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Malaysia Abolishes the Death Penalty for Capital Offenses

Malaysia’s parliament passed sweeping legal reforms on April 3 to eliminate the mandatory death penalty, reduce the number of offenses punishable by death, and abolish natural-life prison sentences. Malaysia has been on a moratorium on executions since 2018, when it first promised to abolish the death penalty completely.

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However, under political pressure from some parties, the government backed down from the pledge a year later, saying it would keep the death penalty but allow courts to replace it with other punishments at their discretion. Alternatives to the death penalty under the amendments passed on Monday include caning and imprisonment for 30 to 40 years. The new sentence will take the place of all previous provisions that called for imprisonment for the rest of the offender’s natural life.

Malaysian law defines life imprisonment as a fixed term of 30 years, which will be maintained. According to the new measures, capital punishment will also be removed as an option for some serious crimes that do not result in death, such as discharging and trafficking of a firearm and kidnapping.

The law change will give judges discretion when it comes to imposing the death penalty on a convicted person. The amendments approved will apply to 34 current capital offenses, including murder and drug trafficking. It is a mandatory punishment for eleven of them.

Azalina Othman, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reform), announced last week that death row inmates will be able to request a review of their sentence. She also stated that the application can only be made once and must be submitted within 90 days of the new law taking effect. Malaysia’s government announced in June that it would abolish the mandatory death penalty as part of its international commitment to refrain from imposing capital punishment.

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