The criminal court has sentenced two men to death after handing down guilty verdicts over the murder of 25-year-old Ahmed Mirza Ibrahim in April 2011.
Abdulla Nazeef, from the Zavia house in Gnaviyani Fuvahmulah, and Mohamed Shifau, from the Fazeelamanzil house in Vilimalé, were convicted of murder based on eyewitness testimony.
Delivering the verdict on Tuesday afternoon, Chief Judge Abdul Bari Yousuf reportedly said the testimony proves that Mirza was assaulted in a revenge attack.
The medico-legal report shows that he died of injuries sustained in the assault, the judge said.
He also noted that Mirza’s heirs have asked for the death penalty. Under Maldivian law and Islamic sharia, the principle of qisas or retaliation in kind allows the family to either demand the death penalty, ask for blood money, or pardon the killer.
A third defendant, Ali Rishfan, from the Bakuruge house in Gaaf Dhaal Gahdhoo, was meanwhile found not guilty. A minor charged in connection with the murder was also acquitted by the juvenile court in November 2012.
Ahmed Mirza Ibrahim was assaulted with iron bars on April 11, 2011 at a children’s park in Vilimalé, an island near Malé that is considered an administrative ward of the capital.
He was declared brain-dead by doctors at the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital and passed away three days later due to severe head injuries.
Five suspects were arrested and four of them, including a minor, were charged with murder.
The defendants have been in police custody since April 2011 and the trial was stalled over failure to summon key witnesses. Judge Bari later took over the case from the former chief judge who was demoted to the family court in February 2016.
A week after Mirza’s death, a group of about 200 people marched on the streets of Vilimalé calling for the death penalty. Vilimalé MP Ahmed Nihan, now majority leader of parliament, had joined the demonstration.
If the guilty verdicts are upheld by both the high court and supreme court, Nazeef and Shifau will join three convicts presently on death row.
Last year, the supreme court upheld death sentences handed to Hussain Humam, Ahmed Murrath, and Mohamed Nabeel over murder cases, paving the way for the Maldives’ first state-sanctioned executions since 1953.
The current administration lifted a six-decade-old moratorium on the death penalty in 2014. According to regulations approved by the cabinet for implementing the death penalty, the appeal process must be exhausted before a convict can be put to death.
If the convict does not appeal, the state is obliged to submit the verdict for review by the appellate courts.
The rules state that the president must order the execution within three days of a committee comprised of the chief prosecutor, the commissioner of prisons and the chief justice signing a document endorsing the death sentence.
The execution must take place within seven days of the order. The heirs of the victim will have a final opportunity to make their wishes known on the day of the execution.
In July last year, President Abdulla Yameen said his administration has resolved to enforce capital punishment despite foreign pressure and persistent criticism of the criminal justice system.
The remarks followed calls from UN human rights experts, the European Union, and Amnesty International to halt Humam’s execution. Professor Tariq Ramadan, a renowned Islamic scholar, also urged the government to halt the execution of the 22-year-old convict.
Human rights groups feared at the time that Humam’s execution was imminent but the government’s plans to reintroduce the death penalty appears to be on hold.