An amendment to make Islamic Shariah punishments mandatory in the new penal code was accepted for consideration at the People’s Majlis today.
Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Thoriq had proposed amending section 1205 of the law, which deals with hudud or offences for which punishments are prescribed in the Quran. The penal code came into force on July 16.
“If an offender is found guilty of committing an offence to the extent of practical certainty as per the standard of proof established in Islamic Shariah, for which punishments are predetermined in the Holy Quran, that person shall be punished by the judge in accordance with this code,” reads section 1205.
The ruling party MP has proposed replacing ‘Holy Quran’ with ‘Islamic Shariah.’ The Shariah encompasses both the Quran and the Prophet’s sunnah (teachings or traditions).
The six crimes with punishments fixed in the Quran are theft (amputation of the hand), fornication (death by stoning or one hundred lashes), making unproven accusations of illicit sex (eighty lashes), drinking intoxicants (eighty lashes), apostasy (death or banishment), and highway robbery (death).
Thoriq’s amendment states that if a person is found guilty beyond any doubt of an offence for which the punishment is prescribed in Shariah, the convict must be sentenced under Islamic Shariah.
The MP for Alif Dhaal Mahibadhoo also proposed adding a clause stating that if the offence can be proven under different evidentiary standards specified under the law, the guilty party can be punished in accordance with other provisions.
Thoriq’s amendment bill was accepted for consideration unanimously with 48 votes in favour and sent to committee for review.
The new law penal code has been hailed as a landmark law that codified Islamic sharia for the first time while upholding minimum international human rights standards.
However, a day before it was due to come into force, religious NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf contended that the law “completely does away with” the Sunnah under a “secular philosophy”.
Several punishments fixed in the Quran such as amputation of the hand for theft, death by stoning for adultery, death for highway robbery, and death or banishment for apostasy are not enforced in the Maldives.
Presenting the bill at today’s sitting, Thoriq said the amendments were drafted in consultation with religious scholars and senior government officials.
During the ensuing debate, MP Ahmed Nihan, parliamentary group leader of the PPM, also said the proposed changes reflect the wishes of religious scholars.
MPs of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) meanwhile objected to pro-government MPs submitting “piecemeal” changes to the new penal code a month after it came into effect.
MDP MP Ibrahim Shareef said the penal code was drafted with the help of foreign legal experts and should only be amended following consultations with a team of experts.
MDP MP Ibrahim Mohamed Didi argued that Thoriq’s changes would not make a practical difference as the current penal code does not prevent judges from meting out Islamic Shariah punishments.
However, pro-government MPs maintained that the changes were overdue. Adhaalath Party MP Anara Naeem said criminal laws should be based on both the Quran and sunnah, which would also help judges in sentencing.
The sole representative in parliament of the religious conservative party had proposed similar changes to section 1205. In addition to crimes with punishments specified in the Quran, Anara proposed adding crimes with qisas (retaliation in kind) and crimes with punishments prescribed in the sunnah.
After Thoriq’s amendments were accepted for consideration, Anara’s bill was rejected with 35 votes against and 11 votes in favour.
Supreme Court intervention
MDP MP Ali Azim meanwhile suggested that pro-government MPs were planning to introduce more substantial changes at later legislative stages.
In April, the pro-government majority in parliament delayed the enforcement of the new penal code by three months, claiming that more time was needed to raise public awareness and address concerns raised by religious scholars.
Days before the penal code came into force, the Supreme Court drafted a penal code of its own, prompting fears that the new law could be overhauled.
The Supreme Court’s draft proposed lowering the age of criminal responsibility to seven years and sets hefty fines and jail terms for defaming a state employee.
However, the parliament suspended its sittings to block MPs from submitting any changes. Explaining the decision to suspend sittings, a senior ruling party MP told Maldives Independent: “We will not allow the judiciary to dictate laws and overstep its mandate.”
A source familiar with the apex court’s draft said it will undo ten years of work put into modernising the Maldives’ criminal justice system.