The supreme court upheld tonight the death sentence of a 22-year-old man convicted of killing a parliamentarian after rejecting a surprise attempt by members of the MP’s family to delay the death penalty.
The verdict, issued at 2am on Friday, could pave the way for the Maldives’ first execution in more than half a century.
Hussain Humam Ahmed’s fate now rests with members of MP Afrasheem Ali’s family, who are empowered by law to issue a pardon.
It is unclear if the last-minute appeal by Afrasheem’s family tonight could spare Humam’s life as the court had refused to accept a letter asking it to delay the death sentence. The letter by Afrasheem’s father and brother did not retract the family’s wish for the death penalty, but only asked the court to delay it until the murder probe is completed.
They said Humam remained a key witness in identifying those who had financed and planned the killing.
Officials, however, rejected the letter, claiming they only accept submissions made during official hours.
Judges did not allow defence counsel to speak inside the court.
The unanimous ruling rejected Humam’s claim of mental illness, and upheld the guilty verdict, noting the young man had confessed to the murder at the lower court.
Some of Humam’s family members broke down in tears as they left the courtroom. One man close to the family was arrested from the scene.
“Yameen wants to kill my son,” Humam’s mother said, referring to President Abdulla Yameen, who has been linked to Afrasheem’s murder.
“Do you not fear God? You must all take responsibility, upholding the rule of a brutal leader?” his sister screamed as police officers attempted to push family members to a side street.
Yameen’s administration, which ended a six-decade old moratorium in 2014, has pledged to enforce the death penalty by hanging within 30 days of a verdict by the apex court.
The president, who has denied involvement in Afrasheem’s murder, has pledged to criminalise defamation over such claims.
Tonight’s verdict is the supreme court’s first ruling in a murder case. It has wrapped up hearings in two other murder cases this week.
Afrasheem, an MP for the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives representing Ungoofaaru constituency in Raa Atoll, and also a moderate religious scholar, was stabbed to death outside his home on the night of October 1, 2012. Police said the killing was politically motivated.
He was known for taking relatively liberal positions on some religious issues, which had prompted criticism from other clerics. On a TV talk show on the night of his death, Afrasheem had apologised for “misunderstandings” over some of his religious views.
Humam was arrested within hours after Afrasheem’s body was found and charged with murder in January 2013. After pleading not guilty, Humam confessed to the killing at a hearing in May 2013 and gave a detailed account of the murder.
However, a month later, Humam retracted the confession, claiming police obtained it through coercion.
A second suspect charged with murder, Ali Shan, was acquitted of murder in September 2014 with the court citing insufficient evidence.
A third suspect, Azlif Rauf, who Humam said planned the murder, left to Turkey with six members of Malé’s Kuda Henveiru gang in January 2015. Azlif’s family says he died in battle, but some politicians have disputed the claim.
Four others – a minor identified as Nangi, son-in-law of MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik Abdulla ‘Jaa’ Javid, Jaa’s brother Jana, and another person identified only as ‘Spy’ – were also implicated in Humam’s confession. They were never formally charged.
MP Abdulla Riyaz, the police-chief at the time, described the murder as a “pre-planned politically motivated act of terrorism carried out by politicians.” Some US$4million was paid for the assassination, he alleged.
In addition to the president, suspicion has also been cast upon religious extremists and the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party.
The Maldivian Democracy Network, a local human rights NGO, has called for a retrial for Humam, stating that his trial was riddled with irregularities. They have also supported Humam’s father’s call for independent psychiatric tests on his son.
Hours before issuing the verdict, the supreme court put out a statement urging respect for the judiciary and warning of action against “all unlawful acts to exert influence on trials” including making comments to the media.
Additional reporting by Xiena Saeed and Hassan Moosa