For the past four years the Death Penalty Project has been working to protect the human rights of foreign nationals in Malaysia facing the death penalty.
This week Saul Lehrfreund has been meeting with local lawyers in Kuala Lumpur to assist in the cases of 14 foreign nationals, who have been either sentenced to death and are awaiting execution, or have been charged with offences that carry the death penalty.
The United Nations Secretary General recently identified arrested foreign nationals as a vulnerable group deserving of particular protection. Foreign nationals will often not speak the local language and may have little understanding of the local legal system. Securing legal representation at the outset is vital to ensure a fair trial and the services of a lawyer can make the difference between arrest and charge, conviction and acquittal and in cases of the death penalty, life and death.
There are currently around 1000 people on death row in Malaysia, of which it is estimated about half are foreign nationals. They have been incarcerated mainly for drug trafficking, an offence which still carries the mandatory death penalty in Malaysia. The Death Penalty Project is working with a local team on cases at various stages of the legal and clemency processes, with nationals originating from a disperse range of countries including Bulgaria, Fiji, Nigeria, Peru, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia.
As always, those convicted are individuals who are most vulnerable to exploitation by drug trafficking gangs. Two of the individuals we are supporting are HIV positive and another has serious mental health problems.
In addition to a dedicated team of local lawyers The Death Penalty Project works with psychiatrists, doctors, chemists and other forensic experts who all provide their services on a pro bono basis to safeguard this group and ensure that the rights of foreign nationals are fully realised.
We are also currently providing legal assistance to six British nationals on death row outside Malaysia.