The Maldivian state has sought a High Court ruling on the President’s discretion to commute death sentences to life imprisonment.
During a hearing on Monday in a case filed by five citizens seeking to annul laws granting the President discretionary powers of clemency, the state attorney said the government would prefer the court itself provided a decision on the matter in accordance with Islamic Sharia.
The state attorney insisted that the decision be made by the court, despite the High Court Judges Bench emphasising that the state must provide an answer since the case concerned a constitutional matter.
The plaintiffs’ lawyer alleged that the state had previously been given a number of opportunities to be answerable to the case against them, and that it had used the excuse of conducting research as a bid to buy time, and waste the time of the court. He asked that the bench accept the state’s request and provide a verdict on the case at the earliest.
In the case’s last hearing held in November 2012, the High Court gave the state the last opportunity to be answerable to the charges against them.
Concluding today’s hearing, the bench announced that it will come to a verdict during the next hearing of the case.
The case, submitted in August 2012, seeks the annulment of Article 5(a.i) and Article 21 of the Clemency Act (2/2010).
Article 5(a.i) states that the punishment for the crime of murder cannot be pardoned, although clemency is allowed under restrictions stated in the Act.
Article 21 states that although it may have been stated otherwise in the Act, if the Supreme Court issues a death sentence, or if it backs a death sentence issued by the lower courts or the High Court, it is at the President’s discretion to grant clemency and transfer it to a life sentence with reference to the condition of the sentenced person, related legal norms, the interests of the state and the principles of humanity.
The case against the state asks for this annulment while referring to Article 10 of the Constitution of the Maldives, which states that no law can be enacted in the country which contradicts Islamic principles.
It then adds that according to Article 268, all legislation ratified in the country should be drafted within the principles detailed in the constitution, and that all laws and articles which do not align with this will be considered invalid.
The case, as reported previously by local media, further states that in Islamic Sharia, only the heir of the victim has the right to grant clemency or mercy to a murderer. It then states that a murderer can only be sentenced to death (ie gisas/retribution) if all heirs of the victim agree to it. It then goes on to say that neither the President nor any state institutions have the right to change a death sentence issued by a court of law.
It further states that should the President have it in his discretion to grant clemency in murder cases, this infringes upon the rights of the living heirs of murder victims.
It cited that the last time a death sentence was implemented in the country was in the year 1953, opining that although courts continued to sentence persons to death, “since then, the country has not had even one leader who has had the courage to implement this sentence.”
They case claims that the failure to implement the death penalty has “ruined this nation”, and that it infringes upon the citizens’ right to live, right to equitable treatment and right to travel among a number of other civil rights.
The case was submitted to court by five individuals; Abdul Maniu Hussain of Anbareege in Haa Alif Atoll Ihavandhoo, Hussain Shaheed of Baazeege in Seenu Atoll Hithadhoo, Abdulla Shiyaz of Naseema Manzil in Lhaviyani Atoll Naifaru, Abdulla Naseer of Boalhadhan’duge in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll Gahdhoo and Hassan Waheed of Rankokaa in Haa Dhaalu Atoll Kurin’bi.
Government in support of death penalty implementation
In October 2012, the government announced its intention to introduce a bill to the People’s Majlis in order to guide and govern the implementation of the death penalty in the country.
President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad at the time referred to the October 2012 murder of religious scholar and MP Afrasheem Ali and stated, “We are having enormous pressure since these high profile murders. We have indications – the talk around the town – that there will be more murders.”
He added that the government had received a large number of calls for implementing the death penalty.
Similar to the ongoing case, in April 2012, MP Ahmed Mahloof from the government-aligned Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), proposed an amendment to the Clemency Act to ensure that the enforcement of the death penalty be mandatory in the event it was upheld by the Supreme Court.
In December 2012, the Attorney General’s Office completed drafting a bill outlining how the death sentence should be executed in the Maldives, with lethal injection being identified as the state’s preferred method of capital punishment.
However, earlier this year religious NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf has called on Attorney General (AG) Azima Shukoor to amend the government’s draft bill on the implementation of death penalty, urging that convicts be beheaded or shot instead of given lethal injection.
The bill is currently pending approval by parliament, and has given rise to dissenting opinions on the matter.