Fans and friends seek redemption for jailed reggae musician

The ten year sentence handed down to reggae artist Haisham for possession and use of less than one gram of cannabis is coming under increasing criticism for what many describe as its disproportionate severity.

The Criminal Court on Monday sentenced Haisham Mohamed Rashid, M. Loha, to five years for possession of cannabis and five years for use of the same drug. The sentences are to run consecutively.

Haisham was convicted after being found in possession of a bag which contained the cannabis. He also subsequently tested positive for the drug.

Possession or use of illegal drugs are offences under Section 4 of the Drugs Act 17/77 that carry a penalty of 10-15 years of imprisonment or banishment.

“It is ridiculous that someone should receive concurrent sentences for possession and for use. How can someone use a drug without first possessing it?”, Chairperson of local drugs NGO Journey, Ahmed Adam, told Minivan News.

Adam noted that such concurrent sentences have been increasing lately.

The proposed Drugs and Narcoticts Amendment Bill would combine the offences of possession and use, creating a single offence of ‘possession for the purpose of use’. It would remove the ambiguity in the current Act, and prevent the situation where a judge sentences an offender concurrently for both possession and use.

The new Bill also states that if a person is found with less than 25 grams of cannabis in any form, the courts should assume it was in their possession for the purpose of personal use. If the amount found on the person is less than half of the stipulated 25 grams, the sentence should not exceed six months. If it is more than 12.5g, the sentence can be longer than six months, but cannot exceed a year.

Haisham’s sentences, for being found with less than a gram of cannabis and for its use, is nine years and six months longer than what is proposed in the new Amendment Bill.

The Bill has been pending discussion at the Majlis since 2009. The Majlis is currently on its second recess of the year.

Fellow musicians hold Haisham in high esteem, and describe him as a creative force on the Maldivian music scene.

“It is very sad that someone like him should be jailed,” a 29-year-old musician, who wishes to remain anonymous, told Minivan News.

“It is a bad blow for the Maldivian music industry when such things happen. He works hard, he is trying to make a life for himself – then his freedom is taken away”, he added. “He should have been put on probation. At least then he could still work and make music.”

The issue has ignited the Maldivian blogosphere. Many commentators are drawing comparisons with the recent Criminal Court sentencing of former principal of Lale Youth International School, Turkish national Serkan Akar, who received a Rf 200 (US$14) fine for assaulting children.

In 2009 the Criminal Court sentenced a convicted serial paedophile to six years and in 2010 jailed an HIV positive paedophile, who had sex with two underage girls, to three years imprisonment.

Haisham is described by many as a gentle and charitable family man who “would not harm a soul”. Several have called for a musicians’ protest against Haisham’s imprisonment.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Haisham would serve two five year sentences concurrently. The sentences are to be served consecutively.