New halfway house for recovering addicts

A ‘halfway house’ operated by the National Drug Agency (NDA) for recovering drug addicts was opened in Hulhumalé yesterday. Recovering addicts will spend three months at the halfway house studying and learning work skills.

The halfway house was funded out of the government budget with assistance from an Italian organisation called Caritas Italiana.

The foundation stone for the halfway house was laid in July 2011.

Speaking at yesterday’s ceremony, home minister Umar Naseer said providing rehabilitation for drug users was a high priority for the current administration.

He noted that drug addicts often relapse after undergoing treatment at rehabilitation centres. The halfway house will play an important role in reintegrating addicts back to society, he said.

Some 17 recovering addicts are currently residing in the new halfway house.

A national drug use survey published in 2012 by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reported that 48 percent of drug users in the Maldives feel they are neglected and perceived as outcasts by the local community.

The stigmatisation of drug addicts leads to the creation of a cycle of addiction with recovering addicts relapsing back into drug abuse as an escape from perceived ‘disgrace’ they have brought upon themselves and their families.

The UNODC survey found that there were 7,496 drug users in the Maldives between the age of 15 and 64 in the Maldives and that 48 percent of drug users in the capital Malé were between the ages of 15 and 19 years.

 

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“Murder has to be punished with murder”: Yameen calls for death penalty to be put into practice

Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) Presidential Candidate Abdulla Yameen has called for the death penalty to be put into practice in the Maldives, a day after vowing to reform the judiciary.

The MP, half brother of former autocratic ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, made the comments while speaking on the program Voice of Maldives on Monday night (July 22).

Yameen explained that although he was not previously an advocate of the death penalty, he now believed it must be implemented to save Maldivian society from murders that have become too commonplace, according to local media reports.

Yameen noted that as a result of the “recent spate of killings” in the Maldives he has had a “change of heart” and now believes “murder has to be punished with murder.”

“It is something that has to be done. We cannot move forward without making our streets safe,” Yameen said.

Yameen explained that a death penalty sentence should only be implemented if upheld by the Supreme Court.

“I now believe, if it can be proven in trial so that the country accepts, if it is proven to a degree accepted by judicial principles, if all the steps are followed, and if the Maldivian people believe, I believe that the death penalty is necessary to save society,” he said.

He also noted that because detailed legislation is necessary to implement the death penalty, the current government recently proposed a death penalty bill in parliament.

Regarding whether he would implement Islamic Sharia law, Yameen’s response to a caller was that “justice is currently delivered in the Maldives through Islamic principles” and that he would act “in accordance with what is laid out by the constitution.”

He pledged that under a PPM government he would “do whatever has to be done” to make the Maldives a peaceful place.

Yameen also denied financing or having links with gangs, claiming these allegations “do not have any basis” and politicians perpetuating such rumors “lack sincerity”.

Such rumors that Yameen has gang ties have “been around a long time”, according to CNM.

During the PPM presidential primary, former candidate and PPM Vice President Umar Naseer publicly accused Yameen of involvement with gangs and the illegal drug trade. However, Yameen denied the “defamatory accusations” calling them “baseless and untrue”.

Yameen further noted during the Voice of Maldives program that a “major part” of the government budget would be spent on youth, including a special rehabilitation program for drug addicts, with more than 900 placements available, if he is elected president.

Last month, Yameen also announced that PPM intended to transform Hulhumale’ into a “Youth City” where enough apartments to accommodate young people would be constructed.

Judicial reform pledge

Meanwhile, a day prior to Yameen’s comments in favor of implementing the death penalty to quell violent crime in the Maldives, the PPM presidential candidate pledged to reform the judiciary, even if it required amending the constitution.

To gain investors’ confidence and bring foreign investments to the Maldives, reforming the judiciary to ensure swift justice and confidence in the institution is necessary, Yameen explained.

“We see the many challenges ahead from every direction. So we are not only competing with other candidates. We are competing against the flailing economy and fading culture and values,” he said.

Yameen told local media that Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain had also noted the judiciary has “problems”.

Faiz has meanwhile urged the public and media to refrain from making statements that would give a negative image of the judiciary, and called for constitutional amendments.

His comment’s follow the Maldives Bar Association (MBA) calling for the suspension of Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed pending an investigation into his alleged sexual misconduct. Hameed is under investigation by both the police and Judicial Service Commission (JSC) over the circulation of at least three sex videos apparently depicting him fornicating with unidentified foreign women.

Earlier this year, Faiz said that the current seven-member bench of the Supreme Court cannot be abolished and will continue to remain as the highest court of the country as long as the Maldives remains a democracy. In July 2012, the Chief Justice also said the death penalty can be executed within the existing justice system of the Maldives.

Death penalty controversy

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.

Death penalty legislation was presented to parliament in June by government-aligned Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) MP Riyaz Rasheed to implement the death penalty by hanging if the Supreme Court upheld a death sentence passed by a lower court. The legislation was put to a vote to decide whether or not to proceed with the bill at committee stage and was ultimately rejected 26-18 with no abstentions.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP said at the time that the party’s parliamentary group had opted to throw out the bill on the grounds that it would be “irresponsible” to approve such measures with ongoing concerns held by itself and international experts over the functioning of the country’s judiciary.

The party additionally criticised the proposed bill as being irrelevant, arguing that the country’s draft penal code – a recent issue of contention between MPs and certain political parties – already included provisions for the death sentence as outlined under Islamic Sharia.

Recent calls for presidential clemency to be blocked led Attorney General (AG) 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.

Minivan News understands that the bill submitted by the AG remains open for comments on potential amendments.

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

Eariler this year, the UN country team in the Maldives issued a statement calling for the abolition of both corporal punishment and the death penalty in the Maldives.

Additionally, the state’s stance to review implementation of death sentences has led to strong criticism from certain human rights-focused NGOs this year.

Speaking to Minivan News immediately following a visit to the Maldives in April 2013, Amnesty International’s South Asia Director Polly Truscott raised concerns about the recent drafting of new bills outlining implementation for executions.

She argued that even in practice, such bills would be deemed as a human rights violation, with the NGO maintaining that there remained no research to support the assertion that executing criminals served as an effective deterrent for serious crimes.

She noted this was a particular concern considering the recent findings of various international experts such as UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Judiciary, Gabriela Knaul, regarding the politicised nature of the country’s judicial system.

“To leave Sharia law to the discretion of individual judges is something we believe would be a bad idea,” she said at the time.

In May this year, Amnesty International condemned the sentencing of two 18 year-olds to death for a murder committed while they were minors, and called on Maldivian government authorities to commute the sentence.

Meanwhile, a survey of the leading criminologists in the United States conducted in 2009 found that 88 percent of the country’s top criminologists “did not believe” that the death penalty is a “proven deterrent to homicide”.

The study, Do Executions Lower Homicide Rates? The Views of Leading Criminologists published in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, also found that 87 percent of the expert criminologists believe that abolition of the death penalty would not have any significant effect on murder rates.

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