MALAYSIAN authorities acted in violation of international law when they executed two brothers on death row, even before the disposal of their appeal for clemency, local human rights defenders alleged.
According to Amnesty International Malaysia director Shamini Darshni, international law clearly states that, “executions may not be carried out pending any appeal or other proceeding relating to pardon or commutation of the sentence.”
She noted that the brothers – Rames Batumalai, 45, and Suthar Batumalai, 40, two Malaysian nationals convicted of murder in 2006 – were hanged to death at dawn on Wednesday, two days before their pre-determined date of execution and while their clemency application was yet to be heard.
Haresh Mahadevan, the lawyer representing the brothers, had filed a new application for clemency on Feb 23, which halted their scheduled Feb 24 execution at the last hour. Pending a review of the application, the executions were set for Friday, March 17.
Earlier this week, however, authorities told family members of the two death row inmates that they would be hanged at dawn on Wednesday.
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“With the clemency appeal still pending, the brothers were denied of their opportunity to have their case reconsidered and have their clemency applications heard,” Shamini said in a statement.
“Their case was deeply troubling, with the death sentence imposed as the mandatory punishment for a conviction based on circumstantial evidence alone.”
Shamini did not expressly name the law local authorities allegedly violated but may have been referring to Rule 8 of a 1984 resolution approved by United Nations’ Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC).
The nine-rule resolution titled Safeguards guaranteeing protection of the rights of those facing the death penalty stipulates that “capital punishment shall not be carried out pending any appeal or other recourse procedure or other proceeding relating to pardon or commutation of the sentence”.
In 1996, the council approved another follow-up resolution, calling on UN member states to implement all nine rules in the 1984 resolution, also stating that adequate time should be given for preparation and completion of all clemency petitions filed by those facing the death penalty.
Sharmini in her statement said:
“They (the brothers) should have been granted the opportunity to have their applications heard and the executions should have been halted until the full and fair hearing of their application.”
With Amnesty being an strong opponent to the death penalty, she said executions in Malaysia continue to be carried out in “secretive” and “opaque” conditions.
“It is simply cruel that the family of the prisoners were told to prepare for executions this Friday, only to find out with less than 24 hours’ notice that they were given wrong information about the date of the execution,” she said.
“Malaysia must stop backpedalling on human rights and start protecting them by halting all executions and moving to abolish the death penalty.”
— Lawyers for Liberty (@lawyers4liberty) March 14, 2017
Haresh, who was appointed by the family to file a clemency petition for the duo, described the execution as an insult to the Pardons Board of the state of Negri Sembilan, where the application was filed, according to the Malay Mail Online.
“I feel it’s rather disrespectful to the state Ruler when they went ahead with the execution when there is no decision on the fresh clemency petition,” he was quoted as saying.
Joining the chorus of frustrations, prominent lawyer and opposition politician N. Surendran said he was baffled why the authorities had gone against customary international law for a fair trial.
“Part of this includes the clemency petition where they (the government) cannot execute the (death row) inmates pending the application for clemency and in this case it is a fresh application,” he told the Asian Correspondent when contacted.
He said: “You cannot execute someone until all legal avenues have been exhausted.”
Arguing his case, Surendran pointed to Article 5 of Malaysia’s Constitution, which states that “no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty save in accordance with law”.
“Instead they went ahead and executed the brothers on a Wednesday when usually, executions are carried out on a Friday,” he said.
“The (government) did not give any reason for carrying out executions (ahead of the postponed date) and the reason why they did it (despite the clemency application) is a mystery,” he said.
On the eve of the brothers’ executions, Surendran, who is also vice president of the People’s Justice Party (PKR), joined Amnesty International, the brothers’ family members and other non-governmental organisations for a candlelight vigil outside the Kajang Prison, some 40 kilometers south of the capital. Rames and Suthar were executed at the prison early Wednesday morning according to schedule.