not receive the mandatory death penalty," she said.
Without the proposed amendment, the judge is forced to impose the death sentence on an accused because no other penalty is provided for in that law.
Nevertheless, the option of meting out the death penalty must be retained, she explained, as the government is uncompromising when it comes to major drug dealers and the threat they posed to the country and the public.
The Member of Parliament for Padang Serai, Mr N. Surendran, had earlier criticised the wording of the amendment, saying it simply shifted the power to decide on the death penalty from the judges to the prosecutors.
In the proposed amendments, the government is seeking to empower a court to impose a punishment of death or life imprisonment and whipping of at least 15 strokes for drug trafficking.
In imposing the punishment of life imprisonment and whipping, however, the court may only have regard for specified circumstances, such as that there was no evidence of a person buying and selling a dangerous drug at the time when the person convicted was arrested, reported The Star.
It must also be proven that there was no involvement of an agent provocateur and the involvement of the convicted person should be restricted to only transporting, carrying, sending or delivering a dangerous drug.
In addition, the prosecutor must certify in writing that the person convicted has assisted an enforcement agency in disrupting drug trafficking activities within or outside the country.