The UN Human Rights Committee asked the government on Tuesday to halt the imminent execution of Hussain Humam Ahmed pending the outcome of a review of his case.
The 22-year-old is facing the death penalty after the Supreme Court upheld his conviction on the murder of Dr Afrasheem Ali in October 2012, paving the way for the Maldives’ first execution since 1953.
The request to delay the execution came a day after Humam’s father and lawyer petitioned the committee alleging violations of the right to a fair trial as set forth in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The Maldives ratified the ICCPR and its first Optional Protocol in 2006.
The Human Rights Committee is comprised of 18 independent experts that monitor implementation of the covenant. The committee can also consider complaints by individuals alleging a violation of rights by state parties to the first Optional Protocol.
The government has been asked to submit a response on both the admissibility and merits of the case within six months.
The Maldives Independent was awaiting a comment from the president’s office at the time of publication.
Humam’s lawyer Abdulla Haseen told The Maldives Independent that the government must abide by the committee’s “interim order or measure” in order to fulfil obligations under the treaty.
“We are very hopeful that the case will be concluded in our favour,” he said.
Haseen also expressed confidence of proving that Humam was denied a fair trial, noting that four UN human rights experts have called for a retrial in compliance with international standards.
The committee’s intervention comes amid mounting international pressure against the reintroduction of capital punishment after a six-decade unofficial moratorium.
On Monday, diplomats from the European Union and eight countries accredited to the Maldives submitted a formal appeal “to continue to apply the de facto moratorium as a first step towards abolition.”
The démarche was presented to Maldives High Commissioner to Sri Lanka Zahiya Zareer by the EU, Netherlands, UK, Switzerland, Canada, Australia, Italy, Norway, and France.
“The death penalty fails to deter criminal behaviour and represents a grave denial of human dignity and integrity,” it read.
“Any miscarriage of justice – which is inevitable in any legal system – is irreversible.”
Amnesty International meanwhile called on the government to commute Humam’s death sentence, warning that ending the moratorium would represent “a seriously regressive step for human rights”.
In a statement on July 1, four UN rights experts said: “The implementation of a death sentence following judicial procedures which do not respect the most stringent guarantees of fair trial and due process is unlawful and tantamount to an arbitrary execution.”
The experts raised concerns over the fairness of Humam’s trial as the verdict was based on a pre-trial confession that he later retracted. Humam said the confession was obtained under duress.
“The courts have also disregarded a claim that the defendant has a psycho-social or intellectual disability and a request for an independent evaluation of his mental health status. Mr. Ahmed’s defence rights were disrespected,” the experts said.
Last week, Professor Tariq Ramadan, a leading Islamic scholar, urged President Abdulla Yameen “to take all possible action to prevent this execution from taking place.”
Ramdan’s concerns included an ignored plea from the victim’s family to delay the death penalty.
Afrasheem’s family requested postponing Humam’s execution until the murder is solved as he is a key witness in identifying the financiers.
The Oxford professor said he was convinced that executing Humam “would contravene the fundamental principles of Islamic law.”
However, in his Eid message to the public last week, Yameen said his administration’s resolve to implement the death penalty will not change.
Hours before Yameen’s Eid address, Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon resigned citing “profound differences of opinion on the government’s policy in implementing the death penalty at a time when serious questions are being asked, and concerns being expressed, about the delivery of justice in the Maldives.”
Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom – Dunya’s father and half-brother of the incumbent president – has also opposed Humam’s execution without the consent of the victim’s family.
Gayoom, a moderate religious scholar who maintained the moratorium during his 30 years in power, said in a tweet: “No Islamic state has the right to carry out qisas except as provided in Islam.”