Opponents of the death penalty are quietly celebrating today as two new legal jurisdictions have taken steps to stop all executions within their borders.
The new government of the Asian country of Malaysia just announced that it will abolish the death penalty for all crimes and halt all pending executions. Asian human rights groups immediately hailed the announcement as a major advance in their efforts.
More than 1200 people are on death row in Malaysia, which mandates hanging as punishment for a wide range of crimes including murder, drug trafficking, treason, kidnapping and acts of terror.
Malaysian Law Minister Liew Vui Keong announced that the Cabinet had agreed to abolish the death penalty and that amendments to laws with capital punishment were expected to be presented when Parliament resumes Monday.
Malaysian Communications Minister Gobind Singh Deo on Thursday confirmed the Cabinet’s decision. “This is part of our election pledge and also in line with the move away from capital punishment in the rest of the world,” he said.
In separate news, the Washington State Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously struck down the death penalty there as unconstitutional and “racially biased,” a ruling that makes it the latest in a string of states to abandon capital punishment in recent years.
The order will not stop any scheduled executions because Washington state has already frozen its death penalty under a moratorium.
The court’s order declares that death sentences in the state should be converted to life in prison.
In its opinion, the court focused on the unequal use of the death penalty. They said it was a punishment meted out haphazardly, with no consistency based on either geography or timing.
“The death penalty is invalid because it is imposed in an arbitrary and racially biased manner,” the justices wrote. “While this particular case provides an opportunity to specifically address racial disproportionality, the underlying issues that underpin our holding are rooted in the arbitrary manner in which the death penalty is generally administered.”
After the order came down from the Supreme Court on Thursday, Washington Governor Jay Inslee issued the following statement:
“Today’s decision by the state Supreme Court thankfully ends the death penalty in Washington. The court makes it perfectly clear that capital punishment in our state has been imposed in an ‘arbitrary and racially biased manner,’ is ‘unequally applied’ and serves no criminal justice goal. This is a hugely important moment in our pursuit for equal and fair application of justice.”
Washington’s rejection of capital punishment has come at a time when the death penalty is being used less nationwide. In addition, many states are struggling to obtain the drugs needed for lethal injections.
These moves by Washington State and the country of Malaysia are very welcome at a time when human rights seem to be under attack throughout the world. In addition, the Trump administration has called for expanding the death penalty for certain federal crimes.
I am a lifelong Democrat with a passion for social justice and progressive issues. I have degrees in writing, economics and law from the University of Iowa.