The Clemency Board has begun its work today and the President’s Office has started sending out forms for prisoners to apply for clemency under the new Clemency Law.
The law was passed by Parliament on their last session of 2009. It gives President Mohamed Nasheed the power to grant pardons and commute sentences for prisoners.
It also allows the president to reduce sentences, as well as grant life sentences where death sentences had been previously issued.
The Bill specifies crimes that will not be eligible for pardon, such as murder, terrorism, sexual abuse of children, rape, drug trafficking, offences against Islam, and homosexuality.
According to the government, the Bill is meant to help those prisoners who did not get a fair trial, were wrongfully convicted or were convicted solely on the basis of extracted confessions.
Prisoners must pass two requirements to apply for clemency. They must show they have exhausted all other avenues of appeal, and must have completed at least one third of their original sentence.
It had been previously reported that criminal records of those convicted under the old Constitution would be wiped clean if they were pardoned, but Press Secretary for the President’s Office Mohamed Zuhair said that was not the case.
“There are many provisions for such matters as criminal offences and criminal records, but their records would not be wiped clean.”
“We began issuing forms today to multiple centres around Malé and they are also being sent to Island Offices,” Zuhair said.
He believes implementing the Clemency Board is a good move for the government, as “there are many pending appeals” from prisoners. “There are nearly 2,000 prisoners in the country right now,” Zuhair said.
He added that although “outrage and accusations” about the reasons for the implementation of the board will probably come, “the president is very clear on this issue and has been working on it for a long time.”
On 9 March 2010 President Nasheed appointed the members of the Clemency Board, who are to advise the president regarding the release of prisoners or commuting of sentences.
The Board is chaired by Attorney General Husnu Suood. The other members are Mariyam Suzee Adam (social sector), Nazil Afeef (legal sector), Shifa Mohamed (education sector), Dr Ahmed Razee (health sector), Sh. Mohamed Farooq (religious scholar), Maizaan Ali Maniku (civil society), Ahmed Adil (Parole Board), Assistant Commissioner of Police, Mohamed Sodiq, Ahmed Mahloof (legislature) and Deputy Prosecutor General Hussain Shameem.
President of the Board Husnu Suood said this law has been passed in accordance with the Constitution and believed the government “has moved a step forward.”
“Under the Constitution there is clemency, and there must be a provision for the president to implement this.”
Suood said under the previous Constitution this power was not implemented often, and when it was, it was usually abused.
“This will not be exercised as a political tool,” Suood assured.
He also hoped people would not see it as the government ‘releasing’ criminals, as there were established criteria under which the law can be applied.
Suood explained the president cannot give pardons for the seven specified categories but he can commute death sentences to life imprisonment.
Deputy PG Hussain Shameem said he thinks the board is a good start, but will “only work with other support systems, such as psychological and social services and a proper prison system.”
Shameem said the Clemency Law is “very tricky, the way it’s drafted,” as it “gives a lot of loopholes.”
For instance, Shameem said, the president can make the ultimate decision on pardons regarding the seven categories which are technically not eligible for pardon.
“There are some contradictions,” he said, but he believes people have to “take it positively.”
Before the Clemency Law, he said “many prisoners did not see the end of the tunnel.”
Under the new law, he believes “if prisoners have faith in the system, and they know they could get out early on good behaviour, they will behave.”
He said the law was open to anyone who had successfully completed one third of their sentence, excluding those convicted for the seven specified crimes.
Shameem added he did not believe “there are people who were wrongfully convicted” in the prison system.