KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia announced on June 10 that it will abolish the mandatory death sentence for drug offences and murder among others, and leave the sentencing to the judge.
The response has been immediate. Although a moratorium has been in place for executions since 2018, for the most part, the news has been hailed locally and internationally as a much-needed progressive move to address the disparity in sentencing, especially for drug offences.
It also signifies a major step back from the policies brought about by the United States-inspired War on Drugs. This comes on top of months of chatter on legalising marijuana for medical purposes, another move that shows Malaysia is adopting a more nuanced take on drugs. More importantly, human rights activists hope that the abolishment of the mandatory death sentence will address some of the damage ensuing from the country's harsh zero-tolerance drug trafficking policies from the 1980s.
Samantha Chong, a lawyer who deals with drug cases, told Bernama via Zoom that the death penalty was a "band-aid" in dealing with the drug problem in the country.
"If you just have the death penalty — the punish, punish, punish (mentality) for people who use drugs — it actually doesn't solve the problem. It might look like the government has done something, but that is not (true): she said.