Cabinet advises president to establish regulations for death penalty

The cabinet has today advised President Abdulla Yameen that there is no legal obstruction to implementing death sentences, asking him to establish regulations determining the appropriate procedure.

The cabinet noted murder to be a serious crime on a national level, calling upon the president to pursue implementation of the death sentence using lethal injection.

Meanwhile, Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Mahloof has today announced his decision not to seek a public referendum on capital punishment, giving his apologies to the public.

The decision followed the Fiqh Academy’s statement announcing that a public referendum on the death sentence was unlawful as the punishment was determined in Islamic Sharia.

Mahloof told the press today that he started the work with good intentions, but as religious scholars had said the referendum was unlawful, he no longer wanted to go ahead with it.

Mahloof held a press conference today at the PPM’s offices, telling media that he had never opposed the penalty, but rather had wanted – via the public referendum – to show how much the people were in need of it.

Mahloof said that the cabinet has the authority to enact the death sentence, and called upon it to realise that the implementation of capital punishment has to be started as soon as possible.

On February 4, Mahloof proposed conducting the referendum, suggesting that a poll could be held simultaneously with the parliamentary elections scheduled for March 22.

On the same day Islamic Minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed wrote on his twitter page that a public vote was not allowed on something already determined under Islamic Sharia.

Mahloof’s actions followed Home Minister Umar Naseer’s order to the Maldives Correctional Service last month to begin preparations for implementation of death sentences by lethal injection.

Amnesty International subsequenty called on the government to halt any plans to end the current moratorium on the death penalty, describing such a move as “a retrograde step and a serious setback to human rights in the country.”

President Yameen – on a state visit to Sri Lanka at the time of Naseer’s announcement – meanwhile told the press that the home minister’s order was not discussed in cabinet, and promised “broad discussions” on the issue.

In December 2012, the then-Attorney General Azima Shukoor has drafted 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.

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.


Political bias limiting right to information: panel

The biased editorial practices of media outlets owned by politicians is one of the major impediments preventing the right to information from being upheld in the Maldives, journalists and civil society actors highlighted during discussion panels organised by the US Embassy this week.

Maldivian journalists and NGO leaders met with representatives from the US Embassy, the UN, as well as a US attorney representing the American Society of News Editors, Kevin Goldberg, to discuss the current status and future efforts needed to protect this human right in the Maldives.

The state is the guardian of information and the public have a right to access that information, according to the forum.

This is essential for not only holding the government accountable to the public – so residents of the Maldives can understand what the government is doing for the people – but also for instilling public trust in government institutions.

Any type of information, including documents, electronic records, audio, video, etc., produced, held or maintained by a state institution should be easily accessible. Uninhibited access to events held in the public domain, such as protests, are also protected, the forum was informed.

Journalists and NGO representatives alike noted the lack of cooperation from government institutions as well as the shortcomings of media outlets in disseminating balanced information.

The media discussion panel held Monday (August 12) was nonetheless poorly attended, with three journalists from Sun Online, one Maldives Media Council (MMC) official, and one Minivan News representative participating.

While two Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC), also known as Television Maldives (TVM), reporters were present during part of Attorney Kevin Goldberg’s opening remarks, they left prior to the group discussion taking place. No representatives from the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC), Raajje TV, Villa TV (VTV), DhiTV, Haveeru News, Channel News Maldives (CNM), Miadhu News, or Minivan Radio attended the event.

Although the panel was small, discussion was lively, with everyone in attendance concerned about editorial policies that catered to the government or a specific political party, which they said had staunched the flow of information reaching the Maldivian public.

Unbalanced reporting in favor of the state during the February 2012 controversial transfer of power that followed former President Mohamed Nasheed’s resignation, as well as government authorities cutting Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) aligned-Raajje TV’s feed, were highlighted as concerns.

In addition to the need for a culture of balanced, ethical reporting, journalists highlighted the difficulty in obtaining information from various government representatives and institutions.

Goldberg noted that “information delayed is information denied”, and that procedural mechanisms should be in place to allow the public, including journalists, easy access information. The state should “proactively disclose” information of public interest, individuals “shouldn’t have to ask for it”, he said, explaining that readily available information was as much a means for public officials to protect themselves from the media as it was for the media in conducting investigative journalism.

Goldberg, as well as the Human Rights Advisor to the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office, Safir Syed, stated that MBC’s requirement that journalists be licensed to enter a protest was a human rights violation.

Goldberg emphasised that it takes time to build enough collective momentum to effectively pressure a government to uphold the right to information, and that collaboration between media outlets and civil society was essential to do so.

NGO representatives echoed the concerns noted by journalists during the discussion panel held Tuesday (August 13) and emphasised that unethical reporting and the media’s lack of cooperation with NGOs had limited civil society’s trust of local media outlets.

The inability to appeal to the judiciary to obtaining access to public information was also highlighted as a problem.

Transparency Maldives Project Director Aiman Rasheed explained to Minivan News that while Article 19 of the Maldivian Constitution guarantees the right to information, current practice was limited to the executive. He added that the right to information regime needs to be spread across all state institutions, including the judiciary, parliament, independent commissions and state companies.

Furthermore, the Maldives is a signatory to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which also protects this human right.

“The right to information is important for citizens to make informed choices, participate in the democratic process, and hold the government accountable,” said Rasheed. “Freedom of information is a key prerequisite for democracy.”


President calls for constitutional reforms to curb “conflict” between state institutions

President Dr Mohamed Waheed  has called for reforms to the current Maldivian constitution in order to reduce “conflict” between different government institutions while carrying out their respective mandates.

The president stated during a campaign speech on Vaadhoo Island in Raa Atoll Thursday (April 11) that he too had faced difficulties in carrying out constitutional duties as a result of such conflicts between the different branches of government.

“The whole system would be complete only when the power, authority and responsibility rendered to a particular position by the constitution, was properly carried out,” he stated.

The president claimed that amendments to the constitution were therefore necessary to allow each institution to “use their powers” independently, since currently “great conflict” is sometimes encountered.

He stated that the Supreme Court ultimately held the final decision-making power to resolve constitutional matters and its decisions should therefore be respected.

The nation’s highest court has been involved in a number of disputes with the Maldives legislature in recent months.


Crime boosted by lack of witness protection, claims judge

A senior judge at the criminal court has claimed that a lack of witness protection is the main reason the justice system has failed to check rising crime rates.

At a press conference last week, Senior Judge Abdulla Mohamed said many witnesses are bribed or threatened and many fail to testify in court for fear that they or their families will be in some way hurt.

Prosecutor General Ahmed Muizzu agreed the issue was “very serious.”

“Because [the islands of] the Maldives are so small, it makes our job [of protecting witnesses] more difficult,” he said. “In some cases, witnesses are being threatened or intimidated. In other cases they might be bribed or offered rewards.”

Another major concern raised regarding witness protection was the lack of space to hold witnesses and criminals separately, with witnesses and the accused made to sit next to each other in the court houses. Muizzu says that this is something that the courts are trying to address.

He agreed with the judge that witnesses should be allowed to testify anonymously, and said improvements were being made such as allowing witnesses “to testify via video or audio link.”

Muizzu also noted that “there are some issues of witness protection that are pending in parliament.”

The police are also trying to formulate laws to improve witness protection. Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said police brought up the issue of witness protection long ago, without response.

“Police get threats as well,” he said. “It’s a major concern for us; we need to give better protection to witnesses.”

Without a witness’ testimony before the prosecution, a case can be dismissed due to lack of evidence. Muizzu explained that “in most cases, confessions made to the police will not have any weight, so it is very important that the witnesses testify for the prosecution in court in order to prove the case.”

Judge Mohamed criticised the lack of cooperation between government institutions, claiming that this was causing delay and even the collapse of many important criminal cases.

The prosecutor general admitted “there have been some instances when there has been delay on our part”, but said he believes that all branches of government are doing their best.

“Our prosecutors do appear in approximately 40-45 cases in criminal court every day, and we do cooperate to the best of our availability of human resources.”

He said there are areas that could be improved, especially witness protection.

“The court will definitely need the cooperation of the police and the prosecution to effectively discharge their duties. And we are prepared for that.”

Shiyam said, “If there is anything police need to be mindful of, judges should tell us what needs to be corrected. They should at least phone senior officers.”

He insisted police are working “hand-in-hand” with other government institutions. “All authorities must come together to provide better security,” he said.

Spokesman for the President’s Office, Mohamed Zuhair, said the government is “strengthening and improving facilities for all institutions and courts.”

He said issues of space for institutions such as the criminal court would resolved when the ministries move to the new Wellaanage complex, soon to be completed.

He also criticised judge Abdulla Mohamed for failing to take his concerns to the “proper channels.

“I don’t believe people in the judiciary should access media to give political messages,” Zuhair said.