Home Minister orders review into release of alleged child rapist on technicality

Home Minister Sheikh Imran Abdulla attends a ministerial questioning session at the Parliament on June 24, 2020. (Photo/People's Majlis)

Home Minister Sheikh Imran Abdulla, on Wednesday, said he has ordered for a review into how a man accused of raping a young girl was released from custody on a technicality, despite sufficient evidence and testimony.

Unais Ahmed, 25, from Hiyaavahi in B. Thulhaadhoo is accused of using coercion and blackmail against a young girl of the age of 16 years and her family, taking her from her home island to a guesthouse in Male’ City, and raping her.

He was arrested on suspicion of“carrying out a sexual act against a child” on May 28, presented in front of a judge for his remand hearing the next day. The Criminal Court issued an order for him to be remanded in the custody of police for 15 days.

At his next remand hearing on June 12, the police requested for an order to keep the man detained pending the outcome of his trial. The Criminal Court denied the request and issued an order for him to be remanded in custody of the police for an additional 10 days.

At his third remand hearing on Monday, June 22, the police again filed a request for the man to be detained pending the outcome of his trial. However, the Criminal Court cited lack of grounds to keep him detained any further, and ordered his release.

The detention orders in all three occasions were requested under the Criminal Procedure Code, which does not accommodate for suspects to be detained pending the outcome of their trials unless the crime the suspect is accused of is a major felony. Sexual offenses are not classified as a major felony.

The Criminal Court noted in its ruling that while there was sufficient evidence to warrant the charge against Unais, the crime he is suspected of does not fall under the major felonies declared under Article 22 of Criminal Procedure Code.

The Criminal Court also referred to the precedence set by High Court that a suspect whose accused crime does not fall under major felonies may not be remanded to custody for more than 15 days at a time, irrespective of the seriousness of the allegations.

The Criminal Court ruled that the suspect had therefore been held in custody for as long as the Criminal Procedure Code permits.

It is unclear why the police requested the detention order under the Criminal Procedure Code instead of the Special Provisions Act to Deal with Child Sex Offenders.

Unais Ahmed, 25, Hiyaavahi, B. Thulhaadhoo. (Photo/Maldives Police Service)

Article 30 (a) of Special Provisions Act to Deal with Child Sex Offenders establishes that the Commissioner of Police may request the Prosecutor General to submit to court to obtain an order to detain a person under suspicion of committing an offence prescribed under the Act into custody during investigation and trial stages, where the police feel the need to invoke the special procedures set out under the Act.

Article 30 (b) states that the Prosecutor General must review the request as per their guidelines, following which; they must submit the request to court to obtain the order, as soon as practicable.

The invocation of the special provisions had recently seen the police granted an order for a man suspected of raping an 11-year-old girl to be jail pending the outcome of his trial.

However, the police did not invoke the special provisions in dealing with Unais.

On the same day Criminal Court released Unais from custody on the technicality, the police obtained an arrest warrant and placed Unais back in police custody.

He was arrested on suspicion of “hiding his identity and using deception and trickery to take and rape a child”.

When presented for his remand hearing on Tuesday, the Criminal Court found the circumstances of the case to be consistent with the circumstances declared under Article 59 and Article 60 (b) of Criminal Procedure Code, and issued an order for him to jailed pending the outcome of his trial for the safety and security of the community.

Article 59 states that a judge who oversees a hearing over the legality of a suspect’s detention must hear evidence from both sides before making the determination, along with the nature of the crime, the severity of the crime, the circumstances surrounding the crime, the level of cruelty shown in carrying out the crime, the weight of the evidence against the suspect, and the suspect’s criminal and court records.

Article 60 (a) states that a judge overseeing a hearing over the legality of a suspect’s detention has the discretion to issue an order to the suspect to be detained pending the outcome of trial if there is sufficient evidence against the suspect and enough grounds to believe the suspect may attempt to tamper with evidence, intimidate witnesses, refuse to attend court or flee, or pose a threat to the safety of the community if released from detention.

The case has drawn criticism against Maldives Police Service and the Prosecutor General’s Office.

Funadhoo MP Moosa Siraj, a former lawyer, said that there already exist provisions which can be invoked to keep suspects in child sex offense cases detained.

He said the problem does not lie with the law, but with a lack of awareness of the law.

“This is why the police should be well-versed on procedures. It is important to educate investigative officers on procedures and expedite police reform,” he said.

Home Minister Imran was questioned regarding the case during the ministerial questioning session held at the Parliament on Wednesday. Imran responded that he has ordered the police for an explanation.