The Maldives must stop undermining the independence and integrity of the judiciary through arbitrary and politically motivated actions against judges, the ICJ said today.
“The ICJ visited the Maldives last month for the second time in a year, and we were dismayed to see that the Maldives government has continued to erode the rule of law and weaken the independence of the judiciary,” said Nikhil Narayan, ICJ’s Senior Legal Adviser for South Asia.
“The government must immediately stop targeting judges and other public officials with arbitrary criminal proceedings, threats, intimidation and harassment,” he added.
On 7 February, Magistrate Judge Ahmed Nihan was arrested, along with former Prosecutor General and former Criminal Court Judge Muhthaz Muhsin, in connection with an alleged ‘forged’ arrest warrant against President Yameen.
“The arrest of a judge for issuing a warrant, a function which is well within the ordinary powers and responsibilities of the judiciary, clearly violates basic principles of judicial independence,” Narayan further said. “The fact that the alleged warrant was against the President further suggests that Judge Nihan’s arrest was politically motivated.”
“Moreover, the severity of a charge of ‘terrorism’ for such an act, even if taken at face value, cannot reasonably be viewed as proportionate to the alleged offense,” he added.
On 16 March, more than a month after his arrest, Judge Nihan was charged under sections 4(a)(1)-(2) and 5(a)(2) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, for attempting to unduly influence the state, attempting to create fear among the public, and attempting to forcefully disappear or hold a person hostage.
The Constitution of the Maldives does not provide immunity for the president from criminal accountability even while still in office.
The ICJ was also concerned to find during its visit that Maldivian authorities have continued to undermine the independence of the judiciary by using the threat of transfer or removal of judges as a tactic of political retribution, harassment and intimidation.
On 14 February, former Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdullah Mohamed was abruptly transferred from the Criminal Court to the Family Court following a sudden and late night meeting of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), without being given an opportunity to appear on his own behalf during the meeting.
While the JSC has given no reasons for its decision, lawyers, human rights defenders and former government officials with whom the ICJ spoke suggested that the transfer had been taken in retaliation for Judge Abdullah’s failure to remand former Prosecutor General Muhsin following his arrest.
It was also suggested by those interviewed that a further motivation for the transfer was to ensure that Judge Abdullah could not indirectly influence the three-judge bench hearing the former Vice President’s criminal case in favor of the defendant. Judge Abdullah was reported to have close ties with both defendants.
In June 2015, Judge Azmiralda Zahir, one of only three female judges in the entire Maldivian judiciary and the only woman on the High Court, was arbitrarily and unexpectedly transferred by the Supreme Court from the Malé appellate bench to the southern regional bench, a transfer that amounts to a demotion, without formal notice or opportunity to challenge her transfer.
The Supreme Court has neither established clear criteria for its decision-making process in such matters nor informed Judge Zahir of the reasons for her transfer, of which she learned through media reports, despite repeated requests by her to both the Supreme Court as well as the JSC, the ICJ says.
“President Yameen’s government must quickly take genuine steps to restore the rule of law, strengthen the independence and integrity of the judiciary and restart the democratic transition process,” said Narayan.
Nikhil Narayan, ICJ Senior Legal Adviser for South Asia, t: +977 9813187821 ; e: nikhil.narayan(a)icj.org
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