The Dewan Rakyat, or lower house, of Malaysia’s Parliament on Monday approved legal reforms to abolish the mandatory death penalty for some offences.
The Dewan Negara, or upper house, will now take up the legislation, and if it passes there, it will be sent to the king to be signed into law. It is widely expected to be passed by the upper house.
The amendments would apply to 34 offences currently punishable by death, including murder and drug trafficking. Eleven of them carry it as a mandatory punishment.
Capital punishment would be removed as an option for some serious crimes that do not cause death, such as kidnapping and the discharging and trafficking of firearms.
Malaysia has had a moratorium on executions since 2018, but courts have continued to send inmates to death row.
Under the amendments passed on Monday, alternatives to the death penalty would include whipping and imprisonment for 30 to 40 years under certain conditions.
Deputy Law Minister Ramkarpal Singh said capital punishment was an irreversible punishment that had not been an effective deterrent for crime.
“We cannot arbitrarily ignore the existence of the inherent right to life of every individual. The death penalty has not brought the results it was intended to bring,” he said while wrapping up the parliamentary debates on the bill.
The legislation passed in Malaysia as some of its Southeast Asian neighbours have stepped up their use of capital punishment.
Last year, Singapore executed 11 people for drug offences, government data showed, while Myanmar carried out its first death sentences in decades against four pro-democracy activists.
Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson called Monday’s vote an “important step forward for Malaysia”.
“This is an important breakthrough that will cause some serious conversations in the halls of upcoming ASEAN meetings,” he told AFP news agency, 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.”