Supreme Court enacts new regulations on flogging

The Supreme Court has enacted new regulations on the enforcement of flogging sentences, specifying conditions and criteria for meting out the Islamic Sharia punishment.

The regulations (Dhivehi) made public yesterday state that the offender must be of sound mind, must not be pregnant, and must not have an illness that could endanger his or her life due to flogging.

Moreover, a sentence for flogging must be implemented after the convict has either exhausted the appeal process or declined to appeal the verdict in the specified period.

Speaking at a ceremony held last month to mark the anniversary of the Criminal Court, Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed revealed that 37 flogging sentences remained unenforced due to alleged lack of cooperation from the relevant authorities.

If the offender is a deaf mute or does not speak Dhivehi, the regulations state that the court should seek a statement through a translator.

The court must also appoint a competent “special employee” to implement flogging sentences.

If the offender is under age when the verdict is delivered, the regulations state that the sentence must be imposed when the offender turns 18 years of age.

Section 222 of the regulations on conducting trials would be abolished once the new regulations come into force.

According to statistics from the Department of Judicial Administration, almost 90 percent of those convicted of fornication or pre-marital sex in 2011 were female.

Of 129 fornication cases in 2011, 104 people were sentenced, out of which 93 were female. This included 10 underage girls, 79 women aged 18-40, and four women above 40 years.

In response to a Minivan News report in 2009 of an 18 year-old woman fainting after a 100 lashes, Amnesty International called for a moratorium on the “inhumane and degrading punishment.”

Of the 184 people sentenced to public flogging in 2006, 146 were female, making it nine times more likely for women to be punished.

In November 2011, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay urged the authorities to impose a moratorium on flogging and to foster national dialogue and debate “on this issue of major concern.”

“This practice constitutes one of the most inhumane and degrading forms of violence against women, and should have no place in the legal framework of a democratic country,” the UN human rights chief told MPs during a maiden visit to the Maldives.

Her remarks sparked protests by Islamic groups outside the UN building and drew condemnation from the Islamic Ministry, NGOs and political parties.

In August 2013, a flogging sentence of a 15-year-old girl rape victim convicted of fornication was overturned following an international campaign.


Tourism boycott would be “setback for economic rights of women” says President, as Avaaz petition reaches two million

President Dr Mohamed Waheed has issued a statement warning that calls for a boycott on tourism over the flogging sentence for a 15 year-old rape victim “will only serve as a setback to the economic opportunities and rights we are all striving to uphold for women, girls and the hardworking Maldivian people in general.”

The President’s statement comes as an petition calling for a moratorium on flogging and better laws to protect women and girls in the Maldives reached more than two million signatures – more than twice the number of tourists who visit the country each year.

In a letter published on Minivan News on Saturday, Executive Director Ricken Patel insisted that the organisation had not called for a outright tourism boycott.

“What we do stand ready to do, however, is to inform tourists about what action is and isn’t being taken by the Maldives government to resolve this issue and change the law, and to identify those MPs and resort owners who are using their influence to push for positive change – and those who are not,” Patel said.

“Around the world people are interested (and have a right to know) what kind of systems they’re supporting with their tourism dollars, and to make their holiday decisions accordingly,” he added.

President Waheed meanwhile thanked the international community “for their concern” in the case, noting that Attorney General Azima Shukoor had met the girl “and she is receiving the appropriate physical and psychological counseling.”

“This case should never have been presented in the courts and we are working to ensure that cases like this are never brought to the courts again,” President Waheed said.

“We appreciate the international compassion for this young woman and ask for your patience as this case moves through the judicial system. As both the President and as a father, I am fully committed to protecting and advancing the rights of women and girls in the Maldives and throughout the world and share your deep concern about this young victim,” he said.

“The Maldives is a young democracy working to balance our religious faith with our new democratic values. I ask that you support us and join us as partners as we work through this challenge.”

President Waheed’s Gaumee Ithihaad Party (GIP) has meanwhile declared itself in coalition with the religious conservative Adhaalath Party (AP), which has publicly endorsed the 15 year-old’s flogging sentence, stating that she “deserves the punishment” as outlined under Islamic Sharia.

The Adhaalath party, members of which largely dominate the Maldives’ Ministry of Islamic Affairs, stated that the sentence of flogging had not been passed against the minor for being sexually abused by her stepfather, but rather for the consensual sex which she had confessed to having to authorities.

“The purpose of penalties like these in Islamic Sharia is to maintain order in society and to save it from sinful acts. It is not at all an act of violence. We must turn a deaf ear to the international organisations which are calling to abolish these penalties, labeling them degrading and inhumane acts or torture,” read a recent statement from the party.

“If such sinful activities are to become this common, the society will break down and we may become deserving of divine wrath,” the Adhaalath Party stated.

A previous call for a moratorium on the flogging of women for the crime of extramarital sex was raised by UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay during an address to parliament in 2011.

Following her address, demonstrators gathered outside the UN building holding placards calling for Pillay to be “arrested”, “flogged” and “slain”.

Pillay’s statement was publicly condemned by the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), Islamic Ministry, MPs and religious NGOs, while the Adhaalath Party called on then President Mohamed Nasheed to condemn Pillay’s statements “at least to show to the people that there is no irreligious agenda of President Nasheed and senior government officials behind this.”

“What’s there to discuss about flogging? There is nothing to debate about in a matter clearly stated in the religion of Islam. No one can argue with God,” said Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem at the time.

More recently, a  report on extremism in the Maldives published in US West Point military academy’s Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) Sentinel has warned that growing religious extremism and political uncertainty in the country risk negatively affecting the country’s tourism industry.

“Despite its reputation as an idyllic paradise popular among Western tourists, political and religious developments in the Maldives should be monitored closely,” the report concluded.


Judicial statistics show 90 percent of those convicted for fornication are female

Almost 90 percent of the people found guilty of “Zina” – fornication – and sentenced to flogging in 2011 were female, according to new statistics published by the Department of Judicial Administration last week.

A total of 129 fornication cases were filed last year and 104 people sentenced, out of which 93 were female. This includes 10 underage girls (below 18), 79 women between age 18-40 and and four women above 40 years.

Of the 11 males who were sentenced, only one was a minor, with the others aged between 25-40.

Compared to 2010, the overall sentences in fornication increased by 23 percent in 2011, but the number of males sentenced for flogging decreased by 15 percent while the women increased by 30 percent.

According to Maldivian law, a person found guilty of fornication is subjected to 100 lashes and sentenced to one year of house arrest or banishment while a minor’s flogging is postponed until she or he reaches 18.

It takes four witnesses or a confession to prove the offence in court based on Islamic Sharia. The Maldives’ legal system consists of elements of both common law and Sharia.

Earlier this year, the Maldives made international headlines when a 16 year-old girl was sentenced to 100 lashes and eight months house arrest by Hulhudhufaaru Magistrate Court in Raa Atoll, for fornication while the 29 year-old man  was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment after finding him guilty of sexually abusing the girl.

Being a minor, the court stated that the girl’s sentence would be implemented when she turned 18.

After visiting the country in November last year, UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay called for a moratorium on corporal punishment, describing it as “inhumane and degrading.”

“This practice constitutes one of the most inhumane and degrading forms of violence against women, and should have no place in the legal framework of a democratic country,” said Pillay.

However, her statements and calls for discussion on the issue were met with outrage from the opposition and religious Adhaalath party, giving rise to protests and demonstrations. The Foreign Ministry itself dismissed the calls for discussion on the issue, stating: “There is nothing to debate about in a matter clearly stated in the religion of Islam. No one can argue with God.”

Minivan News could not verify if all the people sentenced last year had been flogged at the time of the report’s release, although former Former Minister of Gender and Family Aneesa Ahmed confirmed that the sentences were being carried out.

The Judicial Sector Statistics Report 2011 highlights the sheer scale of the long-known and unaddressed issues of gender bias in the justice system.

A 2004 UNICEF study titled “Gender issues in the Maldives Criminal Justice System” raised serious concerns over cases of ‘Zina’ – both consensual and non-consensual alike.

As rape was at the time and is still defined as “forced fornication”, as with any other fornication case, four witnesses or a confession is still required by the court to prove rape.

“In these cases a woman’s accusations need to be verified by two men or four women, thus, rape and sexual violence remain impossible to prove in virtually all cases,” the 2004 study noted.

The prosecutor general’s office had earlier confirmed that as these two necessary elements are almost impossible to find, in all rape cases the suspects are charged with forced sexual misconduct, which carries a lesser punishment.

However if the victim is a minor, the PG says that such cases are tried under the 2009 Act on Stipulating Strict Punishment for Child Abusers.

This is the major reason why no rape cases were found in the new statistics revealed by the judiciary despite the high number of reported rape cases. It is also likely that rapes involving minors have fallen into the category of child abuse while others have been categorised under forced sexual misconduct.

However, its also noteworthy that in 2010, eight men were convicted for forced sexual misconduct but the following year the sentenced decreased by 50 percent. Out of the men charged with forced sexual misconduct in 2011, six walked free while only four were sentenced.

The 2004 study further added at the time the current law establishes a minimum age limit of 18 for a person to receive adult punishments, but one of the three exceptions is “if the woman has had a child.”

The Judicial report 2011 says that 10 females were convicted for “giving birth outside a wedlock”, including a minor – a criminal offense which explicitly is directed at women and carries a sentence of maximum one to two years house arrest.

The UNICEF study explained that the current law allows for a young woman under the age of 18, who has been a victim of sexual abuse and is consequently pregnant, to receive lashings in a public setting.

“The victim must then endure the pain and public humiliation of her situation, both the illegitimate pregnancy and the public lashings, which have significant ramifications for her subsequent life opportunities. The perpetrator, on the other hand, is likely to remain publicly unidentified.” it noted.