Government “would consider” clemency for ex-president Nasheed following trial outcome

The government has said it will have no involvement in the trial of former President Mohamed Nasheed, adding it would consider the possibility of offering clemency should he eventually be found guilty.

Nasheed, who yesterday announced he had started his campaign for re-election, has called for the trial over his role in the controversial detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed earlier this year to be expedited. The former president has alleged that the trial against him is politically motivated to prevent him from contesting in presidential elections scheduled for 2013.

President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad claimed that the government was committed to its pledge of not interfering in the Maldives judicial system and played down fears of the trial being politicised.

“We would regret any parties or international organisations trying to politicise this trial,” he said. “However, after a judgement on the case has been given, if there is an opportunity to do so, I’m sure President Waheed would consider the possibility of clemency [for former President Nasheed].”

The comments were made today as Department of Judicial Administration Spokesperson Latheefa Qasim confirmed to Minivan News that the decision had been taken to appoint three judges to hear the former president’s trial. Qasim added that a date for the hearing or the identities of the three judges presiding over the trial had yet to be decided.

Last week, the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court was cleared to hold the trial that will see Nasheed along with several senior military figures under his command face charges for the detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed.

During Nasheed’s administration Judge Abdulla was accused by the government of demonstrating political bias, obstructing police, stalling cases, having links with organised crime and “taking the entire criminal justice system in his fist” to protect key figures of the former dictatorship from human rights and corruption cases.

Nasheed himself gave a speech to supporters in Male’ yesterday playing down the likelihood of his prosecution for the detention of the judge, while additionally launching his campaign for re-election despite no date for elections having been set.

Speaking from the Usfasgandu area in Male’, which is presently being used as a protest area by the now opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), Nasheed alleged that he was not concerned of being prosecuted,  according to local media reports.

During a speech outlining his plans to continue to pursue early elections through the MDP’s ‘direct action’ protests and political pressure, the former president claimed that he was confident of securing re-election.

MDP Spokesperson and MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor claimed that Nasheed’s comments were focused on the party’s continued efforts to secure “early elections” ahead of the proposed date of July 2013.  President Waheed has said July 2013 is the earliest date for fresh polls as allowed in the country’s constitution

The MDP back in July approved a resolution that the party would choose to boycott elections should Nasheed not be able to stand as its presidential candidate after winning.

Ghafoor claimed that despite preparing for early elections, both Nasheed and the MDP had agreed to respect the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) report that last week concluded the government of President Waheed had come to power constitutionally and not through a “coup d’etat” on February 7.

“We have been respecting the report, but we also have very strong reservations about the concerns raised by [Nasheed’s appointee on the commission] Ahmed ‘Gahaa’ Saeed and we would like these shortcomings to be looked into,” he said. “There are obviously issues that we have with the findings and I do not believe that the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) will just choose to ignore Mr Saeed’s own reservations about the report.”

Saeed last week resigned from the five-member CNI panel approved by the government, MDP and Commonwealth, a day before the release of its findings over what he alleged was a failure by the commission to consider certain evidence and witness statements presented to the Commission.

Nasheed was also reported to have used his speech to claim that no country had so far accepted the CNI’s findings, according to local news service Sun Online.

Following the release of the CNI report last week, Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma welcomed the completed publication, urging “all concerned to respect the findings of the commission so that, moving forward, all actions and reactions reflect the sense of responsibility and restraint necessary in the best national interest.”

The US, India and the UN also called for the outcome of the CNI’s report to be respected in light of its publication.

However, Ghafoor said that Nasheed had in fact questioned the responses of various international players claiming they had been “unclear” on their views of the report.

Ghafoor added that the party would continue to lobby to have the reservations raised by Saeed concerning the CNI report addressed.

Beyond reservations with the CNI, the MDP claimed that it had been willing to work with the government of President Waheed in what it called the “common interests” of the public by offering to join his coalition government.

“We do not want to be working with this government, we ourselves want to see early elections as soon as possible,” he said.

However, President Waheed yesterday announced he had opted against including the MDP in his national unity government.

While the MDP – in light of the CNI’s findings – had called for clarification on whether it was presently the ruling or opposition party, the President’s Office responded that the matter was irrelevant under the country’s presidential system of governance.


Sermons question presidential authority on clemency: local media

Imams across the Maldives yesterday used their sermons to question the president’s authority to grant clemency for criminals sentenced to death in the country, local media has reported.

The Sun Online news service reported that yesterday’s Friday prayers were used to raise the issue of death sentences in the country, with imams saying that only the heirs of an alleged victim could decide on pardoning a criminal sentenced to be executed.

According to the report, the sermons also stressed that failure to implement the death penalty over fears of human activists or “powerful countries” was not allowed in Islam.

Speaking to Minivan News earlier this month, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz said that more than 10 people have been sentenced to death in the past decade, out of which, none have been executed by the authorities tasked with the role.

For the past 60 years, the state has been commuting these death sentences to life imprisonment (25 years).

“The Maldives judicial system is constructed in a manner whereby another body is responsible to enforce the punishment once it is decided by the court,” Faiz explained.
“Not only in murder cases, but if all court verdicts on all crimes are properly enforced,  we will see the [positive] outcomes of these verdicts,” the Supreme court judge noted.

A motion related to death penalty is currently being reviewed in parliament which, if passed, will make the enforcement of the death penalty mandatory in the event it is upheld by the Supreme Court. This development would bring to an end the current practice of the country’s president commuting such sentences to life imprisonment.


Adhaalath Party concerned over “second chance” offered to criminals in Maafushi Jail

Adhaalath Party has said it is “very concerned” over the decision made by the President to offer a second chance to more than 400 convicted criminals imprisoned in Maafushi Jail.

‘’Releasing convicted criminals without involving the Parole Board and solely by the decision of the President will disrupt the peace of our society and cause disorder,’’ said the Adhaalath Party in a press statement.

The party said given that the actions of the government in releasing the criminals were “uncivilised” and “undemocratic”, and accused the government of seeking political gain from the release of the convicts.

‘’Offering such an immunity to the criminals, putting aside the rights of  society to security is, the Adhaalath Party believes, a violation of rights,’’ the party said.

Most of the criminals to be offered a second chance were imprisoned for theft and robbery, drug abuse and other ‘serious’ criminal offences, the Adhaalath Party alleged.

‘’It is to be noted that while the government is releasing drug addicted criminals, there is no adequate mechanism to rehabilitate drug addicts in this country,’’ the party said, adding that the decision would not end up with a favorable result despite the government’s efforts to provide the former inmates shelter and job opportunities.

If the government wished to release inmates responsibly, the government should decrease its expenditure and spend money to upgrade the prisons, Adhaalath suggested.

‘’All citizens know that illegal drugs are available in the prisons, and that inmates are testing positive to drugs is evidence that they are not being adequately looked after inside the prison,’’ said the party.

Press Secretary for the President, Mohamed Zuhair, recently said the impending release of close to 400 convicts would not result in a spike in crime rates in Male’.

“Our statistics show that there will be nearly 400 convicted criminals that have been granted a second chance,” Zuhair said. “Out of the 119 people released on a previous occasion only two people had to be taken back to prison for committing an offence.”

Zuhair added that the inmates will be released on the condition that they will be returned to prison to complete the rest of their sentences if they commit any sort of offence in the next three years.

Apart from being hired for government jobs, the released inmates will be required to participate in rehabilitation programmes as well as national service programmes over the next two years.


MDP MP proposes death penalty be administered if upheld by Supreme Court

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ahmed Rasheed has presented an amendment to the Clemency Act during yesterday’s parliament session, requiring the death penalty to be administered where the sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court.

While the Maldives theoretically has a death penalty under Islamic Shariah, in practice this has been implemented as a 25 year prison sentence.

In November 2010, the Criminal Court of the Maldives issued a death sentence to a person found guilty of murder. However the last person to actually be judicially executed was Hakim Didi in 1953, who was executed by firing squad after being found guilty of consipiracy to murder using black magic.

In last year’s death penalty verdict, the judge referred to article 88[d] of the Constitution, which stated that cases of murder should be dealt accordingly to Islamic Shariah, and that persons found guilty of murder ”shall be executed” if no inheritor of the victim denies the murderer to be executed, as according to Islamic Shariah.

According to MP Rasheed’s proposed amendment, if the Supreme Court upholds a death penalty ruled by a lower court, or if the Supreme Court itself serves death penalty to a person, the death penalty shall be executed.

Rasheed said he felt he had to present the amendment because of the increase in assaults and murder cases, which had “forced the living to live amid fear and threats.”

He noted that police were sending these cases to court after “thoroughly investigating and researching” them, but the reason the criminals were escaping was because the Prosecutor General was sending “young, untrained lawyers” to the courts. In many cases, he alleged, the PG’s office was not giving its lawyers the police investigation report.

In 2008 Rasheed said 104 cases of assault were sent to Prosecutor General, increasing to 454 in 2009 and 423 cases in 2010.

”I beg this esteemed Majlis to try and make the Prosecutor General accountable,” he said, adding that if his amendment was passed, “violence in this country will be eliminated.”

”In Quran, Sural Al Baqarah verse 178, God says: ‘O ye who believe! the law of equality is prescribed to you in cases of murder: the free for the free, the slave for the slave, the woman for the woman. But if any remission is made by the brother of the slain, then grant any reasonable demand, and compensate him with handsome gratitude, this is a concession and a Mercy from your Lord. After this whoever exceeds the limits shall be in grave penalty’,” he said. ”During broad day light in this very city of Male’ people have been chopped, sliced and crushed using axes, machetes – just like fish are chopped.”

”I am saying brains have leaked out, after being constantly hit by shovels until their skulls are crushed,” he said.

DRP MP Ali Waheed said that he supported “killing those who kill.”

Waheed claimed that “more than 600 youths have been charged in murder cases.”

However, he said, ”slaughtering those who murder is not the solution. We should first try an adequate measurement for this [penalty] instead of implementing death penalties.”

”The corpse found in Lhaviyani Atoll is being buried today after taking DNA samples. But [police] is not sure whether it is the corpse of the Kendhoo person who fell in to the Kaashidhoo Ocean or the corpse of the person missing from Naifaru,” said Ali Waheed. ”This is the situation today.”

President’s Member on the Judicial Services Commisson (JSC), Aishath Velezinee, who wrote her thesis on Sharia, equality and family law, said the country had to first attend to the issue of trust in the judiciary before discussing the death penalty.

“While Islam provides for the dealth penalty in certain cases where preconditions are met, there must be no doubt as to justice has been delivered. There must be absolute faith in the judicary for the death sentence to be delivered – it cannot be reverted,” she said.

“It is an affront to the constitution we adopted for parliament to be discussing this issue without first addressing the multitude of complaints against the JSC. Parliament has shown absolute disregard for the lack of independence of the judiciary.”


Terrorism tip-off letter sent to DRP MP, forwarded to authorities, media

The opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) is publicly claiming to have received an anonymous letter warning of a supposed terrorist attack against the Maldives.

DRP MP Ahmed Mahlouf said he received the letter at around 8:30pm on Saturday evening, signed by “someone who loves their country”, purporting to have information regarding an attack later this month and detailing a list of targets, including the past and current President, senior officials, MPs from both parties, Criminal Court judges and foreign diplomats.

Speaking at a press conference on Sunday afternoon, DRP Deputy Leader Umar Naseer said the party had yesterday “learned of the plot [concerning] a foreign group planning to attack the Maldives”, while People’s Alliance (PA) MP Abdulla Yameen – chair of the National Security Committee – confirmed there would be a meeting on Monday.

Umar went on to reveal the supposed ‘hit list’, which included President Mohamed Nasheed, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, MDP MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Jumhoree Party (JP) MP Gasim Ibrahim, Yameen, DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, DRP MPs Ilham Ahmed, Ali Waheed and Mahlouf, former Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed, former Supreme Court Justice Mujthaz Fahmy, Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed, UN Resident Coordinator Andrew Cox, and himself.

Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) media coordinator Major Abdul Raheem confirmed that Chief of Defence Forces Major General Moosa Jaleel had been verbally informed of the letter, and an investigation was underway.

“There is no information as to the origin [of the letter], but we are taking it seriously and looking into the matter,” he said.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said police “are not saying anything officially.”

Mahlouf acknowledged the “odd” choice of targets for a supposed foreign terrorist group, but noted that the letter had asked him to pass the information to the concerned authorities. It was written in Dhivehi, he noted.

“I don’t know if it is true or false or a trick to threaten us. Still, it’s a letter I take very seriously,” he said. “In 1988 there was talk that the then defence minister received information about the attempted coup, but action was not taken because it was not thought to be serious.”

“Even when I first read [the letter] I thought it was a joke, but I discussed with my fellow MPs and decided to send it to the police,” he said. “I called Gasim and he said he had also received a note.”

Mahlouf said the DRP MPs had further decided to publicise the threats in the media “because we believe some people would try to frame the opposition as being involved in this. Also if there is an attack planned, [the attackers] may not go ahead because of the publicity.”

The President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair said the government wished to thank the DRP MPs for bringing the threats to the government’s attention, and said he believed “there might be some truth” to the claims as the MNDF had said they were “not isolated to one source.”

“It coincides with the importation of a stun gun and other security [events] by a Maldivian individual,” Zuhair observed.

Maldives Customs stopped two men aged 20 and 25 with a stun gun and nine masks from the midnight Sri Lankan Airlines flight. The 3,800 watt stun gun was found on the 20-year-old.

In past weeks, customs officials found five 3-feet long swords in a general cargo shipment at the Male’ commercial harbour, while on August 9, customs seized 250 toy guns guns and handed them over to the MNDF for investigation.

Zuhair added that he did not subscribe to the “theory of others” that the publicising of the letter was an attempt at political gain, but that rather its release showed the opposition “is trying to gain the confidence of the government following conclusion of the interim period.”

However, regarding the threats in the letter sent to Mahlouf, Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed said he had “never heard anything more ridiculous in my entire life.”

“Obviously there’s a madman on the loose. But why wasn’t the information shared just with police? It doesn’t require scaremongering. My concern is that this is scaremongering, and that is not very helpful.”

Dr Shaheed further observed that “the collective wisdom of the ages is that one shouldn’t cry wolf if there is no wolf, and if there is a wolf, the concerned authorities should be allowed to make a swift, sharp and discreet investigation. Terrorists may be mad, but there is method to their madness.”

The concept of a military coup remains a sensitive subject in the Maldives, following an attempt by 80 armed mercenaries of the Sri Lankan People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) to overthrow the Maldives government in 1988.

The plot was foiled when Indian paratroopers arrived less than 12 hours later on request by then-President Gayoom. 19 people died in the fighting, along with several hostages.

More recently the government has expressed concern at rising levels of Islamic fundamentalism in the Maldives, culminating in the 2007 bomb attack in Sultans Park that injured 12 tourists, and an armed stand-off between islanders from Himandhoo in North Ari Atoll and police who were attempting to close the unsanctioned Dhar al Khuir mosque. Footage from a video taken inside the mosque prior to the police raid would later appear in an Al Qaeda recruitment video.

Last week, two of the three men sentenced to 15 years prison for the Sultans’ Park bombing, Ahmed Naseer and Mohamed Sobah, had their sentences commuted to suspended sentences by the government under the new Clemency Act, with accompanying promises that they would be “well observed”.

The bomb attack near the Sultan Park was the first such incident to occur in the Maldives and received widespread publicity around the globe, damaging the tourism industry.


Government decreases sentences of Sultan Park bombers under Clemency Act

The government has confirmed it has commuted the sentences of two of the three convicted terrorists responsible for the 2007 bombing of Sultans Park in Male’, under the Clemency Act.

Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair said the pair, identified by local media as Ahmed Naseer and Mohamed Sobah, were “not granted clemency, but had their sentences decreased.”

The two men had their sentences changed from incarceration to three year suspended sentences under observation.

”Their punishment was delayed by the lawful offering of a suspended punishment,” said Zuhair, indicating that “they will be well observed.”

Naseer and Sobah were convicted for 15 years on charges of terrorism, ”but they were not the people who were in charge of doing this, they did not having the highest involvement,” Zuhair said.

He added that the government wished to “provide an opportunity for everyone to be involved in the society, and the opportunity to rehabilitate and recover.”

The bomb attack near the Sultan Park was the first such incident to occur in the Maldives and received widespread publicity around the globe, damaging the tourism industry.

The incident occurred on September 29 2007 in Sultans Park,  near the Islamic Centre.

The homemade bomb, which consisted of a gas cylinder, a washing machine motor and a mobile phone, injured 12 foreign tourists several seriously.

The tourists hurt included eight from China, two from Britain, and two from Japan.

10 Maldivians and two foreigners were arrested in connection with the case, and in December that year three men confessed in court and were sentenced to 15 years prison.


President Grants clemency for 39 Maldivians and 10 expats

President Mohamed Nasheed has granted clemency to 39 Maldivians and 10 expats who were sentenced to Maldivian jails.

Most of those granted clemency were inmates sentenced for long term punishments and had spent a long time in the cells, according to Director General of Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation Services [DPRS] Ahmed Rasheed.

“Among the 39 Maldivians [granted clemency], most were mainly charged with drug-related cases and some of them were sentenced for objection to order and other such crimes,’’ said Rasheed.

“Seven of the 10 expats were sentenced in a single fraud case.”

Rasheed said although clemency was granted to the seven expats, they would be deported from the Maldives.

President Nasheed also granted clemency decreasing the punishment of another 100 convicted criminals.

“These people were also mainly sentenced for drug related cases and some of them had been banished,’’ Rasheed said.

Inmates at Maafushi jail have on many occasions claimed that President Mohamed Nasheed promised that he would grant clemency to everyone in Maafushi jail when he came in to power.

They claimed that most of their parents and family members voted for president Nasheed due to this pledge he made.

However, the Human Right Commission of the Maldives [HRCM] has claimed that Male’ has reached a situation where it is difficult for people to live a normal life due to rising gang violence.

The commission noted earlier this week that the release of people charged with “perilous crimes” such as murder had led to them repeating the crimes, and that the agencies responsible for the implementation of sentences are not taking necessary measures to ensure they were served.


Maldives to pardon Filipino fraudsters in exchange for Climate Summit support

The Maldives government intends to pardon seven Filipino nationals who were arrested in 2008 for credit card fraud and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

The seven workers, identified by the Philippine Daily Inquirer as Kenneth Navarro, Lito Lago, Dario Agao, Christian Ryan Pineda, Jeffrey Jenkins, Gilbert Bendana and Joey Omawas, were employed at the Dome Cafe at the Maldives International Airport until they were arrested in 2008.

The Inquirer reported that the seven were initially jailed for a one and a half months after they were charged with theft and fraud for stealing a customer’s credit card and receiving items bought with the card in May 2008.

They were conditionally freed while their case was heard, but on February 17, 2009 were sentenced to 25 years in prison and ordered to pay Rf100,000 (US$77,800) in damages after the court found their statements were “conflicting”, and ruled that all of them were guilty.

“The Phillipines government has made a formal requet for clemency to be granted, and the President has given instructions for the request to be accomodated,” confirmed the President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair.

The request had not yet been granted and the process was “ongoing”, Zuhair said, suggesting that should the prisoners be released, the government of the Phillipines “should underwrite the damages, or the government should request it. The issue of compensation is a legal matter,” he noted.

The Philippines government has meanwhile published a statement crediting the release of the seven waiters to a ‘farewell gift’ from President Mohamed Nasheed to outgoing Phillipines Ambassador to the Maldives and Sri Lanka, Zenaida Tacorda Rabago.

“Several avenues were sought for the release/deportation of the seven Filipinos” under the authority of pardon granted to President Nasheed through the recently approved Clemency Law, the release stated.

“In turn, President Nasheed requested that the Philippines support an Asian Summit on climate change,” and “intimated to the Ambassador the hiring of Filipino professionals from the medical, entertainment, and educational fields,” the statement read.

Rabago has also worked to free two Filipinos who have served seven months in jail while awaiting formal charges from the Sri Lankan Government.

State Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Naseem said the Ministry had not been given “any specific instructions” on the matter, but approved in principle.

“We need to send these people away because the jail system here is not conducive to holding foreigners,” he said, noting that the matter had been handed to the Clemency Board.

The Maldivian government is meanwhile working on repatriating Maldivian citizens imprisoned overseas. Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed, speaking in a meeting at the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) headquaters, last week, announced that government would seek to return Maldivian detainees from Syria.

Dr Shaheed said that he would soon travel to Syria with the main purpose of releasing the Maldivian detainees from Syrian jails.

”The main reason of scheduled trip to Syria is to release the Maldivian detainees from prison,” Dr Shaheed said. ”Hopefully, we can release these prisoners and bring them back to the Maldives.”