Framing Death Penalty Politics in Malaysia


The death penalty in Malaysia is a British colonial legacy that has undergone significant scrutiny in recent times. While the Malaysian Federal Constitution 1957 provides that ‘no person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty save in accordance with law’, there are several criminal offences (including drug-related crimes) that impose the mandatory and discretionary death penalty. Using Benford and Snow’s framing processes, this paper reviews death penalty politics in Malaysia by analysing the rhetoric of abolitionists and retentionists. The abolitionists, comprising activist lawyers and non-government organisations, tend to use ‘human rights’ and ‘injustice’ frames, which humanise the ‘criminal’ and gain international support. The retentionists, such as victims’ families, use a ‘victims’ justice’ frame emphasising the ‘inhuman’ nature of violent crimes. In addition, the retentionist state shifts between ‘national security’ and ‘national development’ frames. This paper finds that death penalty politics in Malaysia is predominantly a politics of framing.

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Except where otherwise noted, content in this journal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Published: 2022-09-01
Pages:57 to 66
Section:Special Issue: Death Penalty Politics
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How to Cite
Kananatu, T. . (2022) “Framing Death Penalty Politics in Malaysia”, International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 11(3), pp. 57-66. doi: 10.5204/ijcjsd.2476.

Author Biography

Monash University Malaysia

Thaatchaayini Kananatu is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Arts and Social Sciences, Monash University Malaysia. She holds an LLB Law (Hons.) (Cardiff), LLM/Masters in International Law (Oxford Brookes), and a PhD (Monash) in socio-legal studies. Her research interests include law, gender and race; law and social movements; as well as ethics, human rights and social justice. She is the author of Minorities, Rights and the Law in Malaysia (2020, Routledge), co-editor of Vulnerable Groups in Malaysia (2020, De Gruyter) with Sharon G. M. Koh, and co-editor of Gender and Sexuality Justice in Asia (2020, Springer) with Joseph N. Goh and Sharon A. Bong. She is a Fellow of Eleos Justice which researches on the death penalty in the Asian region. Her past project includes a research collaboration with the Monash Anti-Death Penalty Clinic and the Anti-Death Penalty Asia Network (ADPAN) entitled 'Drug offences and the Death Penalty in Malaysia: Fair Trial Rights and Ramifications' (2019).