A 55-year-old mother of nine was given the death sentence in Malaysia last week for possessing drugs.Hairun Jalmani, a single mother, was sentenced on Oct 15 after a high court in the city of Sabah, found her guilty of drug possession. She was caught with 113.9g of methamphetamine in January 2018.
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A heartbreaking video footage of the woman crying uncontrollably after being handed the sentence has gone viral on social media, generating heated public debate on the rights of women and the country’s penal system.
Under Malaysian law, anyone found in possession of over 50 grams of methamphetamine faces a mandatory death penalty. Only a handful of countries including China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Singapore continue to impose the death penalty for drug-related offences.
Critics argue that such harsh penalties are disproportionately meted out to the marginalized, especially vulnerable women.
A report by Amnesty International indicates that till February 2019, some 1,281 people were on death row in Malaysia with 44% of them being foreign nationals.
Of the total, 73 per cent have been convicted of drug trafficking...this figure rises to a staggering 95 per cent in the cases of women. Some ethnic minorities are overrepresented on death row, while the limited available information indicates that a large proportion of those on death row are people with less advantaged socio-economic backgrounds.
In 2017, a former vice-president of the Malaysian Drug Prevention Association, Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye had said that socio-economic factors such as poverty and a lack of employment opportunities were some reasons for drug use among fishermen.
He said at the time:
Many of them live in squalid conditions, both in their dilapidated homes and on fishing boats. These are among the main factors that cause them to take drugs.
Many activists say the death penalty was an injustice to the nine children Jalmani, a fishmonger, is leaving behind. Amnesty Malaysia is one of the organizations leading a campaign to appeal the ruling.
Why is the right to life so easily denied by the govt? Who is kept safe when a single mother of nine is sentenced to death and removed from her children?
The organization is also appealing to the Malaysian government to repeal the mandatory death penalty for all offences.