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Australian drug mule could have her life spared after changes to Malaysia laws

Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto
Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto
AN AUSTRALIAN grandmother facing a death sentence on drug trafficking charges in Malaysia could have her life spared after a change in laws.

Sydney woman Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto, 54, claimed to be an innocent victim and not a drug courier after being caught with 1.5kg of crystal meth at a Kuala Lumpur airport.

She was facing a mandatory penalty of death by hanging, although lawyers had hoped she would have a “more than 50 per cent” chance of escaping death because she did not have any knowledge of the drugs.

Now she may be able to sleep a little bit easier after the Malaysian government agreed to scrap the mandatory death penalty for drug traffickers.

Parliament must still approve the decision, taken by the Cabinet, to allow judges to impose sentences other than capital punishment on drug smugglers, but it is expected to do so.

Azalina Othman Said, a minister in the prime minister’s department, revealed the decision to overhaul colonial-era drug-trafficking legislation from the 1950s in response to a question in parliament on Monday.

Mrs Exposto said the drugs were in a bag handed to her by a friend of her boyfriend at the last minute as she was leaving Shanghai.

Her boyfriend was a US soldier serving in Afghanistan and Mrs Exposto was in Malaysia to execute documents for his retirement from the service.

She said she only saw clothes when she checked in the bag, and the drugs were stashed in a secret compartment. They also weren’t heavy enough for her to notice, her lawyer has said.

There was speculation she may have got caught up in an online dating scam.

Mrs Exposto has been in custody since her arrest in December 2014.

Previously Malaysia hanged Australians Kevin Barlow, 28, and Brian Chambers, 29, at Pudu Prison in 1986 for trafficking 141.9g of heroin.

Mrs Exposto is not the only Australian facing the death penalty overseas, with at least five facing the firing squad in China alone.

Amnesty International Malaysia executive director Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu welcomed the decision from the government to move away from the death penalty.

“We welcome the move as a recognition that the mandatory death penalty is an egregious form of punishment,” Ms Kaliemuthu said.

But she added that it “must only be considered a first step towards total abolition. The imposition of the death penalty, including the mandatory death penalty, is a violation of the right to life.”

Malaysia imposes the mandatory death penalty for other crimes, including murder and terrorism-related offences.

Neighbouring Singapore passed legal reforms in 2012 abolishing mandatory death sentences for some drug trafficking and murder cases.

Source: news.com.au, Agence France-Presse, August 11, 2017

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