Legal reforms on the use of the death penalty in Indonesia and Malaysia show that Southeast Asia can and should shift away from its highly punitive response to crime and move towards abolition, Amnesty International Indonesia and Amnesty International Malaysia said today, following the release of Amnesty International’s global report, Death Sentences and Executions in 2022.
Malaysia continued to observe its official moratorium on executions in 2022, yet the courts still meted out at least 16 new death sentences, including for drug-related offences. A crucial step towards the abolition of the death penalty in Malaysia came, however, after bills on abolishing the mandatory death penalty were adopted in Parliament in March and April 2023.
“Southeast Asia saw an alarming rise in the resort to executions in 2022, but Malaysia’s decision to abolish the mandatory death penalty and establish a re-sentencing process for those on death row brings hope that a more progressive and humane approach to criminal justice can become a reality in the region,” said Katrina Jorene Maliamauv, Executive Director of Amnesty International Malaysia.
“The adoption of these historic bills by Malaysia’s Parliament comes after years of campaigning to raise awareness of the impact of the death penalty on those affected, and society as a whole. The bills are a significant step in our country’s journey towards abolition — they must not be the last.”
A death penalty pardon and reforms in Indonesia
Indonesia continued to record a high number of new death sentences in 2022, reporting 112 — just two fewer that in 2021.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo, however, granted an unprecedented pardon to Merri Utami, a grandmother and a former domestic worker who was held on death row after she was convicted of a drug-related offence in 2002. On 29 July 2016, her execution was halted at the last minute, and days before that she submitted an application for clemency to the president on 26 July. Merri remained on death row until President Widodo’s pardon on 13 March 2023.
“President Widodo’s decision to grant a pardon to Merri Utami and commute her death sentence after spending more than 20 years on death row for drug trafficking must serve as a pivotal moment for Indonesia. The authorities must follow this act by commuting the death sentences of all others who remain on death row in appalling conditions,” said Usman Hamid, Executive Director of Amnesty International Indonesia.
Indonesia’s newly adopted Penal Code, which will come into force in 2026, also introduces the possibility of commuting death sentences after a period of ten years, if the prisoner maintains good conduct while under sentence of death.
“After reforming its Penal Code, Indonesia must not miss this opportunity to significantly reduce its use of the death penalty after years of shockingly high figures. The adjustments, however, do not go far enough. It is beyond time for the government to announce an official moratorium on executions and fully abolish the death penalty, ending the anguish of at least 452 people on death row, who often suffer in isolation for years, sometimes decades,” said Usman Hamid.
Executions on the rise across Southeast Asia
In 2022, the military authorities in Myanmar carried out the first executions in the country in four decades, arbitrarily depriving four people of their lives, including two-high profile opposition politicians following grossly unfair and secretive trials. Executions also resumed after a hiatus from 2020 to 2021 in Singapore, bringing the total number of countries known to have carried out executions in Southeast Asia to three, including Viet Nam where figures remain shrouded in secrecy.
The number of new death sentences recorded in Southeast Asia increased by 10%, from 345 in 2021 to 381 in 2022. The increase was partly attributable to the fact that the Thailand authorities provided Amnesty International with figures for new death sentences imposed by courts of first instance, unlike in previous years. The death penalty was used in the region for offences including drug trafficking, which does not meet the threshold of the “most serious crimes” for which the death penalty may be imposed under international law, pending its abolition.
“Fully abolishing the death penalty would demonstrate the commitment to human rights of the governments of Malaysia and Indonesia and be an example of the needed leadership for rights in the region. The two countries must urgently commute all existing death sentences as the next step towards abolishing the death penalty entirely,” said Katrina Jorene Maliamauv.
The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception – regardless of who is accused, the nature or circumstances of the crime, guilt or innocence or method of execution.
The Amnesty International’s global report, Death Sentences and Executions in 2022, can be obtained by clicking here.