Instead of the mandatory death sentence on drug traffickers, judges may soon be allowed to use their discretion in imposing an appropriate penalty instead, such as jail terms.
In Malaysia, drug crimes are taken very seriously. Currently, under section 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act, those in possession of 15g or more heroin and morphine; 1,000g or more opium (raw or prepared); 200g or more cannabis; and 40g or more cocaine will receive the mandatory death sentence. Death penalties are carried out in Malaysia through hanging and the penalty is used for a variety of offences.
According to the Prison Department’s statistics, there are almost 800 prisoners on death row for drug trafficking offences under Section 39(B).
Other offences that are liable for the death penalty include murder, terrorism, rapists that cause death, and child rapists. Foreigners are not exempt from the death penalty. As of 21st February 2017, more than 1,100 people have been convicted and sentenced to death by the courts. A total of 16 inmates – 14 Malaysians and 2 foreigners – had been executed between 2014 and 21st February 2017, although it is unclear if they were all drug traffickers.
However, with the amendment, the High Courts will be able to take into consideration the defendants personal circumstances or the circumstances of the particular offence during the trial.
The Star Online reported that Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said said in a written reply in Parliament that a memorandum will be handed over to the Cabinet for an amendment to the Act. “A research carried out by the International Centre for Law and Legal Studies (I-CeLLS) on this issue was presented to the Cabinet on March 1. The Cabinet unanimously decided that the amendment to Section 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act was necessary,” she said.
Azalina Othman added that there could have been past cases where a judge was forced to pass the death sentence on a drug trafficker as no other sentences were available.
Other countries in the Asian region that hand out severe penalties (read: death) as a punishment for drug offences include Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines.