Malaysia backtracks on plans to abolish death penalty

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) – Malaysia’s government backtracked on Wednesday on abolishing capital punishment, saying instead that the death penalty would no longer be mandatory for selected offences. Rights groups slammed the reversal and urged it to reconsider.

Deputy Law Minister Hanipa Maidin made the announcement in Parliament but didn’t give any reasons for the change. He was quoted by the country’s Bernama news agency as saying the death penalty would not be mandatory for 11 offences but courts would have discretion to impose such sentences for those crimes.

Adviser to rights group Lawyers for Liberty N Surendran said it was a “complete U-turn” from the government’s announcement in October that it planned to abolish the death penalty for all of the nearly three dozen offences for which it was applicable.

The total abolition plan had been widely praised internationally and he said the sudden reversal was “shocking, unprincipled and embarrassing”.

He said it appeared to be motivated by fear of a political backlash and slammed the government for “moral cowardice”.