KUALA LUMPUR - The Malaysian government will seek to scrap the mandatory death penalty for 11 offences including committing acts of terrorism, Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Mohamed Hanipa Maidin said in parliament on Wednesday (March 13), according to Malaysian media.
Five of the offences pertain to terrorism including directing and committing terror acts, while the rest cover murder, hostage-taking, organised crime, offences against the constitutional monarch, and the use of firearms, media reports said.
"The government will suggest to replace the mandatory death penalty as provided for in the Penal Code and Firearms (Increased Penalties) Act with the death penalty on the court's discretion," Mohamed Hanipa was quoted as saying in response to a question by opposition MP Che Abdullah Mat Nawi.
Mohamed Hanipa noted that the move would fulfill one of the 27 promises made by the Pakatan Harapan government in last year's general eleection. However, he said there was no decision about the creation of a parliamentary committee to study the abolishment of the death penalty.
Anti-death penalty groups Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) slammed the government's move to scrap mandatory death penalty rather than abolishing capital punishment altogether as it had pledged to do last year as “shocking, unprincipled, and embarrassing”.
The organisation's adviser, N. Surendran, said in a statement: “The reversal of the earlier decision is shocking, unprincipled and embarrassing.
“This is all the more so as the decision for total abolition had made international news and was praised throughout the region and the world."
Surendran said the government's backpedalling was “motivated by the fear of a political backlash”.
As of October 2018, there were 1,279 people on death row in Malaysia, the majority of them for drug trafficking offences. A total of 146 countries have abolished the death penalty either in law or practice.
Meanwhile Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Liew Vui Keong said plans to abolish the death penalty was still a work in progress.
"We are expecting it to be tabled in this session; we are still waiting for the government to look into the three options we have," he told reporters in the parliament lobby on Wednesday, reported The Star.
Liew said the first option was for the "total abolition" of the death penalty for 33 criminal offences and replacing it with life imprisonment.
The second option is for the removal of the mandatory death sentence, while the third option is removal of the discretionary powers of the court under the Dangerous Drugs Act.
"So all of these are still under consideration, I am hoping to go for the middle ground," he added.