Maldives: arrest of Judge Ahmed Nihan further erodes judicial independence
The ICJ today condemned the arrest of Judge Ahmed Nihan and called it a further attack on the independence and integrity of the country’s judiciary.
“President Abdulla Yameen’s Government has dealt another blow to the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Asia Director.
“The arrest of Judge Ahmed Nihan is another step down in the country’s downward spiral away from democracy and stability, and is squarely at odds with the Maldives’ international obligations,” he added.
Maldivian officials confirmed in a statement that Ahmed Nihan, a magistrate’s court judge, and Muhthaz Muhsin, former Prosecutor General, were arrested on Sunday night on charges of forging a warrant for the arrest of President Abdulla Yameen.
Muhthaz Muhsin was released soon after, but Judge Ahmed Nihan was placed in judicial custody for one week.
“Judge Ahmed Nihan’s arbitrary and seemingly politically motivated arrest is yet another example of executive highhandedness and the corrosion of separation of powers in the Maldives,” said Zarifi.
“Undue interference with the Human Rights Commission, the arbitrary dismissal of the Auditor General, and the unlawful removal of two Supreme Court justices are just a few examples,” he added.
According to the Maldivian media, the arrest warrant, allegedly issued by Judge Ahmed Nihan, related to an on-going investigation against President Abdulla Yameen for embezzlement of state funds.
President Yameen’s spokesperson said in an interview the warrant was “fraudulent” because it “did not originate from any official authority.”
The Maldivian police (photo) claim the arrest warrant was issued using “falsified information”.
The ICJ calls on the authorities to immediately release Judge Ahmed Nihan and allow him to continue his judicial duties.
The ICJ also reiterates its previous calls on the Maldivian Government to implement recommendations on human rights and the rule of law, including the independence of the judiciary, received as part of the UN Universal Periodic Review process.
Sam Zarifi, ICJ Asia Pacific Regional Director (Bangkok), t: +66 807819002; e: sam.zarifi(a)icj.org
In a fact-finding report released in August last year, the ICJ noted with concern the serious erosion of the independence, impartiality and integrity of the judiciary, which resulted in the deterioration in the rule of law in the Maldives and the stalling of the country’s transition toward a more representative government.
Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Maldives acceded to in 2006, safeguards the independence and impartiality of the judiciary.
International standards on judicial independence, including the UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary, provide that judges shall be free from any “inappropriate or unwarranted interference with the judicial process”.
The fact that executive or legislative actors may disagree with a judge’s decision or interpretation of the law cannot be a valid ground for removal or punishment of the judge.
The UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary further stipulate that judges shall be subject to suspension or removal only through proceedings that guarantee the right to a fair hearing (Principle 17); and then only for reasons of incapacity or behaviour that renders them unfit to discharge their duties (Principle 18); that all disciplinary, suspension or removal proceedings shall be determined in accordance with established standards of judicial conduct (Principle 19), and decisions in disciplinary, suspension or removal proceedings should be subject to an independent review (Principle 20). The Basic Principles elaborate on legal obligations under article 14 of the International Covenant and Civil Rights (ICCPR).
The Commonwealth Latimer House Principles on the Three Branches of Government 2003 contain similar provisions.
Article 154 of the Maldivian Constitution states that a judge may be removed from office only if the Judicial Service Commission finds that the person is grossly incompetent or guilty of gross misconduct.