Malaysia is on track to abolish mandatory death penalty

Malaysian lower house lawmakers voted Monday to abolish the mandatory death penalty, sparing more than 1,300 death row inmates.

This is part of a sweeping reform of colonial-era laws that gives judges greater discretion in sentencing. Under the revised law, which would apply retroactively, the 11 crimes previously punishable by death could instead be punished by “life imprisonment,” a prison term of between 30 and 40 years, and 12 strokes of the cane.

In addition, death penalty would be eliminated as an option for some serious crimes that do not result in death, such as kidnapping and firing and trafficking firearms. However, judges would still have the discretion to impose the death penalty in other cases of fatal crimes on a case-by-case basis.

The amendment was approved by a simple majority vote with almost no dissenting votes. The House of Lords will now consider the bill, and if it passes there, it will be forwarded to the king for his signature. It is widely expected that the upper house will pass the law.

Malaysia has imposed a moratorium on executions since 2018, but courts have continued to send inmates to death row. In addition to Malaysia, countries in the region that retain the death penalty include Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Myanmar. Laos and Brunei also allow the death penalty, but have not executed anyone in decades.