Comment: Imprisoning of former president casts doubt on judiciary

This article first appeared in The Times on March 19. 

The Maldives’ tourist board continues to beam its slogan “the sunny side of life” through calls to boycott the islands over the recent 13 years’ imprisonment of former President Mohamed Nasheed, the first democratically elected President. Richard Branson tweeted that this latest action by those in power had gone “beyond a joke”. A joke legal system is not funny.

Educated in the UK, Mr. Nasheed’s stated and largely executed aims are introducing and enforcing fundamental rights in compliance with international law. He was attempting to drive the Maldives into a democratic structure after the 30-year dictatorship of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. The current Constitution was enacted on 7 August 2008, the State’s first ever multi-party presidential elections with international pre-requisite rights took place between October 2008 and 9th May 2009.

On 5th February 2011 the Maldives held its first ever multi-party local elections as required under the Constitution and newly enacted Decentralization Act. In 2009 former President Nasheed addressed issues of press freedom so as to raise the Maldives out of a ranking of 129 out of 169 countries to 51/52. He became a global leader against climate change and his charisma on the world stage led to David Cameron, in an interview in November 2011, describing him as “my new best friend”.

The former President also made unpopular attempts at judicial reform including entrenching judicial independence in the Constitution. Many Judges in the Maldives are poorly educated with no legal training, including those who ultimately tried and convicted the former President. In a preliminary statement, following hearings in 2012, the UN Human Rights Committee stated that it is “deeply concerned about the state of the judiciary in the Maldives” and “the state has admitted that this body’s independence is seriously compromised.

Mohamed Nasheed lost power on 7 February 2012 in an alleged coup. In April 2013, the former President was charged with abusing his powers through the unlawful arrest and island detention of Chief Judge Mohamed Abdulla on 17 January 2012. This charge was withdrawn on 16th February 2015 but then in a surprise move, re-emerged on 22nd February 2015, based on the same allegation, as a terrorism charge.

The Former President was taken from his home on that date and detained in Dhoonidho prison, an institution with inglorious association with torture.

The accusation of the detention of a Judge is a serious matter but the underlying narrative cannot be ignored. In early 2012, the former President was fighting to hold power and stability. The Maldives was aflame with language of incitement against the former President and his reforms. There were even calls to arrest and flog the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay after she had suggested in Parliament that punishment by flogging should be reviewed (in line with the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights). The Maldives Parliamentary Select Committee subsequently found the President to have been under life or death pressures. During the UN Human Rights Committee’s session in 2012 a panel member noted the “troubling role of the judiciary at the centre” of the disputed free transfer of power on February 7th 2012.

Whilst an action of unlawful detention against a Judge cannot be ignored, context and public interest also should not be ignored when exercising the discretion to prosecute. Alternatives such as an Independent Public Inquiry could have been considered.

The former President’s trial proceeded over 19 days, often late at night. Two of the Judges also were witnesses in the case. They refused to recuse themselves. The defence was refused the right to call witnesses in its own defence. Judge Didi referred to the former President needing to prove his innocence rather than there being a presumption of innocence. On the 9th March 2015 the defence lawyers withdrew from the case after repeatedly having been refused time to prepare.

On the 13th March 2015 the Former President stood alone as he was convicted and sentenced to the near maximum term of imprisonment.

But whilst the circus court is dismantled after its recent performance, it is democracy opponents that are cheering the loudest.

Kirsty Brimelow QC is a barrister with London’s Doughty Street Chambers. She has represented the Chief Justice of Trinidad and Tobago and the Chief Justice of Gibraltar, and currently is acting for the former President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed. 

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11 thoughts on “Comment: Imprisoning of former president casts doubt on judiciary”

  1. The Lady QC Mrs BrimeLow notes Mr. Nasheed is 'educated in the UK' ... but the 'Judges in the Maldives are poorly educated with no legal training'

    The QC obviously believes UK has a) best education system b) best legal system c) everyone should be the UK

    She is probably right. Maldivians are trying and trying to do it...but it has only brought chaos.

    There must be a solution without Maldives be a part of the UK. One hopes...

  2. All these rhetoric by the international community has proved just useless. Stop talking if you don't have the will to force the Gangs that rule Maldives to comply with the conventions and charters they have signed to uphold. It is the belief of the leaders in the ruling hang that they can buy anybody except may be Richard Brenson, for less than half a million dollars. They boast of doing it during the CONI times. This ruling Gang in Maldives have snubbed the powerful nations in the world more than Al Qaida and ISIS without any real power behind it and only with the help of criminal judges who should have been shot dead for violating the rights of the law abiding citizens and protecting drug dealers, murderers and embezzlers by taking huge bribes as well as being partners in violent crimes. Imagine one Supreme Court judge who was caught red handed engaging in sexual acts while consuming liqueur. judge Ali Hameed being appointed to be the Chairman of the JSC , does not that act just telling the whole world to go to hell? So either impose sanctions on these unscrupulous leaders and judges or just shut up and let Maldives become another Zimbabwe under Mugabe. We will remember President Nasheed as our Mandela and Presid nt Yamin as the Mugame of South Asia.

  3. Keep your opinions but don't make up your own facts.
    1.Judicial independence is entrenched in the Maldives Constitution-Nasheed had nothing to do with it.
    2. The judges need not recuse themselves if they are not material witnesses. No were they ever called up as witnesses by either the prosecution or defense.
    3."Judge Didi referred to the former President needing to prove his innocence rather than there being a presumption of innocence" To the best of my knowledge, the public prosecutor tweeted a message which could be interpreted as such. To attribute this tweet to Judge Didi is a gross and blatant twisting of the facts.

    It is possible you are being paid big money to represent Mr. Nasheed, but don't sacrifice your credibility

  4. After reading this article, it looks like that in this country, only one man is educated and one man has a brian and rest are bunch of useless monkeys .

    But this country have lot of educated people and many of them are western educated and some are from asian countries and some from middle east and cast of the people who are holding PHD and Masters are from Australia, UK , Swiss and America.

    But the guy in question does not have even a master degree and got first degree from college in UK and barely passed and yet claim the master of everything.

    The guy in question is the most corrupt and brutal person in this country and we have had experience of his brutality for 3 years .

    The guy in question use "democracy " as a tool to promote his personal agenda .

    The guy in question use "democracy" to rob the country and sell our sovereign rights to foreign country.

    The guy in question got the one one and only opportunity that in then recent past had opened to reform the judiciary . But the guy chose to politicize the Judiciary by appointing JSC member in 2010 from political parties instead of appointing the members based on merits.

    Out of 7 members that was appointed in supreme court bench, then guy in question appointed 3 of his boys in the bench.

    People of Maldives elected the guy in question as the President , because people were sick of Gayoom. But that does not mean that the guy has the ultimate authority to do what ever he want and he has the right to follow the same steps as Gayyoom under the new constitution where the guy was elected .

  5. The article above is a great disappointment to me. We know who wrote it, but we do not know for whom it is written.

    I do not think it will impress Maldivians. It does not impress our commentator Hero. It does not impress me either.

    Consequently, it is of no use to Mohamed Nasheed for whose benefit the article is written.

  6. The most uncorrupt and most innocent man in Maldives is seen as something else is proof of the regime's blindness and an insult to the leaders of the International community and leaders who have praised him for his leadership in bringing democracy to Maldives

  7. You can get a PhD from the Middle East if you can withstand the heat and sand storms! There's not much else to it. What has the Middle East contributed to science in the last 500 years? Nada!

    The one undeniable fact is that there is hardly anyone working in the Maldivian judiciary who has a sound education in anything (never mind the legal landscape)! You might as well pick some random chimpanzees from a zoo and let them run the courts. The effect will be the same.

    Oh, yes it is true that the independence of the Maldivian Judiciary is enshrined in our Constitution. That's as far as it goes, i.e. "enshrined" in the pages of the Constitution. There is nothing independent about how the judiciary operates! Far from it.

  8. Thanks for the article. However, we've read so many of them. When will something be done to correct all this and restore decent standards to the Maldives?

    The Gayoom family think that they can get away with anything, with the World unwilling to act. And so, are we going to allow Mohamed Nasheed, one of the most idealistic leaders that we have anywhere today, to languish in jail? More important than his fate, are we going to do nothing about Justice in that society?

    The more compelling reason for the powerful to act may be that if the Gayooms are allowed to get away with this, we will have Islamic Fundamentalism to gain a foothold in our region.

    The reasons to act are many; please governments in the area, and the United Nations, DO something!

  9. "Islamic Fundamentalism" Yes this is most hot topic in the world now. So Nasheed and his Gangs should use the language in order to get the attention.

    We have political fundamentalist in this country who will do anything to gain power . Nasheed is his Gangs will do anything for the sake of grabbing the power.

    Nasheed is the man who is behind all violence and use his democratic hat to do all dirty works.

    Nasheed is the man who is empowering extreme faction to exercise thier rights to perform fridays preys in isolation ?

    But when Nasheed empower such things, it become part of democracy and human rights.

    We are also part of the nation and we also have the right to express our feelings and we also have the rights same as Nasheed thugs.

    We will not give up juts because the intolerance of Nasheed and his Gangs .

    We will not give up just because we refuse to accept Nasheed as supreme leader of the nation.

  10. Yes I don’t see who benefit from this article. It’s all mostly repetition from previous articles as
    Correct stated from other commentators
    To get some order and put what’s done is done behind, the supporters should concentrate on trying to get the previous presidents 13 years sentence changed to 13 years banishments out of Maldives. Its more fair and easier to accept by most supporters. Then the opposition should try to find another leader, have meetings and elections in democratic manners. When they find the right man, keep him well secured with surveillance cameras around his house.
    Have normal party meetings for supporters and people that want to now the party’s politics,
    With other words start to prepare for the next Presidential election in three years.

  11. Hero and his ilk are a hypocritical, yet funny bunch.

    Nasheed helped muslim imams who were being oppressed for daring to speak against Maumoon's decadence.

    These muslim imams then were hijacked by a bunch of mullahs who claimed Nasheed was laadheenee and helped bring down the government.

    Now Hero and his ilk blame Nasheed for 'religious extremism', now that the 'dheenattakaa gaumattaka' have served their use and are in the process of being disposed of.


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