A 16-year-old teenager has been charged with murder over a fatal stabbing in the Maldives, becoming the first minor to be accused of a capital offence since the death penalty was reintroduced, officials say.
Police said on Wednesday that the unnamed teenager is accused of stabbing a 21-year-old man to death in December last year in a drug-related fight in the capital Male.
If found guilty, the teenager faces the possibility of the death penalty, which was reintroduced in the country earlier this year.
Human rights groups have widely condemned the reintroduction of the death penalty after a 60-year moratorium, in particular provisions in the law which would allow children as young as seven to be sentenced to death.
The execution would take place once the offenders turned 18.
The government says it has been forced to act following a spate of knife attacks and a surge in gang crime, adding that it it has already begun work on a lethal injection facility in the country's main prison.
Mohamed Shareef, a minister in President Abdulla Yameen's office, would not say whether the teenager would face the death penalty if found guilty.
Abdulla Nawaz, police spokesman, said five people were in custody in connection with the stabbing and three of the suspects were minors - two aged 16 and one aged 14.
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The 14-year-old and the other 16-year-old are charged with a lesser offence of being accessories to the crime, along with two adults.
Under Maldivian law, minors charged with murder cannot benefit from "leniency" applicable to other underage offenders.
The changes to the law have sparked widespread condemnation, with the UN's human rights office calling the provisions for minors to be sentenced to death "deeply regrettable".
In a statement on Wednesday, the International Federation for Human Rights described the law as "an egregious affront to fundamental human rights".
"The decision to reinstate the death penalty in the Maldives, in particular against minors, is an outrage and gravely at odds with the growing international momentum towards abolition," Karim Lahidji, the Paris-based organisation's president, said.
Velezinee Aishath, a local human rights activist, told Al Jazeera the debate on the death penalty in the country is non-existent.
"[There is] no space for constructive debates on the death penalty in Maldives," Aishath said. "To speak of the issue is labelled 'anti-Islam' because religion is politicised."
The Maldives uses a hybrid of British common law and Islamic law.
Outside the official narrative and policy, only the "family of the victim can stop it, if the Supreme Court upholds the verdict", Aishath says.
Source: Al Jazeera And AFP