Only three judges trained on new penal code

A new penal code is due to come into force at midnight tonight, but the three judges of the Juvenile Court are the only judges who have been trained on the provisions in the new law, reliable sources have told Minivan News. 

The juvenile court has declined to comment on the matter, while the Department of Judicial Administration (DJA) said no judges have been trained on the new law.

Judges and lawyers told Minivan News in April that the Supreme Court has denied permission for judges and magistrates to attend trainings conducted by the attorney general’s office and the UNDP at a special legal sector resource center, which was set up last year to train law enforcement agencies, judges, lawyers and journalists on the new penal code.

“The penal code is a large, extensive document with criminal proceedings that is new to the Maldives. I wanted to attend but the Supreme Court wouldn’t give us permission,” a judge who wanted to remain anonymous told Minivan News at the time.

The existing penal code was adopted in 1968 and has been criticised as draconian, outdated and not in line with the democratic constitution of 2008.

Speaking at a symposium about the new penal code in April, Attorney General Mohamed Anil said the country should bid farewell to the existing law “without any fear” as it was unsuited to the present day. The Majlis however delayed the law’s enforcement by three months in the same month claiming more time was needed to raise awareness.

Former Prosecutor General Hussain Shameem says that some 1100 people people have been provided extensive training as part of preparations for implementing the penal code.

“We have never been more prepared for a law than this,” he said.

The Supreme Court has meanwhile drafted a penal code of its own, which proposes lowering the age of criminal responsibility to seven years and sets hefty fines and jail terms for defaming a state employee.

But the People’s Majlis has suspended its sittings to block MPs from submitting any changes. Explaining the decision to suspend sittings, a senior ruling party MP told Minivan News: “We will not allow the judiciary to dictate laws and overstep its mandate.”

A source familiar with the apex court’s draft said it will undo ten years of work put into modernizing the Maldives’ criminal laws.

In the draft, defamation of a state employee by using the media is punishable by up to eight months in jail or a MVR15,000 fine. Providing misleading statements about court proceedings is punishable by up to three years in jail and a maximum fine of MVR30,000.

Reporters will have to bear criminal responsibility for translating or reproducing statements issued by international bodies that defame state employees, the draft said. Meanwhile, courts can also shut down media outlets if defamatory statements are published.

However, with the new penal code, the Maldives will become the first Islamic country to adopt a criminal law compatible with both the Islamic Shariah and international human rights standards.

The Maldivian judiciary has been widely criticized over politicization and the lack of academic qualification of sitting judges. The new penal code will regulate judge’s discretion in meting out punishments.

Correction: Minivan News has removed a statement from this article that said the training of the juvenile court judges had taken place without the Supreme Court’s permission.


Underage murder suspect transferred to house arrest

The juvenile court has transferred a suspect in the murder of 19-year-old Ahmed Aseel to house arrest after the minor’s family said he has depression.

The court had previously ordered the minor to be kept in police custody until the murder trial ends.

The minor’s family submitted documents to prove he has depression, local media said.

Aseel was attacked in Malé in August last year and died as a result of his injuries. He was stabbed near Iskandhar School in the Machangolhi ward of the the capital on August 23 along with two others – aged 20 and 13-years-old – whose injuries were not critical.

Doctors had removed Aseel’s right leg in an attempt to save his life after he was stabbed six times.

Eyewitnesses said a group of masked men stabbed the two men in the back and struck the minor on the head before fleeing on motorbikes.

Some eight suspects, including two minors, have been charged over the murder.



Two sentenced to death over crimes committed as minors

The juvenile court has today sentenced two young men to death over a murder committed when the pair were minors, but the two are unlikely to face the death penalty.

The two unnamed 19-year-olds denied charges over the stabbing and death of Hussain Waheed in Malé in December 2013. They were 16 at the time.

Waheed had died of heart failure due to the stab wounds to his chest.

Speaking at the UN human rights council last week, legal affairs secretary at the president’s office, Aishath Bisham, said “it would be legally impossible to issue the death sentence” if the accused denies murder charges at any stage of prosecution.

One of the suspects was charged with murder while the other was charged with being an accomplice to the murder. Another 14-year-old was arrested at the time and charged with assaulting an individual on the scene.

The juvenile court sentenced the pair based on testimony by four eyewitnesses. All nine heirs of the victim have asked the court to implement the death penalty.

In 2014, the Maldives repealed a six-decade-old de facto moratorium on the death penalty, ostensibly to tackle a surge in fatal stabbings. Over 30 people have been killed in violent crimes in the past seven years.

Under the new regulations, individuals as young as seven years of age can be sentenced to death if convicted of wilful murder.

The juvenile court has now sentenced a total of four young men to death for murders committed when they were minors. Two young men convicted of wilful murder in the death of Abdul ‘Bobby’ Muheeth were also sentenced to death in May 2013.

The government says capital punishment can only be enforced if all three tiers of the judiciary find the accused to be guilty and if all heirs of the victim request the death penalty. Bisham also said the president is required to review if due process was followed before he enforces the death sentence.

The last person executed in the Maldives was Hakim Didi, who was found guilty of practicing black magic in 1953.

The common practice has since been for the president to commute all death sentences to life imprisonment through powers vested in him by the Clemency Act. The new regulations has revoked president’s authority.

Several countries at the Universal Periodic Review, including France, the United Kingdom, Ukraine, Namibia, Spain, Australia and Montenegro expressed concern over Maldives’ decision to end the unofficial moratorium on the death penalty.


High Court Judge Yoosuf Hussain retires

High Court judge Yoosuf Hussain has retired today, with sources close to the court telling Minivan News the decision was made on grounds of ill-health.

According to a statement on the court’s website in Dhivehi, Judge Yoosuf served on the bench of the interim Supreme Court between 2008 and 2010, before being appointed to the High Court.

He had previously served as the chief judge at the Family Court, as a judge at Court No.1, and and as a legal officer of the now-defunct Ministry of Justice and Islamic Affairs.

Although this is the first time a High Court judge has retired, Ahmed Shareef – initially appointed as the court’s chief judge – was demoted to the Juvenile Court in August 2014 by the Judicial Service Commission.


Juvenile Court orders gender ministry to assume custody of a minor

The Juvenile Court has released an unprecedented order for the Ministry of Law and Gender to assume custody of a minor whose parents were seen to be unfit to take guardianship of him.

The 15-year-old was tried at the court on charges of drug abuse. The court stated that the minor’s detention has been extended by the court several times with regard to charges of drug abuse and possession. However, in accordance with a decision from the Prosecutor General’s Office, the court has dropped charges against him.

The court then sought his parents so as to release him to their custody. However, they were unable to find any persons willing to take responsibility of the child.

The Juvenile Court stated that it released the order as the child’s father is unfit to take custody of the child as he himself has previous charges on multiple counts of drug abuse and has served time in prison.

Meanwhile, the child’s mother has responded to the court’s request to take custody of him by stating that she is unable to take guardianship of the child due to her current situation. Any further details of the reasons she presented to court have not been made public.

According to the court order, the recently formed Ministry of Law and Gender has to take responsibility for the child until he is eighteen years of age, or until the state is able to identify legal guardians from among his relatives.

In the order they released on Thursday, the court stated that in accordance with Article 35(a) of the Maldives Constitution, Child Rights Protection Act and international treaties, the state is mandated to take responsibility for children in such situations.

The order further states that the Ministry of Law and Gender and the Juvenile Justice Unit under the Ministry of Home Affairs had stated argued that they are unable to assume custody of the child as there is currently no system set in place where such minors can be housed and taken care of.

The court, however, ordered the Gender Ministry to take custody of the child until he is 18-years-old or other legal guardians are arranged.

While the Ministry of Gender and Law confirmed that Deputy Minister Shidhatha Shareef is in charge of the matter, Minivan News was unable to contact her at the time of press.

Juvenile Court Media Spokesperson Fathimath Sajidha was unable to provide further information on the matter at the time of press.


JSC demotes High Court Chief Judge Shareef to Juvenile Court

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has transferred High Court Chief Judge Ahmed Shareef to the Juvenile Court as a disciplinary measure more than one year and two months after he was indefinitely suspended.

The judicial watchdog revealed in a press statement yesterday (August 6) that Shareef was found guilty of ethical misconduct following an investigation of a complaint filed by seven of his colleagues on the High Court bench.

The JSC did not divulge any details regarding the allegations.

However, in June 2012, the Anti-Corruption Commission was asked to investigate allegations that Chief Judge Shareef met officials of Malaysian mobile security firm Nexbis in Bangkok, Thailand while a case concerning the firm’s controversial border control project was scheduled at the High Court.

Hulhumalé magistrate court

Shareef was suspended on May 29, 2013 while he was presiding over a case filed by former President Mohamed Nasheed contesting the legitimacy of the JSC’s appointment of a three-judge panel at the Hulhumalé magistrate court.

The judges were appointed to preside over the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party presidential candidate’s trial concerning the military’s controversial detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.

In April 2013, the High Court had suspended the trial pending a ruling on the legitimacy of the magistrate court bench.

However, the High Court case has remained stalled since Shareef’s suspension the following month – more than a year after the complaint was filed against him.

JSC Chair and Supreme Court Justice Adam Mohamed Abdulla insisted at the time that the suspension was not related to the ongoing High Court case concerning Nasheed’s trial.

The suspension came shortly after the cancellation of a hearing in the Nasheed case which was scheduled at the High Court on the same day.

After voting against suspending Shareef, public representative on the JSC Shuaib Abdul Rahman told local media that the decision was made in violation of due process and JSC procedures as a report regarding the allegations was not presented to the commission’s members.

Shareef then challenged the JSC decision at the Civil Court contending that the suspension was unlawful. The court subsequently upheld the JSC decision in October 2013.


In addition to Nasheed’s case, a number of high-profile cases over which Shareef was presiding have remained stalled since his suspension, including an appeal by Fathmath Hana, 18, who was sentenced to death for the murder of prominent lawyer Ahmed Najeeb.

Shareef was also among the panel of judges hearing appeals from the Prosecutor General’s (PG) Office over the acquittals of President Abdulla Yameen’s brother Abdulla Algeen on corruption charges and suspected drug kingpin Mohamed Hussain Manik.

According to the Judicature Act, the chief judge of a court has the administrative authority to appoint judges to preside over cases and make changes to panels. The Supreme Court had also ruled that acting chief judges do not have the authority to make such changes.

In June, the JSC appointed Judge Abdulla Hameed to head the High Court for a period of six months.

Meanwhile, in April, Nasheed asked the High Court to expedite the case concerning the legitimacy of the magistrate court bench.

Nasheed’s lawyer Hassan Latheef told Minivan News at the time that the former president did not wish to have pending criminal charges. Nasheed had previously said he was  “prepared” to justify the reasons for the arrest of Judge Abdulla and defend the decision at court.

In June, the High Court summoned members of Nasheed’s legal team to sign statements given at previous hearings.

Two of the three judges appointed to the magistrate court to preside over Nasheed’s trial have meanwhile been transferred to other courts. Judge Shujau Usman was transferred to the Criminal Court and Judge Hussain Mazeed to the Civil Court.

Meanwhile, according to the JSC’s annual report for 2013, the commission has yet to conclude investigations or make a decision regarding 106 cases, which were pending at the end of last year, including one complaint dating back to 2008 and four complaints from 2009.

In a comprehensive report on the Maldivian judiciary released in May 2013, UN Special Rapporteur for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, observed that a lack of transparency concerning the JSC’s proceedings “nourishes serious allegations of selectivity in the management of complaints.”


Three minors charged in gang murder

Three minors have been charged over the death of 21-year-old Hussein Waheed, who died from stab injuries to his chest on December 24, 2013.

A 16-year-old is also being charged with murder, while a second 16-year-old is being charged as an accomplice to murder. A 14-year-old is also being charged with attacking another individual at the scene.

Although the Juvenile Court reduces sentences for juvenile offenders, judges have no opportunity to offer leniency in murder-related offenses, a juvenile court spokesperson told Minivan News.

New death penalty regulations publicised in March allow children as young as seven to be executed for murder. The regulations came partly in response to a spate of gang-related killings in the capital in recent years.

Home Minister Umar Naseer said the regulations were a first step to “keeping peace and creating a safe environment for our citizens.”

According to the police, Waheed was murdered in a dispute over drugs between rival gangs in Malé. He was attacked at 10:30pm on December 24, and died shortly afterwards at 11:10pm at Indhira Gandhi Memorial Hospital.

Malé’s prominent gang culture has been well documented in recent years as using young people to carry out illegal acts, with persistent suggestions that the groups are linked with powerful business and political factions.

The 16-year-old murder suspect is accused of stabbing Waheed in the chest with a six inch blade, while the second 16-year-old is accused of helping the suspect flee the scene.

The 14-year-old is being charged with attempting to attack another person at the scene with a 7-inch blade.

All three are currently under police custody.

The police also arrested two additional men over the murder and have previously noted that all four individuals initially arrested in this case – except the 14-year-old – have criminal records.

The murder suspect had previously been sentenced for three counts of theft but was released on completing a rehabilitation program by the Juvenile Court.

Hearings are scheduled for May 27 and June 3.

The victim Waheed also has a criminal record, being taken into police custody in April 2011 as part of a special operation to reduce crime in the capital, in connection to a stockpile of weapons and drugs found in a Malé house.

On December 29, Naseer said the police had prevented a second revenge attack for Waheed’s murder in late December.

In May 2013, Amnesty International issued a statement condemning the sentencing of two 18-year-olds to death for a murder committed while they were minors.

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 Malé and later died during treatment.

“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,” she said.


114 criminal hearings cancelled as state prosecutors refuse to attend court for third day

The Criminal Court has cancelled hearings in 114 criminal cases as state prosecutors refused to attend trials for a third day.

State prosecutors claim they are now “in a legal void” in the absence of a Prosecutor General (PG) or a deputy PG. Former PG Ahmed Muizz resigned in November shortly ahead of a no confidence motion at parliament, while Deputy PG Hussein Shameem resigned on Monday citing the Criminal Court’s “obstruction” of criminal justice.

Attorney General Mohamed Anil has said Assistant Prosecutor General Ahmed Hameed Fahmy must take over the responsibilities of the PG.

The leadership vacuum at the PG office “halts the criminal justice system and endangers public peace,” Anil said in a six page legal opinion sent to President Abdulla Yameen. The PG office must continue with its responsibilities in order to uphold the rule of law, he added.

Meanwhile, the Hithadhoo Court in Addu City is conducting criminal trials and issuing verdicts in the absence of a state prosecutor. Court officials told local media that the court did not accept the justification of absence put forth by PG office lawyers.

President Abdulla Yameen called Deputy Prosecutor General Hussein Shameem’s resignation “irresponsible” and said criminal cases must proceed at the courts.

Although Shameem has called on the executive and People’s Majlis to approve a PG immediately, Yameen said he would only submit a new nominee to the newly elected 18th parliament which is set to convene on May 28.

Yameen’s Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) holds a majority in the new parliament. The current Majlis, dominated by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), had rejected Yameen’s nephew Maumoon Hameed for the position in March.

The President’s Office has put out a third call for applicants claiming the number of applicants had been low during the second call. Shameem had expressed interest in the position both times. Local media speculates a third call will allow Hameed to resubmit his application.

Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain said criminal cases can continue even with the leadership vacuum at the PG.

“The Constitution does not recognize the post of a Deputy Prosecutor General. What the Constitution accepts is a Prosecutor General. About four months have passed since we last had a Prosecutor General. That issue has been already reviewed. The situation has not changed,” Faiz said, referring to a Supreme Court order on February 18.

The order was issued in response to the Criminal Court’s refusal in January to proceed with all criminal trials in the absence of a PG, and refusal to begin new trials in February.

The Criminal Court released a statement today announcing that it will abide by the Supreme Court order and continue conducting cases.

In a resignation statement, Shameem said he was unable to fulfill his duties due to the Criminal Court’s failure to prosecute foreigners involved in drug trafficking, delays in issuing rulings on drug related offenses and “unreasonable obstacles” in filing cases at the court.

“These issues obstruct the proper functioning of the criminal justice system. I am deeply saddened to note the extreme delay on the part of those who have the power to address these issues,” he said.

PG Office Spokesperson Hussain Nashid was not responding to calls at the time of press.


HRCM members summoned to Juvenile Court again over confidential report

With additional reporting by Ahmed Nazeer

Members of the Maldives Human Rights Commission (HRCM) refused to attend a Juvenile Court meeting yesterday (April 1), after having asked the Supreme Court to rule on the legitimacy of the court’s actions.

The commission has contended that the Juvenile Court is in violation of “the legal principles and procedures followed in contempt of court cases.”

A press statement from HRCM released yesterday evening noted that the Prosecutor General’s Office had not charged the commission with contempt of court because only the Supreme Court could initiate such cases of its own accord.

Deputy Prosecutor General Hussain Shameem has told Haveeru that the court does not have the authority to summon HRCM members over contempt of court charges.

The court has been requesting the meetings in order to question HRCM members about a confidential report concerning the sentencing of a 15 year old rape victim to flogging and house arrest in 2012.

”We are trying to summon the HRCM members regarding a report they sent to the Juvenile Court on 5 December 2013, in which the HRCM has included false information about the Juvenile Court and it also contained things that could be considered as an attempt to influence the court’s work,” Juvenile Court Spokesperson Zaima Nasheed told Minivan News today.

Zaima has argued previously that the constitution states no public officials can “interfere with and influence the functions of the courts”, instead they must “assist and protect the courts to ensure the independence, eminence, dignity, impartiality, accessibility and effectiveness of the courts.”

The HRCM press release added that the report referred to in the media was a confidential document, which had only been shared with relevant authorities or state institutions.

“We assure that the report does not include any false statements that hold the Juvenile Court in contempt,” the press release stated.

Previous meetings

After refusing to attend the meeting yesterday, the Juvenile Court sent an official court summons  for today (April 2) to each individual commission member, according to local media.

Following the official court summons, the HRCM members appeared before the court this morning at 10am and were told to respond in writing before 3pm.

The HRCM was first summoned to the Juvenile Court on March 12, with a further request to meet made on March 17 after members failed to accede to the previous requests – all five members of the HRCM subsequently attended on March 17.

The HRCM is reported to have agreed to cooperate at this meeting, on the condition that it was given a period of ten days after the parliamentary elections scheduled for March 22 before the first questioning session.

The 15-year-old rape victim from the island of Feydhoo in Shaviyani Atoll was convicted of premarital sex at the Juvenile Court and sentenced to 100 lashes and eight months of house arrest.

In June 2012, the girl gave birth to a baby that was discovered buried in the outdoor shower area of her home. Her stepfather was later charged with child sexual abuse, possession of pornographic materials and committing premeditated murder.

An official from the Prosecutor General’s Office told Minivan News in January last year that the fornication charges against the minor were related to a separate offence of premarital sex that emerged during the police investigation. The charges were filed on November 25, 2012.

In its verdict, the Juvenile Court ordered the state to transfer the girl to the Children’s Home in Villingili to enforce the sentence of eight months house arrest, according to local media reports.

Following the 15 year-old’s conviction, local NGO Advocating the Rights of Children (ARC) called on the Maldivian government to pass legislation concerning the treatment of sexual abuse victims.

ARC also previously called for reforms of the juvenile justice system and reform of the current protection mechanisms provided to minors who are kept in state run institutions, such as homes and foster programs.