As Malaysia eyes death penalty repeal, Al Jazeera documentary explores dilemma of capital punishment
KUALA LUMPUR, July 4 — In prisons across the country, more than 1,200 prisoners are on death row, according to an upcoming Al Jazeera documentary.
For them, their families and civil society, news that the government will be tabling a Bill to abolish the death penalty on 11 serious offences provides fresh new hope and optimism.
However, the announcement has also sparked a fierce backlash among many Malaysians, including families of crime victims, who insist capital punishment is the only way to deliver justice.
Rita Soesilawati, whose mother Datuk Sosilawati Lawiya, disappeared on a business trip in 2010 and was believed to have been killed and her body burned, is one of those adamant that capital punishment should be imposed.
“If someone’s in my shoes, they’ll also ask an eye for an eye,” Rita said in the upcoming Malaysia: On Death Row documentary, adding that she wants the government to know how her family is suffering.
Three people have been sentenced to death for the death of her mother, the founder of a Malaysian cosmetics company.
“I thought, ‘You should know what I feel, what the family feels. What happened to us. How we grieve,” she said.
The documentary explores whether Malaysia is ready to abolish the death penalty by speaking to people on either side of this life-and-death debate.
“This is such a highly charged issue that really gets to the heart of some of the biggest issues facing society — justice, retribution, second chances,” says filmmaker Lynn Lee.
“The people we spoke to, both those who have relatives on death row as well as the families of murder victims, did not hold back in revealing the most painful, tragic part of their lives. It was a deeply moving experience to hear their stories, their heartache and despair.”
Human rights activists have been calling to an end to the death penalty, describing it as a cruel, inhumane punishment akin to state-sanctioned killing.
Family of death row inmates, like Siti Zebedah, whose son Razali Ahmad, has been on death row for 12 years are praying that the bill, expected to be tabled next week, passes.
Razali was found guilty of trafficking 858 grams of cannabis in 2007 and sentenced to death but Siti is still holding on to every hope.
“Let him come back...let him take me to the mosque. I want to hold him,” she said in the emotional interview.
Malaysia: On Death Row premieres on Al Jazeera English at 6.30am on July 5, 2019, on 101 East, Al Jazeera’s award-winning weekly current affairs programme focusing on a diverse range of stories across Asia and the Pacific.
After it airs, the documentary will be available on the Al Jazeera website and YouTube.
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