Malaysia’s cabinet has agreed to abolish the death penalty and halt pending executions, a move that has been hailed by international human rights groups and foreign diplomats.
A proposed bill on abolishing capital punishment is likely to be discussed by the government when the Malaysian parliament meets on Monday.
“All death penalty will be abolished. Full stop,” a Channel NewsAsia report cited Law Minister Liew Vui Keong as saying.
Keong called for a halt on all executions until the decision is in effect, saying: “Since we are abolishing the sentence, all executions should not be carried out.”
“We will inform the Pardons Board to look into various applications for convicts on the [death penalty] waiting list to either be commuted or released,” he said.
Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo confirmed that the cabinet, which met on Wednesday, had resolved to end the death penalty.
“I hope the law will be amended soon,” he told AFP news agency.
More than 1,200 people are on death row in Malaysia, which mandates hanging as punishment for a wide range of crimes including murder, kidnapping, drug trafficking and treason, among others.
The decision was welcomed by rights advocates and foreign diplomats.
“We strongly welcome announcement by Malaysian Government of (its) intention to abolish the death penalty,” Dag Juhlin-Dannfelt, the Swedish ambassador to Malaysia, wrote on Twitter.
“Impressive & bold move,” he added.
Amnesty International also cheered the news, calling it “an astounding announcement.”
The rights group had urged Malaysia to “completely abolish the death penalty for all crimes, with no exceptions”, calling it a “terrible stain” on the country’s human rights record.
“The death penalty is barbarous, and unimaginably cruel,” N Surendran, an adviser with Lawyers for Liberty, a Malaysian rights group with close ties to the centre-left People’s Justice Party, said in a statement.
“Once the death penalty is scrapped, Malaysia will have the moral authority to fight for the lives of Malaysians facing death sentences abroad,” he added.
Many Asian countries such as China and neighbouring Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, still impose capital punishment, while 142 countries worldwide have rejected it.