The Supreme Court has annulled an unprecedented sentence of death by stoning delivered by a magistrate court yesterday against a woman found guilty of committing adultery.
In a court order issued under “supervisory jurisdiction” late last night, the apex court said the magistrate court of Gaaf Alif Gemanafushi reached the verdict “in violation of judicial and legal procedures to be followed in such cases”.
The woman was charged with giving birth out of wedlock and had reportedly confessed at court to committing adultery.
The Supreme Court also ordered the magistrate court to transfer the case files and all related documents by 12:00pm today.
The magistrate court verdict marked the first time a person was sentenced to death by stoning in the Maldives and sparked heated debate and outrage on social media.
Sheikh Mohamed Iyaz Abdul Latheef, former vice president of the Fiqh Academy, said in a Facebook post that stoning to death is the Sharia punishment for a married woman who commits adultery. There is no dispute on the issue among religious scholars, he insisted.
Iyaz, a senior member of the religious conservative Adhaalath Party, praised the “courage” of the magistrate.
“Justice can only be served by implementing the punishments revealed by Allah,” he wrote.
The prosecutor general’s (PG) office meanwhile said yesterday that it would appeal the verdict at the High Court.
Rights NGO Voice of Women said that the PG’s decision “attests to the flaws in the verdict” as it was not warranted by the charge of giving birth out of wedlock.
“This sentence comes at a time of increased national and international pressure on the government of Maldives regarding conduct of the judges, questionable judicial impartiality, arbitrariness and general lack of confidence in the judiciary of Maldives,” the women’s rights NGO said in a statement last night.
During the Maldives’ Universal Period Review at the UN in May, the judiciary came under fire over “politicisation,” inadequate qualification of judges, and lack of conformity to international fair trial standards. The government has since accepted recommendations put forth at the UN Human Rights Council on reforming the judiciary to ensure impartiality and independence.
Under the new penal code, unlawful sexual intercourse carries a punishment of between six months to two years in prison depending on the marital status of the offender. A judge is also given the discretion to order 100 lashes in public for premarital sex.
Hussain Shameem, the former deputy prosecutor general and an expert on the penal code, told The Maldives Independent yesterday that the magistrate could not “hand out any sentence when the penal code has specified punishments for specific charges.”
He added that there is no consensus among Islamic scholars over the punishment of stoning.
The new penal code came into force on July 16 and was hailed as a landmark law that codified Islamic Sharia for the first time while upholding minimum international human rights standards.
The verdict was reportedly issued under section 1,205 of the penal code, which was amended in late August to state that Islamic Shariah punishments must be meted out to persons found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of committing a crime for which punishment is prescribed in the Shariah “even if it is stated otherwise in this law”.
The parliament had approved an amendment proposed by a ruling party MP to revise the section, which also states that the Supreme Court must pass a final sentence before convicts found guilty of offences for which penalties are prescribed in Islamic Sharia are punished.
The penal code previously only allowed punishments prescribed in the Holy Quran. There is no reference to stoning in the Quran.
However, MP Ahmed Thoriq had proposed replacing ‘Holy Quran’ with ‘Islamic Shariah’ in section 1,205. The Shariah encompasses both the Quran and the Prophet’s sunnah (teachings or traditions).
Several punishments fixed in the Quran and Sunnah 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.
However, flogging for pre-marital sex is carried out and the current administration last year ended a six-decade moratorium on the death penalty.