The Supreme Court is preparing to review the murder conviction of Hussain Humam Ahmed, sentenced to death over the high-profile murder of MP Afrasheem Ali. If the guilty verdict is upheld, the 22-year-old may be the first Maldivian to be executed by the state in 60 years.
Humam’s father, who has long-claimed that his son did not receive a fair trial, lodged a complaint with the judicial watchdog on Sunday requesting an inquiry into due process violations.
Humam, then 19 years, was arrested within hours of Afrasheem’s wife discovering her husband’s body, hacked to death, in the stairwell of their home on October 2, 2012.
The murder was politically motivated, the police said at the time. But three and a half years on, the masterminds behind the murder have not been identified. Afrasheem’s killing, however, has provided fodder for Malé’s political mills with defectors from the ruling party alleging President Yameen’s involvement, a claim he has denied.
To date, Humam is the only suspect who was convicted.
An appeal at the High Court failed last year.
Humam, a young man with a troubled history of violence, had confessed to the murder during a remand hearing, only to retract it during the trial.
His family and human rights group Maldivian Democracy Network allege that the investigation into Afrasheem’s murder and the trial were riddled with irregularities that the judiciary must investigate before the state executes a young man.
“We, as a society have failed Humam given his history as a young offender,” said Mushfique Mohamed of MDN. “As human rights defenders, the MDN is focusing on due process violations and the judiciary’s exposure to political influence. This case shows that the ordinary Maldivian is susceptible to the inherent flaws in the courts today, to the point where it could actually cost them their lives, especially given the reintroduction of the death penalty.”
The complaint lodged by Humam’s father, Ahmed Khaleel, at the Judicial Services Commission asks the watchdog to investigate Judge Abdulla Didi who delivered the guilty verdict at the criminal court in January 2014.
Khaleel alleges that Humam was not allowed to call defence witnesses, and that he was sentenced on a confession, which he later retracted in court. The constitution expressly states that confessions are only admissible if given freely in court.
Khaleel also contended that Judge Didi did not consider inconsistencies in the testimony provided by the state’s witnesses.
Humam was not of sound mind when he confessed to the murder, Khaleel said, alleging that the judge had failed to consider his son’s mental health in issuing the death sentence.
Humam first confessed to killing Afrasheem during a remand hearing on December 7, 2012. He did not have legal counsel then. When the trial began the next month, Humam retracted the statement and denied killing the MP.
Weeks later on February 7, Humam’s main alibi, Ahmed Nazeef Shaukath, who was said to have been present at the time of his arrest, was found dead in a public park. At the time, the police chief suggested that the death was caused by a bad dose of LSD.
Humam continued to claim his innocence on May 6, 2013, saying he was guilty of other violent crimes, and confessing to many instances where he had attacked, stabbed, and at times killed, often with the help of others.
The authorities did not investigate Humam’s involvement in the acts confessed.
Just two weeks later, on May 22, Humam rejected legal representation and said that his confession statement was valid. He said he wished to apologise to Afrasheem’s family, and implored for the lightest possible sentence.
The statement gave a detailed account of the planning and execution of the murder. Humam had said that a man called Abdulla Jawid, a cardholding member of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party – promised him MVR 4million (US$259,403) for the crime. Azlif Rauf, a notorious gangster, provided him mobile phones and identity cards.
Humam had said that a man called ‘Spy’ was involved in planning the murder along with Azlif, and that another called ‘Nangi’ gave him and his accomplice Ali Shan a machete, a bayonet knife, jeans, t-shirts and gloves to kill Afrasheem.
Humam said he attacked Afrasheem with the machete when he entered the apartment building that night and when he fell on the ground Shan attacked him with the bayonet knife.
Jawid and his brother, two MDP activists, Azlif and Shan were arrested for the murder. All except for Shan were later released. Shan was charged with murder later, but acquitted after two years.
On May 26, Humam’s father, Khaleel, wrote to the then-Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed and the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives urging them to “ensure [my] son is granted a fair trial devoid of coercion and undue influence.”
In the letter to the criminal court, Khaleel said his son was psychologically traumatized and had been coerced by the police to confess. Humam displayed signs of mental instability, including staring upwards, placing his handcuffs against his mouth, and laughing hysterically, Khaleel said, requesting for an assessment of Humam’s mental health.
The request was denied.
Humam yet again, did an about turn on June 1, when he claimed that he “didn’t know anything about the murder of Afrasheem, I admitted to it before during a remand hearing [prior to trial], under coercion.”
State prosecutors, however, argued that Humam had in fact confessed to the murder. Police forensic experts meanwhile testified saying that Afrasheem’s DNA had been found on Humam’s jeans.
Judge Didi based the guilty verdict on Humam’s confession and police testimony. The judge is now the chief judge of the High Court.
A five-judge panel of the High Court ruled in September that Humam had not demonstrated a valid reason for retracting his confession. He had told judges that police officers threatened to kill him if he refused to confess.
If the Supreme Court upholds the guilty verdict, the state will be obliged to execute Humam. A High Court ruling on the death penalty state that the president cannot commute the death penalty for individuals convicted of first-degree murder, if all of the victim’s heirs desire capital punishment.
The government has earmarked funds to build a facility to implement the death sentence this year.
Mushfique of MDN said: “If the Supreme Court supports the existing verdict, without addressing concerns over due process violations, it does nothing to serve justice for Afrasheem or reveal the truth behind his brutal murder. We are starving for justice, but where is the motive? Where are the masterminds? This is not justice.”
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