A viral video of a single mother who was sentenced to death on Oct. 15 for drug-related offences is generating online discussion about women’s rights and capital punishment in Malaysia.
According to local reports, 55-year-old Hairun Jalmani received the death penalty last week at the Tawau High Court in Sabah, Malaysia, after being convicted of drug possession and distribution. The fishmonger and single mother of nine was found with 113.9 grams of methamphetamine in 2018.
In a TikTok video posted by Sabah-based news outlet Seehua Daily, Jalmani was shown handcuffed and inconsolable. She pleaded tearfully for help and stamped her feet in despair while being escorted away by a police officer to await an uncertain fate.
As of writing, the TikTok video has been viewed over 170,000 times. In the comment section, people expressed their sympathy for the single mother and speculated about the desperation which could have driven her into drug-related activities.
Under Malaysia's Dangerous Drugs Act of 1952, those found guilty of possessing over 50 grams of methamphetamine face a mandatory death sentence. However, critics note that the brunt of the harsh penalties is often borne by the marginalized, especially vulnerable women who are struggling socioeconomically, as is believed to be the case with Jalmani.
The death penalty in Malaysia—usually carried out by hanging—is an enduring legacy of the criminal justice system under the British colonial administration. But in recent years, it has come under increasing scrutiny and criticism from rights groups.
A 2019 Amnesty International report found that many defendants of drug-related offences in Malaysia were denied access to fair trial. From tardy legal assistance—in many cases, defendants are left without legal aid during the interrogation process—to incompetent legal representation, various gaps in the legal process leave defendants unfairly vulnerable to a death sentence.
The same report found that out of the over 1,200 people on death row as of February 2019, 73 percent were convicted of drug trafficking. The group also noted that 22 people were executed in Malaysia last year, three of whom were serving sentences for drug trafficking.
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