DQP MP Riyaz submits bill proposing hanging as preferred method of execution

Dhivehi Quamee Party (DQP) MP Riyaz Rasheed has submitted a bill to parliament proposing executions be carried out by hanging people sentenced to death in court.

Riyaz told newspaper ‘Haveeru’ that he submitted the bill because the government’s version of the bill, drafted in December 2012, had yet to be submitted to parliament.

According to Riyaz’s bill, the trials of people accused of offences punishable by death under the penal code are to be conducted with a defence lawyer, even should the defendant refused.

The bill requires the lower courts to forward a case report to the High Court 14 days from the date the trial reaches a conclusion. The High Court is required to conduct a trial to determine whether the lower court’s ruling is lawful.

Should this decision be upheld, the matter must then be referred to the Supreme Court, which issue the final ruling on the case.

According to the bill, the defendant is given the opportunity to meet his family and say his last words before he is hanged.

The bill obliges the state to delay implementing death sentences if the person is a minor, pregnant woman, mentally ill or suffering from a disease.

In December last year, Attorney General Azima Shukoor drafted a bill outlining how the death sentence should be practiced in the Maldives, with lethal injection being identified as the state’s preferred method of capital punishment.

The government’s draft, which has yet to be submitted to parliament was criticised by religious groups in the Maldives, who argued that the state’s method of execution should be beheading or firing squad.


Maldives UN team calls for abolition of death penalty, flogging

The UN country team in the Maldives has issued a statement calling for the abolition of both corporal punishment and the death penalty in the Maldives.

While the Maldives still issues death sentences, these have traditionally been commuted to life sentences by presidential decree since the execution of Hakim Didi in 1954, for the crime of practicing black magic.

Recent calls for presidential clemency to be blocked led former attorney general Azima Shukoor to draft a bill favouring the implementation of the penalty via lethal injection. It was met with opposition by several religious groups such as the NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf, which called for the draft to be amended in favour of beheadings or firing squads.

More recently, the state has called for a High Court verdict on whether the practice of presidential clemency can be annulled.

The Maldives continues to issue and implement flogging sentences for certain crimes, notably extra-marital sex. The vast majority of those sentenced are women.

An earlier call by UN High Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay in 2011 calling for a moratorium on flogging as a punishment for extramarital sex led to protesters gathering outside the UN building, carrying placards with angry slogans including “Islam is not a toy”, “Ban UN” and “Flog Pillay”.

Earlier this year, widespread global publicity of such a sentence handed to a 15 year-old rape victim led to two million people signing an Avaaz petition calling for an end to the practice of flogging in the Maldives.

In its statement, the UN team in the Maldives called for the Maldives to ensure its legislation and practices fulfilled the international human rights obligations to which it was signatory.

“The Maldives made a commitment following its Universal Periodic Review by the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2010 to maintain a moratorium on the death penalty, in line with its vote in favour of UN General Assembly Resolution 65/206,” the UN statement read.

“In view of the country’s more than 50-year moratorium, the United Nations calls upon the Maldives to take the opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to its international human rights obligations, and abolish the death penalty,” it added.

The UN noted that flogging as a punishment was prohibited under the Maldives’ international commitment “to prohibit torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment” – to which all three the Maldives has signed.

“The United Nations Country Team notes with particular concern the possibility in the Maldives of sentences of death, as well as corporal punishment to persons who committed crimes while below 18 years of age. These concerns have also been expressed to the Maldives by the United Nations Human Rights Committee in 2012, and the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2007,” the statement read.

“Article 6(5) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides, ‘Sentence of death shall not be imposed for crimes committed by persons below eighteen years of age’,” it noted, “while Article 37(a) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child provides, ‘No child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Neither capital punishment nor life imprisonment without possibility of release shall be imposed for offences committed by persons below eighteen years of age.’”

The UN noted that more than 150 countries have no either abolished the death penalty or ceased to practice it, “a global trend also seen among countries of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.”

“The United Nations Country Team stands ready to support the Maldives to ensure its legislation and practices fulfil its international human rights obligations,” it added.

Earlier in May the Juvenile Court issued the death sentence to two 18 year-olds found guilty of the February 18, 2012 murder of Abdul Muheeth of Galolhu Veyru House.

Three minors were charged in the case, and one was acquitted by the court. The two sentenced to death are both 18 years-old, although both were underage and minors at the time of the murder.

The sentencing led Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director Polly Truscott to warn that the Maldives was “entering new and dangerous territory – imposing death sentences for crimes allegedly committed by children is alarming.”

The death penalty is widely supported in the Maldives as either adherence to stricter interpretations of Islamic Sharia, or as a perceived method of reducing violent crime.

Public opposition to the death penalty tends to rest more on a widespread lack of trust in the capabilities of the judiciary to implement such punishments fairly, with 50 percent of the country’s 207 judges reported to have less than grade seven education, rather than objections on human rights grounds.

Current revision to the new penal code by the parliamentary committee responsible have been challenged on religious grounds by figures such as Sheikh Ilyas of the Adhaalath Party – presently in coalition with President Mohamed Waheed’s Gaumee Ithihaad Party (GIP).

The chair of the religious conservative AP’s scholars’ council and member of the Fiqh Academy was summoned to the committee last week after claiming that the draft legislation (in Dhivehi) did not include Shariah penalties for fornication, apostasy and violent robbery.

The initial draft of the penal code was prepared by legal expert Professor Paul H Robinson and the University of Pennsylvania Law School of the United States, upon the request of the Attorney General in January 2006. The project was supported by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

“If it is passed, there is no doubt that there will be no religion in this Muslim society that claims to be 100 percent Muslim. There will be no Islamic punishments,” Sheikh Ilyas stated in a sermon delivered at the Furqan mosque in Male’ on March 23.


UN Special Representative calls for abolition of degrading and capital punishment against children

The United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary General on Violence Against Children, Marta Santos Pais, has called on the government to find an alternative for, or abolish, capital and degrading punishment against minors.

Pais made the comments at a press conference held on Wednesday, together with Acting Minister of Gender, Family and Human Rights Azima Shakoor, at the conclusion of a six day visit to the Maldives to “support national efforts to address concerns” about the case of a 15 year old female rape victim sentenced to a 100 lashes on charges of fornication.

“My visit was sped up because of the case of this 15 year-old. As you know, the whole world is following this very closely with concern, for a number of reasons. The most important one is that we are talking about someone who is very young, who has been the victim of a sequence of situations that are very traumatic, and which has certainly affected her well-being. And which should not put at risk the way she looks at her future,” Pais stated.

“We have been concerned naturally about the opportunities that seem to have been missed in the process, in the first stages of the judicial procedures that were carried out. At the same time we feel encouraged by the fact that not only were there expressions of condemnation by the President, the government and the Maldivian civil society, but there is an appeal for her now,” she continued.

“We are very confident that the situation will be globally assessed in the light of the best interests of the child, and the assumptions made about the capability of a girl of 15 years of age to channel such decisions about one’s life will be taken into consideration,” Pais said.

“In her case, as well as the other case mentioned of capital punishment, as you know, there is a very important trend across the world. The first is to recognise that the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international treaties in fact consider that these forms of sentencing are not in conformity with human rights. And these are treaties ratified by the Maldives, and as you know, the Constitution of the Maldives recognise the primeness of these, providing guidance to act in line with these treaties including when courts are applying or interpreting laws and constitution,” the Special Representative continued.

“And secondly there is a trend visible in many countries, including muslim countries, to abolish this form of sentencing and also to find alternatives to deal with children and young people who are in such situations. So we are very hopeful that these options will be taken under consideration in Maldives in these particular cases, and other similar cases that may come up,” she stated.

Former Attorney General and Acting Gender Minister Azima Shakoor admitted that “there were a lot of misses in the 15 year old’s case”, adding that the matter could have been better handled if the state had acted earlier, and if the necessary systems were more strongly built.

Action by the state

The Special Representative welcomed the establishment of a Child Protection Committee by President Mohamed Waheed Hassan, noting the importance of pushing for change to prevent similar cases from happening again, calling the girl’s case a “paradigmatic of the wider situation of violence against children.”

Pais said that she had conducted discussions with government officials, parliamentarians from across the political spectrum, other political actors, members of the judiciary, national institutions and relevant civil society organisations during her brief visit.

While noting that she had observes a common “reaffirmation of the international commitments undertaken by the Maldives to safeguard the rights of the child and ensure the implementation of the CRC” and other ratified conventions, she added that the country “now has before it a critical opportunity to translate these commitments into tangible legal, policy and programmatic action”.

Pais also emphasised that “incidents of violence still remain hidden and concealed, and are sensitive to be raised as a public concern, and difficult to report.”

She noted that in the recent past, significant tools and studies have been developed to address cases of violence, abuse and exploitation, including pieces of legislation like the Domestic Violence Act.

“Steady action is of essence”

Special Representative Pais said that despite the current action being taken by the state, a lot more steady action needs to be taken in the country to protect the rights of the child.

She recommended that awareness campaigns be carried out to prevent social acceptance of violence against children. Additionally, she stated that it is crucial to focus on capacity building programmes for teachers, social workers, law enforcement officials, judges, prosecutors and other child protection actors as they are in a unique position to safeguard children’s protection from violence and intervene in case such incidences occur.

Also among her recommendations is the importance of building upon the country’s Constitution and passing progressive legislation for the protection of human rights and children’s rights.

“It is imperative to improve in the legislation a clear legal prohibition of all forms of violence against children, including in the home, in care and justice institutions, as well as a form of criminal sentencing,” Pais stated.

In conclusion, Pais referred to the upcoming September 7 presidential elections, and called on all political actors to refrain from involving children in politics and from sidelining children’s right issues.


Bill on death penalty drafted, unclear on action on past sentences: AG Shakoor

Attorney General (AG) Azima Shakoor stated on Thursday that the government’s bill on implementing death penalty would be made public early in the coming week.

Speaking at a press conference in Velaanaage, Shakoor confirmed that the AG’s office had completed drafting the bill, which was now in the final stages of discussion. She confirmed that the bill would be made public on the office’s website in the coming week, stating the matter “is very much connected to public sentiments and a large number of people feel this matter needs a fast solution”.

Saying that “it was a pity” that three weeks had passed in the drafting stage, Shakoor said that unlike most other bills, the death penalty implementation bill was going through processes of in-depth research and further discussions among a high-level group appointed by the government.

According to Shakoor, the research took much longer than the state had expected, adding that the AG office had included the legal systems of Medina, Egypt and America in its research.

“I would like to point out that the death penalty is still implemented in over 50 countries across the world even today. Not all of these are even Islamic states. Nor is murder the only crime for which the sentence is given. For example, some countries sentence people to death for being caught trying to bring in narcotics to the country. We are considering all of these points and have made a comparative legal assessment,” Shakoor explained.

Other crimes besides murder which are punishable by death according to Islamic Sharia include apostasy, adultery, sodomy, rape and high treason.

“We need to conduct an academic exercise since we are trying to do this through a rather weak penal code,” Shakoor said.

“If this can be done before the penal code pending in parliament is passed, it might be best to include this as part of that code. Right now, we have drafted this with the thought that if the penal code gets passed up front, then this can be passed as a separate act on death penalty.”

Shakoor said that the bill was important as the current practice was to charge murder convicts under Article 88 of the existing penal code.

Article 88 of the Penal Code states that disobedience to order is a crime, while Article 88(c) details that if the result of violating the article leads to a death, the case should be dealt with according to Islamic Sharia.

Shakoor provided details of the drafted bill, stating it would be looking at the investigation stages, prosecution stages, sentencing and the implementation of sentences.

“The act looks into deciding on the number of judges who will sit on the sentencing panel. Furthermore it considers the rights of the family, the rights of the murder victim, the rights of the victim’s family, the final rights of the convict during sentencing,” Shakoor stated.

Responding to a question regarding how those sentenced to death prior to the bill being ratified would be dealt with, Shakoor said “it is difficult to give a straightforward answer as the final discussions on the bill have not yet been completed.”

“We too believe that answers to that must come to light through how this bill is composed. However, I believe that a solution must be provided even for past cases. So the act will be drafted to reflect that. You can see for yourselves once the bill is made public,” Shakoor replied.

“When an act is passed which explicitly spells out implementation [of the death penalty], then I believe the benefits of it must be carried to even past cases.”

Among a number of other cases, a young couple charged with the murder of lawyer Ahmed Najeeb were sentenced to death by the Criminal Court in July, a few days after the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) asked the Maldivian state to enact legislation to officially abolish the death penalty. The statement said “the state itself has admitted that capital punishment does not deter crime.”


Waheed government submits bill to facilitate death penalty

The government has 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.

“It is currently a punishment passed by the judiciary and a form of punishment available within the penal system of the Maldives,” said Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed.

“But for full guidance and matters governing the matter, legislation is required,” he added.

A meeting of the cabinet yesterday strongly condemned last week’s murder of MP Dr Afrasheem Ali and urged President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan to start taking immediate measures to ensure safety and security in the country.

President’s Office spokesman Masood Imad said that the government had received a large number of calls for implementing the death penalty.

“We are having enormous pressure since these high profile murders,” he said. “We have indications – the talk around the town – that there will be more murders.”

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has this week proposed a no-confidence motion against the home minister, citing the unprecedented instances of murder and assault in the country since he assumed office in February.

Afrasheem’s murder was the 10th in the small country this year, sparking much debate on the death penalty.

Following the murder of high profile lawyer Ahmed Najeeb on July 1, two people were sentenced to death after Najeeb’s heirs opted for qisas (equal retaliation) rather than blood money.

Public outcry over Najeeb’s murder prompted Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz to declare that full enforcement of the courts’ rulings is necessary to maintain the effectiveness of the judiciary.

A case was submitted to the High Court in August, requesting that it annul the President’s ability to commute death sentences to 25 years imprisonment, provided in the Clemency Act.

Similarly, in April Ahmed Mahloof – parliamentary group member 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 a comment piece written for Haveeru following Najeeb’s murder, however, Special Advisor to the President Dr Hassan Saeed warned that implementing the death penalty could be both arbitrary and prohibitively expensive.

Judiciary and human rights

The last execution in the Maldives came in 1953 when Hakim Didi was charged with attempting to assassinate President Ameen using black magic.

Since that time, the Maldives has retained the practice of the death penalty for murder although Islamic Shariah tenets also give the courts the power to pronounce capital punishment for offences such as sodomy, fornication, apostasy and other crimes against the community.

Statistics show that from January 2001 to December 2010, a total of 14 people were sentenced to death by Maldivian courts.

Jameel said that there was to be no re-consideration of the Clemency Act but that “necessary reform to legislation governing the criminal justice system will be undertaken by the government.”

Concerns over the judiciary were confirmed in the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) report which investigated the events surrounding the resignation of former President Mohamed Nasheed in February.

The final report recommended that immediate steps be taken to improve the performance of the judiciary.

“The judiciary must enjoy public confidence and where there are allegations about judges’ conduct, the Judicial Services Commission must act in a timely and definitive way and report,” read the report.

Aishath Velezinee, formerly Nasheed’s appointee to the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), has said that corruption and an unreformed judiciary were the primary causes of crime in the country.

“Islam upholds justice, and not only has death penalty; it has very clear qualifications for judges too. Neither MP Mahloof, nor any of the Sheikhs, has expressed alarm that the judges are far below standard and some of them are convicted criminals themselves. This is pure politics and abuse of Islam,” she told Minivan News in a previous interview.

In July, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) said it was “deeply concerned about the state of the judiciary in the Maldives,” as well as calling for the abolition of the death penalty, in order to ensure the Maldives’ compliance with International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

After speaking with a Maldivian delegation headed by Jameel, the council released a statement saying that the state had acknowledged both that the independence of the judiciary was severely compromised and that the death penalty did not deter crime.

Today marks World Day Against the Death Penalty – organised by an alliance of more than 135 NGOs, bar associations, local authorities and unions seeking the universal abolition of capital punishment.


Home minister uncertain over Majlis support to enact death sentences

As parliament faces requests to ensure the death penalty is carried out when administered by the courts, Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed has said it was presently impossible to know the level of support within the Majlis for such an act without voting on the matter.

Local media, citing the home minister, reported yesterday that a letter had been sent to parliament requesting that death penalties assigned by the country’s courts be enacted in future. In previous cases where the death sentence had been favoured as a punishment by the judiciary over the past 60 years, the state has intervened to commute such verdicts to life imprisonment (25 years) instead.

Following the murder of a 26 year-old police officer yesterday on Kaashidhoo island in Kaafu Atoll – the eighth recorded homicide recorded this year in the Maldives – Dr Jameel, Attorney General Azima Shakoor and other prominent lawyers and lawmakers have publicly endorsed their support for implementing capital punishment to deter similar crimes.

According to a police statement, Lance Corporal Adam Haleem was suspected of having been attacked around midnight while on his way to report for duty.

Speaking to Minivan News, Dr Jameel said that amidst an issue of “general concern” concerning violent crimes being committed in the country, current statutes adopted in the Maldives failed to provide “guiding principles on the implementation” of the death sentence.

One recent high-profile case regarding the death penalty has been seen in the murder of lawyer Ahmed Najeeb.  On Thursday (July 19), Ahmed Murrath, 29, and his girlfriend Fathimath Hana, 18, were both sentenced to death after being found guilty in the Criminal Court of each having a role in Najeeb’s death.

The couple were arrested and charged with Najeeb’s murder after his body was discovered by police at Maafanu Masroora house, (Murrath’s residence) in early evening of July 1. The badly beaten body was found stuffed inside a dustbin with multiple stab wounds.

Responding to the trial’s conclusion last week, the government said it expected both verdicts to be commuted to life imprisonment (25 years) pending the outcome of a cabinet consultation – as his been the case with all other death sentences administered by the courts over the last sixty years.

With parliament already reviewing a proposed amendment that would make the enforcement of capital punishment mandatory, should it be upheld by the Supreme Court, Dr Jameel said he personally had no say on the outcome of a sentence already passed by the judiciary.

“I do not believe that the home minister has got any discretion to decide whether to implement or not to implement any sentence after it is delivered by a court of law,” he said.

Ask whether he believed that President Waheed would opt to commute the sentences passed to Murrath and Hana, Dr Jameel claimed that where alternative punishments were available for certain offences, it was possible in these cases to commute a punishment.

“However, in [regards to the] death sentence it is not clear whether this option is available or not,” he said.

When also considering the potential method of execution to be used on convicted criminals facing the death penalty, Dr Jameel contended that present statues failed to provide any procedures on how to implement such sentencing should parliament opt to uphold such verdicts.

“In the case of death sentences, the statutes do not provide procedures for its implementation, hence, where a death sentence exhausts all stages of the criminal justice process, a question of implementation arises that will still require implementation procedures to be enacted by legislation,” he said. “Currently, the statutes do not provide guiding principles on the implementation of this form of punishment.”

Commuted sentence

In addressing the sentences given by the court, the government said that President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan would be consulting with his cabinet and Attorney General Aishath Azima Shakoor over the verdicts.

President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza told Minivan News last week that while consultations on the matter would be held, he did not expect a “departure” from the long-standing state policy of commuting death sentences to life imprisonment.

“There has been pressure from certain groups to uphold death sentences, but I do not think these calls are in line with the will of the Maldivian people,” he said. “The president will also have to look into our obligations under the various international treaties we have signed.”

Earlier this month, the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) asked the Maldivian state to enact legislation to officially abolish the death penalty as part of a wider review of human rights commitments in the nation.

“The state itself has admitted that capital punishment does not deter crime,” the statement noted.

Parliament review

Despite such calls, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz said the death penalty could be executed within the existing justice system of the Maldives.

The chief justice told local media that Maldives legal system, being based on Islamic Sharia, allows the death penalty to be implemented.


Iran secretly executing hundreds of prisoners: Dr Ahmed Shaheed

The Iranian government has secretly executed hundreds of prisoners at the notorious Vakilabad prison in Mashhad, according to an interim report to the UN by Special Rapporteur on Iran, Dr Ahmed Shaheed.

Dr Shaheed was the former Maldivian Foreign Minister under both the current and former Presidents. As the Iranian government refused to allow him to visit the country in his capacity as UN Special Rapporteur, the report relies heavily on first-hand testimonies, “the preponderance of which presents a pattern of systemic violations of fundamental human rights.”

“The most urgent issues that have been brought to the attention of the Special Rapporteur include multifarious deficits in relation to the administration of justice, certain practices that amount to torture, cruel, or degrading treatment of detainees, the imposition of the death penalty in the absence of proper judicial safeguards, the status of women, the persecution of religious and ethnic minorities, and the erosion of civil and political rights, in particular, the harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and civil society actors,” writes Dr Shaheed.

“Several personal interviews revealed that individuals were often held in solitary confinement for long periods during the investigative phases of their cases. All of those interviewed with regard to their detention reported the consistent use of blindfolds when being transferred from solitary confinement, as well as during their interrogations.”

Human rights defenders, civil society organisations and religious actors had been charged with offences including acting against national security, insulting the Supreme Leader and “spreading propaganda against the regime”, Dr Shaheed noted.

“The majority of reports also highlight exorbitant bail requirements, reportedly totalling between US$10,000 and US$500,000, to guarantee the appearance before the court of those arrested for activities pertaining to civil, political or human rights.”

The report goes on to detail interviews with dozens of victims of the Iranian regime, including lawyers, students, artists, journalists and environmentalists as well as political activists.

In his report, Dr Shaheed raises particular concern over the use of the death penalty in cases where due process was denied to the accused, especially within the prison system.

“Secret group executions inside prisons, which reportedly occur in alarmingly high numbers, are often carried out without the knowledge and presence of families and lawyers,” Dr Shaheed notes.

“Capital punishment was also applied to cases regarding Mohareb or ‘enmity against God’, rape, murder, immoral acts or acts against chastity and kidnapping,” he added.

The report concludes with an appeal to the Iranian government to allow Dr Shaheed to visit the country so as to “develop dialogue with the authorities and either substantiate or lay
to rest allegations of human rights violations committed within its sovereign territory.”

In July, Iran’s secretary general of the country’s ‘High Council for Human Rights dismissed “the western-engineered appointment” of Dr Shaheed as Special Rapporteur as ”an illegal measure,” according to the Tehran Times.

“Iran has no problem with the individual who has been appointed as the special rapporteur, but the appointment of a rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran is unacceptable and Iran will not accept the decision,” Mohammad Javad Larijani was quoted as saying.

Dr Shaheed is to present his findings to the UN General Assembly on October 19.

Read Minivan News’ Q&A with Dr Shaheed following his appointment as Special Rapporteur


The politicisation of life, death and faith

The Parliament (Majlis) today resumes the debate on amending the Clemency Act to bring back capital punishment. Although the constitution allows the death penalty, the Maldives is abolitionist in practice.

The last time the Maldivian state put a person to death was in 1953. Depending on whether or not a majority of MPs agree to send the proposed amendment to the committee stages, today begins the process of reversing this tacit understanding of the death penalty as a form of cruel, degrading and inhuman punishment.

The amendment was proposed by MDP MP Ahmed Rasheed (Hoarafushi) after an urgent motion he introduced earlier in the Majlis session of March 8 to discuss the recent escalation of violent crime. It came on the foot of a savage altercation between members of rival gangs on March 4 in which three men were injured and a member of the public was forced at knife-point to hand over his motorcycle to one of the perpetrators. Blood was spilt in broad daylight, at the Artificial Beach, a public place frequented by families. Clearly, it is an issue that requires the immediate attention of the Majlis.

The debate that ensued, however, appeared to focus less on practical measures that can be taken to address the problem and more on finding a scapegoat with the meatiest political flesh for rival MPs to bite into.

Several MPs rushed to point the finger of blame at anyone else except the legislature itself: the security apparatus was acting with impunity in its refusal to be answerable to the Majlis; the criminal court was not doing its job properly; the president had been too lenient with members of the old regime who committed acts of torture and embezzled state funds; and the president had neglected to give due importance to the matter in his inaugural address of the Majlis on March 3, allegedly discouraging members from pursuing the matter with the required urgency.

People in glasshouses

“I was arrested on July 7 last year in allegations of planning to attack a politician with a sharp implement. They kicked in the door of my house. That was how it happened with me. But people who kill others on the street walk free,” Deputy Speaker of the Parliament and MP of the opposition-aligned People’s Alliance (PA) Ahmed Nazim said, joining the debate on March 8.

“And when I was under house arrest, confined within my own four walls, there were people throwing stones at my house, shattering the glass. They, too, are out there somewhere, walking free,” he continued. He was, Nazim said, “one of the few people in the Majlis with personal experience” of gang warfare and violent crime.

The ‘personal experience’ factor was significant in the debate. In addition to Nazim, MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik (MDP) and independent MP Ahmed Amir, relayed similar narratives of up close and personal encounters with violent crime. “I, too, was imprisoned,” Moosa said.

Having made allegations of torture against former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, his proposed solution to the problem was to imprison Gayoom himself. “As long as Gayoom walks free, there will never be an end to this problem”. MP Amir relayed his own woes of being “hit in the back while an MP”, and updated the Majlis on the fact that nothing has been done since, leaving him with a feeling of diminished equality.

MP Ahmed Rasheed, had a similar personal narrative underlying his push for implementing the death penalty. Based on “one case in which I was personally involved in”, he generalised for the Majlis the woeful inadequacies of the current criminal justice system.

“The lawyers that the Prosecutor General send to the court to represent the state are usually young children, with no experience”, he said. “With an hour, half an hour or twenty minutes to go before the court sits, these children are handed hefty case files, and told: “Here, young lady, take the file”. They are, of course, trounced by the more experienced lawyers for the defendant”, he said.

MP Rasheed’s blatantly sexist hymn sheet was shared by Deputy Speaker Nazim, who also referred to the “young 18-19 year-old girls” who represent the Prosecutor General in court, and are allegedly posing a threat to national security. Neither MPs mentioned that the more educated members of the judiciary are to be found among the country’s youth and not among the ‘experienced judges’ most of whom have had very little legal training despite having been on the bench for long periods of time.

Putting the death penalty in an Islamic frame

The deeply personal nature of the Majlis’ debate on an issue of such national importance is extremely troubling. So too is the quality of the debate so far that has put the death penalty within the framework of Islam and Shar’ia. Very few MPs have displayed any knowledge of either the long and incessant international debate surrounding the death penalty, nor the rich Islamic jurisprudence on capital punishment. Nor did they demonstrate an understanding that the matter of gangs and rising crime cannot be solved by personal opinions but may need proper study and expert advice across the board on the criminal justice system.

One MP, Ahmed Saleem, for instance, declared all legislation as irrelevant and unnecessary given the completeness of the Qur’an. To clarify his claim, he presented MPs with a hypothetical scenario: “What if”, he said, “someone like Dr Shaheed [former Foreign Minister] were to say that there is nothing in the Qur’an on how to run a foreign ministry.” Such a claim can only be made out of ignorance, for the Qur’an does give guidance on foreign policy, he said.

“God created tribes, countries and states so as each can introduce themselves to the other… Had God made only one country, there would be no need for a Foreign Ministry.” Bang went the Treaty of Westphalia, centuries of diplomacy, and the concept of social constructs, all shot down to nothing with one sweeping statement.

Reducing the death penalty in Shari’a to mere advocacy to “kill the killer” is to reduce the rich and complex debate surrounding the death penalty in Shari’a to mere revenge. Such reductionism is a practice more often associated with those who criticise Islam from the outside than with those who speak in its praise from within.

Although all Muslims accept the permissibility of the death penalty because it is addressed in the Qur’an, its application is varied ranging from those who impose it to a short list of crimes to those who call for a moratorium on it altogether. Capital punishment in Islamic law, as reputed Islamic scholars have highlighted, has its own dhawabit (checks and balances). It is not imposed until due process has been observed, and all extenuating circumstances fully considered. Those who are calling for the death penalty ‘as per Sharia’ would also do well to remember, or to find out, that the state only has the power of execution – imposing it is not a power of the state.

Arguing against the death penalty in the United States from an Islamic perspective, Dr Azizah Y al-Hibri, professor at the T. C. Williams School of Law at Richmond University for example, has pointed out that in Shari’a it is the victim’s family alone that has the right to seek qisas (a form of retributive punishment) against the murderer. It is the majority view of Islamic scholars that if the victim’s family does not seek qisas in court, the state cannot do so on its initiative – unlike the common law system.

The state does have the power, however, to protect the public through other less retributive punishments such as confinement or exile: what the Maldivian state has opted to do for almost six decades. This restriction on the state is one of the most important – and relevant – aspects of the Shari’a to the current debate. It, or any other jurisprudence, has yet to be included in the discussions.

The importance of Shari’a’s restrictions on the state lies in the status of the judiciary as a branch of the state. Even in countries where the independence of the judiciary has been proven beyond reasonable doubt, restricting the power of the state to take away the life of its citizens is a crucial element of justice. When the state is authoritarian, when the judiciary is biased, or when other branches of the state exercise undue influence over the judiciary, it becomes essential for ensuring that life is not taken away arbitrarily.

Punishment without justice

Herein lies the crux of the matter. Questions over the independence of the Maldivian judiciary have now been at the forefront of public discourse for the better part of a year.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) recently published the results of its fact-finding mission to the Maldives in September last year. The report found the Maldivian courts to be failing in their duty to serve the public impartially and laid a lion’s share of the responsibility on the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), charged with imposing and maintaining ethical and professional standards of the Maldivian judiciary.

The JSC has dismissed the ICJ report as “irresponsible” and the Constitutional stipulation to remove all unqualified and ethically questionable judges from the bench as “symbolic” with the result that a large number of the judiciary comprise of convicted felons and the morally dubious.

In 2010, the JSC received over 140 complaints against the judiciary, none of which have been investigated. Currently there a total of 115 complaints pending investigation at the JSC, accumulated from 2008 onwards till the present. Questions have been raised over the JSC’s fairness in its recent appointments to the High Court, and it is due to appear before the Supreme Court on the same issue.

Several other failures of the JSC have been equally blatant, but there appears no authority capable, or willing, to hold the JSC accountable. There is no agitation for reform or independence coming from within the law community itself. The Majlis, and its oversight committee supervising the conduct of independent commissions, is the only authority that can bring the JSC to account. So far, it has not done so in any meaningful way.

It should be noted, however, that at the end of last year, the Majlis committee did instigate an enquiry of sorts – one that raises more questions than answers them. The committee, whittled down from 11 to three members for unexplained reasons – all three of whom are lawyers – have been summoning individual JSC members for questioning. The matter raised in these enquiries, unusual both in the fact that it is summoning individual members to answer questions over the conduct of the Commission as a whole and in its closed nature, are secret and banned from media coverage. So far as is known, the enquiries have been of an administrative nature – who attended meetings when and such – rather than of an investigative nature probing the JSC’s refusal to carry out its constitutional duties.

The investigated and the investigators – where is the dividing line?

One of the characteristics of the debate on March 8, which brought the death penalty to the fore, was the determination of some MPs to blame the security forces of the country.

If only they were to be made answerable to the Majlis Oversight Committee on National Security, things would change, went the argument. Problem is, at the helm of the National Security Committee is Abdulla Yameen taken into ‘protective custody’ by the Maldives National Defence Forces (MNDF) in July 2010 and held on the island of Aarah, the Presidential Retreat, for nine days.

The police arrested Yameen on corruption charges earlier that month, but after about six hours in custody, the Criminal Court, in an extraordinary sitting held at midnight, ruled that Yameen should be released into ‘house arrest’. When supporters of the ruling Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) gathered outside his house, MNDF took him into what they called ‘protective custody’.

Yameen, claimed, however, that MNDF had detained him against his will. The Supreme Court found MNDF’s actions to have been in breach of the Constitution; the ICJ report was highly critical of the executive’s involvement in the actions. Currently Yameen is back at Court claiming millions of Rufiyaa in damages for his detention.

In the immediate aftermath of the debacle, the National Security Committee began to summon senior members of the MNDF and other members of the security apparatus before it. MDP MP Reeko Moosa Manik claimed the Committee’s actions were instigated as a form of revenge by Yameen against MNDF and called for his resignation from the Committee. It did not materialise.

In addition to the history of personal involvement between the security forces and Yameen, there is also the more recent spectre of allegations of corruption worth over US$800 million against Yameen published in various South Asian media outlets from India to Burma and the Maldives.

Yameen has denied the accusations, first published in Indian current affairs magazine, The Week on February 11, alleging that the scheme involved blackmarket oil deals between the State Trading Organisation (STO), when it was headed by Yameen, and the Burmese military junta.

More recently, the Democratic Voice of Burma, an independent Burmese news outlet, has connected the same oil-scam to the explosion of heroin in the Maldives in the early 2000s. The heroin addiction of a whole generation of Maldivian youth and its current problems with violence and drugs has been well documented, and its effects clear to see.

Even if the allegations are untrue, it is clearly in the public and national interest that any state figure of authority implicated in such serious offences, to declare a conflict of interest and distance themselves from holding sway over investigations with even the remotest of links to them personally.

There was no reference made to the personal history between Yameen, the president of the National Security Committee, when his fellow People’s Alliance (PA) party member, Deputy Speaker Nazim, so fervently proposed cooperation between the security forces as the solution to the country’s escalating problem of gang violence.

Own backyard

There are currently five bills crucial to the maintenance to law and order, security and crime reduction pending members’ attention at the Majlis. Chief among these, and pending the longest, is the Penal Code.

Submitted in October 2009, it has now been in the ‘committee stages’ for exactly 17 months to the day. Awaiting attention is also the Evidence Bill, submitted in just a month after the Penal Code, in November 2009.

The Narcotics Bill was submitted in March 2010, almost a year ago; and the Bill on Special Measures to Combat Crime was proposed a month later. Neither has passed the ‘committee stages’.

More recently submitted is the Jails and Parole Bill, pending since October last. Also awaiting Members’ deliberation is an amendment to the Police Act submitted in June 2010, and the Private Security Bill submitted the same month.

As a majority of the Majlis remains preoccupied with long recesses, extending their own privileges, boycotts and deadlocks, these vital pieces of legislation – without which even an unbiased judiciary would find it difficult to perform its duties – gathers to itself the dust of neglect.

MP Mohamed Musthafa, who proposed the Bill on Special Measures to Combat Crime in April 2010, accused members of the opposition of deliberately stalling its passage through the parliament. “If you push that Bill through, the credit will go to the government, there will be no advantage in that for us,” Musthafa said he was told by some opposition MPs. “Intoxication with politics is leading this country to its ruin,” he said.

As the issue opens up for debate at the Majlis again today, it remains to be seen whether any MP who calls for the imposition of the death penalty in order to fulfil its ‘Islamic duties’ refer to the manner in which the Qur’an urges the victim’s family to move forward and to forgive (Qur’an 2:178, 42:40) even as it provides for the right to demand qisas.

It also remains to be seen whether the same MPs would remind fellow members of the instances in which the Qur’an favours forgiveness over revenge or punishment and extols its virtues in many other contexts (Qur’an 42:40; 5:45; 2:237; 24:22; 2:109).

It will also be interesting to see, whether any of the debate calls on existing empirical evidence that reveals no direct link between capital punishment and deterrence of crime. Amnesty International has found, for example, that in the United States crime is lower in states where capital punishment is not practised compared to the states where it is.

Its conclusion was that: “The threat of execution at some future date is unlikely to enter the minds of those acting under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol, those who are in the grip of fear or rage, those who are panicking while committing another crime (such as a robbery), or those who suffer from mental illness or mental retardation and do not fully understand the gravity of their crime.”

Whatever the quality or outcome of the debate, the result will be a strong indicator as to how far the politicisation of life has travelled in the two years since the Maldives became a democracy. If it has come so far as to be able to impose its will beyond life to death, there is little hope that this government is capable, or willing, to resuscitate the increasingly moribund Maldivian democracy.