Malaysia’s parliament passed a bill to abolish mandatory death sentences on Monday, April 3, with rights groups hailing the vote as a “important step” in Southeast Asia.
Convictions for several crimes, including murder and drug trafficking, previously resulted in automatic death sentences, leaving judges with no discretion.
The bill does not abolish the death penalty, but instead allows judges to impose lengthy prison sentences ranging from 30 to 40 years under certain conditions.
Speaking before the lower house of Malaysia’s parliament, Deputy Law Minister Ramkarpal Singh said: “We cannot arbitrarily ignore the existence of the inherent right to life of every individual.”
Malaysia has had an execution moratorium in place since 2018, but courts have continued to sentence inmates to death.
The reform must still be approved by the Senate, but it is widely expected to pass with little opposition.
Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson described Monday’s vote as a “important step forward for Malaysia” and expressed hope that it will put pressure on other Southeast Asian countries to follow suit.
“This is an important breakthrough that will cause some serious conversations in the halls of upcoming ASEAN meetings,” he told AFP, referring to the 10-member Southeast Asian bloc.
“Malaysia should show regional leadership by encouraging other governments in ASEAN to re-think their continued use of the death penalty, starting with Singapore which has recently gone on a post-Covid execution spree.”
Last year, the prosperous city-state hung 11 people, all for drug offences.
Since its independence in 1957, Malaysia is now part of countries death penalty has been abolished.