Written by Mertice Ho

What happened?

In a surprising move, Malaysia’s Cabinet has announced that it plans to repeal the draconian laws of the Sedition Act and the Death Penalty by the end of the year. According to Communications and Multimedia Minister, Gobind Singh, both laws should be suspended immediately until it can be officially repealed.

During the election campaign a few months ago, the ruling coalition Pakatan Harapan promised to repeal such oppressive laws, some of which date back to British rule. If Malaysia successfully repeals the death penalty, it will join the majority of countries that reject capital punishment.


Why is this significant?

In the past, the Sedition Act was used to punish those with dissenting opinions and control the voice of the populace. In fact, not so long ago, the former government led by Najib Razak utilised the act to curb dissent that rose after the 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) corruption scandal. Many politicians and activists were held and charged under the Sedition Act and it is still unclear what will happen to them.

The repeal of the death penalty might just be more than an election promise. Not only is it a landmark victory for human rights, but it might also help in the investigation of Najib’s corrupt activities. It is suspected that he played a role in the 2006 murder of a Mongolian woman, Altantuya Shaariibuu, who aided in Malaysia’s negotiations to buy French submarines. Najib might have received kickbacks, but this is all unclear because Shaariibuu was murdered by his bodyguards. Resembling the plot of an action movie, one of the bodyguards fled to Australia. However, Australia has been unwilling to return him due to the possibility of him receiving the death penalty. It is hoped that the bodyguard’s testimony could unveil who gave initial orders for the murder.

The decision to repeal has been communicated to the attorney-general who will then decide the next step, but many human rights groups are already rejoicing for this victory.

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