BY CHARLES HECTOR
For and on behalf of MADPET (Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture)
MADPET (Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture) notes that despite the fact that the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act 2017 receiving royal assent on 27/12/2017, that effectively abolishes the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking, the failure of the Minister to do the needful to bring the law into force has resulted in Malaysian judges still having no choice but to sentence convicted drug traffickers to death.
‘…”Since there is only one sentence provided for under Section 39B of the Act, the court hereby sentences all the accused to death,” he [Judge Datuk Ghazali Cha] said….’(The Sun Daily,22/1/2018). Until the new Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act 2017 comes into force, Judges continues to have no discretion but to sentence those convicted to death.
The most recent victim was Malaysian lorry driver S. Gopi Kumar, 33, who was sentenced to death(The Sun Daily, 24/1/2018). Earlier, on 17/1/2018, it was reported that 5 others, Malaysian A. Sargunan, 42, and four Indian nationals(Sumesh Sudhakaran, Alex Aby Jacob Alexander, Renjith Raveendran and Sajith Sadanandan ) were convicted and sentenced to death by the Shah Alam High Court on Wednesday (Jan 17) for drug trafficking under Section 39B (1)(a) Dangerous Drugs Act 1952(Star, 17/1/2018). As not all cases get reported by the media, there may be many others that have been sentenced to death, who may not have been if not for this Ministerial delay.
A perusal of the Malaysian official e-Federal Gazette website on 25/1/2018, shows that the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act 2017, that received royal assent on 27/12/2017, has still not come into force. In comparison, other laws that received royal assent on the same day like the Income Tax(Amendment) Act 2017, came into force on 30/12/2017. Even some laws that received royal assent later on 29/12/2018, like the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (Amendment) Act 2018 has already come into force since 11/1/2018.
When the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act 2017 comes into force, it will finally abolish mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking that have existed since 1983. Judges, will thereafter, have the discretion to impose a sentence for drug trafficking other than the death penalty, being life imprisonment with whipping of not less than 15 strokes, for the offence of drug trafficking.
Section 3(2) of Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act 2017 states, ‘ (2) Any proceedings against any person who has been charged, whether or not trial has commenced or has been completed, and has not been convicted under section 39b of the principal Act by a competent Court before the appointed date, shall on the appointed date be dealt with by the competent Court and be continued under the provisions of the principal Act as amended by this Act.’
This means that any person even already on trial for drug trafficking(section 39B), so long as they have yet to be convicted, can still enjoy the benefits of Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act 2017. But, until the Minister do the needful, to ensure this law comes into force, judges will continue to have no discretion but to impose the mandatory death penalty on those convicted before the new law applies.
The new law, sadly, do not provide any remedy to those already convicted and/or for the 800 or more currently on death row by reason of having been convicted for drug trafficking.
Hence, as of today, Malaysian Gopi Kumar and possibly 5 or more that have already been convicted by the High Court before the new law come into force, are victims of a great injustice and may be hanged to death.
As it stands now, under even the new law, after conviction and being sentenced to death by the High Court, the Appellate Courts also will not have the capacity to change the death sentence to imprisonment, unless they choose to acquit them of drug trafficking, or possibly elect to convict for a lesser offence that does not carry the mandatory death penalty.
In light of the adequacies of the new upcoming drug law, Malaysia must really table another new law that will result in the commuting of sentence of all those currently on death row by reason of being convicted of the offence of drug trafficking, and even other offences that carry the mandatory death penalty. This will be just for 2 Malaysians and 4 foreigners sentenced in 2018.
This new law could be tabled in the upcoming Parliamentary session this March 2018. This is the most reasonable approach, considering that there are more than 800 on death row, and judicial review of the sentence of so many may really be a difficult or near impossible task.
It must also be reminded, that Malaysia was looking at abolishing the death penalty, especially the mandatory death penalty. While the new Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act 2017 will do away with the mandatory death penalty for just one offence – drug trafficking, the mandatory death penalty still exists for murder and so many other offences, some of which are offences that do not result in any grievous injury and/or death to victims.
As such, Malaysia needs to speedily table new laws, which will at the very least abolish the mandatory death penalty – returning discretion to judges to mete out appropriate just sentences based on the facts and circumstances of each and every case.
In the meantime, while Malaysia works towards abolition, there must justly be a moratorium on executions.
MADPET reiterates its call on the Minister to do the needful to ensure that Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act 2017 comes into force immediately without any further delay;
MADPET also calls for all trials of persons charged under section 39B(drug trafficking) be stayed, or where trial is almost over, that courts do not proceed to convict until after Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act 2017 comes into force. This will prevent any further injustice on any other person, as had embarrassingly happened to Gopi Kumar and 5 or more, who have in 2018 sentenced to death just because of the delay of the law that abolishes mandatory death penalty coming into force;
MADPET reiterates the call for Malaysia to speedily abolish all other remaining mandatory death penalty offences, other than drug trafficking, and returning sentencing discretion to judges; and
MADPET also reiterated the call for a moratorium on all executions, pending the abolition of the death penalty in Malaysia.