I was delighted to read the confirmation by Home Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin that the mandatory death sentence, the Sedition Act, 1948, the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 (PPPA) and other legislation seen to be archaic and draconian would be reviewed and may be abolished as a result (“Muhyiddin: Mandatory death sentence, Sedition Act, several others may be abolished”, The Sun Daily, 22.5.2018).
The (Pakatan Harapan) PH has consistently maintained that the Sedition Act is outdated and was mainly used by the previous Barisan Nasional (BN) government as a political tool to stifle dissent. There can be no doubt that the said Act is a severe impediment to the right to freedom of speech which is guaranteed under the Federal Constitution and must be completely abolished if the new PH government is serious in its reform agenda.
Many cases under the Sedition Act are currently pending in the courts and it is clear that most, if not all of them, are political in nature. It has always been our stand that those who have been charged under the said Act ought not to have been charged in the first place as the said Act ought to be abolished.
As such, I urge the courts to adjourn those cases pending the review and ultimate abolishment of the Sedition Act in Parliament since the Home Ministry has now indicated that there is a real possibility of this happening.
On the proposed abolishment of the mandatory death sentence, the PH has been consistently against same and I had vehemently proposed its total abolition when the previous BN government tabled amendments to the Dangerous Drugs Act, 1952 (DDA) in Parliament in November last year and to return the sole discretion of imposing the death penalty or commuting same in any given case to the Courts which was the
position of the law before the mandatory death penalty was introduced in this country in 1983.
I also proposed that the said amendments apply retrospectively to cater for those who have already been convicted and are currently on death row.
The said amendments were passed after an intense debate in Parliament but unfortunately did not include my said proposals.
As a result of the said amendments, the state of the law at present is that the Public Prosecutor (PP) must first certify in writing that a convicted person has helped disrupt drug trafficking activities within or outside Malaysia before the court can consider commuting his/her death sentence. The court has no discretion if such certificate is not issued by the PP (who acts on behalf of the Attorney-General [AG]).
In other words, the discretion to commute the death penalty to a lesser sentence, in reality, lies in the hands of the AG and not the court as the court would be helpless if the PP does not issue such certificate.
The said amendments to the DDA also do not apply retrospectively with the result that some 400 people who were convicted before same were passed and who are currently on death row are not subject to same and must be hanged which is most unfair as the said abolishment ought to apply across the board.
I have raised arguments against the mandatory death sentence in detail in the past and do not propose to repeat the same here. Suffice it to say that I am prepared to work with the Home Ministry to propose the necessary amendments to not only the DDA but to all legislation which impose the mandatory death penalty with a view to
its total abolishment as it is clear from research conducted that the death penalty has not been an effective deterrent.
In light of Muhyiddin’s said confirmation above, I will be filing an application to the Federal Court on behalf of one my clients who is currently on death row for an offence committed under the DDA for his said sentence to be stayed pending the very real possibility of the said death sentence being abolished in the near future. It is hoped that the said proposed application will be allowed and applied to all other inmates currently on death row as the death sentence is irreversible and it is only fair for the sentences of these inmates to be reviewed in the event the said mandatory death penalty is abolished.
I have said before that the PH government must have the political will to usher in reforms as part of its agenda and the Home Ministry must be commended for taking the necessary efforts to initiate the same.