KUALALUMPUR (Reuters) – Capital punishment in Malaysia disproportionately affects foreign nationals, who account for nearly half of those on death row, as well as women involved in drug trafficking, Amnesty International said on Thursday.
It urged the Southeast Asian nation to abolish the death penalty for all offences.
In March, Malaysia rowed back on plans to scrap the death penalty, saying that it would only abolish mandatory capital punishment for certain offences.
Amnesty, in a report published on Thursday, said about 44% of 1,281 inmates on death row in Malaysia as of February this year were foreigners from countries such as Nigeria, Indonesia, Iran, India, and Thailand.
The majority of 141 women on death row, most of whom were convicted of trafficking drugs into Malaysia, were also foreign nationals, it said, adding that the offence of drug trafficking did not warrant the death penalty.
“Several of these women were meant to travel to Malaysia with their partner or friend, who at the last minute had to pull out of the trip for visa or other reasons,” Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu, executive director of Amnesty International Malaysia, told a press conference.
“These cases were quite obviously of unwitting drug mules.”
Its report found that many of those people sentenced to hang in Malaysia had been subjected to harsh treatment by authorities and received inadequate access to legal or consular services.
They also faced unfair trials and, in some cases, were made to sign documents in Malay without a translator present, despite not speaking the language.
The prime minister’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report.
Amnesty’s report drew on two years of research as well as interviews with death row inmates, their lawyers, families and embassy officials, the group said.
Malaysia must move toward abolishing the death penalty by scrapping the mandatory capital punishment for all crimes and maintaining a moratorium on executions until then, Shamini said.
“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,” she said.
(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Susan Fenton)