Give life a second chance – Shamini Darshni

For the last 11 years, Sapenah Nawawi has made a weekly commute between her home in Klang and the Sungai Buloh prison to visit her son, Shahrul Izani Suparman

For the last 11 years, Sapenah Nawawi has made a weekly commute between her home in Klang and the Sungai Buloh prison to visit her son, Shahrul Izani Suparman.

“Saya takkan berdalih. Dia kuatkan saya, dan saya kuatkan dia. Saya takkan putus asa.” (I will not waver. He strengthens me, and I strengthen him. I will not give up.)

Shahrul Izani is serving a mandatory death sentence, waiting for the call all prisoners on death row dread – that they would be next to face the gallows.

Sentenced at 18 years and 6 months for drug trafficking, Shahrul Izani, now 30, was caught holding 622g of cannabis.

“Ada sekali, hujan lebat. Anak-anak saya yang lain sibuk, jadi saya bawak motosikal saya dalam hujan lebat tu untuk jumpa anak saya. Anak kan? (Once, it was raining. My other children were busy, so I took the motorcycle in the heavy rain to see my son. He’s my son, right?” she said as tears ran down her downcast eyes, grazing the years on her beautiful face.)

A mother, steadfast in her love for her son, strong in her belief that he has repented.

For 11 years, Sapenah has approached various NGOs, lawyers, state authorities and also tried to seek royal pardon for her son to be spared the noose.

For 11 years, she failed.

Shahrul Izani’s plight is one of three death row cases that Amnesty International Malaysia is highlighting for the World Day Against the Death Penalty, which falls yearly on October 10.

International law does not allow for those below 18 to be sentenced to death. Being a few months over 18, like Shahrul Izani was at sentencing, may also not mean that a prisoner is mature enough to cope with impending death.

Supporters of the death penalty argue that it would deter others from committing crime. They say that people who commit vile criminal offences deserve to die.

They are wrong.

Some studies on the effectiveness of the death penalty as a crime prevention tool are inconclusive. Others show that the death penalty is used as a populist tool to garner votes in pre-election campaigns. (See death penalty studies by Amnesty International, the UN, National Research Council in the United States, the Death Penalty Project in London, and the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Vol 99, No 2, 2009)

Taking a life to prove that taking a life is wrong is not only against human rights laws, but logic.

International human rights law says that the death penalty should be reserved for the “most serious crimes”.

As drug trafficking does not fall into the “most serious crimes” category, it means that 70% of the 992 people (or 694 lives) on death row in Malaysian prisons, including Shahrul Izani, should not have received the mandatory death sentence in the first place.

Malaysia is one of just 58 countries that still uses the death penalty, compared to the 140 countries which have abolished it.

In March, Malaysia told the UN that the Attorney-General’s Chambers was studying the use of the death penalty. In the meantime, Amnesty International Malaysia’s internal monitoring has found at least 40 people sentenced to death for various offences thus far this year.

As the A-G’s Chambers continues the study, slated to be concluded at year’s end, the government should look into calling for an immediate halt to imposing the death penalty. All prisoners on death row must have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment.

Prison is punishment enough, but living under an uncertain cloud of when one will be hanged amounts to incredible mental and emotional torture.

As Shahrul Izani said to his mother during a visit: “Boleh dengar, mak, bila diorang bawak banduan untuk digantung. (Can hear, mum, when they take a prisoner for hanging)”. – October 10, 2014.

* Shamini Darshni is the executive director of Amnesty International Malaysia.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malaysian Insider.