Amnesty International has urged the government of the Maldives to impose a moratorium on flogging as a matter of urgency.
In an email to Minivan News today, Abbas Faiz, senior researcher for South Asia, said the international human rights organisation believed the government should act immediately to abolish “this cruel, inhumane and degrading” punishment altogether.
“It is the responsibility of the government of Maldives to ensure that no one is sentenced to flogging, and no one is subjected to flogging,” said Faiz.
He added the Maldives was a signatory to the United Nations Convention against Torture as well as the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.
Faiz’s comments come in response to a Minivan News article published last week about an 18-year-old woman who was publicly flogged last week for pre-marital sex.
The woman was sentenced to 100 lashes and a year of house arrest after confessing to having sex with two men on separate occasions.
While the whereabouts of one of the men is unknown, the other has denied his involvement and both have consequently escaped conviction.
Statistics from the department of judicial administration’s website revealed that in 2006, out of 184 people sentenced to lashing, 146 were women.
“The law is specifically discriminatory against women,” said Faiz. “Official figures suggest the vast majority of people who are flogged are women. This shows that the law is specifically targeting women.”
Speaking in her personal capacity, Dr Farahnaz Faisal, high commissioner to the UK, said she was concerned about women bearing the brunt of the punishment.
“In this day and age we have DNA testing,” she said. “If there’s a case of a child being born out of wedlock, there’s no reason why a woman should be punished and a man should get off scot-free.”
On Amnesty’s call for a moratorium, Farahnaz said there was a moratorium on other punishments such as the death penalty.
“Sharia has never been applied to its fullest in the Maldives,” she said.
Flogging is one of the sentences under hudud, the class of crimes that have fixed punishments under Sharia law. They include theft, sex before or outside of marriage, the consumption of alcohol and apostasy.
The application of hudud varies from country to country. “Many Muslim countries have abolished flogging,” said Faiz. “This punishment can also be abolished in the Maldives.”
Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed said Sharia had only been enforced in the Maldives in the last 30 to 40 years. “The traditions we follow have been very very moderate,” he said.
In the past, he continued, Maldivians were too “squeamish” to enforce the punishments stipulated under Sharia.
Recalling the Moroccan scholar and explorer, Ibn Battuta, who worked as a judge in the Maldives in the 14th century, Shaheed said a number of Maldivians fainted when Battuta ordered a thief’s hand to be amputated.
While amputation was introduced in 1953, he added, it was discontinued seven months later after the fall of the First Republic and subsequent Penal Codes did not contain either amputation or stoning.
However, said Shaheed, flogging survived from a local tradition of punishing political opponents.
Shaheed urged MPs to adopt the new Penal Code as soon as possible. While flogging still exists under the revised Penal Code, it is reduced to a symbolic act, he said, clearly defining how much force to use.
“That should go hand in hand with a moratorium,” he said.