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Families of death row inmates in the dark on planned executions

The UN human rights chief added his voice to the death penalty abolition cause in the Maldives on Tuesday, giving hope to the family and lawyers of death row inmates facing imminent execution. But they say the government’s silence worries them.



The families and lawyers of three death row inmates, who are at risk of imminent execution, said they are yet to receive any news from the government on its plans to enforce the death penalty.

President Abdulla Yameen is facing immense pressure to reinstate a six decade old moratorium on the death penalty, a cause to which the UN human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein added his voice on Tuesday.

“The Maldives has long provided important leadership on global efforts to bring an end to the use of the death penalty, so it is deeply regrettable that a series of steps have been taken to resume executions in the country,” he said in a statement.

His appeal adds to that by four other UN human rights experts, human rights groups, the European Union and foreign governments.

The growing international condemnation has given hope to the family of Hussain Humam Ahmed, a 22-year-old young man convicted of killing a parliamentarian in 2012.

But his sister Fathimath Inaya said the government’s silence has only added to their worry.

“We are constantly worried because we do not know when and if it would happen. Sometimes I feel like they won’t do it, and then at other times I feel like they will, and that they are only waiting for the right moment for them,” she said.

Lawyers of Ahmed Murrath and Mohamed Nabeel, the two others who had their sentenced upheld by the supreme court last month, said they have not received any word from the government either.

The home ministry has previously said executions will be carried out within 30 days of the supreme court upholding death sentences, but the time period has not been included in regulations yet.

The rules state that the Islamic ministry must mediate between the murder convict and the victim’s family, and that a three-member committee, comprising of a supreme court representative, the chief prosecutor and the commissioner of prisons, must meet to issue the execution order.

None of these procedures appear to have been followed yet.

If a single heir of the victim issues a pardon, the death penalty cannot be enforced.

In Humam’s case, the brother and father of late MP Afrasheem Ali wrote a letter to the supreme court as it prepared to rule on the case, seeking to stay the execution, on the grounds that the murder inquiry is incomplete.

But the court disregarded the letter in issuing the death sentence.

Afrasheem’s family said the court has not responded to their letter yet.

Newly appointed Home Minister Ahmed Azleen declined to comment immediately.

The president has meanwhile publicly defended the death penalty on several occasions, most recently in an address to the nation in July, in which he claimed that capital punishment was necessary for public safety.

Since then, the UN human rights council, responding to a petition from Humam’s father, has asked Yameen to halt the execution until it reviews the case.

Human’s father, Abdulla Khaleel, said his son was denied the right to a fair trial.

Newly appointed Foreign Minister Dr Mohamed Asim told the press in mid-July that the ministry was studying the UN’s letter. His predecessor Dunya Maumoon had resigned citing opposition to the death penalty.

The supreme court has meanwhile quashed a stay order on executions issued by the high court, after human rights group, Maldivian Democracy Network contested the constitutionality of the death penalty regulations.

The apex court said the regulations were legal.

But Zeid, who also highlighted concerns over due process violations in the murder convictions in the Maldives so far, said: “The death penalty is not effective in deterring crime. Revenge must never be confused with justice, and the death penalty only serves to compound injustice.

“A judiciary that is unable to consistently apply fair trial standards and is marred by politicisation must not be allowed to have the final say in matters of life and death.”

He added: “For more than 60 years, the Maldives has upheld the right to life, even of those convicted of serious crimes. The Maldives has recognised that the taking of life is too absolute and irreversible, even in situations backed by a legal process.”

The chief prosecutor and the president’s office were not responding to calls for comment at the time of going to press.

Additional writing and reporting by Zaheena Rasheed. Xiena Saeed contributed to the reporting.