Legal action will be taken against media organisations or journalists who disseminate false or inauthentic information concerning the judiciary, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain has warned.
Speaking at a swearing-in ceremony yesterday (October 27) for seven new judges to the superior courts, the Chief Justice warned of measures against those who report “invalid information, if it relates to courts or judges.”
“Citizens need valid information. Freedom of expression means expressing valid or authentic information. Whether it is information relating to individuals or state institutions, the information conveyed should be valid, there should be no error or deceit in the information,” he said.
“If the court is held in contempt, action will be taken,” he asserted. “I will not allow the court to be [held in] contempt through deception. If the court is [held in] contempt, I will do what I can within the bounds of the law,” Faiz added.
The Chief Justice’s remarks came after the Supreme Court last week ordered police to investigate opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV for airing a report on October 19 criticising the judiciary.
Raajje TV News Department Head Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed was summoned to the police headquarters last night concerning the investigation of the report, which raised issues surrounding the leaked sex tape of Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed.
Following the police interrogation, Asward told local media that he was accused of contempt of court over the Raajje TV report criticising the apex court.
Asward said he exercised the right to remain silent in protest of the police taking over the mandate of the Maldives Media Council (MMC) and the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) – the institutions legally empowered to investigate complaints regarding the content of media outlets.
Both the MCC and MBC have expressed concern with the court ordered investigation of Raajje TV, contending that it threatens press freedom and encroaches on the mandate of the media watchdog bodies.
Appealing to the apex court to withdraw the order to investigate, Mohamed Shaheeb from the MBC told local media yesterday that he was informed by Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz that the police were obliged to obey the Supreme Court’s order.
Following an arson attack that destroyed the headquarters of Raajje TV on October 7, Reporters Without Borders criticised the police’s failure to defend the station despite repeated requests for protection.
Faiz meanwhile contended that altering the composition of the 10-member Judicial Service Commission (JSC) – consisting of three representatives each from the executive, legislature and judiciary as well as a lawyer elected by licensed practitioners – was necessary to strengthen the judiciary.
In a comprehensive report on the Maldivian judiciary released in May, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Lawyers and Judges, Gabriela Knaul, stated that there was near unanimous consensus during her visit that the composition of the JSC was “inadequate and politicised.”
“Because of this politicisation, the commission has allegedly been subjected to all sorts of external influence and has consequently been unable to function properly,” said Knaul.
While the composition of the JSC in the Maldivian constitution was based on the South African model, Faiz said in his speech yesterday that he was told by a retired South African judge that the model had “failed” in his country.
“A lot of people believe that every fault of the JSC is reflected in the judiciary,” Faiz said, adding that proper functioning of the oversight body would benefit the judiciary.
The JSC should work together with the courts following extensive consultation to implement changes to strengthen the judiciary, Faiz suggested.
The JSC should also expedite investigations of complaints concerning judges and “free” them from the allegations to ensure public confidence in the “integrity of judges,” he said.
“If not, the issues we are facing now, what is being said [about the judiciary] now will continue in the same vein,” Faiz said.
However, he added, criticism of the judiciary or “a complaint against a judge” does not warrant disregarding court judgments.
“If the decisions of the courthouse are not enforced, rule of law will not be maintained in this country. The courthouse has been entrusted with upholding rule of law. So the decisions of courts should be and will be enforced in this country,” Faiz asserted.
Under no circumstances could the enforcement of a court decision be delayed or ignored, he stressed.
Faiz revealed that he had spoken to the speaker of parliament regarding a recent Supreme Court judgment, referring to the apex court disqualifying two MPs over an alleged decreed debt.
“I told him that the Supreme Court’s decision must be enforced. There is no question about it. Who will determine if the Supreme Court’s decision is legitimate? Who will determine if the Supreme Court decision was made in accordance with the procedures? It will still be determined by the Supreme Court,” Faiz said.