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#Maldives: 9 Murders in 2012: Death Penalty call increasing exponentially

#Maldives: Pressure is mounting on President Mohamed Waheed to implement the death penalty in Maldives as the murder toll in 2012 rose to nine murders earlier this month. A youth group yesterday announced a rally calling for death penalty, scheduled for the afternoon of Friday 19th October. Calls for death penalty increased exponentially after the brutal murder of Member of Parliament and moderate Muslim scholar Dr. Afraasheem Ali on October 2, 2012. Social media report that support for death penalty in Maldives rose to 64% of Maldivians on social media in the wake of Dr. Afraasheem's brutal murder.

The list of murder victims is 18 victims long, from 2007 onwards (pic). Of these 11 murders were committed on the capital Male', the rest on various islands. Fourteen of the 18 murder victims were young adults between 15 and 35 years of age.

MP Dr. Afraasheem's murder comes within three months of the brutal murder and decapitation of famous lawyer Ahmed Najeeb, also on the capital Male'. In between came the knife slaying of a police officer, Lance Corporal Adam Haleem, on Kaafu Kaashidhoo island in July while he was on duty.

The youth organizers of Friday's rally have told media that they will be calling for death penalty as in Islamic Shari'a and for the enforcement of Islamic Sharia in the Maldives. No registered civic associations or political parties have been named in the organizing group for the rally.

Leading members of the Government, including the Islamic Minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, Attorney General Aishath Azima Shakoor and Home Minister Mohamed Jameed Ahmed have all publicly expressed the view that Islamic Sharia is very strict on Q'isas, the rule of death penalty for murder, and that several procedural steps must be strictly followed before death penalty can be implemented on the basis of Islamic Shari'a. In his sermon at Friday Prayers on October 12, 2012, Sheikh Shaheem dealt with the principles of Q'sas and called upon the authorities to urgently enact a law to implement Q'sas.

Attorney General Azima Shakoor pointed out that Islam gives the utmost importance to protects human life, and that Q'isas principles dictate very specific principles, including that the conviction of murder must be by unanimous decisions by a panel of judges. She highlighted several issues in Maldivian legal system and judicial process that need to be addressed before death penalty can be implemented in accordance with Islamic Sharia. She pointed out that several pieces of legislation are lacking for a firm conviction and ruling on murder cases. The Attorney General also took the view that death penalty should be implemented as Maldivian justice system was based in Islamic Sharia, but a specific law is required as is the case for most Muslim countries that implement the death penalty as in Islamic Sharia.

The Government announced on yesterday that it would be sending a bill on the death penalty to the Parliament within three weeks. The period required was to get input from legal and religious sources, it said.

In the debates following each murder, MPs have also expressed vocal support for the death penalty. Death penalty is justified as a deterrence to violent crime, several said. Violent crime and killings and crimes can only be halted by a death penalty law, is the view voiced by proponents of death penalty in Maldives.

Public sentiment in support for death penalty and a swift execution of such a sentence rose earlier this year following a high profile murder case tried in July, the murder of famous lawyer Ahmed Najeeb. The victim was found dismembered and decapitated on July 1, 2012, his body parts found stuffed into a garbage bag found in a large garbage bin in the accused's home. A young unmarried couple, Ahmed Murrath (29 years) and his girlfriend Fathimath Hana (18 years) were sentenced to death by the court on July 19, 2012, the charge being first degree murder. Murrath was a client of the murdered lawyer. Both had confessed to the murder, having invited Najeeb to their home on the previous night.

Following Q'isas principles, the victim's heirs were asked for their decision on implementing the court decision. All eight heirs had asked the Judge for the death penalty while one had urged a public execution. Islamic Sharia dictates that, even if one of the heirs pleas for mercy, a death sentence cannot be delivered, but must be commuted to a lesser sentence. Hana's lawyers have appealed the conviction, on the basis on that Hana had gone to sleep after tying the victim to a chair and claimed that Hana had no knowledge that Najeeb had been murdered. However, evidence presented by the State included CCTV footage which showed that Hana had accompanied Murrath to purchase the garbage bag used to dump the dismembered body. Both were caught on CCTV using the victim's cash card to withdraw money that night.

In the immediate aftermath of the death penalty verdict against Murrath and Hana, the Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed and Attorney General Aishath Azima Shakoor independently stated that death penalty can only be implemented after the procedures for implementing the death penalty are established. Both pointed out that there was no law to implement the death penalty, a view heavily criticized by the public on online media sites and on social media.The Home Minister stated that he is pro-death penalty, but that sentence can only be implemented after completion of the appeals process.

Home Minister Jameel added that a letter had been forwarded to the Parliament, requesting it to facilitate the implementation of death penalty by passing the relevant laws. The Government of Dr. Waheed has been shackled in Parliament to date due to Parliamentary Regulations which say that a bill by the Government can only be tabled by an MP belonging to the President's party. Dr. Waheed's party Qaumee Ittihad has no MPs in Parliament. However, last week, the Parliamentary Subcommittee on General Matters passed a motion allowing an MP of the coalition of parties in Dr. Waheed's government to table Government bills. This motion has yet to be tabled on the Parliament floor for approval.

Heightened feelings on the death penalty are perhaps compounded by the public sense of lack of justice in violent crimes, as courts fail to sentence the accused on some murder cases and the prolonged court trial process. Today's call for the rally came within minutes of a court ruling that there was not enough evidence to convicta juvenile charged with the murder of another youth on VilliMale' last year. The underage individual was one of four individuals charged with first degree murder of Miruza Ibrahim in April last year. The victim Miruza Ibrahim was beaten with wooden clubs and other weapons in VilliMale' on 11 April 2011, and died three days later while receiving care for his injuries.No individual has been convicted of the murder. All four charged by the State have pleaded not guilty.

The death penalty debate was also fuelled today by another appeal hearing at the High Court. Today's appeal hearing was on the death sentence verdict against Mohamed Nabeel (22) who was convicted of stabbing to death Abdulla Faruhad (18). At today's hearing, the State presented evidence that it claimed showed that Nabeel was guilty of the murder. The State insisted that there were no grounds for reversing the death sentence on Nabeel. Faruhad was stabbed to death in Male' on March 2009, while the court sentence on Nabeel was delivered on November 22, 2010. Both Faruhad's parents had appealed to the court for a death sentence for their son's murderer.


In another ongoing murder trial, at a hearing on October 11, 2012, State submitted that there was no additional evidence to submit against one of three underage individuals accused of the murder of Ali Hassan (Ayyube) on Dhaalu Kudahuvadhoo island in January 2012. This individual, a step-grandson of the murdered elderly man, had lodged a not guilty plea on a charge of first degree murder while the other two pleaded guilty to the charge of being accessory to first degree murder. State had earlier requested permission to submit DNA proof against the individual charged with first degree murder. However, the State had been unable to submit the DNA evidence by the time the period granted by the court to submit it. All four heirs to the accused had appealed in court for death penalty for Ayyube's murderer(s).


The murder trial of Abdul Muheeth (Bobby) murdered in February this year is also still ongoing. All three juveniles, charged with first degree murder, have pleaded not guilty tp the charge. Some have reportedly passed the age of 18 in the period from their arrest to date. At the last hearing on October 4, 2012, the State submitted phone call evidence against the charged. The trial hearing was deferred due to the resignation of the defence lawyer of one of the accused juveniles, to give opportunity to appoint another lawyer. The State have also charged an additional three individuals with first degree murder of Bobby.


The death penalty debate is complicated further by the fact that in many of the ongoing and past murder trials, the accused are underage or youth under 25 years of age. In the murder of Mohamed Hussain (17) on July 30, 2012, the State charged six individuals with terrorism charges as the victim died as a result of injuries after an assault. A murder suspect in another case, Ibrahim Shahum Adam of Galolhu Cozy, was on of the six charged with terrorism for Mohamed Hussain’s murder. Shahum is also being charged with “first degree murder” for the murder of Ahusan Basheer of Seenu Atoll Hithadhoo Varudheege. The Anti-Terrorism law states that if a person dies due to an act of terrorism the offence carries the death sentence, life in prison or exile. The law also stipulates that an accessory to such a crime would also carry the same penalty.

Ahusan Basheer () was stabbed and killed in March 2011, while he was standing near the NC Park. The state charged four individuals, including two juveniles, with first degree murder. Ibrahim Shahum Adam of Galolhu Cosy and Hassan Shimaz Mohamed Suad of Machangoalhi Venus Thari were also accused of murdering Ahusan Basheer. Ahusan's four heirs have stated before the court that they want the death penalty to be enforced against his murderers.

The Maldives last carried out a death sentence in 1958, where the accused convicted of sorcery and witchcraft, were executed at gun point. Since then, although murder convictions have been delivered by the courts, the Government of the time had not implemented these, on the basis of a Constitutional provision which gave the Head of State the power of pardon. This provision was however removed from the new Constitution of 2008, on the basis that separation of powers of the State. At the time too, in the debate in the Special Constitutional Assembly for amendment of the Constitution, the experience of Afghanistan was pointed out whereby the Judiciary delivered "extreme" rulings citing Islamic Shari'a which were however disputed by Islamic scholars of more moderate views. This experience was cited as an example of the potential risk for justice in the Maldives.

However, some media still report that Maldivian law reportedly permits the Head of State to commute a death sentence from the courts to a lesser sentence. Religious scholars and private individuals have charged that this violates Islamic Sharia principles which give the victim's heirs the right to decide on death penalty for the killers once proven in court. A case requesting a ruling on this matter was submitted to the High Court by private individuals on August 8, 2012. The High Court has not yet ruled on the case. Islamic Minister Sheikh Shaheem, in his Friday Prayer sermon last Friday, also reiterated his view that a pardon was in the hands of the heirs of the murder victim and not the Head of State.

The issue is likely to be a weighty one in the political struggle between President Waheed and his unity government and that of former President Mohamed Nasheed and his party, MDP. Nasheed is reported to have foreign support due to his charges of Islamic extremism in the Maldives. Activists from his party, including Mariyam Naifa (pic), married to Nasheed's cousin, have been arrested in conjunction with MP Dr. Afraasheem's brutal murder. Police last Thursday confirmed that they have evidence that links all six individuals arrested to the murder. Five of the six have been identified as activists from MDP. In the midst of the war for public support, it remains to be seen how the issue of implementing the death penalty will be resolved in the Maldives.












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