Home Minister Umar Naseer has justified the government’s decision to implement the death penalty after a sixty-year moratorium on Islamic values, while Islamic groups have said capital punishment is a crucial aspect of the Islamic Shari’ah.
But Scholar Usthaz Abdul Mueed Hassan has called on the state to abolish the death penalty, arguing Islam is first the religion of forgiveness.
Mueed, a graduate of Qatar’s Mauhadini Sanawi and Azhar University with a permit to lecture on religious issues, contends the Islamic Shari’ah does not encourage capital punishment. The death penalty comes with several qualifications in order to discourage its implementation, he argued.
The government’s new regulations says a suspect may be executed by lethal injection if the Supreme Court upholds the death sentence and if all heirs of the victim desire qisaas – an Arabic term referring to the heirs’ right to ask for a murderer’s death.
Quoting from Sayyid Sabiq’s Fiqh Sunnah, Mueed said there are four requirements which need to be fulfilled before qisaas can be carried out.
“Firstly, it has to be seen whether the victim was pure of blood [Whether he is a blasphemer, a fornicator or an infidel]. Then whether the culprit has reached puberty. Thirdly, whether the culprit was sound of mind at the time he or she committed the murder. Qisaas cannot be implemented even if he was intoxicated at the time of murder. Lastly, it has to be proven without a doubt that the culprit committed murder out of his own free will. If not, it is the person who ordered the murder and drove the culprit to commit murder who will be subjected to execution,” he explained.
The victim and the culprit must also hold similar levels of freedom and religiosity, he said.
“In taking qisaas, it is prescribed that it must be done in the manner that the crime was committed. Like the metaphor an eye for an eye. Taken in the same exact manner. How can this be done in cases of murder? How can the life of the murderer be taken in the same manner as that of the murdered? This is prescribed so as to discourage the taking of qisaas,” he said.
Further, forgiveness precedes qisaas in Islam, he argued, quoting Verse 32 of Surah Al Maida: “Because of that, We decreed upon the Children of Israel that whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land – it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely.”
Islam does not permit punishment for Hadd offenses – which include murder, theft, fornication, adultery and consumption of alcohol – to be delivered if there is any doubt in the matter, he said.
Additionally, if the executioner believes that the death sentence was wrong, he must refuse to implement it. If he carries out the execution while in doubt then he himself must face the same fate, Mueed said.
“The Prophet has also said that when seeking to implement Hadd on a person, even of the slightest reason to let it go without implementing the Hadd is detected, then do so. He then says that this is because it is far better for the person in charge – be it a judge, a president or an Imam – to err in forgiving a person than to err in sentencing a person,” he stated.
Even in Saudi Arabia – the largest 100 percent Muslim nation – the King himself intervenes in cases of murder to urge forgiveness instead of qisaas, Mueed noted.
The public voice
When I spoke to several members of the public on their views, I found those who favored the death penalty did so believing it would deter crime. In recent years, there have been spates of gang related killings, including the murder of MP Dr. Afrasheem Ali.
Waheeda Omar, a 56-year-old housewife, believed the death penalty was crucial to prevent murder.
“Let the state kill whoever is accused of murder, whether or not they have the right man. The point is, once someone is killed for the crime, other people will hesitate from committing similar crimes,” she said.
Ahmed Ubaidh, a 48-year-old taxi driver, expressed faith in the state, saying it could not go wrong in deciding on life and death.
“I don’t have an opinion on this matter. The state is the highest authority, next to the Qur’an. If both feel that death penalty must be implemented, then they must be right. Who am I to question God’s will?”
Hassan Iqbal, 32, said death must be punished with death: “They killed. Let them feel what it feels like to be at the sharp end of the blade.”
President Abdulla Yameen has also said “murder must be punished with murder.” In an interview during the 2013 presidential campaign, Yameen said he had not supported the death penalty previously, but had “a change of heart” due to “commonplace murders.”
Several members of the public, meanwhile, opposed the move, saying the Maldivian judiciary is not fit to decide on the life and death of a human being.
A 39-year-old civil servant who asked to remain anonymous, on account of “speaking about a manner that will have people accuse me of blasphemy,” stated “Islam is a religion of forgiveness. It is a corrupted version of Islam, full of political and self-interest, that promotes the idea of taking lives. In a country as small as ours, state executions will lead to more rifts, more crimes, and more hatred and unrest. I am strongly against it”.
Ali Akhtar, 28, said he “wouldn’t trust this judiciary with my property, much less my life.”
“I am not a scholar, so I will not speak in light of what the Shari’ah says. But even I know for sure that Allah would never want people to be ordered to death by a judiciary as corrupt as ours, where there is a chance that it is minority groups, and us everyday people, who are mostly unjustly sentenced to die,” he said.
Mohamed – a 25 year old who previously worked in a human rights organization – said: “Putting aside the fact that death penalty is a clear violation of Maldives’ international obligations and right to life guaranteed under the new Constitution, death penalty is clearly not a deterrent to murder. Maldives does not have the legal framework to provide the accused a fair trial.
“The judiciary is not equipped with the skill sets to examine forensic evidence put before them. Furthermore, being a small and well-connected society, the ramification of it would be huge and can have a lasting impact as the regulation puts the life of the accused in the hands of the families of victims.”
The state’s decision to administer the death penalty by lethal injection has also raised controversy.
A group of medical doctors, who requested to be unnamed, said death by lethal injection is unreliable.
“There are many recorded cases where administration of lethal injection has gone wrong, leading to paralysis or worse instead of death. I would not recommend it,” one doctor stated.
“I do not think the state will, and sincerely hope they don’t, approach anyone in the medical field to administer the injection. It is strictly against our ethics; we work to save lives, not take them,” his partner added.
Dr Faisal Saeed meanwhile opined that “The specific role of health professionals in society is to heal and to alleviate suffering”.
“There is a consensus among most professional bodies that doctors and nurses involvement in executions is unethical because it contradicts the dictates of the medical profession to alleviate pain and suffering. The use of medical devices and knowledge as a method of execution distorts the life saving purpose of medicine and portrays the doctor or nurse as an executioner, which will risk to undermine public trust.”
“Execution is not the role of doctors or nurses. Although the death penalty regulations do not state who will administer the lethal injection, the state cannot ask doctors or nurses to be in a position to violate their professional ethics and values,” he concluded.
Except for the location of execution, the state has not revealed details of the procedures for administration of the lethal injection so far.
The last Maldivian to be executed by the state was Hakim Didi, who was killed by a firing squad for the crime of practising black magic in 1952.
A backward leap
Local NGOs, advocacy groups and members of the public have started to raise concern about what they term to be “a backward leap” for the Maldives.
“Given the state of the Maldivian judiciary, which is also perceived to be highly politicised and corrupt, it is most concerning that as grave a matter as life and death of humans is to be decided by it,” a recent statement by the Maldivian Democracy Network, and supported by Dhi Youth Movement and Transparency Maldives said.
Islamic blogger Aisha Hussein Rasheed has also said the death penalty can be used to silence political dissent.
“The issue is that of corruption in the justice system: police, judiciary, lawyers, etc. Look at the death sentences given recently in Egypt for example. Capital punishment can easily be used to silence political dissent or to subdue personal or business rivals,” she said.
An advocacy group – calling themselves “When The State Kills”- have launched an Aavaaz petition urging public support to convince the state to abolish the death penalty.
“The implementation of the death penalty is especially troubling given the state of the country’s criminal justice system. Even in countries with long established justice systems, innocent people have been wrongly convicted and executed,” administrators of the group told Minivan News.
“It is a well known fact that judges in the Maldives use their own discretion when handing out verdicts, without following any particular procedure or even due process. We have seen innocent people being convicted in the past, so it is likely to happen in the future. The death penalty is an irreversible punishment. It would be an inhumane error,” they said.
Over 69 percent of Maldivians believe the judiciary is among the most corrupt institution in the country, Transparency International’s global corruption barometer of 2013 has revealed. Numerous international actors, including the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges Gabriela Knaul have released statements of concern about the judiciary’s lack of independence and failure to serve justice.
In addition to the perceived incompetency of the judiciary, the Maldives lacks legislation for witness protection, evidence or criminal procedures.