The High Court issued today a stay order halting executions by the state pending a ruling on the constitutionality of regulations enacted for implementing the death penalty.
The stay order will be in force until a judgment is delivered in a case filed by the Maldivian Democracy Network. The local human rights NGO asked the court to strike down several provisions of the regulations approved by the cabinet in April 2014.
The order offers a reprieve for Hussain Humam Ahmed and Ahmed Murrath, two convicts who were facing execution by lethal injection or hanging after the Supreme Court upheld their death sentences last month.
The Maldives has been facing mounting international pressure against the reintroduction of capital punishment after a six-decade unofficial moratorium.
The UN Human Rights Committee is also investigating a complaint alleging violations of death row inmate Humam’s right to a fair trial as set forth in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
In its public interest claim, the MDN argued that the death penalty regulations restricted a fundamental constitutional right, which could only be done by an act of parliament.
“Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person, and the right not be deprived thereof to any extent except pursuant to a law made in accordance with article 16 of this constitution,” reads article 21.
But state attorneys told the court today that the regulations are only a set of procedural instructions and not the source from which the death penalty is derived.
“The right to life as stipulated in article 21 of the constitution of is being narrowed by a law passed by the People’s Majlis in accordance with article 16 of the constitution,” the state attorney said, referring to the penal code passed in 2014, which allows for the death penalty.
The lawyers from the Attorney General’s office dismissed the MDN’s case as lacking any “judicial or legal basis” and urged the judges to deny the NGO’s request for a stay order.
The three-judge panel hearing the constitutional case is comprised of Chief Judge Abdulla Didi along with Judges Ali Sameer and Abdul Rauf Ibrahim.
The judges did not announce a date for the next hearing.
Shahindha Ismail, executive director of MDN, told The Maldives Independent after today’s hearing: “The danger of an unjust killing has come too close, and the courts and government can still resolve it.
“Today the High Court has shown great light in these trying times, and I feel that we may not get many more opportunities to correct this wrong. It is a simple matter: uphold the constitution. We have a constitution that we are proud of. It is Islamic and it is democratic. Anything against it must not be allowed.”