World

Malaysia decision raises hopes for Exposto

By AAP Newswire

A convicted Australian drug trafficker on death row in Malaysia could escape the hangman's noose after the government of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad announced plans to abolish the death penalty.

An appeal court in Malaysia sentenced Sydney grandmother Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto to death by hanging earlier this year after overturning her earlier acquittal on charges of trafficking 1.5kg of crystal methamphetamine into Malaysia.

"That will have a very very positive effect on Maria's case, it means she won't face the death penalty," Exposto's lawyer, Farhan Shafee, told AAP.

Abolition of the death penalty was announced on Wednesday - World Day Against the Death Penalty - and Shafee said legislation was expected to be tabled in parliament next week.

"We are still waiting for it to be tabled," he said. "Of course we are very, very happy to read the news and we welcome this decision by the cabinet. This means Malaysia will conform with international standards, which we have always been advocating."

Exposto, 54, claimed she was the victim of a set-up after she was found with the drugs stitched into the lining of her bag when arriving in Kuala Lumpur on a flight from China en-route to Melbourne in 2014.

She was acquitted after the judge found she was scammed by her online boyfriend and was unaware she was carrying the drugs. But the prosecution in the appeal argued Exposto had been wilfully blind, that her defence was made up and she had engaged in a "sly game".

Shafee said a date had not yet been set for Expostos's final appeal to be heard in the Federal Court, although he expected this to be made known shortly.

Australia's relationship with Malaysia has been strained in the past over the use of the death penalty and soured in 1986 amid the hanging of Australian drug runners Kevin Barlow and Brian Chambers.

The decision to abandon the death penalty was also welcomed by Amnesty International.

"Today's announcement is a major step forward for all those who have campaigned for an end to the death penalty in Malaysia," Kumi Naidoo, Amnesty International's Secretary General, said.

"Malaysia must now join the 106 countries who have turned their backs for good on the ultimate cruel, inhumane, degrading punishment - the world is watching."