The Maldives, the Indian Ocean island chain best known as a luxury holiday destination, is set to carry out its first executions since British colonial rule ended five decades ago, a move that critics see as a government ploy to distract from a deepening political crisis.
Abdulla Yameen, the embattled president, said at the weekend that the Maldives would carry out its first executions next month, once a newly built facility for administering lethal injections was completed.
No convict has been executed in the Maldives since the mid-1950s, when the island chain was a British colony. Mr Yameen’s administration first took steps to reintroduce the death penalty in 2014, two years after the military coup that ousted the country’s first democratically-elected president, Mohammed Nasheed.
“By God’s will, when the time comes in September…our mechanisms and arrangements will be complete enough to do it,” Mr Yameen said at the weekend.
Malé, the Maldives’ capital, has seen a recent upsurge of violent crime, which Mr Yameen’s government has blamed on its political opponents.
Biraj Patnaik, South Asia director for Amnesty International, the human rights group, said the executions were a “feeble attempt to look tough and distract attention” from deepening political turmoil and mounting opposition to the administration.
“Something like an execution — where you can get people to rally around it and say ‘we are tackling crime’ — works as a distractionary technique,” Mr Patnaik said.
Mr Yameen recently turned to the nation’s 3,000-strong army to shore up his government following a wave of defections from his ruling Progressive party of the Maldives.
Last month, the Maldivian military surrounded the country’s parliament, or Majlis, and blocked lawmakers from entering to prevent a vote of no confidence against Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed, the speaker and key presidential ally.
The turmoil in parliament follows a split in Mr Yameen’s ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives, which was founded by the country’s erstwhile dictator (and the president’s half-brother) Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who has fallen out with Mr Yameen.
Mr Gayoom is now making common cause with the exiled Mr Nasheed, whose Maldivian Democratic party is the leading opposition to Mr Yameen’s administration.
Sir Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin Airlines, has also spoken out against the imminent executions.
“It’s an awful political move that will send the country back to the dark ages of human rights,” he wrote in his blog, adding that he hoped Mr Yameen would yet “back away from the damaging path he has chosen for his country”.
The men believed to be at imminent risk of execution — Hussain Humaam Ahmed, Ahmed Murrath, and Mohammed Nabeel — were convicted of murder in three separate and unrelated cases since 2009.
Mr Ahmed, 23, was convicted of the 2012 murder of prominent parliamentarian Afrasheem Ali, a moderate Islamist who was considered a possible rival to Mr Yameen to lead the party, and was stabbed to death inside his home. Activists have expressed doubts about Mr Ahmed’s guilt.
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