Last week I talked about the murder of my friend Ahmed Najeeb. Knowing him well as I did I sought to rationalize how we as a society should respond to such a senseless act. I felt it was the least I could do to honour his memory and make some sense of this tragedy.
by Dr Hassan Saeed
It is also right that we consider our emotions too. As well as sadness there is anger. That anger can drive us to seek retribution as a form of justice. Seeking an equivalent penalty from the murderer could be seen as a form of fairness and has a long history across religions and cultures throughout the world. It is not just particular to us in the Maldives.
I have seen the use of execution with my own eyes. As a teenager I witnessed two people being hanged in Faisalabaad, Pakistan. I was close to the platform setup for the hanging. The hanging was announced in advance. I went to see the event. And found a space reasonably close to the platform. It was a vast open field and the whole place was full. I have never seen such a huge crowd.
I saw the two men brought to the place of execution.When the two of were brought in front of the crowd the public cursed. Their hands and legs were tied. Their faces were covered in a sack like cloth piece. When they were hanged I saw them struggling. There was deafening silence. Finally their struggle came to an end. Doctors checked and the bodies were taken away.
The military ruler of Pakistan General Ziyaul Haqq clearly knew what he was doing. He was carrying out Quranic punishment. He believed pubic execution would be the best form of deterrence.
It certainly affected me. Even some 27 years later I still have clear memories of that day. I am sure lot of others who witnessed that event would remember that too.
But I haven’t committed murder because of that experience. It was because I believe it is wrong. It is an offence. One of my neighbours who also witnessed the hanging was arrested shortly afterwards for attempted murder! Apparently the incident did not deter him.
Following the murder of lawyer Najeeb lots of people are calling for the death penalty. Perhaps the loudest argument in favour of it is that it would deter offenders. I will come back to the issue of deterrence, but there are a lot of issues in this debate, which in a short article, one cannot do full justice to.
Some are legal issues that I am aware of from my professional work. The death penalty is very expensive to administer. It is a lucrative area for lawyers as appeals will take years. Do we want a justice system that costs the Maldivian people even more than imprisonment? It can also be arbitrary where the quality of the defence counsel will determine the outcome as much as the actual guilt of the suspect. Evidence from other countries is that, irrespective of guilt, it will be poor people who will be the ones to be executed, not the rich. That issue could also be complicated by nationality. Europeans will most likely have their sentence commuted through embassy and international pressure, so there will be a form of unfairness depending on nationality, where some people are threatened with execution and some are not.
However if it is the deterrence we want, then probably the best way to deter is to carry executions out in publicas ZiyaulHaqq did in Pakistan. A live telecast would probably deter even more people! But can we honestly do that – considering that ours is a tourism-based economy. The biggest spenders here come from Europe. And we are fully aware of EU’s anti-death penalty policy. Also lots of foreign tourists may consider execution – even more so public execution - as a cruel form of punishment.
Some international conventions prohibit states which do not carry out death penalty from introducing them. The Maldives is a party to such conventions. In the same way we demand countries to act in response to the threat of climate change to us, we also have to ensure that our international obligations are met.
While some see death penalty as an effective deterrent, others use this as an opportunity to push Sharia-based punishments.
We should be clear on why want to carry out death penalty. Do we want it as deterrence or as a discharge of a divine obligation? If it is because of its divine nature then there is no reason why we should not introduce other divine punishments such as stoning to death of adulterers and the chopping off thieves hands should also follow as we cannot pick and choose from divine punishments.
Note: Dr Hassan Saeed is currently the Special Advisor to President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik