Amid growing international pressure against the reintroduction of the death penalty, the Supreme Court upheld Tuesday a death sentence handed to a 32-year-old man convicted of murder.
The ruling comes less than two weeks after the court upheld its first death sentence since the government ended an unofficial moratorium on capital punishment in 2014, and paves the way for the Maldives’ first state-sanctioned executions in more than half a century.
Ahmed Murrath was convicted along with his girlfriend of killing a prominent lawyer, Ahmed Najeeb, whose mutilated body was found stuffed in a dustbin in the residence of the accused on July 1, 2012.
Murrath and Fathmath Hanaa were 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 trial.
Murrath said he killed Najeeb under the influence of drugs because the victim had attempted to sexually assault Hanaa.
However, he retracted the confession during the appeal at the High Court, claiming he was coerced by the police investigators. The officers had interrogated his mother and relatives on unrelated matters, Murrath said, also alleging that he was coached on what to say at the trial.
But the apex court cited statements made by Murrath to conclude that he was not under the influence of drugs at the time of the murder. He had told the lower court that he was not so intoxicated as to be unaware of his actions, the judges noted.
The defence lawyer had previously urged judges to consider provisions in the new 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, insisted Murrath was of sound mind when he confessed during the 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, the state argued.
The Supreme Court concluded hearings for Murrath’s appeal two weeks ago.
Under new regulations enacted in April 2014, the highest court of appeal must uphold a death sentence for the state to execute a death row inmate.
However, in accordance with Islamic sharia, the victim’s heirs will have the opportunity to pardon the convict before the execution is carried out. Offered either the death penalty, blood money, or pardoning Murrath, all of Najeeb’s heirs had demanded the death penalty.
The government on June 30 amended regulations to enforce the death sentence by lethal injection or hanging after the Supreme Court upheld Hussain Humam Ahmed’s conviction over the murder of MP Afrasheem Ali in October 2012.
The Supreme Court is also due to review the death sentence against Murrath’s girlfriend Hanaa, after the High Court upheld the guilty verdict in June.
Her defence counsel has argued that 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.