Comment: An eye for an eye

In times of huge social stress, societies look for extraordinary solutions to growing social problems. The economic and social collapse in the Weimar Republic, after the First World War, helped the Nazi ideology to flourish in Germany.

In the post-coup Maldives, the issue of escalating violence and violent murders have encouraged many to look for quick fixes that may reverse this frightening trend.

The death penalty is gaining ground as a proposed solution to the current problems of the Maldives. The media reports that the government has announced its intentions to introduce a bill ‘to guide and govern the implementation of the death penalty in the country’.

But, before we resort to such drastic measures, it may be prudent to pause and consider if capital punishment would prove to be the miracle cure that the nation is looking for.

‘An eye for an eye’ or ‘a tooth for a tooth’ has a comforting simplicity. It seems an elegant equation which promises unequivocal justice. But, here’s the rub: capital punishment is an ethical quagmire and justice, in any comprehensive form, may be the last thing it is equipped to deliver.

Justice and the death penalty

The question of justice is an appropriate starting point when considering the death penalty. It is often argued that life imprisonment is not an adequate punishment for a killer, that the crime of taking a life should forfeit the killer’s own fundamental human right to live.

However, the sentencing of the death penalty works on the premise that a fair, transparent and comprehensive process of justice has preceded the verdict. This pre-requisite must surely raise alarm bells in the minds of thinking Maldivians.

The Maldives is not a just state. There is a general consensus in the country that the justice system needs drastic reshaping for it to function in a fair and just way. The long list of human rights abuses in the last 30 years through to the present time has been well documented. In the name of law and order, people are beaten, pepper sprayed, and tossed into prison with impunity. Amnesty International reports the existence of ‘a human rights crisis that has gripped the country’ since the February 7 coup.

Selective justice is the other complicating factor in considering the death penalty in the Maldives. Justice has become a political game. Trials of the regime’s political opponents are given prominence, while thousands of more vital cases pile up on the scrap-heap that is the present justice system of the country. Meanwhile crimes committed by police officers who went on a binge of destruction and violence on February 7 are tidily packed away into the background. There is a general acceptance that the agenda of the regime, in collusion with the MPS (Maldives Police Service) and MNDF (Maldives National Defence Force), is perilously political. The possibility of this regime adding the death penalty to its arsenal is a daunting thought indeed.

The judiciary in the Maldives is the embodiment of all these perversions of justice and more. Controlled by the iron grip of an authoritarian regime for over thirty years, the judiciary has not even allowed justice to be seen to be done. In a country where people boasts about having the highest ratio of doctorates per head of the population, and one of the highest literacy rates in South East Asia, the competence and qualifications of Maldive’s judges remain akin to the apothecaries of the Dark Ages.

No doubt it is easier for a government to influence the course of ‘justice’ if the judiciary is kept in a state of perpetual ignorance. But, in the process, it has lost any credibility in the eyes of Maldivians and international observers. A litany of wrong doings, including frightening ethical and moral lapses, hangs around the neck of the Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, Judge Abdulla Mohamed. Notwithstanding, the regime has seen it fit to keep him in his job.

However, in issues of the death penalty, even the world’s most advanced legal systems risk fallibility. This is why many of them reject the death penalty as a solution to societal violence. In the case of the Maldives, multiple reports, including the work of legal expert Professor Paul Robinson, have shown the legal system to be ‘systematically failing to do justice and regularly doing injustice’.

The country also lacks the trained personnel and the technology that underpins reliable criminal investigations. One of the gravest dangers of capital punishment is its potential for miscarriages of justice. With the justice system so compromised, legalising the death penalty in the Maldives would be as dangerous as giving a box of matches to a toddler in a room packed with gun powder.

The death penalty as a deterrent

The jury is still out on the question of whether the death penalty acts as a viable deterrent for murder and other violent crimes. The screeds of research and literature regarding the pros and cons of the death penalty match the strong emotional responses that the issue evokes.

However, a wealth of research indicates that the death penalty can contribute to more violence through a ‘brutalization effect’ on the public; it desensitizes people and increases the chance of the general public accepting violence as a way of solving problems. In this context, it is pertinent to note that murder rates in death-penalty states in America are consistently higher than the murder rates in non- death penalty states.

Research also suggests that there is an ‘imitation effect’ where people believe that if their leaders can legitimately kill people, through legalising capital punishment, so can they. This is extremely significant to the Maldives. The present surge of violent murders has taken place since the February 7 coup where members of the security forces participated in what many commentators described as ‘widespread brutality’.

There is a wealth of evidence to bring the culprits to justice, but nothing has been done and it would seem, can be done – if the status quo is to remain. In this atmosphere of state – condoned violence-and the moral and ethical disorientation it creates – is it any wonder that the criminal elements of the society are thriving?

Changing the paradigm

When governments are faced with harrowing internal problems, for which they have no creative answers, their first reaction is to shift the public focus away from the real issues. This is often done through the introduction of contentious topics of debate either in parliament or the media. The intention is to shift the focus from the real problems and engage the populous in heated debate which diverts the energy and attention from the real problems that the government is not equipped to cope with.

It is important, therefore, that we identify where the focus of our debate should be. Experience teaches us that ‘miracle cures’ for entrenched societal ills do not exist. It is convenient to think that capital punishment will halt the escalation of violent murders, but at the very best, it will turn out to be the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff. Positive change requires more than a law. It requires more than political rhetoric. It requires more than clever manipulation to hide egregious social issues, by highlighting others.

Rather than a law legitimising the death penalty, our society needs the rule of law. The rule of law in the Maldives has been described by one cynic as ‘a cancer patient kept alive by drug.’ When the law enforcers who have promised ‘to protect and serve’ wear balaclavas to beat and brutalise people, it is not hard to surmise that Maldives, especially Male, is a ‘frontier town’ where the rule of law has been hijacked by the rule of might.

We need the leaders of the nation to show the people that they are honest, just and capable. The economic collapse of the country is not the only sign of the regime’s inability to lead. The murder of Dr Afrasheem Ali is a huge tragedy, regardless of what side of the political divide we have positioned ourselves. It is an execution style murder, accomplished with such brutality, that even the young and the able-bodied are questioning their safety; the old and the disabled having long blockaded themselves behind doors. These are all tragic, but the greater tragedy is the lack of an appropriate response by the government.

We need justice to function as a powerful and active force in the daily lives of our people. The most stable and safe societies in the world are those where the people feel the presence of a strong sense of justice. This stage of stability is not achieved overnight, nor is it arrived at by the threat of more punishment. It is the end product of enlightened and fair governance, which in turn produces a strong sense of nationhood based on shared values and aspirations. When justice falters, society collapses.

More than ever, we need to realise that a nation cannot function effectively, if its wealth is monopolised by a privileged few. Discounting a short period of time between 2008 and 2011, the state Maldives had grievously failed to address the needs of it citizenry. Research shows that a low standard of living is not as socially damaging as a huge disparity between the ‘have’ and ‘have nots’. When we view the dystopia we have created, it is important to remember that a community is only as strong as its weakest link. Social problems such as crime, violence and drug-abuse often surrounding the disfranchised and the alienated, affect the whole society. This is especially problematic in a geographically small place such as the Maldives.

The people and the society they live in are entwined in a complex web of interrelationships. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that, ‘Society is inside of man and man is inside society… The fish is in the water and the water is in the fish’. We need to examine the water that is inside the fish in Maldivian society. When we do so, how can we escape the gloomy conclusion that the water inside the fish is exceptionally murky? The lack of honest leadership with a view for the betterment of its people, the collapse of the justice system, the lack of personal freedom and democratic rights, as well as the abuse of human rights with impunity, have all contributed to this.

Until the water clears, the death penalty is simply another dangerous tool in the hands of the wrong people.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


14 thoughts on “Comment: An eye for an eye”

  1. Death penalty or any other penalty in a flawed system in which certain criminals are protected by ALL politicians for different reasons (starting to Yameens thugs, Mohamed Nasheeds "activists" with gang related back grounds, and current PPM/DRP whoever elses (and MDP's thugs)), getting away with crime is ridiculous,

    Certain people are prosecuted, certain people arent..

    The public should take a stand again these, Gangs and politicans,

    Us civilians can be violent to0...

  2. Im with you Damn.

    Public against all gang and all politicians. Lies and corruption are the symbol and epitaph of most of the political parties in Maldives. MDP, DRP, PPM, they are all filled with corrupt politicians who lie and decieve the public so as to achieve there political ambitions.

  3. @Anonymous

    A day will come for that too my friend 🙂

    Just hope enough people would stand up against the powers within the country, without fear

  4. The countries who apply the dead penalty are the most safe in the world! (irony..)

  5. Capital punishment is not a deterrent to capital crimes.Deterrence is a function not only of a punishment's severity, but also of its certainty and frequency. The argument most often cited in support of capital punishment is that the threat of execution influences criminal behavior more effectively than imprisonment does. As plausible as this claim may sound, in actuality the death penalty fails as a deterrent for several reasons.

    A punishment can be an effective deterrent only if it is consistently and promptly employed. Capital punishment cannot be administered to meet these conditions.

    Persons who commit murder and other crimes of personal violence often do not premeditate their crimes.

    Most capital crimes are committed in the heat of the moment. Most capital crimes are committed during moments of great emotional stress or under the influence of drugs or alcohol, when logical thinking has been suspended. Many capital crimes are committed by the badly emotionally-damaged or mentally ill. In such cases, violence is inflicted by persons unable to appreciate the consequences to themselves as well as to others.

    Even when crime is planned, the criminal ordinarily concentrates on escaping detection, arrest, and conviction. The threat of even the severest punishment will not discourage those who expect to escape detection and arrest. It is impossible to imagine how the threat of any punishment could prevent a crime that is not premeditated. Furthermore, the death penalty is a futile threat for Islamist terrorists and idiots in DOT cult, because they usually act in the name of an ideology that honors its martyrs with "virgin super models".

    Capital punishment doesn't solve our society's crime problem. Threatening capital punishment leaves the underlying causes of crime unaddressed.

    Capital punishment has been a useless weapon in the witch hunt against drug traffickers. The attempt to reduce murders in the drug trade by threat of severe punishment ignores the fact that anyone trafficking in illegal drugs is already risking his life in violent competition with other dealers. It is irrational to think that the death penalty – a remote threat at best – will avert murders committed in drug turf wars or by street-level dealers.

  6. the second paragraph starts with "In the post-coup Maldives...", so the writer is just another zombie following the MDP line. Zombie because zombies are not expected to use their brains. just follows the party line even if its bs.
    so this article is of very little use to us.

  7. Capital punishment is not proposed as a deterrent to violent crimes nor is it a proposed solution to the Maldives' current problems.

    Capital punishment is proposed because the Maldives is an Islamic country and the country's constitution requires that the country be governed according to the Islamic sharia and law. Hence,the country could not make regulations or law that contradicts with Islam.

    We should also note that in Islam, the right to decide that a murderer should be killed as punishment for killing another person does not lie with the Judge. In cases where murderers are clearly convicted- leaving no doubt on their committed crime, the right to kill is a right that belongs to the dead person's immediate family. If all the members of the immediate family unanimously agree and decide that they wish to see the murderer killed, then neither the Judge nor the state can stop it; because stopping or intervening contradicts with the Islamic sharia. A Judge can only influence on the matter only if the immediate family could not agree on a unanimous decision.

    I personally believe that now there is an abundance of many knife-wielding, cutter brandishing "trigger-happy" murderers who are walking free on our roads, making it a threat for many others to use their right to walk free or use the roads. Their stock is increasing and thriving 'healthily' at expense of the innocent. Their way of life is becoming a fashion and the norm simply because there is no way to provide a balance that would keep a check on them.

    The author of the article, Latheefa Verrall should be quite familiar that even in her new 'home' country, New Zealand, wild horses are mustered regularly to manage a healthy stock; possums are killed everyday and as much as one desired because they are considered a pest; that flying hunters on helicopters hover over deer flocks finding the right moment to press the trigger.

    Hence, we in the Maldives to need to manage the knife-wilding 'stock'. Therefore, capital punishment is proposed because the murderers need to realise that their right to live also expires once they unlawfully takes away the life of another person.

  8. The writer is an ill-informed Islamphobic woman. Can u lecture 50 or so countries that implement death penalty including USA?

  9. @ Kaaza
    Islamic Law and Sharia is applicable to desert dwelling, sagangooru devouring ignorant Arab bedouins.

  10. Capital punishment is ok; but what if the judges are not educated and been hand-picked by a notorious dictator who ruled for 30 years and when on the payroll of the cronies of the same 30-year old regime? It's a known fact that not a single case could work against the notorious dictator and this cronies or any member of their family members.

    Most of the judges have got not even the education upto the 4th grade. And the high court bench is filled with the sons/daughters of cronies and close buddies of the most cunning ruler in the history of the Maldives.

    Talking about Islam while his brothers and in-laws in the cabinet were freely active in living in the very opposite way that Islam teaches us. One minister who has built his harems (villas) on state land with state money and fills it with young girls in every island he likes to visit often. The other was a homosexual and was doing the same too in every island he visited. Then comes the gang runner and the drug lord with links in other countries (million $800 oil trades and other frauds). Others were engaged with looting the state with every opportunity in their capacity. One was the famous case where a director (a family member of the dictator) had deposited millions of dollars into his private account - but nothing was proven in the court. The invoices of former dictator buying diamonds for his wife and children and his grand children from the state money will never prove anything. What about the case of the ex-dictator's son attempted murder of a protesting boy on the road when the plank of wood penetrated into his skull and inflicting nerve damages in the innocent boy's brain! Nothing was proven and eventually the police officer who lead the investigation was to be put in trouble at the court.

    Clearly these were responsible for ruining the country's economy, youth and the social fabric. All the while the HONOROUBLE judges were all there happily

    How can the capital punishment bring any good to the country when the current Attorney General's father was among the direct beneficiaries of the dictator being in the president's office. This guy had stolen money/assets from the state and built a business and sent his children abroad for higher studies while the rest of their country men and women suffer with poor education.

    The only people who would get the death penalty would be either the powerful people's opponents such as MDP or those calling for human rights, democracy and freedom. VERY SCARY!

  11. We do not have a clean democracy... and the current govt (reminiscent of Gayooms old dictatorship) is not legitimate, it was brought after a coup with support of old cronies of Gayooms.

    Capital punishment should be brought only after installing a demoractic government and reforming the corrupt justice system of maldives and after reforming the spineless independent institutions who work for preserving Gayoom Style Dictatoship.

  12. @gaand, wouldnt mind people like your eyes gouged out and gutted, you filth, Its not death penalty thats the problem, its rampant crime and you and politician a*****'s defending criminals by avoiding harsh punishment,
    you filth


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