Prisoners under sentence of death around the world are often subjected to the most cruel conditions of detention. In many cases, they are kept in strict isolation, lack access to necessary medications and live with the constant anxiety of the threat of execution. Some governments notify prisoners and their relatives a matter of days or even moments before their execution.
Amnesty International has documented appalling abuses across the world. To mark World Day Against the Death Penalty, let us get to know more about the Death Penalty cases within the region.
MALAYSIA – HOO YEW WAH
As part of the work for this World Day, we are suggesting renewed actions on behalf of Hoo Yew Wah, in light of new opportunities arising as a result of the elections earlier this year. He is currently under sentence of death for drug trafficking in Malaysia.
Hoo Yew Wah, a Malaysian national of Chinese ethnicity, remains on death row at Bentong prison, Pahang State, central Malaysia. In March 2005, at the age of 20, he was found in possession of 188.35 grams of methamphetamine, automatically presumed to be trafficking drugs and later convicted of trafficking under section 39(B) of the Dangerous Drugs Act, 1952. He was sentenced to the mandatory death penalty on 12 May 2011. The courts rejected his appeals in September 2012 and July 2013. His April 2014 petition for a pardon to the Sultan of Johor State, where the offense took place, remains pending. He turned 32 years old in 2017 and has said he repents his offense.
Hoo Yew Wah was convicted on the basis of a statement he made at the time of arrest in Mandarin language, his mother tongue, without a lawyer present, and the content of which he contested at trial and on appeal. He also said that on the day after his arrest, and during his detention at the District Police Headquarter in Johor, the police broke his finger and threatened to beat his girlfriend to make him sign this statement. While these concerns were raised before the courts, the judges dismissed them and upheld his conviction and sentence. International law absolutely prohibits the use of torture and other ill-treatment, as well as the use of coerced, self-incriminating statements as evidence to convict. Additionally, the UN Safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty clearly state that “Capital punishment may be imposed only when the guilt of the person charged is based upon clear and convincing evidence leaving no room for an alternative explanation of the facts.” More information on his case is available at: https://intranet.amnesty.org/wiki/display/IAR/Hoo+Yew+Wah
For the first time in almost 60 years, a new government was elected in Malaysia on 10 May. Following the appointment of a new Cabinet on 7, deputy secretary-general of the Ministry of Home Affairs, announced that the government of Malaysia has put the implementation of the death sentences of 17 prisoners on hold, pending the review of the country’s death penalty laws. The announcement came only days after Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, Deputy Prime Minister, confirmed the government’s commitment to consider abolishing the mandatory death penalty for all crimes.
Although the announcement signals possible imminent changes to Malaysia’s death penalty laws, no information has been provided on the cases to which the stay of execution applies. There is very limited public information on Malaysia’s use of the death penalty. The authorities do not provide public notification of any scheduled executions, either before or after these are carried out. Details –including names of prisoners, the offenses of which they were convicted, legal and clemency appeal status and dates of scheduled executions− have become publicly available only for an extremely limited number of cases, usually after the families of affected prisoners contacted Amnesty International or other human rights monitors seeking help to halt the executions.
Because of the lack of transparency that surrounds the use of the death penalty in Malaysia, it is not clear if Hoo Yew Wah is currently among those 17 people who have had their clemency under review. It is now an opportune time to engage the Malaysian authorities to seek commutation of his and other prisoners’ death sentences and full abolition of the death penalty given the new political environment: