Six out of the eight heirs of murdered lawyer Ahmed Najeeb yesterday refused to accept blood money and have asked the Judge for qisas (equal retaliation) – the death penalty – during trial held at the Criminal Court.
During the trial, the court summoned the six heirs following the confession of both the suspects implicated in the crime, while the two others were not present for the session.
The court stated that out of the two heirs, who were not present at the hearing, one was living abroad and the court would be making arrangements through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to collect his statement, while the other worked in a resort out of Male’.
Concluding the trial, the judge said that all eight heirs, were those whom the court had confirmed as rightful heirs, and made a statement that if there was any other person who was a rightful heir to Ahmed Najeeb, they must inform the court before July 10.
He also said that after the taking the statements of all rightful heirs of the deceased, the court will issue a verdict.
If none of deceased victim’s heirs agree to accept blood money, under Islamic Sharia Murrath and his girlfriend will be subjected to the death penalty.
Traditionally, death penalties in the Maldives are commuted to life imprisonment of 25 years under the Clemency Act 2010 (Act no 2/2010), where it states:
“Even if stated otherwise in this act, if the Supreme Court issues a death sentence, or a lower court or High Court issues a death sentence and if the Supreme Court upholds that sentence, the President has the authority to relieve the sentence into a life imprisonment, after consideration of either the state of the guilty, the legal principles behind the issue, consensus of the state or the values of humanity. But once such a sentence is being relieved to a life imprisonment, the guilty shall not be eligible for pardon, under any clause of this act.”
Veteran lawyer Najeeb was brutally murdered on July 1 and his body discovered in a dustbin bag in a second floor apartment in Maafanu Masroora house in the capital Male’, at about 6:45pm in the evening.
The 65 year-old man’s body was found supposedly gagged, badly beaten up and stabbed at the throat.
The police earlier revealed that 29 year old ex-convict Ahmed Murrath had been charged with Najeeb ’s murder and had confessed to killing him, claiming the lawyer attempted to sexually assault his 18 year-old girlfriend Fathmath Hana.
Hana of Rihab house in Shaviyani Goidhoo island was identified as a second suspect and also faces murder charges in the case, after she confessed to “helping” her boyfriend kill Najeeb.
During the first hearing of the trial held separately for both suspects, Hanaa first testified in court, followed by Murrath.
Hanaa noted that Najeeb arrived to the Maafanu Masroora on Saturday night around 10:00pm, on a request to discuss a family legal case.
She said that her boyfriend killed him after he became “sure” that Najeeb attempted to sexually assault her, and added that she helped tie Najeeb’s hand, legs and taped his mouth while Murrath threatened him with a knife.
“We thought he must have a lot of money as he is a lawyer,” she told the court, after declining representation from a lawyer.
Najeeb’s cash card was taken from him and the pair had withdrawn money from it.
According to Hanaa, she did not know that the victim was killed until her boyfriend woke her up and told her about it around 4:00am. At the time Hanaa said she was sleeping, intoxicated from drinking alcohol.
Her boyfriend corroborated the confession in his statement, saying that she was asleep when he killed the lawyer.
Murrath said he was present when Najeeb came over to the house to discuss the legal case and he became suspicious so asked Hanaa if something was wrong. Hanaa told him that Najeeb had grabbed her hands and hurt her, Murrath added.
Murrath said that he killed Najeeb out of anger and apologised to the family members present at the hearing for committing the crime.
The police had earlier noted that Murrath tested positive for drugs when he was brought under custody. He is a former inmate conditionally released under the Second Chance program for inmates with drug offences.
Police said he had an 18 year jail sentence of which he had completed only three years. His offences included theft, assault, drug use, and breaking out of prison.
Following some criticism that the police had prioritised the case as the victim was a lawyer, police media official Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef responded that Najeeb’s case was investigated and forwarded to court faster than other murder cases because the suspects had confessed to the crime during the trial to extend their detention, and that all forensic evidence necessary to prosecute the case had been found.
“We do not discriminate in cases,” Haneef added.
Public outcry for capital punishment
Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, speaking at a press conference following the murder, repeated his call for a decision on the implementation of the death penalty in relation to such crimes.
“We want death for death,” a crowd gathered near IGMH last night shouted, as Najeeb’s body was brought to the ambulance.
In recent times gang violence, burglary, mugging, sexual abuse of children and murders are increasing to levels of alarming concern in society, and the rise in criminal-related death tolls have provoked public pressure to implement the death penalty or capital punishment in the Maldives.
From January 2001 to December 2010, a total of 14 people were sentenced to death by the courts, and none from them have been executed. The last person to be executed in the Maldives after receiving a death sentence was in 1953 during the first republican President Mohamed Ameen. Hakim Didi was charged with attempting to assassinate President Ameen using black magic.
The latest death sentence came on last November, where Criminal Court sentenced Mohamed Nabeel to death for the murder of Abdulla Faruhad. The judge issued the verdict after reviewing the statements of witnesses and finding him guilty of the crime.
However, the case has been appealed to the High Court.
Following reports of the murder, the government-aligned Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM)’s parliament group member Ahmed Mahloof proposed an amendment to the Clemency Act (Act no 2/2010) which would make performing the death penalty mandatory in the event it was upheld by the Supreme Court.
His amendment would require the President to enforce any death penalty if the Supreme Court issued the verdict of death, or if the Supreme Court supported the ruling of the death penalty made by either the Criminal court or the High Court. This move would halt the current practice of the President commuting such sentences to life imprisonment.
Previously, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ahmed Rasheed and later MP Ibrahim Muthalib also submitted similar amendments to the clemency act although both subsequently withdrew the motions.
“I believe nobody would want to die. So if the death penalty is enforced, a person who is to commit a murder would clearly know that if he carries out the act, his punishment would be his life. I believe this will deter him from committing such acts,” Mahloof said following the submission of the amendment.
In the initial report of the Maldives under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights prepared by Human Rights Commission (HRCM) in 2011, the commission noted that growing public sentiment to impose death penalty.
“Death penalty: not as easy as it is thought”- HRCM
According to the commission, the Maldives has affirmed the UN Resolution of Moratorium on death penalty on 18 December 2007, which emphasises all states that still provision capital punishment “progressively restrict the use of the death penalty and reduce the number of offences for which it may be imposed.”
“This resolution still needs to be passed by the parliament,” it reads.
Furthermore, there are several laws pending which are related to the enforcement of the death penalty including, the passage of the revised Penal Code, Criminal Procedures Code, Evidence Bill and Witness Act, the commission adds.
The Maldives is yet to establish an independent forensic institution to provide accurate information to support the judiciary to make an impartial decision on matters concerning the administration of the death penalty.
Meanwhile the commission acknowledged that the ”life threatening acts of crime in the country have been aggravated” due to a number of direct and indirect factors, of which the direct problems include “inadequate legislation pertaining the criminal justice system”.
The existing Penal Code which was enforced in 1981 and its last amendment made in 200 has many parts which are not relevant to the present context and does not reflect the spirit of the present Constitution.
Moreover, the commission identifies the inadequate legislations pertaining to evidence and witnesses, dismissal of forensic evidence by courts, absence of a witness protection program and inadequate correctional and rehabilitation system for convicted offenders as key factors.
“The lack of a comprehensive integrated crime prevention mechanism remains the greatest weakness in addressing the issue of increase in crime. High numbers of unemployed youth, and the persistent substance abuse and drug addiction among youth in the country are indirect factors catalysing the increase in crime,” the HRCM report adds.
Therefore, to address the above, says the HRCM, the “state should revise the existing Penal Code, and bring into force the Criminal Procedure Code – the other legislation pertaining to evidence and witnesses.”
“The State should further establish effective rehabilitation mechanisms for offenders, better prisons and correctional facilities to house and to rehabilitate criminals, and to strengthen effective coordination between drug rehabilitation system and criminal justice system,” it concludes.