March 13, 2019 / 9:17 AM / 5 months ago

Malaysia to keep death penalty, but no longer mandatory

FILE PHOTO: Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad speaks during an interview with Reuters in Putrajaya, Malaysia June 19, 2018. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin/File Photo

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia has rowed back on an earlier plan to repeal the death penalty, saying that while the government will abolish mandatory capital punishment it will leave it for courts to decide whether a person convicted of a serious crime will hang.

Mohamed Hanipa Maidin, a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, told parliament on Wednesday of the change of plan. In October, the law minister, Liew Vui Keong, had said the cabinet had decided to repeal the death penalty.

Malaysia’s decision against a total repeal of the death penalty could weigh on the future of a fugitive policeman, Sirul Azhar Umar, who fled to Australia just before a Malaysian court sentenced him to death for the 2006 murder of Mongolian model Altantuya Shaariibuu.

Sirul and another policeman convicted of the crime had been serving as members of the personal security detail for Najib Razak, who was deputy prime minister at the time of the murder.

The question of whether anyone had ordered them to kill the woman has never been answered. Najib went on to become prime minister and led the country nine years before his spectacular defeat at last year’s general election.

Since then, Malaysian police have re-opened the case into the model’s killing and Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has said his government could revoke Sirul’s death penalty to make way for his extradition.

Sirul, who has been held at an Australian immigration detention centre since 2015, faces the prospect of deportation after failing a bid for asylum in Australia.

However, under Australian law, Sirul can only be deported if he does not face the death penalty.

Reporting by Liz Lee; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore

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