MALE (AFP) - A 16-year-old boy 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 said.
The unnamed teenager is accused of stabbing a 21-year-old man to death in December in a drug-related fight in Male, capital of a nation better known as a serene tourist destination, police said late Wednesday.
Although it was not immediately clear whether prosecutors would seek the death penalty for the teenager, the laws were changed earlier this year in response to a rise in knife crime.
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 government says it has been forced to act following a spate of knife attacks and a surge in gang crime and 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.
"Even in the event of a conviction, there is a very lengthy procedure when it comes to capital punishment, Shareef told AFP.
Police spokesman Abdulla Nawaz said five people were in custody in connection with the December stabbing and three of the suspects were minors - two aged 16 and one aged 14.
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. However the actual execution cannot be carried out until they turn 18.
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 Wednesday, the International Federation for Human Rights said that the possibility that children as young as seven could be executed was "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," said the Paris-based organisation's president Karim Lahidji.
The Maldives uses a hybrid of British common law and strict Islamic sharia law.