The Maldivian Democracy Network has called for a retrial in the case of a young man convicted of killing a parliamentarian, arguing that his death sentence was unfair and contravened principles of the Islamic Shari’ah.
The human rights NGO issued a report on Tuesday, Protect Human Dignity: Republic of Maldives vs Hussain Humam Ahmed, examining the death sentence handed to the 22-year-old over the brutal murder of MP Afrasheem Ali in 2012.
Due process violations highlighted included the criminal court’s reliance on a pre-trial confession as well as “hearsay and circumstantial evidence,” refusal to examine Humam’s claim of mental illness and refusal to call defence witnesses.
Humam’s appeal is currently before the Supreme Court. If found guilty, he could be the first Maldivian to be executed by the state in more than 60 years.
Urging a retrial and an independent psychiatric evaluation of Humam, Shahindha Ismail, the executive director of MDN, said: “This issue is important because it has been more than sixty years since the death penalty has been enforced in the Maldives, and now this particular case is being processed at a very fast pace.
“We do not believe that the penalty should be enforced given the gravity of due process violations we have highlighted.”
The report noted that Humam was without a lawyer at key points of the trial, and was sentenced based on a confession he had retracted in court. It went on to argue that the guilty verdict does not hold up to the high standards of proof required by the Islamic Shari’ah.
“The fact that judges are justifying the death sentence based on the Islamic Shari’ah, while the actual conviction contravenes the Shari’ah is of great concern,” said MDN’s lawyer Mushfique Mohamed.
The report stated that a death sentence issued under Islamic Shari’ah requires two eyewitnesses who testify to having seen the accused commit the act of murder, and a unanimous agreement on the death penalty by all of the victim’s heirs. More importantly, the accused must be sound of mind.
In Humam’s case, none of the witnesses had testified to witnessing a murder, the report said, adding that two of Afrasheem’s heirs remain underage and are therefore unable to make a statement until they reach 18 years of age.
MDN said: “Interpretations of Islamic Shari’ah that require the convict to remain in prison until all heirs reach adulthood were wholly ignored. The court claimed it would opt to implement capital punishment – without waiting for Afrasheem’s children to reach legal age – in the interest of public safety.
However, “the judge did not specify how keeping Humam imprisoned until the victim’s children reach 18 compromises public safety.”
Criticising the court’s dismissal of Humam’s claim of mental disorder, the NGO urged the state to urgently undertake an independent psychiatric assessment. The court’s refusal to do so “illustrates an implicit bias on the part of the judge… given that Humam is charged with homicide,” the report contended.
Humam’s family is now seeking an inquiry against Judge Abdulla Didi claiming bias. Didi is now the Chief Judge of the High Court.
Mushfique said: “If the case continues as it is, and the death penalty is implemented, we will witness a grave injustice that cannot be overturned.”
MDN also argued that as the murder investigation is still ongoing, Humam could be a key witness in identifying other accomplices and financiers of Afrasheem’s killing.
Humam is the only person convicted so far despite police saying the murder was premeditated and politically motivated. A second suspect, Ali Shan, was acquitted in September 2014 with the court citing insufficient evidence. A third suspect, Azlif Rauf, who Humam said had planned the murder, left to Turkey with six members of Malé’s Kuda Henveiru gang in January last year.
Suspicion has meanwhile been cast upon the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, religious extremists and President Abdulla Yameen.
“Since the accomplices and financiers have not been fully investigated or charges, Humam is a key witness to an ongoing investigation… Killing Humam would mean killing the only witness to multiple unsolved murders,” the report noted.
MDN went on to label the criminal court’s reliance on Humam’s pre-trial confession unlawful.
At a first hearing, Humam had asked for a lawyer, saying: “I don’t know anything about the murder of Afrasheem, I admitted to it before during a remand hearing [prior to trial], because I was scared,” the report recounted.
Then in May, he changed his stance, dismissing his lawyer and confirming his confession in court.
“It is important to note that he did not reiterate the entire pre-trial statement in court under oath,” MDN said.
The judge allowed the prosecutors to read out Humam’s confession, and the then-20 year old said: “that is the statement I gave, that statement is true.”
Later, when Humam retracted the confession, the judge said he must first prove he was coerced into doing so. The verdict read: “The retraction of Humam’s confession was dismissed because he failed to substantiate allegations of coercion and intimidation in a court of law.”
MDN also expressed concern over the fact that a majority of the prosecution’s witnesses were anonymous and claimed that their testimonies contradicted the other. “When all undisclosed testimonies are considered, the testimonies contradicted each other. If true, Humam was at different locations simultaneously,” the report said.
The first anonymous witness had claimed that he saw Humam inside Afrasheem’s house, covered in blood, holding the MP’s hand. When Humam’s lawyers raised questions over the witness’ reliability, the judge said there was no room for questions as Humam’s confession corroborated the witness’ statement, according to MDN.
The second anonymous witness testified saying that he saw a man similar to Humam inside a mosque “frantically washing his face.” The third and fourth witnesses were the officers who arrested Humam; they claimed that Humam appeared to “be under the influence” and was “very nervous.”
A fifth anonymous witness testified that Humam had complained about having nightmares of Afrasheem and had suggested that Afrasheem was someone he thought should be killed.
The sixth and key piece of evidence was a statement by a forensic expert who claimed that samples taken from the inside of Humam’s blue jeans matched Afrasheem’s DNA. The report was never submitted to the court, Humam’s lawyers have said.
MDN said it would submit its report to the Supreme Court at a next hearing.
Additional reporting by Xiena Saeed