Lawyer Najeeb murdered: Supreme court and AG call for action as public demand death penalty

The judiciary and authorities have come to high alert after prominent Lawyer Ahmed Najeeb was found brutally murdered on Sunday night.

Police were called to second floor apartment in Maafanu Masroora house in the capital Male’ at around 6:45pm yesterday evening, where they found 65 year-old Najeeb’s body inside a large dustbin, gagged, badly beaten up and stabbed multiple times.

According to eye witnesses, his face was lobotomised with a knife beyond recognition, and a blade was found stuck underneath his chin.

Though police have not revealed details of the case they have confirmed that a suspect, identified as 29 year-old Ahmed Murrath, has been arrested in connection to the murder. His 18 year-old girlfriend is also also being questioned by the police, according to some media reports.

Murrath, who is registered as residing at the house where lawyer’s body was found, is reported to be a convicted criminal released under the former government’s Second Chance Program, under which over 300 inmates incarcerated for drug offences were conditionally released.

Devastated family members of Najeeb and friends were seen crying at Indira Ghandi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) last night as the hospital official conducted the medical examination of the body.

“He was so badly beaten up and stabbed. Everyone is so shocked and devastated. He is a very nice and kind man. Why would someone to something so horrible?” said a relative of  the victim.

According to early reports, Najeeb was providing legal counsel in dividing the house, Masroora, between its heirs. Police have yet to give confirmation of this.

He is scheduled to be buried after Asru prayer this evening.

Judiciary on alert

Meanwhile, Najeeb’s background as a lawyer and writer has prompted both Attorney General Aishath Azima Shakoor and the apex court to take the unprecedented step of issuing statements condemning the murder.

He is the sixth victim to be killed this year, while several others have been brutally injured in a spate of gang violence across capital Male’ and atolls.

The Supreme Court said that “attacks against lawyers will not be tolerated” and that it takes every necessary measure to provide protection and security to lawyers.

“Crimes like these are committed with utter disregard to dignity entitled to the people, and are beyond the boundaries of humanity. When such crimes occur, the whole society plunges into fear and chaos,” the statement read.

Therefore, it adds, taking action against the attacker responsible for Najeeb’s murder is necessary for both public security and peace.

The Attorney General’s Office meanwhile echoed the apex court’s statement, emphasising that lawyers today are serving in an “increasingly dangerous environment.”

The AG’s Office reported that Azima made clear the need for prompt actions to make sure such crimes are not repeated.

Calls for death penalty grows

Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, speaking at a press conference today, repeated his call for a decision on the implementation of the death penalty in relation to such crimes.

“We want death for death,” a crowd gathered near IGMH last night shouted, as Najeeb’s body was brought to the ambulance.

In recent times gang violence, burglary, mugging, sexual abuse of children and murders are increasing to levels of alarming concern in society, and the rise in criminal-related death tolls have provoked public pressure to implement the death penalty or capital punishment in the Maldives.

Under Islamic Sharia, the death penalty is the punishment of a murderer (one who kills deliberately) and that he is to be killed in retaliation (Qisaas) unless the victim’s next of kin let him off or agree to accept the ‘Diyah’ (blood money).

Although death sentences are issued by courts in the Maldives, traditionally those sentences a commuted to life imprisonment under the power vested in the President.

From January 2001 to December 2010, a total of 14 people were sentenced to death by the courts, and none from them have been executed. The last person to be executed in the Maldives after receiving a death sentence was in 1953 during the first republican President Mohamed Ameen. Hakim Didi was charged with attempting to assassinate President Ameen using black magic.

Following  reports of the murder, the government-aligned Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM)’s parliament group member Ahmed Mahloof  proposed an amendment to the Clemency Act (Act no 2/2010) which would make performing the death penalty mandatory in the event it was upheld by the Supreme Court.

His amendment would require the President to enforce any death penalty if the Supreme Court issued the verdict of death, or if the Supreme Court supported the ruling of the death penalty made by either the Criminal court or the High Court. This move would halt the current practice of the President commuting such sentences to life imprisonment.

Previously, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ahmed Rasheed and later MP Ibrahim Muthalib also submitted similar amendments to the clemency act although both subsequently withdrew the motions.

“I believe nobody would want to die. So if the death penalty is enforced, a person who is to commit a murder would clearly know that if he carries out the act, his punishment would be his life. I believe this will deter him from committing such acts,” Mahloof said following the submission of the amendment.

In the Initial Report of Maldives under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights prepared by Human Rights Commission (HRCM) in 2011, the commission noted that growing public sentiment to impose death penalty.

But implementing death penalty may not be as easy as it sounds.

According to the commission, the Maldives has affirmed the UN Resolution of Moratorium on death penalty on 18 December 2007, which emphasises all states that still provision capital punishment “progressively restrict the use of the death penalty and reduce the number of offences for which it may be imposed.”

“This resolution still needs to be passed by the parliament” it reads.

Furthermore, there are several laws pending which are related to the enforcement of the death penalty including, the passage of the revised Penal Code, Criminal Procedures Code, Evidence Bill and Witness Act, the commission adds.

The Maldives is yet to establish an independent forensic institution to provide accurate information to support the judiciary to make an impartial decision on matters concerning the administration of the death penalty.

Meanwhile the commission acknowledged that the “life threatening acts of crime in the country have been aggravated” due to a number of direct and indirect factors, of which the direct problems include “inadequate legislation pertaining the criminal justice system”.

The existing Penal Code which was enforced in 1981 and its last amendment made in 200 has many parts which are not relevant to the present context and does not reflect the spirit of the present Constitution.

Moreover,the commission identifies the  inadequate legislations pertaining to evidence and witnesses, dismissal of forensic evidence by courts, absence  of  a witness protection program and inadequate correctional and rehabilitation system for convicted offenders as key factors.

“The lack of a comprehensive integrated crime prevention mechanism remains the greatest weakness in addressing the issue of increase in crime. High numbers of unemployed youth, and the persistent substance abuse and drug addiction among youth in the country are indirect factors catalysing the increase in crime,” the HRCM report adds.

Therefore, to address the above, says the HRCM, the “state should revise the existing Penal Code, and bring into force the Criminal Procedure Code – the other legislation pertaining to evidence and witnesses.”

“The State should further establish effective rehabilitation mechanisms for offenders, better prisons and correctional facilities to house and to rehabilitate criminals, and to strengthen effective coordination between drug rehabilitation system and criminal justice system,” it concludes.