Attorney General (AG) Azima Shukoor has appealed a court decision to sentence a 15 year-old girl alleged to be the victim of multiple cases of sexual abuse to 100 lashes on charges of fornication, the government confirmed today.
The Juvenile Court sentenced the girl after she confessed to authorities of having consensual sex with an unknown man during investigations into a separate case of abuse against the minor. The abuse was alleged to have been carried out by her stepfather.
President Mohamed Waheed’s government has previously criticised the verdict, pledging back in January to review the use of flogging as a punishment for sexual offences – a practice it has alleged in some cases actually serves to punish victims of rape and abuse.
Sources on Feydhoo in Shaviyani Atoll, where the 15 year-old girl originates from, last week told Minivan News that concerns had been raised by islanders since 2009 that the minor had allegedly been the victim of sexual abuse not just by her stepfather, but by a number of other unidentified men on the island.
The case has brought international attention to the country’s legal system, including the launch of an online Avaaz.org petition signed by 1.3 million people that threatens to boycott Maldivian tourism, as well as public criticism from British multi-billionaire Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin group of companies.
In a statement posted on his website yesterday (March 26), Branson spoke of the “enormous damage” he believed the verdict was causing the country. As a result, Branson said he had written to President Waheed, who in turn claimed he had pledged to review the case through a ministerial committee.
“The attorney general has now appealed the case on behalf of the child,” Branson wrote.
Speaking to Minivan News today, President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad confirmed that the attorney general had now appealed the court’s ruling, but that he was still waiting on the exact details from the AG’s Office. Massod added that further details would be provided on the appeal later this week.
He was also unable to confirm if a time-line had yet been established for consultations between various state bodies to oversee any proposed reforms to the legal system.
The Maldives Constitution does not allow any law that contradicts the tenets of Islam, with the criminal charge of fornication outlined under Islamic Sharia.
However, Masood has previously noted that the Maldives had a tradition of turning away from practices such as the death sentence and corporal punishment that form part of Sharia law.
According to Masood, punishments such as removing the hand of a suspect in the case of theft had not been used since back in the 1960′s.
He maintained that there was a history of reviewing the country’s relationship with Sharia law in the past and that a similar process could be had with the debate about flogging.
Masood said that all authorities involved in proposed legal reforms would have to tread “a very fine line” in order to tackle long standing “traditions” and beliefs in the country.
A senior legal expert with experience of working under both the present and former governments has told Minivan News that that while the Maldives Constitution requires that laws in the country do not contradict Islamic Sharia, there were ways of avoiding prosecuting suspects on charges of fornication.
“There are many Islamic legal interpretations that place several conditions to fulfill before a prosecution on fornication be brought forward. Some scholars even go further and argue that hudood offences cannot be practiced in the legal justice systems at the current time,” claimed the legal source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“Their argument is that Islamic Sharia is a way of life and you cannot pick and choose which areas you need to implement. Basically, you cannot implement Islamic criminal justice system in its original form when Islamic commercial system or Islamic governance is not observed.”
Addressing the wider issues of how minors were identified and viewed in the eyes of Maldivian law, the legal source added that the culpability of children was identified in a regulation called ‘Kuda kudhin kuraa kushuge masala thah balai, thahugeegu koh, insaafu koh, adhabu dhinumugai amalu kuraane gothuge gavaidu’
The legal source said that the culpability of minors is specifically dealt with in section five of the regulations.
“According to section five, children above the age of 10 and below the age of 15 are criminally responsible for five offences, which are apostasy, treason, fornication, falsely accusing fornication and consumption of alcohol,” the source said.
“Children above 15 years are criminally responsible for their actions. With children who are below 10, parents are required to make good any damage because of a criminal act. There is no criminal liability for below 10.”
Minister of Islamic Affairs Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali had his phone switched off at time of press.