Four UN human rights experts, the European Union, and Amnesty International have called on the government to halt the planned execution of a 22-year-old death row inmate.
The government on Thursday amended regulations to enforce the death sentence by lethal injection and hanging after the Supreme Court upheld Hussain Humam Ahmed’s conviction over the murder of MP Afrasheem Ali in October 2012.
“The implementation of a death sentence following judicial procedures which do not respect the most stringent guarantees of fair trial and due process is unlawful and tantamount to an arbitrary execution,” UN special rapporteurs on arbitrary detention, summary executions, torture, and independence of the judiciary said in a statement yesterday.
If the government enforces the death sentence, Humam would become the first Maldivian to be executed by the state since 1953.
The EU also urged the government to maintain the unofficial six-decade moratorium on the death penalty, reiterating its “absolute opposition to capital punishment in all cases”.
In a statement released Friday, the EU spokesperson called the death penalty “a cruel and inhumane punishment, which fails to deter criminal behaviour and which represents a grave denial of human dignity and integrity.”
“Any miscarriage of justice – which is inevitable in any legal system – is irreversible,” it added.
Amnesty International meanwhile called on the government to commute Humam’s and all other death sentences, warning that the reintroduction of capital punishment would be “a seriously regressive step for human rights”.
Both Amnesty and the UN rights experts also noted the apex court’s refusal to accept the victim’s family’s request for a delay in enforcing the death sentence.
As the police claim the murder investigation is still ongoing, Afrasheem’s family said Humam may prove to be key in identifying the financiers.
Under Maldivian law and Islamic sharia, the principle of qisas or retaliation in kind allows the family to demand the death penalty, ask for blood money, or pardon the killer.
Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who is presently engaged in a power struggle with the incumbent president, has also opposed Humam’s execution without the consent of the victim’s family.
Gayoom, a moderate religious scholar who maintained the moratorium during his 30 years in power, said in a tweet in the early hours of Friday: “No Islamic state has the right to carry out qisas except as provided in Islam.”
Backing his father’s stand, MP Faris Maumoon tweeted: “An incomplete investigation creates doubt. Where there is doubt, the path is that of mercy.”
The UN rights experts and Amnesty also called for a retrial in compliance with international standards, raising concerns over the fairness of Humam’s trial as the verdict was based on a confession that he later retracted.
“The courts have also disregarded a claim that the defendant has a psycho-social or intellectual disability and a request for an independent evaluation of his mental health status. Mr. Ahmed’s defence rights were disrespected,” the experts said.
They added: “These procedures contravene international standards of fair trial and due process, as well as Article 52 of the Maldivian Constitution, which provides that ‘No confession shall be admissible in evidence unless made in court by an accused who is in a sound state of mind.’”
The experts observed that the Maldives’ reinstitution of the death penalty “runs counter to the international trend towards the abolition of the death penalty.”
Despite President Abdulla Yameen’s insistence that the death penalty is necessary to maintain public safety, Amnesty International also noted that numerous studies have failed to show that it is an effective deterrent to crime.
According to the human rights group, some 140 states are abolitionist in law or practice, and 103 countries have abolished the death penalty.
The new rules meanwhile require the president to order Humam’s execution three days after a committee comprising of the chief prosecutor, the commissioner of prisons, and the chief justice endorses the death sentence.
Prosecutor General Aishath Bisham, who sits on the advisory committee, said on Thursday that Afrasheem’s family “should take up the matter with the president, as he is the next step after the committee orders the execution.”
The execution must take place within seven days of the president’s order. But the heirs of the victim will have a final opportunity to make their wishes known on the day of the execution.
Abdul Nasir Ali, the late MP’s brother, told The Maldives Independent last week that he failed to see Humam’s motive for killing Afrasheem.
“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 said.