The Ministry of Justice has proposed abolishing the death penalty for a number of crimes including robbery and heroin smuggling, reducing it to life sentence at most.
Deputy justice minister Dinh Trung Tung told legislators at meeting Tuesday that the Penal Code is being amended to strengthen deterrence and make it more humane.
“We will only apply the death sentence for especially serious crimes,” he said, suggesting they include brutal murders, murders together with rape or robbery, first-degree murders, and crimes that seriously threaten human development and public order, like corruption.
The ministry plans to scrap the death penalty for crimes like robbery, destruction of construction and materials of national security importance, disobeying authorities’ orders, surrendering to the country’s enemies, breaking the peace, causing wars of invasion and other war crimes.
With regard to drug crimes, it plans to keep the death penalty only for dealing.
Other acts including smuggling and possessing drugs will carry a maximum of life imprisonment.
Vietnam has among the toughest drug laws in the world.
Anyone convicted of smuggling more than 600 grams of heroin or more than 2.5 kilograms of methamphetamine faces death.
The country has sentenced many smugglers to death.
Tran Van Do, a former deputy judge in the Supreme People’s Court, said severe punishments alone won’t reduce crimes.
“The most important thing in criminal justice is to guide people to do good.”
Do referred to Vietnam’s largest drug trafficking trial last June when 29 people were sentenced to death.
He said if the laws had been strictly applied 60 people could have got the death sentence.
“Then it would not be a trial. It would have been a massacre.”
Nguyen Tat Vien, member of the Central Justice Reform Steering Committee, said Vietnam’s legal punishment system is too severe but not necessarily effective.
“The death sentence takes away the right to live, the most important right of a person. It also takes away their chance to do good and prove themselves innocent if they are.
“It’s necessary to narrow the effect of death sentences.”
Minors, pregnant women and women with children under three are exempt from the death sentence.
The ministry plans to add people aged 70 and above to the list.
Officials at the meeting, which was held in Hoa Binh Province near Hanoi, mostly agreed with the proposals, but said punishment for corruption should remain strict to build public confidence.
Freedom of speech and demonstration
To protect human rights, Tung said the ministry plans to add three new crimes to the Penal Code: violating people’s voting rights, distorting opinion poll results, and violating freedom of speech and freedom to demonstrate.
The new Penal Code is also set to make punishment for violation of religious freedom more stringent.
Vietnam switched from death by firing squad to lethal injection in November 2011, also on humanitarian grounds.
But the occasional lack of drugs required for lethal injection causes death row inmates to wait not knowing when they will be killed, which many have said is worse than death.