Former home minister questions government’s sincerity regarding death penalty

Former Home Minister Hassan Afeef has questioned the government’s intention to carry out the death sentence under recently introduced regulations.

“I think they are just playing to the minds of the people because they say they want to protect the religion and protect the country as one of their campaign pledges,” he said.

Afeef – home minister between 2010 and 2012 – also questioned the ability of the current tainted judiciary to provide the certainty required for implementation of the death penalty under Islamic law.

“The judiciary might pass the sentence, there may be a verdict, but I don’t think the current regime will carry it out,” said Afeef.

“They know how politically influenced the judiciary is as the present government are the people who politically influence these judicial decisions – so they know why they make these decisions.”

Afeef’s comments follow further international headlines regarding the new regulations.

The AFP has described the recent murder conviction of a minor to be a “test case” for the new law, although the home minister had previously said that the rules will be applied retroactively to all pending death sentences.

In a statement released yesterday, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) joined the growing international criticism accusing the Maldives government of being out-of-step with its international commitments.

“The decision to reinstate the death penalty in the Maldives, in particular against minors, is an outrage and gravely at odds with the growing international momentum towards abolition,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji.

Lack of capacity

Speaking with Minivan News today, Afeef said the government’s attempts to carry out death sentences in accordance with Islamic Shariah were not possible with the criminal justice system as it is.

Afeef argued that those found guilty of such crimes beyond any doubt should be punished according to Islamic law, but questioned the capacity of the police and the judiciary to provide this certainty.

“According to Islam, when you pass the death penalty it has to be proven beyond doubt that the person has committed that crime and, according to the present situation – the present judiciary and the autocratic regime – we may find a situation where the person sentenced may not be the actual culprit,” he said.

The impartiality of the police and the judiciary has continued to be questioned this month, with the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party describing failures investigate the multiple charges against Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed as “awe-inspiring”.

The statement said the failure of the police and the Judicial Services Commission to conclude investigations or to prosecute Judge Hameed were a clear indication of the status of the Maldives’ criminal justice system.

“Such a judge sitting on the supreme court bench is not recognised by any judicial or legal system in the world. And surely it is the general public who are facing injustice because of this,” said the party.

Hameed – who stands accused of appearing in a sex-tape as well as corruption – adjudicated on both the annulment the first round of last year’s presidential elections as well as the dismissal of the elections commissioner prior to parliamentary elections in March.

Both incidents were denounced by the international community, which has consistently called for judicial reform. Current Attorney General Mohamed Anil has pledged review and reform of the courts as part of the government’s legislative agenda.

Dheen and Qawm

Home Minister Umar Naseer’s January announcement that the government was making preparations to end the country’s 60-year moratorium on the death penalty culminated in the publication of new procedural regulations last month.

Following the gazetting of the new guidelines, Naseer said the chances of killing an innocent person after completing all the procedures in the regulation were “far-fetched” and “almost impossible”.

The regulation – which only allows implementation of death penalty when the sentence is delivered by the Supreme Court – will establish a death penalty committee to assure all procedures have been adhered to.

Mediation between the Islamic Ministry and the victim’s family is also mandated, with family members who are ‘warith’ (heirs in Shariah law) given an opportunity to pardon the convict with or without receiving blood money.

After having previously been opposed to the practice, President Abdulla Yameen announced a “change of heart” just weeks after winning his party’s presidential primary race last year.

Suggesting that “murder has to be punished with murder” in order to “save society”, Yameen embarked on a campaign of ‘dheen and qawm’ – religion and country – winning a drawn-out election in the second round last November.


“Maldives backtracking on democracy”: International Federation for Human Rights

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) yesterday released its report into human rights in the Maldives, titled “From Sunrise to Sunset: Maldives backtracking on democracy”.

In a statement accompanying the report’s release, the group stated that it had witnessed a deterioration in the freedom of assembly and the freedom of the press as well as the “influence of radical groups detrimental to women’s rights”.

“The appointment of close allies of the former dictator Gayoom the new administration these past months, is another worrying sign that questions the respect for democratic principles and the rule of law in the country,” read the statement.

FIDH arranged a fact finding mission to the Maldives at the end of July, meeting with politicians, activists, civil society members and journalists.

The Paris-based group’s President Souhayr Belhassen called on the government to respect democratic gains made in the country, particularly implementing the recommendations of the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) and strengthening independent institutions.

The CNI’s final report, whilst absolving the current government of any wrong-doing during February’s transfer of power, acknowledged that the police had been guilty of acts of brutality on February 8 which must be investigated.

The FIDH report describes how the past decade’s democratic reforms have stalled owing to political polarisation and institutional inertia.

“The 2008 constitution guarantees most of Maldives’ human rights obligations; however these have so far failed to be translated into domestic law,” it says.

It also suggests that the failure of the Nasheed administration to prosecute past human rights offenders has contributed to a “culture of impunity for perpetrators of past human rights violations.”

Civil society that was “flourishing and vocal during the democratic struggle became less visible during the presidency of Mohamed Nasheed”, says the report, arguing that it had become another casualty of the polarised environment.

The report detials the difficulties the country has had with separating the powers of the executive, the legislature and the judiciary which had previously been dominated by former President Gayoom.

“Tensions with the judiciary and the opposition-dominated parliament, led [Nasheed] to take unilateral decisions that exceeded his prerogatives, such as ordering the arrest of opposition leaders and a judge without following due process, or by declaring the Supreme Court defunct. Since Mohamed Waheed took over power, executive interference has continued,” read the report.

Regarding the state of the judiciary, FIDH argues that testimonies gathered from its members show that, “under the successive administrations, no political party has actually ever shown any willingness to establish an independent judiciary since each seems to benefit from the existing system.”

FIDH also notes that the government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan has been accused of a wide range of human right violations, including violent harassment of street protesters, torture and harassment of pro-opposition media as wells as legal and physical harassment of the opposition.

“Practices to silence political dissent that had disappeared in the course of Nasheed’s presidency, have once again become prevalent under Mohamed Waheed’s presidency,” said FIDH.

The report highlights what it sees as impartial investigations of crimes, citing in particular the attempted murder of blogger Ismail ‘Hilath’ Rasheed.

The issue of the use of religion for political gains is criticised in the report: “The exploitation of religion for political gains has posed a threat to the drafting of new legislations by potentially limiting existing human rights.”

FIDH also expressed its concerns that tentative gains in women’s rights, as typified by the recent domestic violence bill, could be reversed if government aligned religious groups push for full implementation of Sharia law.

The report also criticises the apparent enthusiasm amongst politicians for implementation of the death penalty, saying: “With the current state of the judiciary and the incapacity of the police to properly investigate crimes, analysts fear judicial errors would result in the death of innocent people.”

In its recommendations to the Maldives government, FIDH urges the Maldives to remove from the domestic legal framework provisions that restrict individual right based on “race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other statu” to conform with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Amongst its other recommendations, the report urges the government to strengthen independent institutions, to enact relevant legislation which will enable the country to fulfil its human rights obligations  and to order a thorough investigation into the attack on ‘Hilath’ Rasheed.

“The situation remains at the time of release of this report relatively confused and uncertain,” concludes the report, “however, the coming weeks will be crucial to test the Government’s ability and willingness to prevent further acts of police brutality and, in general, a deterioration of the human rights situation.”

FIDH’s report follows the release of an Amnesty International report last week which highlighted a number of politically motivated attacks by police on February 8.

Following the government’s claims that Amnesty had produced a one-sided report without seeking comment from the government, an Amnesty spokesperson stressed that the organisation was without political affiliation and had not been the only group to highlight human rights violations in the Maldives this year.

“In compiling our report we talked at length with government and police officials in Malé and Addu during our visit to the country in late February and early March. On the occasions they responded we have included their comments in our documents,” said the spokesperson.