From Pakistan and India to Japan, Indonesia and Vietnam, executions for a range of crimes — murder and treason to drug trafficking and blasphemy — remain on the statute books. Of the 53 counties that maintain the death penalty, about a quarter are in Asia, with China topping the world in the number of state-sanctioned killings. Figures remain a state secret, but rights groups say at least 2,000 people were executed by lethal injection or firing squad in 2017.
The sultan of Brunei has backed away from his promise and to institute a Saudi brand of Shariah law, which will enable religious authorities to inflict a raft of medieval punishments including amputations and death by stoning for crimes they consider worthy.
Malaysia has stepped back from plans to abandon the death penalty. Instead, executions will not be mandatory but up to the discretion of the courts.
Malaysia’s accession to the International Criminal Court (ICC) will further enhance its global standing after its decision to abandon the death penalty and should add weight to efforts to prosecute six generals in Myanmar for genocide.
In the early days after the 2005 arrest of the so-called ‘Bali Nine’ Australians, Indonesian authorities stated they faced heroin charges that could result in the death penalty.
The spectre of standing before a firing squad haunted all of them, including the youngest, Matthew Norman, who was only 18.
After various court appeals, and bids for clemency from successive Indonesian presidents failed, it was only ringleaders Andrew Chan, 34, and Myuran Sukumaran, 31, who were shot.
Malaysia’s decision to abandon the death penalty is winning praise and adds further momentum to a growing global trend that human rights advocates hope will spell an end to state-sanctioned killing. But there’s still a long way to go, particularly across Asia.