Death by popular demand

deathpenalty

by Mushfique Mohamed

The death penalty breeds injustice. It is most often imposed on  the persecuted or the underprivileged. As the civilised majority increases its commitments to abolish it, some countries have spiked up executions. This includes states that have resumed the death penalty after discontinuing long-standing moratoriums.  Apart from far-reaching authoritarianism, there doesn’t seem to be a common thread linking these countries together.

What are the factors propelling a minority of the world’s countries to resume capital punishment and proliferate executions? Is the motivation behind implementation of the death penalty really a matter of public safety? Or is it motivated by the religious duty of leaders, as it is zealously claimed by politicians in Islamic countries?

In 2015 half of all death sentences were carried out in Asia. Excluding China, almost all executions were carried out in Muslim-majority countries — Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. On the other side of the death penalty discourse, 145 countries—74% of the world—joined the list of countries that are either abolitionist in practice or law. Despite the repeated fact: ‘there is no cogent evidence to show that the death penalty is a more effective detriment to crime than long-term imprisonment’, people from various backgrounds casually support it. The only difference is that most people in the developed world would not say it out loud at the risk of not being taken seriously.

Arguments that favour the death penalty wouldn’t stand in any informed discussion on the subject. The possibilities of wrongful convictions, botched executions, severe mental illnesses of defendants, or mitigating factors that could disprove guilt after sentencing are plausible enough to fully reject the idea of State sanctioned death as a punishment.

Religious vigilantism has killed yet another open-minded and humorous pioneer of blogging and political satire in the Maldives, Yameen Rasheed was brutally stabbed 34 times in the stairwell of his home. The Government’s narrative has not been one of condemning all forms of violence and hate. The official party line is: ‘be careful of your words, it could get you killed’,  while the list of unsolved political violence continues to guarantee impunity for the usual suspects.

Populism on the rise

The Islamist death penalty rhetoric that was at the tip of Maldives’ president Abdullah Yameen’s tongue at the beginning of his presidency fizzled out late last year. It didn’t even take 24 hours for the Government to capitalise on the slain blogger’s shocking death. At a time when Rasheed’s family and friends were forced to feel a horrific sense of déjà vu over his friend Ahmed Rilwan’s forced disappearance in August 2014, President Yameen callously justified the death penalty through the murder of one of its most vocal critics. Stating in no uncertain terms that the President would issue death warrants within “two-to-three months”.

At home he’s the Trump-esque, triumphantly chauvinistic president who ‘has guts’. According to President Yameen, he is ready to start executions, not because he ‘wants to’, but for the ‘betterment of Maldivian society’. We, as Maldivians, are to feel grateful that we have a president who is incongruous with the times. It’s his assertion that executions are to resume in the Maldives because he is in touch with what the people want. In terms of public support for capital punishment, he may not be far off the mark.

But, to what extent is this thirst for blood manufactured? Is the call for the death penalty really following judicial precedents, or is it a sign of a justice system that revolves around the whims of political leaders?

In 2013 Pakistan reversed its moratorium on the death penalty for convicted terrorists. The following year the Maldivian government did the same for murder convicts. In many Muslim-majority countries, violent groups are already taking the law into their own hands. Whether it’s vigilante groups in Bangladesh hacking secularists to death, or radicalised gangs in the Maldives policing religiosity.  In these South Asian countries there is a huge conflation of ‘secularism’ with not just atheism, but antitheism too. Why are these countries increasingly re-interpreting Islam in a way that promotes medieval practices over positivist Islamic jurisprudence?

In Urdu, Dhivehi, Bengali and other South Asian languages, Islamists explain—online or through religious literature, radio and television—how harsh punishments are endorsed under religious discourse. Most of its members are not your average Muslims but usually tend to be ‘born-again Muslims’ or the newly converted. There are websites solely dedicated to naming and shaming those that actively counter Salafi-Jihadism. The dirty work is then left to radicalised violent criminals who seek repentance for their delinquent past through violence against those that enervate their ‘holy’ death-cult ideology.

Although Maldives’ moratorium on the death penalty was only lifted for murder, the penal code prescribes death for blasphemy. Fundamentalist ‘Islamic scholars’ are already calling for the beheading of Maldivian secularists. By resuming public torture as a punishment, South Asian governments like Yameen’s are either attempting to get a handle on these religiously extreme violent groups, or doing their very best to boost their Islamist credentials. Given the moderate, culturally synchretic, and state-controlled Maldivian Islam in the past, majority of Maldivians today are convinced that Salafist Islam is the “true” version of Islam. Therefore the religious nationalism in these countries are becoming equally intolerant and insular. What are the global forces that promote regressive punishments over rehabilitation or life imprisonment?

The resumption of the death penalty in the Maldives coincides with increasing cultural, religious, economic and military ties with Saudi Arabia. While Pakistan has Iran to offset over-reliance on Saudi Arabia, it is a different story in the Maldives where the change from democratic transition to authoritarian reversal is in full swing. It might be convenient to point out that money from the oil-rich Arabian Peninsular is circulating all over the world. However, the hegemonic effects it can have on a small developing country differ greatly.

Manufacturing support

Soaring crime rates have created a public that’s willing to accept anything as the ‘right’ solution. Feeding off a panicked public, the currently embattled Maldivian president is ready to implement the death penalty for the first time since 1953. Ineffective governments use the death penalty to give the public the appearance of justice being served, although our judiciary ‘regularly dispenses injustice’.

Increase in violent crime is a result of sudden frenetic development that has interrupted the slow-paced and unpretentious island life but failed to meaningfully mobilise the youth with opportunities. In Maldives, it’s also a sign of increasing links between criminal gangs, politicians, and police that protect them. This new reality of life in urbanized islands was effectively used to convince the public that killing to stop killing is the only solution.

The idea that the ‘authentic’ version of Islam is strict and vengeful has been implanted in young minds through the education system. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs and its tacit support to those religious scholars that either call to or incite violence against liberals formalize these ideas. The old non-violent Maldivian way of life has been buried – violence is our culture now, and it’s suggested that we need more violence to revive our peaceful way of life.

Old habits

The death penalty exposes historic flaws in our justice systems. Politicised police forces in South Asia rely heavily on forced confessions to prevent public disillusionment of policing. Reports of a confession can also give the impression there’s very little debate over guilt of suspects.

There was virtually no violent crime in the Maldives until the 1990s, before urbanisation stunned Malé and facilitated the emergence of criminal gangs. Things couldn’t be more different today. We know that even for a small country our judicial system is plagued with a backlog of cases and in completely unfamiliar territory. It is easy to bend rules and eliminate rivals through rushed trials. For instance, Pakistan regularly abuses anti-terror laws and uses kangaroo courts to suspend fundamental rights and convict defendants. Our laws are designed to be open-ended and vague – the bigger the fishing net, the bigger the catch. These flimsy legal definitions and forever-morphing parameters of the law can be further widened through abuse of judicial discretion. Our justice systems refuse to abide by human rights and values of democracy.

Such populist South Asian leaders can count on contrived investigations to secure themselves and their allies. Any lines of inquiry that incriminates politicians or business tycoons go cold.  An accomplice, usually a young offender belonging to a gang, is sacrificed to appease the public’s call for justice. The big kahunas that fund or plan such atrocities are never implicated during investigations or criminal proceedings. As long as a delinquent takes the fall, politicians or leaders of criminal syndicates evade due course of the law.

Before the Salafi-Jihadist propaganda that followed the Indian Ocean tsunami, religious radicalism and fundamentalism were at the fringes of Maldivian society. Now, it’s mainstream to the point where those who don’t adopt Salafist views are seen as lesser Muslims co-opted by Western influence. These new threats create new forms of desperation. While stepping up sharia rhetoric, the government is ignoring how this will affect Maldivians in the long-term. And why not, when it’s an efficient cover for the executive’s incompetence? It diverts the public’s attention to narratives of ‘lack of faith’ equal to ‘deteriorating social fabric’ while more pressing issues like grand corruption, climate change, and political violence become incoherent background noise.

Not in our name

In reality, Islamic countries implementing the death penalty don’t seek justice. Instead they use quick fixes that pull the wool over the public’s collective eyes. State sanctioned killing is a dramatic diversion from an ineffective criminal justice system; it provides a spectacle—medieval, yes—but satisfying to Islamist publics of today. It is also  a useful tool for regressive regimes seeking to hide deeply embedded incompetency in policing and administering justice. In most South Asian countries, it is a misguided coping mechanism for asphyxiated criminal justice systems.

What about open democracies that execute convicts? The US is the only G7 country that still carries out executions. In 1982, Texas became the first jurisdiction to use lethal injection for its executions.  This is supposedly the humane way for a state to kill convicts. Everyone knows that violent crime still takes place in Texas, and the prospect of a lethal injection doesn’t deter most violent criminals. Such perpetrators are often mentally ill and seek publicity for their crimes. In recent years many American anti-death penalty campaigners have observed ‘an all-time low’ in death sentences and executions. Despite this, many in the developing world point to the  US in response to accusations of death penalty being anti-democratic by nature. We still glorify capital punishment for our superficial and selfish satisfaction even though judiciaries are ridden with disrepute. We believe that seeing the government essentially kill killers, makes us safer in our homes, in our communities.

The death penalty satisfies some sort of voyeuristic revenge complex we might have as humans, but it has very little to do with the murder victims’ family and friends, or the need to establish justice for their lost loved ones. Murder cases can drag on for years, exacerbating the victims’ families’ trauma. At times, calls for death cloud their calls for reprieve. It is unusual that we as the public seek retaliation for crimes from which we haven’t suffered as a consequence.

It doesn’t make us empathetic to appropriate the feelings of the victim’s family and endorse our corrupt governments to kill criminals, when our views are mostly based on incipient media reports; or conjecture arising from it. It makes us a society that is starved for justice to the point where we ignore systematic judicial corruption, and are willing to be satisfied with even the false veneer of justice. A killing spree is a killing spree, whether it’s state-sanctioned or the actions of a fanatic.


About the author: Mushfique Mohamed is a human rights lawyer. He has an LLB (Hons) Law and MSc(Econs) in Postcolonial Politics from Aberystwyth University.

Image: Zee News

 

    First they came for Faafu IV:

    Himithi

    by Azra Naseem

    4.Saved by the bullshit?

    Saudi King Salman has postponed his trip to the Maldives indefinitely.

    Three resorts cancelled their bookings to accommodate the King and his entourage; the Republic Square in Male’ was whitewashed and made ready for the King’s landing in a helicopter; the jetty was spruced up; his special yacht sailed into Maldivian waters in advance, along with a navy ship to look after his security; and Maldivian parents risked their children’s lives by sending them to practice a welcome dance for the King during a deadly flu outbreak; and President Yameen combed his feathers and puffed out his chest an extra foot.

    In the end none of it mattered, the King decided he is not coming. Not yet; maybe never.

    What changed the royal mind? The International Spokesperson for the President explained it was the H1N1 flu that kept the King away. As explanations go, it’s pretty lame, given the wide availability of flu vaccines and the fact that King Salman is travelling with not just medical staff but an entire hospital. No, what seems more plausible is that it’s the Maldivian motor mouths that have put this King off his planned paradise getaway.

    First to open his mouth was the President himself who told the starry eyed people of Faafu Atoll Magoodhoo that ‘the Saudi government, or members of the Saudi elite’ had fallen absolutely madly deeply loved their atoll. They were going to show their love by opening their wallets and giving Faafu the kind of makeover that would make it unrecognisable as an atoll in an island archipelago.

    But, he cautioned, shush, shush, shush.

    The Saudis do not want agitation, they do not want chaos. The deal had been in the making for months and months, and would have been signed aeons ago if not for the uncouth behaviour of Maldivians who, unlike their Saudi brothers and sisters, would not shut up and follow whatever rules their leaders decide for them. Calm down for development, he said.

    The President’s bragging did not create the docile citizens he hoped for. It set tongues wagging instead. Pretty soon everyone was talking about the Saudis and Faafu – what does Yameen mean by investment? Is he selling Faafu? How much is it being sold for? Is it legal? What will I get?

    The ruling party was caught between its desire to boast and its promise to the Saudis to keep the whole thing secret. So they got paid hacks in on the job, and got them to write ‘colour pieces’ which in reality were long odes to the sanctity of the Saudi Royal Family, and their undying love for the Maldives.

    Strategic decisions, that no doubt looked cerebral from the perspective of the ‘top brass’ that were making them, were arrived at to ‘emphasis the Islamic angle’ – it’s okay to sell to the Saudis because they are 100% Muslim, ‘just like us’. The same hacks wrote more column inches glorifying unchecked capitalism—oh, imagine the beauty of a Burj Khalifa arising from the Maldivian sea; we will be Dubai! we will be Singapore! Ah, blessed development, Islamic capitalism. Glory be.

    And then there were the teams of foreign journalists flown in, all expenses paid, to write articles that would, hopefully, make the deal more palatable to the international community. Perhaps it was also meant to attract more foreign ‘investment’. Anyway, the motive doesn’t really matter, because what all the coverage ended up doing was seriously piss the desert royals off.

    Pretty soon the Saudi Embassy in Male’—run from an annex in the President’s Office—broke the silence by putting out a statement denying that the Saudi government had any interest or plans to buy Faafu or make an investment in the Maldives.

    The statement created even more confusion—it denied any involvement of the Saudi government, but not of the Saudi royal family, which is what Yameen had been ‘hinting’ at so very subtly. More tongues wagged in the Maldives, while over to the east in Indonesia,  Bali suddenly appeared so much more attractive to King Salman that he decided to extend his stay there. His scheduled arrival in the Maldives was suddenly delayed by a good week or so.

    Despite the palpable royal displeasure, preparations continued in Male’ for the King’s arrival: opposition HQs were raided several times, rolls of fabric [that could have ended as a protest banner] were confiscated; and activists were dragged to the police station and their phones taken away. Through it all the general brainwashing continued with substantial success [see following comment by member of public on Saudi deal].

    I don’t have any concerns about the Faafu Atoll project because whatever happens those who are coming here are from a 100 percent Muslim country. In my view he (Saudi King) is the leader of the world’s Muslims. So, given that we are a 100 percent Muslim nation, there is great trust in my heart that, because they are Muslims, they will not do anything to hurt us citizens in anyway.

    So what was the straw that finally broke the camel’s back, so to speak? What persuaded King Salman that it is far better to stay away from the Maldives than it is to spend a week swimming in its beautiful seas, snorkelling with the fish, and forgetting the pressures of being a royal?

    PPM MP Ahmed Nihan, I would wager.

    An audio emerged last night of the MP, and asslicker supreme, speaking to an unidentified group of men in what he referred to as a ‘brain feeding’ session. His talking points are enlightening to say the least. The recording goes on for half an hour. I will summarise here Nihan’s descriptions of, and references to the Saudi Royal Family.

    This is basically something starting in 2012.

    That Man was in One and Only and took a trip to get an aerial view of the Maldives. On this trip he saw an island that no Maldivian was likely to go to. […]

    There are 54 kilometres between that island and any other inhabited one. Beyond that is the wide Indian Ocean. No Maldivian would be ‘encircling that’ even as part of a journey. That island is Faafu Atoll Himithi.

    […]

    It was a geographic location That Man [the King] found. Actually his brain works well, he was thinking of ways that would cause the least inconvenience to Maldivians. So he wanted to develop that island.

    But then he did not want the island to be taken back in 99 years, as it is said in that constitution, after he makes that fine investment. He knows that he cannot last that long. A normal human being’s mortality rate, if for example, is 70, he himself cannot stay on that island till the end of those 99 years. So, he requested for the ownership that will allow him to leave it to his next of kin, heirs.

    When he made the request, we didn’t have the ability to create ‘99 plus one day’. We couldn’t even give him those [extra] 24 hours. That’s why we had to come to this point, why we had to change the Constitution. We wanted to give it to him to own. […]

    But the public won’t understand. They will know only on the day they know who he is.

    [‘After everything has happened?’, asks a member of the audience]

    Yes, on the day they know for sure that it is the Saudi Crown Prince…on that day they will realise [clicks finger]: Aah! That’s the trap they set!

    Mohamed had paid for acquisition of the island then. The island was under some sort of a group…some Dhivehi group…Anni had given it to them on some pipe laying pretext or other. He had given it to not just one party, but three!

    Adeeb was Tourism Minister, Dr Waheed was President. Dr Waheed wanted to do this really badly. In a rush these great men gave him the island.

    After they gave him the island he said the 99 years was not enough, so he was going to stop the deal. That meant the government had to give him back the payment he had made. So talks were held with people internally involved. He didn’t let go of his interest though.

    Again, in 2013 he came back to One and Only. While he was there, in just a few days after President Yameen assumed office, the lad came with the current King, his father. He hadn’t become King yet, he was the Crown Prince.

    As luck would have it then Crown Prince became King. King Abdullah passed away, he became King immediately, and as soon as that happened, all the power was now in the hands of his family, as it would be. Until This Man dies, that is. Then it will be Mohamed’s turn. He is the most likely man.

    Anyway, without that assurance, they hadn’t begun the investment. We looked to see if we could penetrate this into the SEZ, if we could make it happen through the SEZ. But even the SEZ could not cross the Constitution – unless and until we changed it. It could only come out of an open window from that. That is why we created that window.

    It was very designed, very proper, very planned so that we will not suffer any harm—even from a religious perspective—that is the kind of investor this is. That much can be said.

    It is the belief that this investor is for sure not China, for sure not India, for sure not the UK, for sure not America, for sure not Russia. They are jumping around because they think we are facilitating Chinese ownership of land.

    […]

    “This guy [King Salman] is gonna dump sixteen billion US dollars”. […]

    There are other places in the world with more fish, more beautiful fish, than there are in the Maldives, fishes that are much more vigorous, more colourful – why would they come to the Maldives first to see these things? Why not go there? Why are they dumping here? His interest is also aroused “because we are Islam.” He believes that because we are Muslims he will be tolerated here.

    So those Saudi princes can come here in their jets, waste away a weekend, and by the time they leave, all the waiters and everyone would have got a year’s wages—they will not have to work again that year. This is being said because of how these people behave. “We know what they are spending on”. T

    here are so many countries with their hands out in anticipation of a Saudi Prince coming to their country – what does the Maldives have to show? What is this reef [Faafu] here for anyway? No one would go there to even pick up a shell. That reef has been sitting there like that, [serving no purpose] for three thousand, four thousand years.

    […]

    There are a lot of parties [potential investors]. But we are not able to allow them. “A Russian billionaire might want it immediately”. They would have the money. They would have much worse, dirtier money [than the Saudis], but of course we won’t give it to those people. “Though even this is created”. The fear is what will happen if our government ends? What will those who come after do?

    […]

    These people, this family that we are in negotiations with, they do not want their name to be associated with this [sale of Faafu] suddenly. If not, we would have written it down [in the Constitution] that this is for a specific person. […]

    If that had been said, these issues [of what would happen when PPM government ends] would not arise. But even he [King Salman] would not have wanted to do such a ridiculous thing. This is the Constitution of a country we are talking about!

    So what do you think? Was it the H1N1–or Maldivians who could not keep their mouths shut–that has made the King stay away? Has the government bullshit rescued Faafu from merciless ‘development’?


    Photo: Himithi and Minimasmagili, Faafu Atoll, by 

    First they came for Faafu III

    First they came for Faafu II

    First they came for Faafu I

      First they came for Faafu III

      by Azra Naseem

      3. Muizzing Maldives

      Yesterday, from The Guardian, Dhivehin finally learned what the government has in store for the Maldives. The publication ended weeks of speculation as to what Dear Leader Yameen has been planning for us ever since he got up close and personal with the unscrupulous and filthy rich Saudi royal family.

      Oh, he dropped many hints: what is coming will change the very map of Maldives; it will be larger than your [little raffushu] imaginations; it will be development like no one has ever seen; it will make Maldives the envy of the world.

      But he stopped just short of telling people what exactly it is. Because people’s reaction may endanger the deal. Maldivians cannot be trusted with the great plans he has for the Maldives.

      But yesterday, through The Guardian, Yameen’s cabal finally chose to reveal details of what is to happen: residents are to be relocated to larger atolls, ‘leaving smaller islands ripe for development.’

      Thousands of years old island way of life, sustainable development, living with the fragile environment, looking after the astounding natural beauty of the country for future generations—fuck all that. That’s airy-fairy arty-farty New Age hippie bullshit. Solar power, carbon neutrality? Pfft. Who has that kind of time to waste?

      “We want to bring better living conditions to the whole country over a small period of time,” housing minister Mohamed Muizzu tells The Guardian.

      This is the same Minister, whose unplanned haste to ‘bring development’ to Male’ has led to so many disastrous undertakings that people now say ‘That’s Muizzed” to describe projects–often work that don’t need doing, to fix something that isn’t broken–that become ever messier with each vain attempt to get it right at an ever increasing cost.

      So here they are, these members of the kakistocracy ruling Maldives who– knowing so much what the people should want for themselves regardless of what they actually do–are ready to usher in what they call super development: geo-engineered artificial islands built as super-resorts, six-star hotels, high-end housing, high-tech centres, economic free-zones and foreign universities…all for ‘the global elite’, of course.

      Meanwhile, the people of Maldives—the very people who have been excluded from the billions earned from 20 years of high-end tourism—will be relocated from their too-small-to-live-on-islands onto the so-called Greater Male’ Area where acres and acres of land is being reclaimed from the sea for this very purpose.

      There they will live happily ever after in purpose built high-rises with running water, garbage bins, and plumbed toilets to shit in. Hip-hip-hurrah!

      They will, of course, go to the same schools bursting at the seams as now, will be taught by the same barely qualified teachers, will work in the same dead-end jobs in the vast behemoth that is the civil service, or will clean hotel rooms and be bare-chested butlers in sarongs bowing deeply to provide the super-rich with ‘the authentic Maldivian experience’ as they sip their US$100 cocktails.

      But, never mind. There will be plumbing at home.

      Dhivehin shouldn’t expect much more. Their numbers are just too small for their existence to make any economic sense. What would be really economically viable would be to annihilate them, but then even the super-rich may balk at investing in real estate straight after a genocide. They’d wait at least one or two years; and time is money.

      Once the plan is realised, number of visitors to the Maldives will increase from 1.3 million (over three times the population) to more than seven million within ten years (over 18 times the population). The Marine Research Centre—yes, the Marine Research Centre, which you’d think is looking out for the country’s natural resources—thinks this is a marvellous idea. In fact, according to Director Shiham Adam, it could be what saves the Maldives.

      “People are investing huge amounts of money. They are not idiots,” says this very brainy scientist. “You can build an island in four weeks with suction dredgers”.

      It would be absolute idiocy to think that this causes any damage to the environment; that it will kill the marine life, lead to erosion, destroy beaches, and shrink the entire land mass of the Maldives drastically. According to Shiham, all the existing resorts are just lovely little ‘mini marine reserves’, and there’s no reason (except science, which you don’t really need to consider when time is of the essence) to think the reclaimed super resorts would be any different.

      What about sea-level rise that could put 75% of the Maldives underwater by 2100?

      ‘That’s not going to happen next year,’ says the director of marine research.

      What does not happen before Yameen’s election in 2018, and 2023—or in his lifetime—should not concern us. That’s for the future. “We have immediate needs.’ And fulfil them these geniuses will. To hell with future generations, it’s not like they even exist.

      This is what is ‘good for the people’, says Muizzu. He knows. That should be enough.

      Let us all courtesy collectively to King Salman when he arrives, and pray that his rule over us would be as kind as it is over the people of Saudi Arabia, that he will consider our children with as much love as he does the children of Yemen. Let us all raise our hands in supplication to Yameen, our Saviour, for his Great Economic Vision. Let us all say thank you to all the super-rich billionaires and multinationals who are coming to save us from our inconsequential little lives in the shitty little ‘Indian ocean backwater’ called Maldives that so many people have mistakenly viewed as paradise on earth for so many centuries.


       

      First they came for Faafu I : Of Kings and Pawns

      First they came for Faafu II : Of Myths and Monsters