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Sunday, January 8, 2017

‘Just hang me now’ - stories from death row



For many years now, the Malaysian government has toyed with the idea of abolishing the death penalty.
Human rights organisations say the death penalty is archaic and cruel, taking away the most basic of rights - the right to life.
It is a hard sell and politically caustic - an eye for an eye remains a popular notion, with many baying for blood of perpetrators whenever heinous crimes are reported in the news.
While organisations like Amnesty International frequently campaign to save the lives of death row prisoners, three waiting for their turn in the execution room have a different wish - for the wait to end.
“If they are to hang, hang them now, because waiting is mental torture,” one journalist recalled death row prisoners telling him, in interviews which have left an indelible mark.
The journalist, who chose to be named, shared this story with Humans of Kuala Lumpur when asked about the most memorable interview he has conducted in his decades-long career:
I met up with three male prisoners, one from each race. I got permission to interview them in one day.
The Malay guy, I don’t remember his name now, had already spent seven years in Kajang Prison.
I was afraid - even though he was in the cell and I was interviewing him from outside the cell. His offence was murder. I thought to myself, "Oh my God, he’s a death row prisoner and he had killed someone."
The prisoner noticed how uncomfortable I was and told me, “Bang, abang relax je bang, sebab I tak akan apa-apakan bang (Brother, just relax, because I won’t harm you),” and said the longer I interview him, the more I will like him.
'Hang me now'
He told me he was in the cell for 23 hours a day and has been living like that for seven years. Prisoners were only allowed out of their cell for one hour, and only along the passageway in front of their cells. So, if I took some of his time, he would feel relieved.
He told me if given the chance to either be hanged or wait further in prison, he would choose to be hanged. I asked, “Why? Don’t you want to live?”
He told me, “You can become a crazy man being inside here. You will go crazy because for 23 hours a day, I don’t do anything, just stare at the walls in a 10 feet by 10 feet cell space - one can go crazy”.
He had tattooed his forearm (with the names of his wife and children) because he really loved them. He said his wife accidentally killed someone over a misunderstanding over a business transaction, (as) one of the items (transacted) were fake.
So, in the ensuing fight, she accidentally killed the other person. When he got back home, he said because of his love for her, he disposed of the body and took responsibility for the killing.
While they were both driving towards Kuala Lumpur (from Pahang), they were stopped at a roadblock and they were caught. In court, he admitted that he was the murderer. He took responsibility - this was based on the story he told me.
He said when he was convicted, his wife promised to be faithful to him, but in the seven years he was in prison, not once did she come to visit him. This is why he tattooed his arm.
It's a really sad story if it's true. He said he was not lying, not guilty and has submitted himself to God.
Never got visits
The Indian man I met goes by the name of ‘Lan’. He converted to Islam. He had a Malay girlfriend who worked in a bank, and they both come from Kuala Selangor in Sungai Besar.
He was a drug dealer who spent a lot of money on his girlfriend and sacrificed a lot for her. He even bought her a car. He sold drugs to make money and one day he got caught. The punishment is, of course, the death sentence.
He told me if I ever went to Sungai Besar, please find his (ex) girlfriend and send her his love. He said he was caught because of her, and she never visited him in prison.
The Chinese man, I think, was convicted of murder, but I don’t remember much details. But all three men said if given the chance to be hanged immediately, they would take it.
Two years after the interview I spoke to Lan. I heard from one of my interns that he was going to be released and was going to get a pardon. On the day of his release, he called me and thanked me for featuring his story on television.
I don’t know what happened to the other two.
Chosen people
For my report, I also met an ustaz who was the religious counsellor for Muslims before they went to their end. He retired around a decade ago.
He told me that, for the Muslims, right after they give their last salam in their prayers, two wardens will take them to the execution room.
Most of them are not able to walk because they know they are heading to their death.
The ustaz said at least they know when they will die. Because of that, prisoners become very religious and pray a lot.
It is unlike most of us out here. We say we are healthy and we say accidents happen, but we wouldn’t know when we would die.
For them, these special people, maybe they were chosen - because they know they are going to die. They know the exact time and location of their death when the prison director comes and informs them they will be hanged the next day.
So they are able to pray and focus and atone for their sins. That is the only advantage that they get.
The prisoners I met told me to tell those outside to learn from their mistakes. They admitted that they had been in the wrong, regret what they had done, and said that if they are to be pardoned, to pardon them now. If they are to hang, hang them now, because waiting is mental torture, they said.
They all could not stand the waiting in prison, as the process goes from the High Court to the Federal Court and then the sultan. The whole waiting process, it’s just a lot of mental torture for them.
All three men have gone through the court appeals but of course they were unsuccessful.
I felt pity for them, especially for the husband who took the fall for his wife, but the drug dealer knew what he was getting himself into.
I am grateful that we have a normal life compared to them.

HUMANS OF KUALA LUMPUR, a photography project by Mushamir Mustafa, features on Malaysiakini every weekend. This story was first published on the Humans of Kuala Lumpur Facebook page.- Mkini

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