Hairun Jalmani, a single mother of nine children, was sentenced by Judge Alwi Abdul Wahab on 15 October at the Tawau High Court in Sabah, Malaysia. She was caught with 113.9g of methamphetamine in January 2018.
A harrowing video of the woman, who works as a fishmonger, crying inconsolably after she was handed the death sentence has gone viral on social networks in the country, igniting a fierce debate on women’s rights and capital punishment.
The 45-second video shows a handcuffed Jalmani breaking down in tears as she is taken away from the courthouse. She also pleaded for help outside the courtroom while sobbing uncontrollably.
Under Malaysian law, those found in possession of over 50 grams of methamphetamine face a mandatory death penalty. It is among a minority of countries — China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and Singapore — that continue to impose the death penalty for drug-related offences.
Critics say the harsh penalties are overwhelmingly borne by the country’s marginalised, especially vulnerable women. They also pointed out that most women on death row in Malaysia have been sentenced under the strict drug trafficking law that “fails to take their vulnerable socio-economic realities into account”.
When a 55 year old single mother of 9 children is sentenced to DEATH for drug trafficking-such economic destitution sources from structural & institutional FAILURE to provide Malaysian women,esp from underserved communities, with access to SRHR, contraception and bodily autonomy.
— Tehmina Kaoosji (@TehminaKaoosji) October 17, 2021
According to an Amnesty International report, till February 2019, as many as 1,281 people were reported to be on death row in Malaysia. Of this, 568 people, or 44 per cent, were foreign nationals. “Of the total, 73 per cent have been convicted of drug trafficking,” the report said, adding that “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,” the report added.
— Amnesty International Malaysia (@AmnestyMy) October 10, 2019
Jalmani’s case is an “example of how Malaysia’s death penalty punishes the poor [with] particular discriminations against women”, Amnesty International Malaysia said on Monday.
The agency added that “women who have been subjected to violence, abuse, and exploitation have little to no chance to get these factors taken into account at sentencing”.
1/ On 15 Oct, 55-year-old single mother of nine, & fishmonger Hairun Jalmani was sentenced to death by Tawau High Court, Sabah. Hairun was charged with possessing & distributing 113.9g of syabu in an unnumbered house in Tawau on 10 Jan 2018. https://t.co/FrhM7ICP7y
— Amnesty International Malaysia (@AmnestyMy) October 18, 2021
In 2017, Malaysia Crime Prevention Foundation senior vice-chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye — who also served as the vice-president of the Malaysian Drug Prevention Association previously — had said that socio-economic factors such as poverty and a lack of employment opportunities were some reasons for drug use among fishermen.
“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,” he had said.
2. Hairun Jalmani, 55, was sentenced to mandatory death in Sabah on Friday after being found guilty of possessing and distributing drugs three years ago.
In the video she is seen sobbing and shouting for help, while being led away by a police official.
— BFM News (@NewsBFM) October 17, 2021
Several activists pointed out that the death sentence was an injustice to Jalmani’s nine children.
“Why is the right to life so easily denied by the govt?” Amnesty Malaysia asked. “Who is kept safe when a single mother of nine is sentenced to death and removed from her children? What justice is served when the structural inequalities and oppressions that created the conditions for her charge remain?”
It also appealed to the Malaysian government to repeal the mandatory death penalty for all offences.
Meanwhile, on social media, several commentators criticised the death penalty.
Tehmina Kaoosji, a journalist, said: “Justice is blind and repealing the death sentence is a solitary component of reform. The mitigating circumstances are policy and societally driven i.e; patriarchal- and MUST change, else the toxic cycle quite simply continues.”
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