Thursday, October 23, 2008

Beer: ten free pints. Cannabis: death penalty.

Check out the screen grab below and note the juxtaposition of the horrifying death sentence imposed upon two young men in Malaysia for 'trafficking' what was under 500 grams of cannabis each, with the completely legal aggressive promotion of another -arguably far more socially damaging- drug.

screen grab from the NST website: click to see full size

The cannabis story is bad enough. These two men, both in their twenties at the time of their arrest are about to have ropes put around their necks, have their spinal cords severed and their lives ended. All for a crime that in the UK would probably not get you more than a few hours of community service, or a caution if you get a decent lawyer and have no previous.

Now before we hear the usual line about 'they knew the law and took the risk', I know that. But the law itself is morally offensive, it is ineffective and its enforcement is illegal under international law. Not only have the UN's human rights agencies called for a moratorium on all use of the death penalty, but specifically, no non-violent drug offences meet the criteria of 'most serious crimes' that would - by any legal interpretations of international law - qualify for the death penalty. Importing an amount of cannabis that weighs - as fate would have it - almost exactly the same as a standard can of Guinness is certainly not a 'most serious crime'. (for more discussion see IHRAs publication 'The Death Penalty for Drug Offences').

Ironic banner ad / news feature mismatches are a common internet phenomenon but it is still striking when the yawning gulf between illegal and legal drug policy is so blatantly exposed. There on the same page as the sickening and tragic story of cannabis enforcement brutality is an animated advertising promotion to 'win 10 pints of Guinness'. Alcohol is of course a psychoactive drug just as cannabis is. Its toxic, it can be addictive, and it causes a range of brain and organ damage for those who don't consume it sensibly. It kills lots of people (as it happens; far more than cannabis in population or per capita/user terms). Yet I'm quite sure you could bring an oil tanker of Guinness into Malaysia and not face the death penalty.

Related blog posts:

Transform submission to the DoH consultation on Alcohol Policy

The fault lines in current drug policy


Sunshine Band said...

This disgrace is caused by the same war on drugs and irrational nonsense we endure worldwide. Unfortunately Malaysia is outside of the jurisdiction of the privvy council and their equality laws seem quite tightly drafted. Alcohol is freely available in Moslem KL - why such grotesque intolerance for cannabis? We should have an International campaign to support these poor guys.

Steve Rolles said...

I believe amnesty are already on the case - visit the site and do a search and there will be advice on how to support them

Anonymous said...


Good post. I agree with your point.

Off topic, just seen you over on that recovery nutter's blog. They get some strange posts over there. I once put up a comment about how the maintenance/abstinence debate was a red herring and that we ought to be discussing the problem's caused by prohibition - people didn't seem to appreciate it!

Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

I was looking on Amnesty's site, nothing obviously about this case and nothing in the search. What a depressing state of affairs this is.

Anonymous said...

See also : DEATH PENALTY-MALAYSIA: Hundreds of Migrants Face Execution for Drug Crimes

Anonymous said...

If a Million people marching on the capital can't stop a BS war, what chance do these two have with no-one marching?

The WOD is THE weapon of mass distruction.

Sunshine Band said...

Never mind the failures of the past - this isn't a march as such yet, this is a legal challenge. I'm dissapointed I couldn't get in touch with the defendants' lawyers in Malaysia yet as I wanted them to know of the International support and that our data is available. I don't see a coherent campaign against this either - OK this is where the 'marching' comes in - but whereas the Stop the War was a disparate movement of many de-politicised their movement as a perceived strength, making the case on moral grounds.

Whilst the objection to the death penalty is cases such as this is a moral issue, the battleground is the administration of law in accordance with legal principles. Its not political, or shouldn't be.

This is a matter for the Malaysian Courts, and they ought in my view to consider their constitutional Article on equality ought reasonably to extend to a non-discriminatory view of drug protection policy, and as also given under the article giving rise to religious freedom. Certainly the argument concerning proportionality given the relative harm of the two drugs featured must be an issue that can be raised somewhere in those courts?

Anonymous said...

Now don't be daft. Alcohol, as everybody knows, isn't a drug.

It's why we have local Drug AND Alcohol Action Teams and why we always hear about Drug AND Alcohol policies.

That's also why, despite it being subject to strict laws regulating its production and sales, unlike "drugs" it isn't called a "controlled substance".

Alcohol isn't a drug because respectable people like politicians use it and because those same respectable politicians defined it as not being a drug.

It's times like this I wish blogs could have one of those little smiley things to show sarcasm of course. Yes, this is sickening - hypocrisy of the first order.

Anonymous said...

Amnesty know nothing of this:

"As far as we are aware this is not a case that Amnesty has any involvement with.

Amnesty International’s program of research and action is focused on preventing and ending grave abuses of the rights to physical and mental integrity, freedom of conscience and expression, and freedom from discrimination.

In this context, we focus in particular on:

· campaigning to abolish the death penalty, torture, and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
· ending extra-judicial executions and "disappearances";
· protecting the human rights of refugees and asylum seekers;
· protecting the human rights of non-combatants in armed conflicts;
· working for fair and prompt trials for all political prisoners;
· seeking the release of all prisoners of conscience.

As you can see from the above Amnesty International does work for fair trials for all political prisoners, but this does not extend to general miscarriages of justice unless it is believed the imprisonment was politically motivated. Unfortunately, we cannot work effectively on behalf of every person who may be a victim of a miscarriage of justice. We do not have the resources to do so.

Fair Trials abroad may be a more appropriate organisation regarding this case.

Yours sincerely,

Alice Chapman
Supporter Care Team
Amnesty International UK"

Steve Rolles said...

thanks for the clarification anon. Amnesty's general disinterest with vicitms of drug war excess has been historically pretty disappointing _ I'm not quite sure how they justify it - especially in death penalty cases.

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