Tagged: Maldives death penalty

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

 

An eye for an eye, or save the lives of mankind?

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by Shahindha Ismail

“…whereas, if anyone saves a life, it shall be as though he had saved the lives of all mankind” (Al-Mai’dah – 5:32)[1]

Some few of us have spoken on the penalty of death in the Maldives. We have discovered many, many flaws in the trials and processes of criminal justice that have led to the verdicts to kill. Those of us who spoke against implementing the sentence have faced some heavy criticism, if not harassment, for having spoken against it. We have been called anti-Islamic, defenders of criminals, and we have been labelled as disbelievers. It is quite interesting, the rigour with which some of us have defended the death sentence with Islam here in our small nation. A 100% Islamic state – at least according to the Constitution.

The first person to comment on my previous article about killing Humaam, Kirudhooni, concluded, “until a relative of the writer is brutally killed the voice is justified”. Allah forbid that a relative of anyone face such an end. I cannot speak for those who have lost loved ones to brutal murders, but I can certainly understand their pain. Little do you know, Kirudhooni, that I have had my relatives face some unimaginable pain and brutality around here. I don’t see any benefit in putting those perpetrators through the same pain. The benefit I do see, however, is to prevent them from causing further injustice to another, and it does not have to be through violent means. I do not believe in taking an eye for an eye – what would I do with that third eye anyway? The two that Allah blessed me with are just fine as they are.

وَجَزَاء سَيِّئَةٍ سَيِّئَةٌ مِّثْلُهَا فَمَنْ عَفَا وَأَصْلَحَ فَأَجْرُهُ عَلَى اللَّهِ إِنَّهُ لَا يُحِبُّ الظَّالِمِين 42:40

“But [remember that an attempt at] requiting evil may, too, become an evil: hence, whoever par­dons [his foe] and makes peace, his reward rests with God – for, verily, He does not love evildoers” (Ash-Shura)[2]

Thus the question that has burned a hole in my world of late: When did we become such a rancorous, unforgiving society?

It makes me wonder if our nation has always been like this. The answer I get every time is that no, we were a much gentler people. There were, of course, times when the whole country have shaken with the shock of those few events that we still hear of to this day – about the darkness, the iniquity of it. I do not believe it is our culture. It is what we call atrocities – what few people commit and the rest cannot relate with. There is the story of when Ibn Batuta, the Moroccan missionary who became a judge in the Maldives, first sentenced to cut the hands of a man, the people in the court fainted.[3]

Let us think about it. We have so much to think about, to do in a day, let alone a lifetime. Why should we resort to taking the life of another? I do not believe any of us have that right.

We, or at least many of us, have been raised with a common value. Forgiveness. As children our parents tell us to “let it go” many times. We carry that value close to heart through life, and eventually teach our children that vengeance serves no purpose, that bitterness is only a reflection of ourselves, and that forgiveness leads to peace. I wonder how many of the families who lost someone to brutal murders were reminded by the State of the concept of forgiveness in qisas. It appears to me that the notion of forgiveness associated with qisas in the Qur’an was deliberately omitted from the discourse. Why have our renowned sheikhs not spoken out about this issue? Not raised the aspect of forgiveness in these very trying times where a woman who lost her husband to a vicious slaying, the mother and father who lost a son in a blood bath, have faced the decision of whether they would like to have the man who is believed to have killed their loved one, killed in return? What state of mind are these families in when they are handed the fate of a man held captive? Was anyone asked if they would choose any other form of qisas?

وَكَتَبْنَا عَلَيْهِمْ فِيهَا أَنَّ النَّفْسَ بِالنَّفْسِ وَالْعَيْنَ بِالْعَيْنِ وَالأَنفَ بِالأَنفِ وَالأُذُنَ بِالأُذُنِ وَالسِّنَّ بِالسِّنِّ وَالْجُرُوحَ قِصَاصٌ فَمَن تَصَدَّقَ بِهِ فَهُوَ كَفَّارَةٌ لَّهُ وَمَن لَّمْ يَحْكُم بِمَا أنزَلَ اللّهُ فَأُوْلَـئِكَ هُمُ الظَّالِمُونَ 5:45

“And We ordained for them in that [Torah]: A life for a life, and an eye for an eye, and a nose for a nose, and an ear for an ear, and a tooth for a tooth, and a [similar] retribution for wounds; but he who shall forgo it out of charity will atone thereby for some of his past sins. And they who do not judge in accordance with what God has revealed – they, they are the evildoers!” (Al-Mai’dah)[4]

How unfortunate and unfair that the most beautiful and powerful portion of the verse has not been talked of in our society. “but he who shall forgo it out of charity will atone thereby for some of his past sins

وَإِنْ عَاقَبْتُمْ فَعَاقِبُواْ بِمِثْلِ مَا عُوقِبْتُم بِهِ وَلَئِن صَبَرْتُمْ لَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لِّلصَّابِرينَ 16:126

“Hence, if you have to respond to an attack (in argument], respond only to the extent of the attack levelled against you; but to bear yourselves with patience is indeed far better for you, since God is with] those who are patient in adversity” (An-Nahl)[5]

Did the courts ever remind a family that Allah is with those who are patient in adversity? That patience is better for them? More importantly, why have we, as a community, looked on when men and women, in their moment of great weakness and sorrow over the unjust killing of a loved one, have been fed with the tools to do away with another life, been fed more bitterness and vengeance in the face of that calamity that will have changed them forever from the gentle souls they were raised to be? I fear it may be too late if we look on.

ذَلِكَ وَمَنْ عَاقَبَ بِمِثْلِ مَا عُوقِبَ بِهِ ثُمَّ بُغِيَ عَلَيْهِ لَيَنصُرَنَّهُ اللَّهُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَعَفُوٌّ غَفُورٌ 22:60

“Thus shall it be. And as for him who responds to aggression only to the extent of the attack levelled against him, and is thereupon [again] treacherously attacked – God will most certainly succour him: for, behold, God is indeed an absolver of sins, much-forgiving” (Al-Hajj)[6]

وَلَكُمْ فِي الْقِصَاصِ حَيَاةٌ يَاْ أُولِيْ الأَلْبَابِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ 2:179

“for, in [the law of] just retribution, O you who are endowed with insight, there is life for you, so that you might remain conscious of God!” (Al-Baqara)[7]

Why have we not spoken of forgiveness entirely?

Have we been fooled to believe that Islam only teaches to take an eye for an eye? If this is so we will have a completely unforgiving nation a few generations down the line, would we not? Which turns my thoughts to the future. The generations that we will groom to lead us to peace and the right path – our children. Will we raise them to lead that dark life of hatred and vengeance?

No. The culture, the Islam, the identity of this small nation that our ancestors left us was something peaceful and gentle. We do not want to leave a legacy of blood for our children. We want them to learn that Allah is the ultimate owner of our souls, and that a life can only be given and taken by Him. Not on the streets and not by a state. We want them to have faith in truth and justice, and learn patience and forgiveness.

[1] www.islamicity.com

[2] www.islamicity.com

[3] Ibn Batuta in the Maldives and Ceylon, Albert Grey

[4] www.islamicity.com

[5] www.islamicity.com

[6] www.islamicity.com

[7] www.islamicity.com


 

Related:

Are we all going to kill Humaam?

Maldives state ready to kill Humam, and a way of life

Stop the death penalty, speak up

Shari’a and the death penalty: how Islamic is Marah Maru?

No sympathy for people like us

A tightening of the noose

Not in our name

Maldives state ready to kill Humam, and a way of life

HumamDeath

by Azra Naseem

In the early hours of the morning on the 19th day of Ramadan, as most of the country slept, the Maldives Supreme Court upheld the verdict by lower courts to kill Hussein Humam Ahmed. The 22-year-old man was convicted of killing MP Dr Afrasheem Ali on 2 October 2012 in a trial laden with irregularities.

Regulations introduced recently say the sentence must be carried out within 30 days. Umar Naseer, Home Minister until a sudden resignation on Tuesday this week, has said the State is now ready to kill by hanging - the only thing missing was someone’s neck to put the noose around and squeeze the life out of. The Supreme Court delivered that last night in the shape of Humam.

Humam’s killing will be the first in the Maldives since 1953, even then a rare thing. Moroccan traveller Ibn Batuta wrote of the Maldives in the 14th Century:

The inhabitants of the Maldive islands are honest and pious people, sincere in good faith and of a strong will…In body they are weak and have no aptitude for combat or for war, and their arms their prayers. One day in this country, I ordered the right hand of a robber to be cut off; upon which many of the natives in the hall of audience fainted away.

Today’s Maldives could not be more different. Crime is rife. Murders are commonplace. Stabbings are almost a daily occurrence. Robbery is regular. Corruption is widespread. Deception is natural. Violence is culture.

Something has gone seriously awry with the society’s moral compass.

Dr Afrasheem’s murder was one of the most brutal and violent the country had ever seen. Afrasheem left behind young children, a wife, parents, siblings. They all deserve justice, like everyone else. But there’s too much doubt about whether or not Humam is his killer. Afrasheem’s murder was a contract killing, that much everyone agrees on. Did Humam do it? If he did, who gave the orders? His conviction is based on confessions, retracted as many times as they were given. The legal apparatus will not let a psychiatrist judge his state of mind despite an insanity plea.

And, too many people—Umar Naseer, former Commissioner of Police and current JP MP Abdulla Riyaz, former police and military intelligence officers to indicate just a few—have pointed fingers at people other than Humam, ranging from the very top of government and various political parties to religious extremists, for this verdict to sit well with any right thinking member of society. Today all of them are holding their tongues as Humam is readied for the noose.

The Supreme Court’s decision is political. And so is Afrasheem’s murder said to be.

Many offer informed speculation that the MP could have been murdered for his seat in parliament or for his intentions to contest in then forthcoming presidential elections. He would have given other members of his party a run for their money. He was a popular man. Some reports say there was involvement of radicalised religious elements in Afrasheem’s murder – but, even if so, not without a political connection.

The Supreme Court is controlled by the very same people interested in hiding who really killed Afrasheem, if the informed speculation is based on truth. The court has long since placed itself above the law, ensconced inside the pockets of political leaders. As those awake waited tensely for the ruling on Humam last night–which came over three hours later than billed–the court issued a press release warning potential critics of serious repercussions if they openly disagreed with the court’s rulings.

The Supreme Court’s decision is political in another way. It panders to the strict Salafi clerics and their philosophy of ‘progression through regression’ that now dominate Maldives society. It caters to their demands for a legal system in the Maldives based on Sharia alone. This is a demand expressed by the whole spectrum of Salafis in the Maldives from the apolitical to the radicals and the violent ‘Jihadists’ who have emigrated to SyriaThe Supreme Court decision will appease them.

It also panders to the overlords who facilitate, finance and continue to groom Maldivian Muslims to become Salafis: Saudi Arabia.

The noose around Humam’s neck will put an end to not just his life but to two problems the government encounters: rumours of President Yameen’s involvement in Afrasheem’s murder that just won’t die; and accusations that it is not following the path of ‘true Islam’, i.e, Saudi-led Salafi Islam.

There is still a significant part of Maldivian society today, like me, horrified by the Supreme Court decision which ignored even the last-minute pleas by the murdered victim’s family for a temporary reprieve. Without the Sharia concept of Qisas, which is what the entire case is based on, was lost. Yet the Supreme Court went ahead, making a mockery even of Sharia.

We should understand this verdict is a harbinger of things to come: a society characterised by injustice, faux piety, and appeasement of the radical. There was a time when none of us could have imagined life in Maldives dominated by strict Salafi ideology. Today it is a lived truth. Tomorrow seems likely to be totally ruled by it.

At death’s door is not just Humam, but what is left of the long-lived Maldivian identity as a peace-loving non-violent society of Muslims who practise their religion without committing violence and human rights abuses in its name.


Correction: This article previously said “When the Sharia concept of Qisas became unavailable, the court opted for Ta’zir.” This was not the case. The bench simply chose to ignore plea by Dr Afrasheem’s family for a temporary reprieve, and went ahead with the ruling, flouting the concept of Qisas.

Photo: Humam being brought to court, Raajje.mv