First executions in four years -- a step backwards for human rights

'There is no convincing evidence that the death penalty deters crimes such as drug-trafficking more effectively than other punishments,' Amnesty International said. 'The Malaysian authorities must take a long hard look at their use of death penalty and impose a moratorium on further executions.'

There is little or no public debate about the use of the death penalty in Malaysia. According to the authorities, yesterday's executions are the first since 1996. A total of 349 people were hanged between 1970 and 1996.

The two men executed were reported to have been sentenced to death in 1988. One man was convicted of trafficking in 132 grams of heroin, the other of trafficking in 123 grams of the drug. Under Malaysian law, anyone found in possession of more than 15 grams of heroin is presumed, unless the contrary can be proven, to be trafficking in the drug and faces a mandatory death sentence.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases, however heinous the crime for which it is imposed, as a violation of the right to life. The death penalty is an inherently unjust and arbitrary punishment; studies have shown it is more likely to be imposed on those who are poorer and less educated. The risk of error in applying the death penalty is inescapable, yet it is irrevocable.

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