Malaysia commutes death penalty, life terms of 11 drug convicts -report

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia’s top court on Tuesday commuted the death sentences and natural-life prison terms of 11 people convicted of drug trafficking, including two Thai nationals, following capital punishment reforms passed earlier this year, state news agency Bernama reported.

All 11, including seven death row inmates, had their sentences reduced to life imprisonment of 30 years each, in the first batch of cases being reviewed by the Federal Court following the reforms, Bernama reported.

Malaysian lawmakers in April voted to remove the mandatory death penalty for crimes including drug trafficking and murder, allowing judges to use their discretion on whether to impose capital punishment.

The amendments also saw penalties that call for imprisonment for the duration of the offender’s natural life replaced with a jail term of between 30 to 40 years.

Malaysia’s Law Minister Azalina Othman Said said nearly 1,000 people facing capital punishment or natural-life terms have submitted applications for re-sentencing, adding that the process reflected the government’s commitment to upholding human rights.

“Today is a historic day… This proves that the principle of restorative justice in Malaysia’s criminal justice system is always maintained,” she said in a statement issued prior to the court hearing.

The hearing comes just days after Sirul Azhar Umar, a former Malaysian policeman who fled the country to escape the death penalty in 2015, was freed from immigration detention in Australia. Australian law forbids the deportation of people to places where they face the death penalty.

Sirul, a former bodyguard of ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak, was convicted along with another police officer for the 2006 murder of Altantuya Shaariibuu, a 28-year-old Mongolian model and interpreter.

Sirul has not said whether he plans to seek a sentencing review under the new reforms, but Malaysia’s home minister told reporters on Tuesday he has the right to apply for one.

(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)