Maldives forges ahead with preparations for death penalty despite criticism

Maldives forges ahead with preparations for death penalty despite criticism
June 29 22:38 2016

The government is forging ahead with plans to execute the Maldives’ first death row prisoner in more than half a century, amending Thursday regulations to enforce the death sentence by lethal injection and hanging despite fierce criticism.

The European Union said the supreme court’s sentencing of Hussain Humam Ahmed to death over the murder of an MP on Friday, is “of great concern,” while the UN’s representative in the Maldives said she hoped the government would respect the wishes of the MP’s family to delay the death penalty.

MP Afrasheem Ali’s family said they do not want to enforce the death sentence until the high-profile murder is solved. The 22-year-old may prove to be key in identifying the financiers of the brutal killing, they said.

Officials, however, suggested the letter does not amount to a retraction.

According to Maldivian law, only the victim’s family can spare the life of a convict if the supreme court rules the accused guilty. The principle of qisas or retaliation in kind allows the family to seek the life of the killer, or they can alternatively ask for a sum of money or issue a pardon. The death penalty cannot be enforced if even one of the victim’s heirs are against it.

Aishath Bisham, the chief prosecutor who sits on a three-member committee to advice the president on executions, said: “I believe the family does not say that they do not want qisas.”

“If they don’t want qisas, they should take up the matter with the president, as he is the next step after the committee orders the execution,” she said.

Abdul Nasir Ali, the late MP’s brother, maintained his stance. “What we are saying is that the investigation is not complete. Humam’s testimony is vital to the probe. He should not be killed now, that’s what we are saying.”

Despite making more than a dozen arrests over the murder, Humam is the only one who was convicted. Suspicion has been cast on President Abdulla Yameen, the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party and religious extremists.

Noting that the police had labeled the murder politically motivated, Nasir said: “The boy has no motive to kill my brother.

“Perhaps when we find out the truth, we will be willing to pardon Humam. We believe the person who is responsible is the person who commissioned this killing.” He added: “The prosecutor general may read our letter differently, the home ministry may interpret it differently. There will be many interpretations, but what we have said is very clear.”

The family is still waiting on a response to their letter, he said. It was initially rejected because it was filed at night, just hours before the mid-night ruling was issued.

Home Minister Umar Naseer, days before he resigned, said the government wants to implement the death penalty within 30 days of a ruling. The regulations have not been revised to reflect this time period yet.

The rules say that the president is required to order the execution within three days of a committee comprising of the chief prosecutor, the commissioner of prisons and the chief justice sign a document endorsing the death sentence.

The execution must take place within seven days of the order. The heirs of the victim are given a last opportunity to make their wishes known on the day of the execution.

The opposition has meanwhile spoken out against Humam’s verdict, with former President Mohamed Nasheed urging the public to make a stand against the sentence. “The death sentence on Humam is the biggest symbol of the injustice by the Supreme Court,” he said.

Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, the leader of the opposition, said the verdict cannot be considered fair at a time the judiciary stood accused of politicization and corruption.

The Maldivian Democracy Network, a human rights group, has called for a retrial, highlighting a host of irregularities in the trial, including inconsistencies in testimony and the fact that the guilty verdict was based on a confession Humam had retracted in court.

The group is organizing a letter campaign and has been holding nightly gatherings at the artificial beach in Malé to seek signatures.

MDP MP Eva Abdulla is seeking parliamentary intervention to halt the death penalty, asking the People’s Majlis’ committee on government oversight to urge Yameen to reconsider the decision to implement the death penalty.

Many others have taken to social media making impassioned pleas to save Humam’s life. One woman said: “Those of you on Facebook posting photos of your daily life, are you blind to the injustices right in front of you?… Do you think killing a man without a fair trial is okay just because it is right here, right now? Are you only able to show empathy when the injustice is far away?”

Officials who were part of the government at the time came under fire on social media, with many urging Jameel, then-home minister, and MP Abdulla Riyaz, then-police chief to divulge what they know.

Riyaz said he had no information to defend Humam, and said the police were still looking into who may have financed the murder when he left the police force in 2013.

Prosecutors have said in court that the investigation is still ongoing more than three years later. And that remains the sticking point for Afrasheem’s family.

Authorities had seemed surer of identifying the culprits at the time of the killing, Nasir said. “They told us there were people who spent money on the murder, and that there were people who organized it. And then, we heard nothing. Not even a motive.

“We just cannot make a decision until the investigation is complete.”

Additional writing and reporting by Zaheena Rasheed