The supreme court concluded today hearings into its first murder case, bringing the prospect of state executions a step closer in the Maldives.
Should the apex court uphold the death sentence, Ahmed Murrath, convicted of killing a prominent lawyer in 2012, could become the first Maldivian to be executed by the state in more than half a century.
Home Minister Umar Naseer told local media last week prisoners will be executed within thirty days of the supreme court upholding or issuing a guilty verdict.
Murrath and his girlfriend Fathmath Hanaa were convicted of murdering Ahmed Najeeb four years ago. The elderly lawyer’s mutilated body was found stuffed in a dustbin in Murrath’s residence on July 1, 2012.
The couple was found guilty by the criminal court on July 19, 2012 after one of the shortest murder trials in recent history.
The verdict was based on a confession Murrath gave at the criminal court. He was without legal counsel during the 18-day trial.
The defence lawyer is now seeking to overturn the verdict claiming his client’s confession was coerced.
The 32-year-old had confessed to the murder saying he killed Najeeb under the influence of drugs because the lawyer had attempted to sexually assault Hanaa.
He retracted the confession during the appeal at the high court, claiming he had confessed on the instruction of investigating police officers, who he said had interrogated his mother and relatives on unrelated matters.
He said he was worried for fear of harm to his family.
The defence lawyer has also urged judges to consider provisions in the newly enacted penal code, which states that the death penalty can only be issued if the accused confesses freely in court “under the advice of the counsel, confessing every element of the crime.”
Prosecutors, however, insist Murrath was sound of mind when he confessed during the murder trial.
As proof, they noted Murrath had spoken of his own accord to say that he had tied T-shirts around Najeeb’s neck not to throttle him, but rather to stem the flow of blood.
Leniencies granted in the new penal code, which came into force last year, cannot be applied at the appeal stage, they also argued.
Murrath’s appeal was the second murder case to reach the supreme court.
Judges are also reviewing the death sentence against Hussain Humam Ahmed, convicted of killing a parliamentarian in 2012.
The court is now preparing to hear closing arguments in Humam’s case. A local human rights group has called for a retrial in Humam’s case, arguing his death sentence was unfair.
Two more murder cases are also up for review at the supreme court. This includes the death sentence against Murrath’s girlfriend Hanaa, who defence counsel argues should not be executed, claiming she was an accomplice to the murder.
Hanaa was 18 at the time of the killing and did not have legal counsel during the trial.
The second case is that of Mohamed Nabeel, who was sentenced to death based on a confession made to the police, but retracted in court. The case has stirred controversy as the Maldivian constitution says confessions are only admissible if freely given in a court.
Additional reporting by Zaheena Rasheed