KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian lawmakers voted on Thursday (Nov 30) to remove the mandatory death penalty for drug offences, giving judges full power to decide sentences of drug offenders.
The amendment to Section 39B of the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952 was made to serve public interest and for the good of the nation, said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Azalina Othman Said.
She said Prime Minister Najib Razak felt the time had come for such an initiative to be taken in the government’s agenda to fight against drug abuse, which is the country’s number one enemy.
“We have waited 34 years to change the mandatory sentence to discretionary punishment.
“We are taking into consideration the public interests and well-being of the Malaysian population who now numbered over 30 million,” she said when winding up the debate on the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Bill 2017 at the Dewan Rakyat sitting on Thursday.
The bill, which was later passed with a majority vote, will do away with the mandatory death sentence provided under Section 39B of the existing Act, and is aimed at giving more room to the court to exercise its discretionary power in sentencing the convicted drug offender.
Azalina said the amendment did not mean that the government was not concerned and had planned to convict and punish all offenders charged under Section 39B.
“We do not want the judges’ hands to be tied, that is why we are giving them the power to use their discretion … Section 39B demands the prosecution to prove the case beyond any reasonable doubt, if the prosecution’s case is flawed, the accused goes free.
“Even if the accused is convicted, he can still appeal right up to the Appeals Court, it does not mean that when he is convicted, he will be sent straightaway to the gallows or to serve life imprisonment,” she said.
Earlier, when tabling the bill for the second reading, Azalina said even though the government had taken various drastic measures, the statistics from the Royal Malaysia Police showed a high number of drug-related cases from January 2014 until October this year, with 702,319 individuals detained for trafficking and possessing drugs.
She said during the same period, 21,371 arrests were made under Section 39B, and 13,036 investigation papers were opened with 10,878 cases brought to court.
“What’s more worrying is that 1,743 of the arrests involved schoolchildren and 1,953 others, involved college and university students,” she said.