101 East

Malaysia: On Death Row

101 East investigates why plans to abolish the death penalty in Malaysia are causing controversy.

In Malaysian jails, more than 1,200 prisoners are on death row.

For them, news that the government was planning to abolish the death penalty provided a much-needed glimmer of hope.

“Let him come back,” says Siti Zebedah, whose son has been on death row for 16 years. He was found guilty of trafficking 858 grams of cannabis in 2007 and sentenced to death.

“Let him take me to the mosque. I want to hold him,” his mother says.

But many Malaysians want to keep the law as it is, saying capital punishment deters criminals and helps keep citizens safe.

Families of murder victims say the only way to get justice for their loved ones is by hanging the perpetrators.

Rita Soesilawati’s mother disappeared on a business trip in 2010. Police believe Soesilawati Lawiya, founder of a Malaysian cosmetics company, was killed and her body burned. Three people have been sentenced to death for her murder.

Her daughter is adamant that the sentence should be carried out.

“If someone’s in my shoes, they’ll also ask an eye for an eye,” says Rita, adding that she wanted the government to know how her family was suffering.

“I thought, ‘you should know what I feel. What the family feels. What happened to us. How we grieve’.”

101 East meets the people on either side of this emotional life-and-death debate and investigates if Malaysia is ready to abolish the death penalty.

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