ANALYSIS, Aug 2 — Lawyer and parliamentarian Karpal Singh, a prominent advocate for human rights and the Rule of Law, is wrong to call for child rapists to be hanged.
Probably, like a lot of Malaysians, he is horrified and angry over the recent incident involving the blatant rape of a student in a school bus in front of other students and the public.
The rising incidence of rape and violence against children and women is truly alarming, and indicates a deep-seated malaise in our society, a malaise that can be traced to our education system, the incoherent rules by which we live, the lack of respect for the Rule of Law, how our social and economic policies have abandoned large sections of our citizens to a hopeless, dehumanising and wretched poverty.
Our policing have gaping holes. People have no confidence in our policing; that it can even handle simple task. The rank and file of the police come from the same dehumanised sections of society and is not taught to respect the person, especially the vulnerable among the citizens: the old, the aged, the young, and the women.
These are not legal issues and cannot be solved by law. These are issues of humanity and respect for the person and empathy for the struggle many individuals.
We have to look elsewhere for the alarming rise in disrespect for our vulnerable people. The law is not the cause. The death penalty can never be the solution.
We can keep hanging offenders as we have been doing with convicted drug traffickers but more of the vulnerable and the traumatised will continue to commit heinous crimes until and unless we act to arrest this alarming disrespect in our society.
The case against the death penalty is well-documented and does not require repeating here — and Karpal as a leading human rights lawyer is well aware of it, having fought to save many offenders from the gallows.
Therefore, for him to call for the death penalty is disappointing and comes as a shock, no matter how heinous the crime.
It is also disappointing that many individuals including lawyers and politicians who have campaigned against the death penalty have not voiced their reservations against Karpal’s call to impose the death sentence for child rapists.
Probably they fear contradicting a political giant such as Karpal.
Even the Bar Council, which has been against the death penalty and wants the penalty abolished, has not contradicted Karpal and restated their opposition to capital punishment.
However, this morning three lawyers from the Lawyers for Liberty group found the gumption to issue a statement saying they are “appalled” that Karpal wanted the death penalty for child rapists.
The three are Fadiah Nadwa Fikri, N. Surendran and Eric Paulsen, and applause to them for so clearly voicing their opposition to the death penalty as a form of punishment.
They said the recent rape in the school bus was a “terrible crime and the victim and her family” would be scarred for life.
They also said the perpetrator, if convicted after due process, deserves a heavy prison sentence in retribution for his act. (The law currently punishes offenders with up to 30 years in prison for child rape.)
“However, we deplore the violent and rash proposals that are emanating from various quarters in a typical knee-jerk reaction to this very disturbing crime,” they said. “We are particularly appalled by the suggestion by DAP Chairman Karpal Singh that child rapists be put to death.”
They also argued their case again the death penalty, saying that such sentences have been proven to be ineffective in deterring crimes; that many countries have and are abolishing the death penalty; and if enacted, potential rapists would be encouraged to kill their victims to escape detection and the gallows.
They said to extend the death penalty to more crimes is a regressive step.
“We strongly oppose any move to implement capital punishment for child rapists and hope wiser counsels will prevail in the wake of this terrible crime,” they said.
Karpal’s endorsement for the death penalty for child rape stand would also give ammunition to law enforcement and short-sighted politicians to find quick solutions to complex issues.
Justice must be done but not by descend into barbarism.