The young couple charged with the murder of lawyer Ahmed Najeeb were on Thursday sentenced to death by the Criminal Court.
However the government said it expects both verdicts to be commuted to life imprisonment pending the outcome of a cabinet consultation.
Ahmed Murrath, 29, and his girlfriend Fathimath Hana, 18, were arrested and charged with Najeeb’s murder after his body was discovered by police at Maafanu Masroora house, (Murrath’s residence) in early evening of July 1. The body was stuffed inside a dustbin, badly beaten up and with multiple stab wounds.
The judge noted that the decision for death penalty comes following the pair’s confession in court and the statement from all eight heirs of Najeeb requesting for qisas (equal retaliation) – the death penalty – instead of accepting the alternative, blood money.
Murrath, who has previous criminal records, confessed to killing Najeeb out of anger and under the influence of drugs, alleging the lawyer attempted to sexually assault his 18 year-old girlfriend while he was at Masroora House.
The court heard that Najeeb visited Masroora House on June 30 to provide legal counsel on a case related to cash missing from Murrath’s mother’s account and the issue of dividing the house.
Murrath said that he tied Najeeb to a chair, gagged him and taped his hands, feet and face while threatening him with a four-inch knife he brought from the kitchen. He said that his girlfriend Hanaa had no role in it and was sleeping while he killed the lawyer between 6:00am and 7:00am during the morning of July 1.
Hanaa however had confessed in court of “helping” to tape and bind the victim to the chair. She did not confess to killing him and said at the time she was sleeping, intoxicated from drinking alcohol.
The judge however noted that the confessions given by Hanaa and Murrath to the police investigators reveal that the pair together schemed to suffocate the victim to death irrespective of whether he had sexually assaulted her or not, because they wanted to steal money from him.
Even though Hanaa had not confessed to killing Najeeb, the judge concluded that she has to bear full responsibility for the murder as Najeeb was incapacitated from defending his life because she helped bind him to the chair.
This is the first conviction for the teenage girl from Rihaab house in Goidshoo island of Shaviyani Atoll, while it is the 15th criminal offense proved against her boyfriend. He has a 18 year jail sentence of which he had completed only three years. His offences included theft, assault, drug use, and breaking out of prison.
He was released last year under the government’s Second Chance program for drug offenders. The programme was recently criticised by Home Minister Dr Ahmed Jameel over claims that it released prisoners, held in certain cases for committing serious crimes, for political purposes.
In addressing the sentences given to the pair by the court, the government said today that President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan would be consulting with his cabinet and Attorney General Aishath Azima Shakoor over the verdicts. In previous cases where the death sentence had been favoured by the country’s courts over the past 60 years, the state has itself intervened to commute such verdicts to life imprisonment (25 years) instead.
President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza said that while consultations on the matter would be held, he did not expect a “departure” from the long-standing state policy of commuting death sentences to life imprisonment.
“There has been pressure from certain groups to uphold death sentences, but I do not think these calls are in line with the will of the Maldivian people,” he said. “The president will also have to look into our obligations under the various international treaties we have signed.”
Just this week, the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) asked the Maldivian state to enact legislation to officially abolish the death penalty as part of a wider review of human rights commitments in the nation.
“The state itself has admitted that capital punishment does not deter crime,” the statement noted.
Despite such calls by organisations like the UNHRC, a motion related to the death penalty is currently being reviewed by the parliament which, if passed, will make the enforcement of the capital punishment mandatory in the event it is upheld by the Supreme Court, halting the current practice of the President commuting such sentences to life imprisonment.
Earlier this month, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz said the death penalty could be executed within the existing justice system of the Maldives.
Following the murder of Najeeb, the chief justice told local media that Maldives legal system, being based on Islamic Sharia, allows the death penalty to be implemented.
Following Najeeb’s murder – the seventh homicide recorded this year alone – Home Minister Jameel and Attorney General Aishath Azima Shakoor, as well as and other prominent lawyers and lawmakers, have publicly endorsed their support for implementing capital punishment to deter increasing crime rates.