Sentencing children to death is alarming: Amnesty International

Amnesty International has 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.

The Juvenile Court issued the death sentence to two 18 year-olds found guilty of the February 18, 2012 murder of Abdul Muheeth. Muheeth was stabbed at 1:45am near the Finance Ministry building in the capital Male’ and later died during treatment.

Following the sentencing Amnesty International issued a statement urging Maldivian authorities to commute the death sentence and stop the potential execution of the pair, who were sentenced to death after being found guilty of a murder committed when they were under 18.

“The Maldives is entering new and dangerous territory – imposing death sentences for crimes allegedly committed by children is alarming,” said Polly Truscott, Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director.

“The Maldives authorities are flouting international law – anyone convicted of a crime committed when they were under 18 is exempt from the death penalty.

“The authorities must immediately reverse these death sentences, and the prosecution must not try to uphold the death sentences in any appeals,” Truscott added.

Amnesty International also called for the sentences of other prisoners on death row to be commuted, the establishment of an official moratorium on executions, as well as the abolition of the death penalty.

“Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception. There is no convincing evidence that the death penalty works as a special deterrent against crime,” said Truscott.

On December 30, 2012 the Juvenile Court finished taking statements from the heirs of Abdul Muheeth, where all approved passing the death sentence against the trial’s defendants should they be found guilty.

In March, Police Inspector Abdulla Satheeh said Muheeth was mistakenly killed by a gang and that he was not the intended target.

Police previously announced that Muheeth was not a member of any gangs, adding that he had also held a responsible job at the time of his death.

Death penalty controversy

Article 88[d] of the Maldives Penal Code states that murders should be dealt with according to Islamic Sharia and that persons found guilty of murder “shall be executed” if no heir of the victim objects, according to Islamic Sharia.

Although the Maldives Penal Code allows for the death sentence, it has traditionally been commuted to 25 years in prison.

In October 2012, the government 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.

In December 2012, the Attorney General’s Office completed drafting a bill outlining how the death sentence should be executed in the Maldives, with lethal injection being identified as the state’s preferred method of capital punishment.

However, earlier this year religious NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf has called on Shukoor to amend the government’s draft bill on the implementation of death penalty, urging that convicts be beheaded or shot instead of given lethal injection.

The bill is currently pending approval by parliament, and has given rise to dissenting opinions on the matter.

This April, the Maldivian state sought a High Court ruling on the President’s discretion to commute death sentences to life imprisonment.

During a hearing on April 22, in a case filed by five citizens seeking to annul laws granting the President discretionary powers of clemency, the state attorney said the government would prefer the court itself provided a decision on the matter in accordance with Islamic Sharia.

The state attorney insisted that the decision be made by the court, despite the High Court Judges Bench emphasising that the state must provide an answer since the case concerned a constitutional matter.

The last person to be judicially executed in the Maldives was Hakim Didi, who was executed by firing squad in 1953 after being found guilty of conspiracy to murder using black magic.

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

However in all cases the sitting president has commuted such verdicts to life sentences.


MDP MP withdraws controversial death penalty amendment moments before vote

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ahmed Rasheed has withdrawn his amendment to the Clemency Act at the last minute, hours before a vote to send the bill to committee. The controversial amendment would have required implementing agencies to execute murderers if the Supreme Court upheld a guilty verdict.

After the preliminary debate over the past three sittings, MP Rasheed was given the opportunity to say his last words on the amendment, which he used as an opportunity to withdraw the bill.

Presenting the bill to the parliament earlier this month, the Hoarafushi MP explained that he was prompted by the recent increase in assaults and murder cases, which had “forced the living to live amid fear and threats.”

In 2008, said Rasheed, 104 cases of assault were sent to the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO), rising to 454 cases in 2009 and 423 cases in 2010.

”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 then 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.”

While he did not specify reasons for his decision to withdraw the amendment, Rasheed claimed that he would resubmit the amendment once belated bills on evidence laws, criminal justice procedures and the penal code were enacted. Criticism of the amendment had centered around the capacity of the Maldivian justice system to rule fairly and impartially in such cases.

Unlike most parliamentary debates, MPs were not divided on the issue of death penalty along party lines. Several MPs of the ruling MDP as well as some opposition MPs argued that the fledgling Maldivian judiciary did not have the capacity or public confidence to dispense justice fairly.

The decision comes after 21 year-old Ahusan Basheer was murdered on the streets of Male’ during a gang attack on Thursday night.

The last person to be executed by Maldivian state was Hakim Didi in 1953 for the crime of practicing black magic.