Maldives: authorities must end assault on the legal profession

As the assault on the rule of law and human rights under the state of emergency in the Maldives continues, the ICJ expressed concerned about government reprisals taken against lawyers for performing their legitimate professional functions.

The ICJ urged the Maldivian authorities to stop obstructing the work of lawyers and respect the independence of the legal profession.

The ICJ called on the government to immediately lift the state of emergency, revoke the “suspension” of human rights protections, release judges of the Supreme Court and persons detained for political reasons, and ensure the independence of the judiciary.

On 22 February, the Department of Judicial Administration, the administrative arm of the Maldivian judiciary, suspended lawyer Hussain Shameem for an indefinite period of time, citing an ongoing investigation against him.

“No lawyer should be subject to persecution for carrying out their professional duties. Lawyers like Hussain Shameem are indispensable in ensuring human rights protection and upholding the rule of law in the Maldives, especially during a state of emergency,” said Frederick Rawski, ICJ’s Asia-Pacific Director.

The decision to suspend Shameem came only days after the Maldivian police launched an investigation against him for “obstruction of justice” and “obstruction of the administration of law and other government function”.

Hussain Shameem is representing members of the political opposition who are in detention, including former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and parliamentarian Faris Maumoon.

Before his suspension, Hussain Shameem had made public statements asserting that the declaration emergency declared by the Government on 5 February 2018 was unconstitutional.

He had also highlighted the poor conditions of detention of his clients.

The ICJ has learned that the police confiscated the mobile phones of another two lawyers, Mahfooz Saeed and Moosa Siraj.

Like Shameem, they were representing individuals arrested and detained during the state of emergency, including Justice Ali Hameed, who was part of the Supreme Court bench that recently issued a judgment directing the release of members of the opposition.

The police have also informed lawyers taking up cases during the state of emergency that they can only meet their clients for 30 minutes, which is an arbitrary and unlawful restriction on the fair trial rights of accused persons.

Under international standards, including the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, governments must ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference.

International standards also provide that lawyers shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics.

“The government’s actions against these lawyers, who are just doing their job of protecting their clients’ rights, has a chilling effect on other lawyers in the country as it sends a message that any exercise of their professional responsibilities perceived as contrary to wishes of the governments will not be tolerated,” added Rawski.


Frederick Rawski, ICJ Asia Pacific Regional Director, t: +66 64 478 1121, e: frederick.rawski(a)

Reema Omer, ICJ International Legal Adviser for Pakistan (London), t: +447889565691; e: reema.omer(a)

Additional information: the state of emergency

On 5 February, the Government of the Maldives had declared a 15-day state of emergency under Article 253 of the Constitution, suspending a range of human rights protections. The declaration of emergency followed a Supreme Court judgment on 1 February that ordered the release of at least nine members of opposition parties, who were in detention on a number of charges.

On 20 February, the Parliament extended the state of emergency for another thirty days, citing the ongoing constitutional crisis. The extension appears to have been taken in violation of Maldivian law and the Constitution as the number of parliamentarians required for such an extension was not present during the vote.

The constitutionally and internationally protected rights that have been suspended in part or in full during the state of emergency include, among others, the right to liberty; the right to freedom of assembly; and the right to privacy. Basic safeguards surrounding arrest, detention, search and seizures – including the criminal procedure code – have also been suspended.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which the Maldives is a State Party, allows for States only to derogate from full protection of only a limited number of human rights during declared “public emergency which threatens the life of the nation.” No rights can be entirely suspended. Measures of derogation may only be taken to the extent strictly necessary to meet a specific threat to the life of the nation.

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