Supreme Court renders human rights watchdog toothless

The Supreme Court has declared a rights assessment submitted to the UN by the human rights watchdog as unlawful, and has issued an 11-point guideline barring the independent body from communicating with foreign organizations without government oversight.

Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed delivered a verdict today, eight months after the apex court charged the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) with treason.

He said the September 2014 report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council was biased, encouraged terrorists and undermined judicial independence in the Maldives.

In the report, the HRCM had said the Supreme Court controlled and influenced the lower courts to the detriment of the Maldivian judiciary.

Days after the report was publicised, the Supreme Court brought charges against the HRCM under controversial suomoto regulations that allow the apex court to prosecute and pass judgment.

The case had remained stalled after just two hearings.

The 11-point guideline issued today orders the HRCM to protect unity, peace and order, and uphold Maldivian norms, faith, etiquette and the rule of law.

The Supreme Court said the HRCM must not overstep its mandate and ordered the independent body to cooperate with government institutions, communicate with foreign bodies through the relevant government institutions, and protect the Maldives’ reputation.

The written verdict was not available at the time of going to press.

In March last year, the apex court sacked the Election Commission’s president and vice-president when they criticised a 16-point electoral guideline issued by the Supreme Court after annulling the first round of presidential elections in September 2013.

Judicial control

The HRCM’s two-page report submitted to the UN’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) said: “The judicial system is controlled and influenced by the Supreme Court, weakening judicial powers vested in other superior courts and lower courts.”

The UPR studies the human rights record of all 193 UN member states and is aimed at supporting and expanding the protection of human rights.

The Maldives was first reviewed in 2010 and underwent a second inspection in May.

During the review in Geneva, countries across the world blasted the Maldives for the ‘politicisation of the judiciary’ and raised concern over the Supreme Court’s prosecution of the HRCM.

Several countries then recommended that the Maldives ensure impartiality and independence of the judiciary and provide training to judges.

The foreign ministry has deferred accepting or rejecting the recommendations, pending “national level consultation.” A decision will be communicated before the 30th session of the human rights council in September or October 2015.

Trial summary

At the second hearing on September 30, 2014, the HRCM had denied charges and said that the commission’s observations on the judiciary were based on reports by the UN Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers Gabriela Knaul, the International Commission of Jurists and the national chapter of Transparency International.

Then-Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz said the judiciary had rejected Knaul’s report as invalid and reprimanded the HRCM for alleged failure to consult the Supreme Court in writing the UPR submission.

Faiz and Judge Muthasim Adnan were removed from the seven-member bench in December.

The HRCM in March said the Supreme Court’s suomoto case was the biggest challenge the watchdog has faced in its 11-year history.

The HRCM Act grants members immunity from prosecution in relation to acts carried out as part of the commission’s duties.

Today’s ruling comes as the parliament prepares to appoint three new members to the HRCM as the five-year terms of three members are due to expire in August.

The three members are HRCM president Mariyam Azra, vice-president Ahmed Tholal and member Jeehan Mahmood.

President Abdulla Yameen has nominated a former ruling party MP to the position. The opposition has accused the president of stacking independent commissions through the ruling-party controlled parliament.


19-year-old man stabbed to death in sixth murder in 2015

A 19-year-old victim of an assault in Addu City last night died this morning while undergoing treatment for injuries.

Local media has identified the deceased as Hussain Shiar from the Atheena house in the Hithadhoo ward. He was stabbed in the back and the head.

A police media official said the assault victim passed away around 10:45am. He was being treated at the intensive care unit of the Hithadhoo regional hospital.

The media official said the hospital had reported the assault to police.

No arrests have been made yet. According to local media, Shiar was attacked by masked men who entered his home around 11:00pm last night.

But the police media official said the assault occurred on the street.

In November last year, masked men forcibly entered a home in the Maradhoo ward of Addu City and assaulted a father and son. The incident followed the arrest of a 23-year-old from Maradhoo on suspicion of attacking a 34-year-old with a machete the previous night.

Shiar’s fatal stabbing meanwhile marks the sixth murder this year.

In late March, the police launched a joint security operation with the army following the the murder of a 29-year-old man in Malé.

Police officers and soldiers began patrolling the streets of the capital, checking vehicles, and stopping and searching individuals in an effort to curb gang violence.

A 23-year-old was stabbed to death outside his home in the Henveiru ward of Malé on February 21, whilst a 29-year-old was killed in Laamu Mundoo on March 20.

Two were Bangladeshis also murdered and four expatriates stabbed in a spike in violence against expatriates in March.


Former President Nasheed appeals for clemency

Former President Mohamed Nasheed’s lawyers have appealed to President Abdulla Yameen to reduce the 13-year jail sentence of the opposition leader.

In a letter sent to the president yesterday, lawyer Hassan Latheef noted that the clemency law gives the president the “full power and discretion” to reduce the sentence.

“The president has the discretion, on the president’s own initiative, to commute the sentence of a person convicted of a criminal offence, based on their age, health, treatment they are currently undergoing, their status and circumstance, or from a humanitarian perspective,” reads article 29(c) of the Clemency Act.

President’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali told Minivan News that the office attends to letters in accordance with procedures and declined to comment on whether President Yameen would consider the appeal.

Despite the lapse of a 10-day deadline for filing appeals, the prosecutor general and the government have insisted that Nasheed could still appeal at the High Court. President Yameen has maintained that he does not have constitutional authority to pardon convicts before the appeal process is exhausted.

Nasheed was found guilty of terrorism on March 13 over the military’s detention of criminal court chief judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012. The former president’s conviction drew widespread international criticism over the apparent lack of due process in the 19-day trial.

Latheef contended that Nasheed was denied the right to a fair trial as guaranteed by both domestic law and the Maldives’ obligations under international conventions.

The former human resources minister noted that foreign governments, international human rights organisations, and the UN have condemned the trial.

Amnesty International called the conviction a “travesty of justice” while the UN human rights chief said Nasheed was sentenced after a “hasty and apparently unfair trial” and noted “flagrant irregularities.”

The UN special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers noted “serious due process violations” such as denial of the opportunity to present defence witnesses, which led her to believe “the outcome of the trial may have been pre-determined.”

The European parliament in April adopted a resolution condemning the “serious irregularities” of Nasheed’s terrorism trial while US secretary of state John Kerry said during a visit to Sri Lanka that Nasheed was “imprisoned without due process”.

“This is an injustice that needs to be addressed soon,” he said.

Last week, US senators John McCain and Jack Reed urged their government to press for the release of all political prisoners in the Maldives.


Major criminal cases stalled over failure to summon witnesses

Prosecution in a major drug bust and a murder case was stalled this month because of the state’s failure to summon witnesses.

The criminal court on Monday cancelled a hearing in the trial of two Maldivians arrested in a 24kg heroin bust after witnesses could not be summoned.

On May 26, the court cancelled hearings into the murder of 25-year-old Ahmed Mirza. Chief judge Abdulla Mohamed said the court had issued three warrants to summon a key witness, but police were unable to do so. The judge said the trial could not proceed without the testimony.

Mirza was assaulted with iron rods in April 2011 and died of severe head injuries. The four suspects arrested in the case have been held in police custody since 2011.

Over 30 people have died in the Maldives in the past seven years from violent crimes and gang-related assaults.

The witness in Mirza’s case was brought to court earlier this month.

Some 18 suspects were meanwhile arrested in the drug haul in February 2014, including 11 Pakistanis, and three Bangladeshis, but the prosecutor general’s (PG) office decided to press charges against only two suspects.

The foreigners were all released by the criminal court or deported.

The police said at the time that the 24kg of heroin was “the largest amount of drugs seized in a police operation conducted in the Maldives so far.” The estimated street value of the drugs was US$6.5 million.

Witness protection

The PG office has blamed the witnesses’ reluctance to testify on the state’s failure to protect witnesses.

“In most cases the witnesses are reluctant to give statements because they are so easily identified. And the state is incapable to provide witness protection,” public prosecutor Hisham Wajeeh said.

Hisham said witnesses could also be identified from their testimony.

“It is especially difficult to hide the witnesses because they can be so easily identified from how they give statements in court. For example, a witness may be identified from the angle he saw the murder,” he said.

But the most troubling issue is when the names of witnesses are leaked, he added.

“We guarantee that witnesses will not be identified from us. But it happens. There has to be people responsible for that and it is a big setback for the system,” Hisham said.

The police meanwhile said witnesses are brought to court in accordance with procedure.

“We cannot comment on any specific issues because it involves witnesses,” a police spokesperson said.

In 2011, the criminal court questioned then-public prosecutor Mahaz Ali, now a drug court judge, over the leak of a confidential testimony statement.

Mahaz told the court he saw the statement in the defence lawyer’s possession, and that the document bore the criminal court’s seal.

The case related to four men accused of possessing dangerous weapons.

Flaws in the criminal justice system have been blamed for the lack of convictions for murder. In most cases, suspects were convicted of murder based on confessions.

In some cases, judges are also changed halfway through the trial.

On June 4, the murder case of 16-year-old Mohamed Arham was transferred from judge Muhthaz Fahmy to judge Abdulla Didi.

Arham was stabbed to death in May 2012. The case had nearly reached completion when the judge was changed.

Judge Didi subsequently released one of the four defendants from police custody.

Arham, a grade nine student at the Dharumavantha School, was found dead in the Lorenzo park in Malé on May 30, 2012. He died of multiple stab wounds to the neck, back, and chest.

The trial began in November 2012.

Judge Didi was among the three-judge panel that sentenced former President Mohamed Nasheed and former defence minister Mohamed Nazim to 13 years and 11 years in jail, respectively, following rushed trials widely criticised over apparent lack of due process.

Earlier this month, the criminal court threatened to throw out the case of a man accused of stabbing an individual after the state failed to appoint a lawyer. He was arrested in November 2013.

Meanwhile, the chief suspect in the murder of Mariyam Sheereen in January 2010 was found not guilty in May.

Almost five years after the murder trial began, chief judge Abdulla Mohamed said in the verdict that the state had failed to submit conclusive evidence.


Diplomatic pressure ramps up on Maldives

The Canadian government and the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) have called for international action to secure the release of “political prisoners” in the Maldives.

Canada called on the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) to “urgently put the deteriorating situation in the Maldives on its formal agenda,” while the ACHR called on the the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to adopt a resolution demanding the “unconditional release of all political prisoners” in the Maldives, including former President Mohamed Nasheed and former defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

The ACHR has special consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council and provides information and complaints to national human rights institutions and the United Nations bodies and mechanisms.

The organization also called on the UNHRC to appoint a Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the Maldives and to make a recommendation to the UN General Assembly to suspend the Maldives from the Human Rights Council.

The European parliament in April adopted a resolution condemning the “serious irregularities” of Nasheed’s terrorism trial while US secretary of state John Kerry said during a visit to Sri Lanka that Nasheed was “imprisoned without due process”.

“This is an injustice that needs to be addressed soon,” he said.

Last week, US senators John McCain and Jack Reed urged their government to press for the release of all political prisoners in the Maldives.

Commonwealth values

Canada also called on the Maldivian government to release jailed opposition politicians.

“On June 12, protestors gathered in the Maldives capital, Malé, to call for the release of political prisoners,‎ an independent judiciary, an end to politically motivated charges, and respect for freedom of expression and fundamental democratic values,” Canadian foreign minister Rob Nicholson said in a statement yesterday.

“Canada strongly supports these objectives, which are consistent with Commonwealth values and principles as set out in the Charter of the Commonwealth.”

In March, foreign minister Dunya Maumoon slammed alleged attempts to place the Maldives on the CMAG agenda over Nasheed’s terrorism trial.

Former foreign minister and UN Special Rapporteur on Iran Dr Ahmed Shaheed said Canada’s call shows “that countries in the commonwealth care about the Maldives.”

Suspension from UNHRC

The 29th session of the UNHRC is taking place from June 15 to July 3 in Geneva, Switzerland. The inter-governmental body is comprised of 47 member states and meets for 10 weeks every year, in March, June and September.

The Maldives was first elected to the council in 2010 and re-elected for a second term in November 2013.

The prosecution and imprisonment of political opponents constitute “gross and systematic violations of human rights” as provided under the General Assembly resolution establishing the Human Rights Council and justifies the proposed measures, the ACHR said in a statement yesterday.

As the European parliament has adopted a resolution calling for Nasheed’s release, the ACHR suggested that European Union members on the council should sponsor the resolution.

The foreign ministry said yesterday that the Maldives delegation will focus on “issues of priorities such as women’s rights, children’s rights, climate change, rule of law, among others.”

“Trumped up charges”

The ACHR meanwhile accused President Abdulla Yameen of jailing political opponents under “trumped up charges” to bar rivals from contesting the 2018 presidential election.

“While key democratic leaders have been put behind bars under terrorism charges, President Yameen has taken little or no measures to counter real terrorists: over 200 Maldivians are currently fighting for Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria with at least four of them having died in the fighting,” the ACHR claimed.

The judiciary remains unreformed since the 30-year autocratic reign of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the ACHR continued, and currently serves as the “handmaiden” of President Yameen – “a replica of the rule by the Rajapaksa brothers which ended in neighbouring Sri Lanka in January 2015.”

Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla, Jumhooree Party (JP) deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim, and JP council member Sobah Rasheed have also been charged with terrorism and accused of inciting violence at a mass protest on May 1.

The terrorism charges cast doubt on the government’s sincerity in calling for talks with opposition parties, the ACHR suggested.

The organisation noted that Nasheed’s conviction on terrorism charges in March after a 19-day trial was widely criticised over apparent lack of due process.

Amnesty International called the conviction a “travesty of justice” while the UN human rights chief said Nasheed was sentenced after a “hasty and apparently unfair trial” and noted “flagrant irregularities.”

The UN special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers noted “serious due process violations” such as denial of the opportunity to present defence witnesses, which led her to believe “the outcome of the trial may have been pre-determined.”


Vendors turn Malé’s surf point into trash dump

Vendors have turned Malé’s surf point Raalhugandu into a waste dump after the biannual street market.

The two-week long market ended on June 13, but vendors left plastic, wood, cardboard boxes and pipes at Malé’s water front. The market organizer Maldives National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MNCCI) has not picked up the trash two days after the market ended.

Some 500 stalls were set up for the market.

The dumping of trash at the surf point sparked outrage on Twitter.

The MNCCI’s Vice President Ismail Asif told Raajje TV that the clean-up effort had been slowed by difficulties in transporting and offloading the garbage onto barges that would carry the trash to the dump on Thilafushi island.

The Malé City Council is cleaning up the mess now. Councilor Shamau Shareef appealed to the public to join him in the clean up with “brooms, gloves and garbage bags.”

As the sun set, only migrant workers staff were seen cleaning the area. Much of the garbage has been cleared on the outermost Bodu Thakurufaanu Magu, but adjoining Ameenee Magu is yet to be cleaned.


Mother confesses to abusing murdered three-year-old baby

A mother accused of murdering her three-year-old boy has confessed to killing the child at the first hearing of her trial today.

Afiya Mohamed Manik told the court that she repeatedly abused her son, Mohamed Ibthihaal, and said she felt anger towards the boy because he was born out of wedlock.

In addition to murder, Afiya was also charged with disobedience to order over child abuse and neglect with reference to the law on protecting children’s rights. She appeared for today’s hearing without legal representation and pleaded guilty to the latter charge, but also confessed to the murder.

Ibthihaal died “by my hands,” Afiya was quoted as saying by local media. She confessed to strangling the child and kicking his chest three times.

Judge Muhthaz Fahmy reportedly stopped Afiya and reminded her that she was to answer the disobedience to order charge. The judge and state prosecutor explained the charge to Afiya.

Afiya said she understood the charge and was confessing to abusing her son voluntarily.

The charge carries a penalty of six months in jail.

Reporters at the hearing observed that Afiya appeared calm, but her voice trembled when she spoke of abusing Ibthihaal on the day of his death. She was handcuffed throughout the hearing.

At today’s hearing, the judge offered Afiya the opportunity to appoint a lawyer at the state’s expense and explained the process of seeking a public defender. He did not announce a date for the next hearing.

If she is found guilty of murder, Afiya faces a sentence of life imprisonment. She had reportedly confessed to murder during the police interrogation and her remand hearings.

Ibthihaal’s body was found with signs of severe abuse on January 28 in the worst case of child abuse in recent years. The horrific murder on the island of Rakeedhoo in Vaavu atoll shocked the nation while reports that the authorities had been aware of Ibthihaal’s abuse sparked public outrage.

Afiya was arrested for murder two days later and has since been held in pre-trial detention.

Afiya’s stepfather, Ismail Raoof, was arrested on April 1 on suspicion of physically and sexually abusing Ibthihaal.

In April, Chief Inspector Abdulla Satheeh said negligence by government authorities and the island community on Vaavu Rakeedhoo was partly responsible for the toddler’s murder.

Satheeh said marks on the child’s neck indicated that he had been strangled.

Police also found swelling on the right side of his forehead, scrapes on his face, wounds on his right ear and scars all over his body. Some of his ribs were broken as well.

Satheeh said Ibthihaal’s death was caused by “major injuries” while some older scars remained unhealed.

“Mohamed Ibthihal had received physical and psychological harm from different individuals on different occasions, for a long period of time,” he said.


JP spokesperson ‘unlawfully leased’ island to ex-minister

The opposition Jumhooree Party spokesperson Ali Solih has been accused of unlawfully leasing an island to a company owned by a cabinet minister during his tenure as the minister of state for fisheries and agriculture.

The anti-corruption watchdog said Solih had leased an uninhabited island in Shaviyani Atoll to a company owned by then-minister of health Mariyam Shakeela.

The constitution bars cabinet ministers from actively engaging in a business, buying or leasing any state property or from having financial interests between the state and another party.

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), in a report released today, said Solih had abused his authority in leasing the island to Shakeela’s company.

Solih was appointed to the fisheries ministry by former president Dr Mohamed Waheed in 2012.

The ACC said Solih had not consulted the fisheries ministry’s legal department in signing a contract. The department had informed Solih the transaction was illegal in a memo, but he told the ACC he was not aware that a memo had been issued.

Solih did not cancel the contract even when he found out the company belonged to the health minister, but considered transferring the contract to a new company, the ACC said.

The managing director of the new company was a shareholder in the company the island was first leased to, the ACC said. The act constituted abuse of authority to confer undue advantages and if convicted, is punishable with three years in jail, house arrest or banishment.

President Abdulla Yameen appointed Shakeela as health minister, but she lost her cabinet portfolio when pro-government MPs rejected her nomination in a cabinet shuffle in August.

It is not yet clear if the ACC will seek to prosecute Shakeela for continuing to hold shares in a company as health minister.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Solih said he was not aware whether a cabinet minister held shares in the company the island was leased to.

“It was not my responsibility to find out who owned shares in the company, but as soon as I found out that this contravened with the law, I asked the legal department to look into it,” he said.

“This is the government’s method of intimidating people who are working against their tyrannical regime,” he added.

The JP had split from the ruling coalition in January citing authoritarianism. Senior members of the party have launched an anti government campaign along with the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party and the Adhaalath Party.

Two senior JP officials are now facing prosecution on criminal charges. JP deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim and JP council member Sobah Rasheed have been charged with terrorism for allegedly inciting violence during an anti-government demonstration on May Day.

The charges under the 1990 Anti-Terrorism Act carry a sentence of between 10 to 15 years in prison.

The pair are abroad at present. Sobah said he is seeking political asylum.

JP leader Gasim Ibrahim has been in Bangkok since late April. The tax authority in May froze Gasim’s Villa Group’s accounts claiming the company owed the government US$90.4million in unpaid rent, fees and fines.

Gasim insists the claim is unlawful and is contesting it at the civil court.



Verdict in ‘airport protest’ delayed to August 6

The criminal court has postponed the sentencing of 15 opposition supporters accused of protesting at the main international airport to August 6.

A sentence was expected on June 14, but the court delayed the hearing after presiding judge Sujau Usman was promoted to the High Court last week.

If the sitting judge in a case leaves the court, the case is immediately referred to the Chief Judge, who then has to allocate another judge to oversee the case.

“We still don’t know if a new judge has been allocated to the case. Even then, the new judge cannot immediately issue the sentence. He has to hear the case again,” said lawyer Nazim Sattar.

Some 14 women and one man are being charged with disobedience to order, after they were arrested carrying posters of imprisoned ex-president Mohamed Nasheed at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport in March.

The 15 belong to the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

The Freedom of Assembly Act prohibits protests at airports and carries a MVR150 (US$10) fine, or six months in jail, house arrest or banishment.

Nazim contends the group’s actions do not constitute a protest.

“State witnesses include testimonies from the police officers who arrested the individuals. How can that be used to prove they were protesting?” Nazim questioned.

Malé City deputy mayor Shifa Mohamed and MDP women’s wing vice president Shaneez “Thanie” Saeed are among the defendants.

The criminal court had previously conditioned the group’s release from remand detention on avoiding protests. The High Court later said the court’s conditions are unconstitutional.

Shifa has previously accused the criminal court of misconduct and bias in the treatment of those arrested at protests, and said that the individuals are being punished for the same crime twice with the 60 day protest ban.

Judge Usman sat on the three-judge panel that sentenced ex-president Nasheed to 13 years in jail on terrorism charges. The trial was widely criticised for apparent lack of due process.