The cabinet had not discussed implementing the death penalty before Home Minister Umar Naseer ordered the correctional services yesterday to enforce death sentences through lethal injection, President Abdulla Yameen has revealed.
Asked by reporters last night upon his return from a state visit to Sri Lanka if the home minister’s directive followed cabinet deliberations, President Yameen said the cabinet has not discussed capital punishment as his administration “has not faced this issue before.”
“This issue has not been discussed in our cabinet yet. However, as a rule, since the death penalty is already in the penal code, the home minister has issued his opinion,” he said.
“Broad discussions” on the subject will take place in cabinet next week, Yameen said.
“Our government will prioritise protecting the rights of innocent citizens. However, I have to say along with that, in such matters, even a convict who had a judgment passed upon him in the first stage has rights. He has stages of appeal to conclude,” he said.
The government would make a decision after the appeal process was exhausted and guilt has been established beyond doubt, he added.
“Before it comes to that, we have now decided to have discussions in cabinet. Even if I have my own thoughts [on the issue], decisions on such serious matters will be made after cabinet deliberations,” Yameen said.
The government’s highest priority was assuring a safe and peaceful environment for citizens, he stressed, adding that legal advice would be sought on enforcing the death penalty.
President Yameen had spoken in favour of introducing the death penalty during the campaign for last year’s presidential election.
“Murder has to be punished with murder,” Yameen had said.
While he was previously against the death penalty, candidate Yameen said he “had a change of heart” due to “murders becoming too commonplace”.
Home Minister Umar Naseer – who lost the Progressive Party of Maldives’ presidential primary against Yameen and was subsequently dismissed from the party – signed the order to the Maldives Correctional Services (MCS) in front of the press at a ceremony yesterday.
The MCS was ordered to implement the death penalty through the use of lethal injection and to set up the necessary equipment at the Maafushi prison.
The move comes after a death sentence was handed to Hussain Humam Ahmed on charges of murdering the moderate religious scholar and MP, Dr Afrasheem Ali, in October 2012.
Naseer told the press that the order was in line with provisions of draft legislation on implementing the death penalty prepared by the government for submission to parliament, adding that legal advice was sought from the attorney general.
“We will not wait for laws to be drafted and passed. The law allows for implementation, and it is at the discretion of the home minister to order implementation,” Naseer said.
Since the execution of Hakim Didi in 1954 for the crime of practising black magic, there has been an unofficial moratorium on the death penalty with the president commuting death sentences to life imprisonment.
While 20 individuals currently face the death penalty, according to an official from the Home Ministry, all such cases have been appealed at the High Court and have yet to reach the Supreme Court.
In May 2013, the UN country team called for the abolition of the death penalty in the Maldives: “In view of the country’s more than 50-year moratorium, the United Nations call upon the Maldives to take the opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to its international human rights obligations, and abolish the death penalty.”
Earlier in 2013, calls for limiting the presidential power to grant clemency resulted in then-Attorney General Azima Shakoor asking the High Court for a ruling.
Azima drafted a bill in December 2012 outlining the implementation of the penalty through lethal injection.
The proposal was met with opposition from religious groups, including NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf, which called for the draft to be amended in favour of beheadings or firing squads.
In June 2013, MP Riyaz Rasheed submitted a bill asking for the death penalty to be implemented by hanging. The bill was rejected by 26 votes to 18, with no abstentions.