President announces clemency plan for all prisoners except “extremely serious offenders”

President Abdulla Yameen has announced that he will grant clemency to all prisoners except those convicted for extremely serious crimes, including murder and terrorism.

“On the first of April, I will grant the highest form of clemency possible to all prisoners convicted for crimes other than the most serious ones,” Yameen stated on Wednesday night, speaking at a political rally held in Fuvahmulah.

Yameen stated that his administration wishes to re-introduce youth prisoners into society under a rehabilitation program. The government has therefore decided to grant clemency to all non-serious offenders who are currently in prison, he added.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) have described the move as “irresponsible”, and a “political stunt”.

The president did not reveal what particular crimes would be subject to clemency, though the Clemency Act (2010) lists the following crimes as not being applicable for clemency or commutation of sentence: terrorism, murder, crimes punishable by a ‘hadd’ in Islamic Shariah, sexual harassment against children, illegal drug trading, rape, sexual assault and homosexuality.

Asked how this will affect the Ministry of Home Affairs’ efforts to end the abuse of drugs, Minister of Umar Naseer responded that the program will not present any difficulties.

“It will not be a hindrance because the present Clemency Act prevents serious offenders from being released. Furthermore, this process will be monitored by the Home Ministry,” he stated.

“An irresponsible political stunt”: MDP

MDP Spokesperson Imthiyaz Fahmy described Yameen’s initiative as “a very irresponsible political stunt”.

“This is a stunt they are pulling off as elections approach – an act without any form or structure. This is a stunt like they used to pull during the Gayoom administration – as every election nears, they’ll let out numerous prisoners and the streets will be teeming with drug abusers. This is a highly irresponsible act on the part of the government,” Fahmy stated.

“There is a huge difference between what this government is about to do, and the MDP’s ‘Second Chance Programme’. The Second Chance program was a structured effort, under which applicable prisoners were released under parole to be under the guardianship of a family member,” said Fahmy.

“They were given trainings in various skills and were provided with employment opportunities. They were monitored constantly and were taken back in when there is a risk of re-offending crimes.”

“Yameen and the people around him were those who most criticised our ‘Second Chance Programme’. And now look at what they are attempting to do. This clemency plan has no structure and will prove detrimental to the society,” he continued.

Fahmy further stated that the incumbent government has also been releasing serious and dangerous criminals, despite the Home Ministry claiming to be working against the drug trade.

“For example, the criminal who goes by the name of ‘Safa’. He is currently roaming about freely in Sri Lanka while authorities like the Anti Corruption Commission have spoken against his release,” Fahmy said.

Second chance

During the administration of former President Mohamed Nasheed, a clemency program under the name of ‘Second Chance’ was implemented, under which prisoners were reintroduced into society under a parole system.

Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed – who served as Minister of Home Affairs during the Waheed administration – shut down the program in March 2012, alleging that the Nasheed government had used it to “release unqualified criminals under political influence and without any clear procedure”.

Later in July, Jameel blamed a “surge in crime” partly on the ‘Second Chance Programme’, stating that over 200 convicted criminals released under the scheme had been returned to prison for re-offending.

Jameel also published a comment piece in local news website Haveeru in September 2011, speaking against the programme and emphasising the importance of granting clemency in accordance with the Clemency Act.

In its 2013 Human Rights Report, the US State Department described Maldivian prisons as generally meeting ‘most international standards’, while they were reported to be overcrowded.

“The Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation Services (DPRS) prison system, which had an estimated capacity of 885 prisoners and detainees, had a prison population of 1,050. There were 34 women in the system, as well as 14 boys under age 18. Drug offenders accounted for 47 percent of the prison population,” the report reads.