An island magistrate court has sentenced a woman to death by stoning after she confessed to committing adultery.
The verdict marks the first time a person has been sentenced to death by stoning in the Maldives.
The woman was sentenced by the magistrate court on the island of Gemanafushi in Gaaf Alif atoll.
She was charged after giving birth out of wedlock. The woman reportedly confessed at court to committing adultery.
The news has sparked heated debate and outrage on social media.
A media official at the Prosecutor General’s Office told The Maldives Independent that the office was yet to be informed about the sentence in writing. “However, if it is true we will definitely appeal the verdict in High Court,” he said.
Under the new penal code, unlawful sexual intercourse carries a punishment of two years in prison or six months in prison depending on the marital status of the defendant. A judge is also given the discretion to order 100 lashes in public, but it is unclear whether the new law allows death by stoning as a capital punishment.
The verdict was reportedly issued under section 1,205 of the penal code, which states that Islamic Shariah punishments must be meted out to persons found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of committing a crime for which punishment is prescribed in the Shariah “even if it is stated otherwise in this law”.
The section was amended in late August after the parliament approved an amendment proposed by a ruling party MP. The amended section also states that the Supreme Court must pass a final sentence before convicts found guilty of offences for which penalties are prescribed in Islamic Sharia are punished.
The penal code previously allowed only punishments prescribed in the Holy Quran. There is no reference to stoning in the Quran.
MP Ahmed Thoriq had proposed replacing ‘Holy Quran’ with ‘Islamic Shariah’ in section 1,205. The Shariah encompasses both the Quran and the Prophet’s sunnah (teachings or traditions).
But Hussain Shameem, the former deputy prosecutor general and an expert on the Maldivian penal code, said the law still does not authorise courts to issue a sentence for stoning.
“The court cannot just hand out any sentence when the penal code has specified punishments for specific charges,” he said. A woman charged with birth out of wedlock could not be sentenced for adultery, he said.
Shameem added that there is no consensus among Islamic scholars over the punishment of stoning.
Stoning is practiced in some Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen.
The new penal code came into force on July 16 and was hailed as a landmark law that codified Islamic sharia for the first time while upholding minimum international human rights standards.
Several punishments fixed in the Quran and Sunnah such as amputation of the hand for theft, death by stoning for adultery, death for highway robbery, and death or banishment for apostasy are not enforced in the Maldives.
However, flogging for pre-marital sex is carried out while the current administration has ended a six-decade moratorium on the death penalty.
Additional reporting and writing by Ahmed Naish