Maldives must stop “retrograde” step towards death penalty: Amnesty International

Amnesty International has called upon the Maldives government to halt any plans to end the current moratorium on the death penalty, calling such moves a “retrograde step and a serious setback for human rights in the country”.

The statement follows Home Minister Umar Naseer’s decision to order correctional authorities to begin preparations for implementation of death sentences by lethal injection.

“There is no such thing as a ‘humane’ way to put someone to death, and no evidence that the threat of execution works as a deterrent to crime. Maldives should put an immediate end to such plans now, and instead abolish the death penalty in law once and for all,” said Amnesty International’s Maldives Researcher Abbas Faiz

“The government’s order is surprising and extremely disappointing. The death penalty violates the right to life, regardless of the circumstances of the crime or the execution method used,” he added.

President Abdulla Yameen – on a state visit to Sri Lanka at the time of Naseer’s announcement – has subsequently promised “broad discussions” on the issue within his cabinet.

While death sentences continue to be issued in the country, these have traditionally been commuted to life sentences by presidential decree since the execution of Hakim Didi in 1954 for the crime of practising black magic.

The Maldives currently has 20 prisoners sentenced to death – a punishment the recently elected Yameen said he would support during his election campaign after a rise in the murder rate.

The most recent passing of the sentence came just days prior to Naseer’s announcement. Hussain Humam Ahmed was sentenced to death for the brutal murder of MP Dr Afrasheem Ali in October 2012. The sentence was handed down at the behest of Afrasheem’s heirs – permitted to request the death sentence under Islamic law.

Amnesty have pointed out that the apparent decision to resume the death sentence is in contradiction with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – a treaty to which the Maldives became a party in 2006.

Though Naseer noted that he intended to act “in accordance with international treaties we have signed”, Amnesty have stated that death sentences handed down to juvenile offenders are contrary to international law.

Speaking on Thursday, Naseer has stated that the order is in alignment with the draft bill on death penalty implementation which the state has made ready for submission to the parliament.

“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, adding that – should a relevant law be passed in the future – the state would then abide by the new laws.

The home minister noted that all appeals processes would be exhausted prior to implementation of the sentence.

Amnesty has suggested that the public interest might be best served by strengthening the judiciary in order to prevent human rights abuses during criminal proceedings.

In a damning 2013 report, Special Rapporteur for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers expressed concern over the failure of the Maldives justice system to address longstanding issues of corruption and human rights abuses.


Home Minister condemns “one-sided” Amnesty report

Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed has criticised Amnesty International for failing to seek comment from the government when compiling its recent report, “The Other side of Paradise: A Human Rights Crisis in the Maldives”, local media has reported.

“They had not sought any comments from the Maldives government. I’m extremely disappointed that a group advocating for fairness and equal treatment had released a report based on just one side of the story,” Jameel told Haveeru.

“An international group of the caliber of Amnesty should have heard the other side as well. But they had failed to obtain our comments,” Jameel is quoted as saying.

Minivan News was awaiting a response from Amnesty at the time of press.

When talking with Haveeru, Jameel did not appear to dispute the content of the statements that were included in the report.

Jameel was also not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

The Amnesty report recounts sustained and pre-meditated beatings of protesters with a variety of weapons.

Some of those interviewed reported people being attacked in their hospital beds, whilst others recalled torture and further degradation whilst in detention.

Amnesty also detailed a number of incidents of police brutality on February 8, including attacks on Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs Eva Abdulla and Mariya Didi.

“The overall objective of these violent attacks has been to silence peaceful government critics and stifle public debate about the current political situation,” said the report, compiled by Amnesty researcher Abbas Faiz.

“Based on Amnesty International’s interviews with survivors of these violent attacks, it appears that many were targeted by security forces because they were MDP ministers, parliamentarians or supporters,” it read.

Whilst Amnesty stated that several of its human rights recommendations were reflected in the Commission of National Inquiry’s (CNI) report, which was released on August 30, Jameel argued that the CNI had highlighted misdemeanors of protesters which did not make it into the Amnesty report.

“CNI (Commission of National Inquiry) report had clearly highlighted the actions of demonstrators during protests in the Maldives. The foreign observers had labelled the actions of demonstrators as cowboy tactics,” Jameel told Haveeru.

In their closing observations, Professor John Packer and Sir Bruce Robertson had appeared critical of the anti-government protesters.

“Some would want to call an example of the rights of freedom of expression and assembly. In reality it is rather more bully boy tactics involving actual and threatened intimidation by a violent mob,” reported Packer and Robertson.

Jameel continued: “The demonstrators undermine the peace and stability, carry out attacks while being inebriated, carry out attacks with sharp objects and damage private property. Even internationally such actions are regarded as violence. However, the Amnesty report has ignored all such things. It is extremely one sided and unjust,” said Jameel.

The CNI report’s major findings were that February’s transfer of power was constitutional and that, rather than amounting to a coup, the events preceding former President Mohamed Nasheed’s resignation were of his own making.

The report did conclude that acts of police brutality had been committed in February and urged further investigation by relevant authorities.

Following the release of the report, Jameel explained that the government would leave these investigations to the Police Integrity Commission (PIC).

Widespread doubts persist, however, as to the strength of independent institutions in the country with the Chair of the PIC publicly expressing her doubts over the ability of the PIC to handle the pressure of these investigations.

This issue was reflected in Amnesty’s findings: “Government officials have frequently shrugged off their own responsibility to address human rights violations, saying it is the purview of the Human Rights Commission (HRCM) and the PIC.”

“However, both bodies have yet to conclude their investigations into all of the most serious human rights violations does not absolve the government of its responsibility to exercise due diligence in guaranteeing the rule of law and protecting human rights,” it continued.

Amnesty’s recommendations also included de-politicisation of the police, reform of the judiciary and enhanced training of security forces to meet with international standards of conduct.

Nasheed’s MDP have been fiercely critical of the CNI’s methods following the resignation of their commission member, Ahmed ‘Gahaa’ Saeed, on the eve of the report’s publication.

Jameel’s comments echo those of Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz who, in April, told Minivan News of his own scepticism of Amnesty’s methods

“I don’t see that there has been any investigations done, none of our officers was questioned, interviewed – neither by them nor by the Police Integrity Commission (PIC), nor by the Human Rights Commission (HRCM). I don’t think that’s fair,” said Riyaz.