Supreme Court overturns stay order halting executions

Supreme Court overturns stay order halting executions
July 25 10:43 2016

The Supreme Court has quashed a stay order issued Sunday by the High Court halting executions by the state pending a judgment on the constitutionality of regulations enacted for implementing the death penalty.

An order issued around 1:30am states that there are “no judicial or legal grounds to challenge the constitutionality of the regulations” as the apex court has upheld two death sentences and ordered the state to carry out executions in accordance with the regulations.

The Supreme Court suggested that it has therefore deemed the regulations to be valid and constitutional.

The High Court’s decision to hear the case filed by local human rights NGO Maldivian Democracy Network contravened the constitution and was “void by its nature”.

The constitution requires lower courts to follow decisions of a higher court and declares the Supreme Court to be “the final authority on the interpretation of the constitution, the law, or any other matter dealt with by a court of law,” the apex court order said.

In addition to overturning yesterday’s stay order, the Supreme Court also declared that the appellate court shall not adjudicate on the matter and nullified the case.

Speaking to The Maldives Independent, Shahindha Ismail, executive director of MDN, questioned the validity of the midnight order.

Shahindha said she does not believe the apex has issued a ruling because “there has not been a hearing of this case at the Supreme Court, as the most fundamental of rights in this issue, of being heard, was never afforded to MDN by the court.”

She added: “Further, the document going around on social media does not even have a signature or initial of an authorised person of the Supreme Court and the case number quoted on last night’s order seems to be that of a previous case.”

“We will go ahead with our petition” she said.

The order was first posted on the official Twitter account of the Department of Judicial Administration, which functions under the direct supervision of the apex court.

It has since been published on the Supreme Court website, without a signature.

In its public interest claim, the MDN had meanwhile argued that the death penalty regulations restricted a fundamental constitutional right, which could only be done by an act of parliament.

The three-judge panel who heard the constitutional case at the High Court was comprised of Chief Judge Abdulla Didi along with Judges Ali Sameer and Abdul Rauf Ibrahim.

The apex court’s intervention comes amid mounting international pressure against the reintroduction of capital punishment after a six-decade unofficial moratorium.

President Abdulla Yameen declared earlier this month that his administration will not baulk at enforcing the death penalty, claiming that it is necessary for public safety.

The Supreme Court upheld its first death sentences last month after Yameen urged the highest court of appeal to conclude death penalty cases.

The regulations approved by the cabinet in April 2014 require a final judgment by the apex court to carry out executions.

Two young men, Hussain Humam Ahmed and Ahmed Murrath, are now awaiting execution by lethal injection or hanging.

Earlier this month, the UN Human Rights Committee requested the government to halt Humam’s execution pending the outcome of a review of his conviction on the murder of Dr Afrasheem Ali in October 2012.

But the foreign ministry said the request does not constitute a legally binding order.

The committee is investigating a complaint alleging violations of Humam’s right to a fair trial as set forth in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The Maldives ratified the ICCPR and its first Optional Protocol in 2006.

The European Union, four UN human rights experts, and Amnesty International have also called on the government to maintain the moratorium on the death penalty.

Earlier this month, Professor Tariq Ramadan, a leading Islamic scholar, urged  Yameen “to take all possible action to prevent [Humam’s] execution from taking place.”

Ramdan’s concerns included an ignored plea from the victim’s family to delay the death penalty.

Afrasheem’s family requested postponing Humam’s execution until the murder is solved as he is a key witness in identifying the financiers.

The Oxford professor said he was convinced that executing Humam “would contravene the fundamental principles of Islamic law.”

Former Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, however, accused Ramadan of “bringing the Maldives into disrepute” and argued that his concerns are addressed in the death penalty regulations.