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Maldives: Supreme Court Decision Allows Executions to Proceed

(July 28, 2016) On July 24, 2016, the Supreme Court of the Maldives reversed a stay order issued the day before by the High Court. The High Court order had stopped executions based on that court’s views of the constitutionality of the regulations that implement the punishment. The Supreme Court ruling means that two pending death sentences can now be carried out. (Mohamed Saif Fathih, Supreme Court Overturns Stay Order Halting Executions, MALDIVES INDEPENDENT (July 25, 2016); Court Order of Supreme Court of Maldives, Department of Judicial Administration website (July 24, 2016) (in Dhivehi).) Under the Constitution of the Maldives, the Supreme Court is the highest authority for the administration of justice in the country.  (Functional Translation of the Constitution of the Republic of Maldives (2008), art. 145 (c), Presidency website.)

The case had originally been brought to the High Court by the Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN), a non-governmental human rights organization. (Fathih, supra.) The MDN is described as a “peaceful and non-partisan NGO established after mass arrests and allegations of abuse in prisons in August 2004.” (Maldivian Democracy Network, Network for Improved Policing in South Asia (NIPSA) website (last visited July 26, 2016).) The MDN had contended that the regulations on imposition of the death penalty, because they restrict a fundamental, constitutional right, could only be valid if done by an act of Parliament. (Fathih, supra.) The procedural regulations had been published in the government gazette in 2014. (Ahmed Rilwan, Death Penalty Can Be Implemented Starting Today: Home Minister, MINIVAN NEWS (Apr. 27, 2014).)

The President of the Maldives, Abdulla Yameen, has expressed support for capital punishment, noting that in Islamic law, murder is punished with death. He stated, “[t]his is clearly said in the Holy Quran. As such, the death penalty has to be implemented to implement the legal framework.” (Maldivian President Yameen Addresses Nation on Independence Day, Focuses on Sovereignty, Judiciary, MIHAARU ONLINE (July 25, 2106), Open Source Enterprise online subscription database, No. SAO2016072641901659.)

Reaction to the Stay Order

Although the Supreme Court also stated that the appellate court could not further consider the case, the Executive Director of the MDN, Shahindha Ismail, has not accepted that the matter is settled, arguing that the case was not heard directly by the Supreme Court and pointing out technical problems with the Court’s decision. She stated that the reported Supreme Court document “does not even have a signature or initial of an authorized person of the Supreme Court and the case number quoted on last night’s order seems to be that of a previous case.” (Fathih, supra.)

Regulations on Executions

The regulations to which the MDN objected specify that capital punishment for the crimes of intentional homicide or premeditated murder can be implemented when the Supreme Court issues that sentence. These steps must be followed:

  1. A death penalty committee must send a written confirmation to the President to show that proper procedure has been followed. That committee comprises the Prosecutor General, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court or a person appointed by him, and the Commissioner of Prisons.
  2. Within three days, the President sends an execution order to the Commissioner of Prisons.
  3. Within seven days of receipt of the execution order, the Maldives Correctional Service uses lethal injection to carry out the execution. (Rilwan, supra.)

In addition, at some point presumably after the trial but before the death penalty committee’s meeting, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs has a mediation session involving the convict and the family of the victim. This process, designed to utilize the Islamic law principle of qisas (retaliation), allows family members to pardon the guilty individual; sometimes the murderer pays “blood money” to the family in this process. If even one member of the family pardons the convict, the death penalty will not be imposed. Family members have a ten-day period after the mediation session to make their decision. (Id.)

The regulations also specify that convicts who are younger than 18, who are ill, or who are pregnant cannot be executed. The death penalty is suspended until the convict comes of age, recovers his or her health, or, in the case of a pregnant woman, until the child is two years old. (Id.)