The ambitious journey towards a modern liberal democracy that we, the people of the Maldives, embarked upon has now come to a crossroads. With the ratification of a landmark constitution in August 2008, that enshrined broad civil and political rights to its people, hopes of moving on from decades of oppression towards a free and fair society remained on course.
However, the chronicles of Maldivian efforts to sustain democracy have yet again proven to the world that democracy does not happen overnight; exactly as former President Mohamed Nasheed said – that dictatorships don’t die with the routing of a dictator.
The first few steps we as a nation took towards democracy were led by Nasheed, a determined human rights and political activist, who had been repeatedly put behind bars for his dissent towards oppressors.
Nasheed backed by the country’s first established political party, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), won the country’s first free and fair multiparty presidential elections in 2008, putting an end to the tyranny of a 30 year long autocracy.
Five years later, it is daunting to note that the nation’s first democratically elected president is being tried in a court with hand-picked judges by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) – whose composition includes his key political rivals – for his desperate attempts to see through the much anticipated democratic transition.
What came forth after the usurpation of Nasheed’s democratically elected government was a practical narrative of what Gene Sharp had described in his book, From Dictatorship to Democracy: A conceptual framework for liberation.
“The collapse of an oppressive regime will be seen by some persons and groups as merely the opportunity for them to step in as the new masters,” he wrote. “Their motives may vary, but the results are often approximately the same. The new dictatorship may even be more cruel and total in its control than the old one,”
When Nasheed ascended to power, it became clear that the task of consolidating a democracy was more critical and difficult than toppling a dictator. President Gayoom was defeated in an election, but the roots of his dictatorship had taken hold within key state institutions, including the country’s judicial system.
The sustenance of certain corrupt judges within the judiciary, in the end, paved the way for the perfect opportunity to successfully oust Nasheed through a ‘judicially-endorsed’ coup, and in the long run, could deliver a verdict that would bring an end to Nasheed’s political career.
The globally renowned ‘Island President’ is being tried for the military detention of Chief Judge of Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed.
Judge Abdulla is well known within Maldivian society for his nefarious conduct within the court room, including ordering a victim of child abuse to reenact the perversions of her abuser in front of both the perpetrator and numerous onlookers in the court room.
In another instance, the judge released a criminal who went on to murder a witness to his alleged crimes, despite repeated pleading from the police to not do so. The judge declared it was way to hold Nasheed’s Health Minister accountable.
Other astounding decisions made by this judge during his career include acquittal of several drug lords, a ruling in which he made himself the sole authority in issuing arrest warrants, and numerous favors granted to political rivals of Nasheed’s administration.
Nasheed and his government were finally forced to do something about the judge, in a desperate extra-constitutional maneuver by a Head of State to retrieve his country’s failing criminal justice system from a position of limbo.
The arrest sparked much controversy, as Nasheed’s political opponents quickly declared that he had undermined the law. Interestingly, they never saw the need to raise concern over the rights of the abused 13 year old in the judge’s courtroom, or the murdered Afshan Basheer.
Having had lost the parliamentary elections in 2009 to sympathisers of the old dictatorship, who were willing to go to any length in order to defend the old guard, recourse through the country’s legislature proved fruitless.
Nasheed’s subsequent decision to take out the judge can be deemed as a practical application of the doctrine of necessity.
Such decisions, when extra-legal actions are invoked by state actors to restore order during a constitutional deadlock, have been found to be constitutional elsewhere – first adopted in the case of Federation of Pakistan and Others v Maulvi Tamizuddin Khan  PLD FC 240, and later applied in the cases of Madzimbamuto v Lardner–Burke  3 WLR 1229 and Qarase v Bainimarama  Fiji Court of Appeal.
However, Nasheed’s decision had dire repercussions, and he was ousted on February 7, 2012 by a mutinying police and military.
His Vice President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik – a perfect example of the tortoise who believed that he had won the marathon against the hare in a fair contest – took over power with Gayoom’s blessing.
Today, the former President is facing charges for taking on the notorious judge – charges which appear to have been fashioned to exclude him from contesting the scheduled presidential elections on September 7.
Nasheed recently sought refuge in the Indian High Commission in the Maldives to ensure his safety. During his time in India’s mission, there were rumours his trial was to proceed in absentia, grossly disregarding the principles of natural justice and the right to a fair hearing.
Meanwhile, Judge Abdulla continues to sit on the Criminal Court bench having his way with the country’s criminal justice system. The state’s judicial watchdog, the JSC – which is constitutionally mandated to hold the judiciary accountable – remains ignorant and grossly negligent in probing the contemptuous misconduct of this despicable judge.
The million dollar question was, and is – why has this judge not been held accountable for his misconduct? Perhaps the most obvious, and depressing, answer is that the delivery of justice in the Maldives is failing bitterly.
The so called independent judiciary has failed to maintain its impartiality and the confidence of the public. The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), the United Nations, the Commonwealth, several judicial experts – including Professor Paul H. Robinson – and now the UN Special Rapporteur on the judicial independence have attested to this fact. Yet, no efforts are being made to reform the judiciary.
Without justice, talk of democracy is meaningless.
As put by Lord Denning – “Justice must be rooted in confidence and confidence is destroyed when right-minded people go away thinking that ‘the judge was biased’.”
In the Maldivian context, justice is rooted in one’s capacity to funnel ‘monetary-favors’ to the appropriate source, and to embrace Gayoom and his lingering culture of oppression.
Right-minded Maldivian people have lost all of their confidence towards the current judiciary. They have long since walked away from the courts, not only rendering moot their confidence (or lack thereof) in the judiciary, but also the confidence they had in the country’s entire justice system.
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