Maldives must stop “retrograde” step towards death penalty: Amnesty International

Amnesty International has called upon the Maldives government to halt any plans to end the current moratorium on the death penalty, calling such moves a “retrograde step and a serious setback for human rights in the country”.

The statement follows Home Minister Umar Naseer’s decision to order correctional authorities to begin preparations for implementation of death sentences by lethal injection.

“There is no such thing as a ‘humane’ way to put someone to death, and no evidence that the threat of execution works as a deterrent to crime. Maldives should put an immediate end to such plans now, and instead abolish the death penalty in law once and for all,” said Amnesty International’s Maldives Researcher Abbas Faiz

“The government’s order is surprising and extremely disappointing. The death penalty violates the right to life, regardless of the circumstances of the crime or the execution method used,” he added.

President Abdulla Yameen – on a state visit to Sri Lanka at the time of Naseer’s announcement – has subsequently promised “broad discussions” on the issue within his cabinet.

While death sentences continue to be issued in the country, these have traditionally been commuted to life sentences by presidential decree since the execution of Hakim Didi in 1954 for the crime of practising black magic.

The Maldives currently has 20 prisoners sentenced to death – a punishment the recently elected Yameen said he would support during his election campaign after a rise in the murder rate.

The most recent passing of the sentence came just days prior to Naseer’s announcement. Hussain Humam Ahmed was sentenced to death for the brutal murder of MP Dr Afrasheem Ali in October 2012. The sentence was handed down at the behest of Afrasheem’s heirs – permitted to request the death sentence under Islamic law.

Amnesty have pointed out that the apparent decision to resume the death sentence is in contradiction with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – a treaty to which the Maldives became a party in 2006.

Though Naseer noted that he intended to act “in accordance with international treaties we have signed”, Amnesty have stated that death sentences handed down to juvenile offenders are contrary to international law.

Speaking on Thursday, Naseer has stated that the order is in alignment with the draft bill on death penalty implementation which the state has made ready for submission to the parliament.

“We will not wait for laws to be drafted and passed. The law allows for implementation, and it is at the discretion of the home minister to order implementation,” Naseer said, adding that – should a relevant law be passed in the future – the state would then abide by the new laws.

The home minister noted that all appeals processes would be exhausted prior to implementation of the sentence.

Amnesty has suggested that the public interest might be best served by strengthening the judiciary in order to prevent human rights abuses during criminal proceedings.

In a damning 2013 report, Special Rapporteur for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers expressed concern over the failure of the Maldives justice system to address longstanding issues of corruption and human rights abuses.