Contempt of court charges against opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Imthiyaz ‘Inthi’ Fahmy are invalid, the Criminal Court has declared today.
The Maafannu North MP was charged last year with “disobedience to order” under the ‘Protection of the sanctity of the courts regulation’.
The charges related to comments criticising the Supreme Court on the Raajje TV talkshow ‘Fala Suruhee’ (‘Headlines’).
“Now no one can be charged under this invalid regulation,” Inthi told Minivan News today, adding that there was now no basis to declare contempt of court outside courtrooms a criminal offence.
Today’s Criminal Court ruling came in response to procedural points raised by Fahmy regarding the validity of the regulations cited.
In October 2011, the People’s Majlis excluded this regulation, which precedes the new democratic constitution, from the General Regulations Act – the parent legislation for regulations without a statutory basis.
Within days of the Majlis’ decision, the Supreme Court declared that the regulation should still be enforced temporarily.
In the procedural points raised at the court, Fahmy stated that the regulation remains invalid and that a criminal offence can only be declared through legislation passed by the parliament.
The ruling issued today by Judge Ahmed Sameer Abdul Aziz on Fahmy’s procedural points stated that the regulation’s exclusion from the General Regulations Act made them invalid.
Aziz concurred that the power to create legislation is vested in the People’s Majlis “without any debate, and absolutely”.
The ruling came short of declaring the sanctity of the courts regulation invalid, however, stating that “the legal basis of this regulation cannot be questioned in this [Criminal] court” as it was created by a superior court.
Highlighting that the regulation has not been published as required by Article 61 (b) of the constitution, the ruling declared that criminal charges cannot be pressed as this would undermine a fundamental right of citizens.
Suggesting that the courts can still take administrative action under the regulation, the case was ordered to be returned to the Prosecutor General’s Office.
Criticism of the judiciary
Speaking to Minivan News today, Inthi described the ruling as a victory in the fight for justice,
He noted that the regulation was invalid as, though the Supreme Court can annul a law passed by the parliament, it can never bring back legislation killed by the parliament.
In another contempt of court case last March, the Supreme Court issued a verdict removing Elections Commission (EC) President Fuwad Thowfeek and Vice President Ahmed Fayaz from their posts, and sentencing Fuwad Thowfeek to six months imprisonment.
The pair were charged for commenting on the court’s rulings in the media and for answering questions posed by a parliamentary committee.
The EC members were prosecuted under the court’s ‘Suo Moto‘ regulations, which allows the apex court to initiate hearings and to act as both plaintiff and judge in a trial.
At the time of the case, MP Inthi described the verdict as “unconstitutional”, calling it “ judicial shamelessness”. He maintained that there was no law which outlaws the criticism of courts outside of court hearings.
“I will act as a shield to ensure the attempts to cover the mouths of Maldivians citizens with plaster does not become widespread. The result of this [ruling] is that such charges will not be pressed against journalists or any citizen under this invalid regulation,” he said today.
Additionally, Inthi noted that he was discriminated against at the court today, saying that while both himself and MP Ahmed ‘Sun’ Shiyam were summoned to the court at the same time today, they received different treatment.
“We are both members of the parliament, but he entered the court through the judges’ gate and waited at the VIP area of the court.”
“I was with other people, some of them handcuffed. I was there for criticising the judiciary and he is being charged with possession of alcohol,” said Inthi, stating that this was a clear reflection of the status of the judiciary in the Maldives.
Preferential treatment for Shiyam was also reported by local media at the first hearing in his trial.