Waheed government submits bill to facilitate death penalty

The government has announced its intention to introduce a bill to the People’s Majlis in order to guide and govern the implementation of the death penalty in the country.

“It is currently a punishment passed by the judiciary and a form of punishment available within the penal system of the Maldives,” said Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed.

“But for full guidance and matters governing the matter, legislation is required,” he added.

A meeting of the cabinet yesterday strongly condemned last week’s murder of MP Dr Afrasheem Ali and urged President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan to start taking immediate measures to ensure safety and security in the country.

President’s Office spokesman Masood Imad said that the government had received a large number of calls for implementing the death penalty.

“We are having enormous pressure since these high profile murders,” he said. “We have indications – the talk around the town – that there will be more murders.”

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has this week proposed a no-confidence motion against the home minister, citing the unprecedented instances of murder and assault in the country since he assumed office in February.

Afrasheem’s murder was the 10th in the small country this year, sparking much debate on the death penalty.

Following the murder of high profile lawyer Ahmed Najeeb on July 1, two people were sentenced to death after Najeeb’s heirs opted for qisas (equal retaliation) rather than blood money.

Public outcry over Najeeb’s murder prompted Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz to declare that full enforcement of the courts’ rulings is necessary to maintain the effectiveness of the judiciary.

A case was submitted to the High Court in August, requesting that it annul the President’s ability to commute death sentences to 25 years imprisonment, provided in the Clemency Act.

Similarly, in April Ahmed Mahloof – parliamentary group member from the government-aligned Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) – proposed an amendment to the Clemency Act to ensure that the enforcement of the death penalty be mandatory in the event it was upheld by the Supreme Court.

In a comment piece written for Haveeru following Najeeb’s murder, however, Special Advisor to the President Dr Hassan Saeed warned that implementing the death penalty could be both arbitrary and prohibitively expensive.

Judiciary and human rights

The last execution in the Maldives came in 1953 when Hakim Didi was charged with attempting to assassinate President Ameen using black magic.

Since that time, the Maldives has retained the practice of the death penalty for murder although Islamic Shariah tenets also give the courts the power to pronounce capital punishment for offences such as sodomy, fornication, apostasy and other crimes against the community.

Statistics show that from January 2001 to December 2010, a total of 14 people were sentenced to death by Maldivian courts.

Jameel said that there was to be no re-consideration of the Clemency Act but that “necessary reform to legislation governing the criminal justice system will be undertaken by the government.”

Concerns over the judiciary were confirmed in the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) report which investigated the events surrounding the resignation of former President Mohamed Nasheed in February.

The final report recommended that immediate steps be taken to improve the performance of the judiciary.

“The judiciary must enjoy public confidence and where there are allegations about judges’ conduct, the Judicial Services Commission must act in a timely and definitive way and report,” read the report.

Aishath Velezinee, formerly Nasheed’s appointee to the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), has said that corruption and an unreformed judiciary were the primary causes of crime in the country.

“Islam upholds justice, and not only has death penalty; it has very clear qualifications for judges too. Neither MP Mahloof, nor any of the Sheikhs, has expressed alarm that the judges are far below standard and some of them are convicted criminals themselves. This is pure politics and abuse of Islam,” she told Minivan News in a previous interview.

In July, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) said it was “deeply concerned about the state of the judiciary in the Maldives,” as well as calling for the abolition of the death penalty, in order to ensure the Maldives’ compliance with International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

After speaking with a Maldivian delegation headed by Jameel, the council released a statement saying that the state had acknowledged both that the independence of the judiciary was severely compromised and that the death penalty did not deter crime.

Today marks World Day Against the Death Penalty – organised by an alliance of more than 135 NGOs, bar associations, local authorities and unions seeking the universal abolition of capital punishment.


JSC decision must be investigated by Parliament, urges member

The Judicial Service Commission (JSC) decided last week to reappoint all current judges, regardless of whether they hold a previous conviction for a crime or a criminal breach of trust or bribery.

After the decision was made, member of the commission Aishath Velazinee spoke out against it, writing in her blog, “it is indeed a sad state of affairs, and an insult to all those honest judges whose integrity and good name is compromised by today’s decision.”

Today, Velazinee told Minivan News it might seem like “one mad woman screaming,” but insisted “the Majlis has to attend to this and demand a public inquiry. I can only bring it to public attention.”

She said “Parliament has failed to hold the JSC accountable,” and said she still “firmly believes” the composition of the commission presents a conflict of interest, leading to a vote that ultimately contradicting the purpose of the commission.

The JSC was created to reform the judiciary and investigate all judges, “and was asked to evaluate every single sitting judge appointed prior to the 2008 Constitution,” Velazinee said.

According to the Constitution, the nine-member commission must comprise of the speaker of parliament; an MP and a member of the public both appointed by Parliament; three judges, one from the Supreme Court, High Court and the trial courts; a private lawyer elected among licensed lawyers; the Chair of the Civil Service Commission (CSC); a person appointed by the President; and the Attorney General.

“The JSC was not functioning under the law of the Constitution, and not acting in the interest of the public,” said Velazinee, who is the President’s member on the Commission.

She suggested it be made up of a “cross-section of people in this country, who are educated and have an understanding of democracy.”

Last week’s decision was won by majority, with five votes in favour.

“They have decided Article 285 is symbolic,” Velazinee said, “it is a very simplistic view of democracy.”

Article 285 stipulates that the JSC shall determine before August 7, 2010 whether or not judges on the bench posses the qualifications specified by the Constitution.

Currently, there are seven judges found guilty of a criminal breach of trust; five with allegations of a criminal breach of trust; two are being prosecuted for an alleged breach of trust; one is on trial for sexual misconduct; two have been found guilty of sexual misconduct; one was found guilty for an offence which had a prescribed punishment in Islam; and another judge who has been accused of a criminal breach of trust, and found guilty of sexual misconduct.

That is a total of nineteen judges with a criminal history, most of which have not been tried in a court of law.

Velazinee said she was not given an opportunity to discuss or issue alternative proposals, even though she had been trying to bring attention to her argument for months. “Even the Superior Court Justice decided it was not worthy,” she added.

Parliament’s power

Parliament has the power to reverse or alter the JSC’s decision, “but now they’re in recess, too,” Velazinee said, noting probably nothing much can be done until the Majlis reconvenes in mid-June.

Adding to Velazinee’s concern, the JSC has only until 7 August of this year to submit any reforms and all cases on the judges. “And probably not even until the deadline,” she added.

She said although the president “would normally have a say” in this decision, “in the current political context, the president getting involved could do more harm.”

Press Secretary for the President’s Office, Mohamed Zuhair, said “there are legalities to be considered” because “the law does stipulate a clause on limitations,” which says that a judge, or an MP or a citizen, “can be absolved of a crime after five years” of being convicted.

He added “judges should be examples” and new regulations and legislation should be considered.

Zuhair said President Mohamed Nasheed “will adhere to the Constitution,” and there is “nothing to do until Parliament comes back.”

But, he added, a parliamentary committee could look into the issue extraordinarily, just like the National Security Committee is having a sitting this Wednesday.

Judges Abdulla Mohamed and Abdulla Didi did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.

Attorney General Husnu Suood did not respond, either.