KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) - Amnesty International urged Malaysia’s government on Thursday to keep its promise to abolish the death penalty, saying unfair trials and the use of harsh treatment to obtain confessions put people at risk of execution.
The rights group released details of nearly two years of research on 150 cases as well as interviews with prisoners’ families, lawyers and embassy officials in a report that it said showed the use of the death penalty was “fatally flawed.”
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s government promised shortly after taking power in May 2018 to scrap capital punishment, which mandates hanging as punishment for a wide range of crimes including murder, drug trafficking, treason, kidnapping and acts of terror.
But the government backtracked after public objection. Parliament, which resumed meeting this week, will instead remove mandatory death penalties for some offenses and give courts discretion in imposing the sentence.
The report said 73% of the 1,281 people on death row as of February were convicted of drug offenses, including 568 foreigners from 43 countries and many poor members of ethnic minorities.
It said some prisoners were tortured and beaten to make them confess. In one case, a Malaysian man detained in 2005 for possessing drugs and later sentenced to death had his finger broken by police, who also threatened to beat up his girlfriend, it said.
Those who are poor often go without legal assistance until they are brought to court, it said. Some were asked to sign documents in the Malay language that were not translated for them, according to the report.
The group said the pardon process was also not transparent, with no clear criteria and access to pro-bono legal services controlled by prison officials. It said half of the foreigners on death row didn’t seek pardons.
“Our research found a pattern of unfair trials and secretive hangings that itself spoke volumes. From allegations of torture and other ill-treatment to an opaque pardons process, it’s clear the death penalty is a stain on Malaysia’s criminal justice system,” Amnesty Malaysia director Sharmini Darshni Kaliemuthu said.
The group said its requests to meet Malaysian authorities including the police and officials in the attorney-general’s office for more details were rejected or unanswered.
It said government sources indicated 469 people had been executed since Malaysia’s independence from Britain in 1957, half of them for drug trafficking.
The death penalty is currently retained for nearly three dozen offenses. Amnesty International urged Malaysia to move toward scrapping capital punishment by repealing mandatory death sentences for all crimes and maintaining a moratorium on executions until then.
Government officials couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.
Many Asian countries including China, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam impose capital punishment.
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