Additional reporting Daniel Bosley, Mariyath Mohamed and Mohamed Naahii.
Former President Mohamed Nasheed departed Male’ today to participate in his party’s ‘Vaudhuge Dhathuru’ (Journey of Pledges) campaign in the southern atolls, defying a court order that he remain in the capital.
Nasheed’s departure contravenes an order from the Hulhumale Magistrate Court last week that Nasheed be confined to Male’ ahead of his court trial, which was to be conducted at 4:00pm today.
Journalists in the courtroom were required to undergo heavy security screening and were stripped of mobile phones, recording equipment and notepads. However, 20 minutes later a court official stated that the hearing was cancelled as the defendant and his lawyers had failed to appear. A new date was not set.
Nasheed meanwhile held a rally from atop a yellow flagged dhoni in front of 500 demonstrators near the petrol jetty in the south of Male’, before departing with five vessels and hundreds of supporters. Minivan News observed no police presence in the area.
“Once they started to set up a fabricated court, bring in judges who are not judges of that court, and the whole structure of it is so… politically motivated, it is very obvious it is not meant to serve justice,” Nasheed told the BBC.
“We intend to find out in this trip to what extent we were able to fulfil our pledges during this party’s period in government,” Nasheed told his supporters. “This is a journey of pledges. This is a journey for justice. This is a journey where we become one with the citizens.”
The party and its senior leadership will visit over 30 islands during the 14 day trip, taking in the atolls of Gaafu Alif, Gaafu Dhaalu, Fuvahmulah and Addu.
Meanwhile, the court hearing was to be the first in the case concerning Nasheed’s detention of Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, Abdulla Mohamed, while in office.
Nasheed also faces charges of defaming Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz and Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim as “traitors”, following February 7’s controversial transfer of power. The first hearing in Riyaz’s case has been postponed indefinitely.
Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has expressed deep concern over the legality of the court’s procedures regarding the trials, which it contends are a politically-motivated attempt to convict the former president and prevent him from running in future Presidential elections.
Following the court-ordered travel ban on Nasheed ahead of the party’s southern atoll election campaign, the MDP announced that it would no longer recognise the authority of the courts in the Maldives until changes proposed by international entities were brought to the judicial system.
“This all looks very ‘Myanmar’ – using the courts and administrative manipulation to restrict political party activity,” said MDP MP and Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor at the time.
“While President Waheed was lobbying the Commonwealth to remove the Maldives from its human rights watch-list, his regime had detained the leader of the opposition.”
The concerns were echoed by Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird, a member of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) who recently downgraded the Maldivesfrom its formal agenda to a ‘matter of interest’.
“Canada is deeply troubled by the reported September 25 travel ban of former President Nasheed in Malé,” said Baird.
“The recently adopted Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) report has raised substantial concerns about the independence of the judiciary. That too causes Canada grave concern as we strive to assure independent open elections in the Maldives,” he added.
“President Waheed offered no substantial defence of these questions, which is a telling response in itself,” said Baird. “Canada finds the declining state of democratic values in the Maldives alarming and deeply troubling.”
The court has maintained that the travel restriction is normal procedure for defendants ahead of court trials.
Nasheed’s controversial decision to detain Judge Abdulla in January 2012 followed the judge’s repeated release of former Justice Minister – and current Home Minister – Dr Mohamed Jameel, in December 2011, whom the government had accused of inciting religious hatred over the publication of his party’s pamphlet, ‘President Nasheed’s devious plot to destroy the Islamic faith of Maldivians’.
Nasheed’s government further accused the judge of political bias, obstructing police, stalling cases, having links with organised crime and “taking the entire criminal justice system in his fist” so as to protect key figures of the former dictatorship from human rights and corruption cases, among other allegations.
Nasheed justified the judge’s arrest based on his constitutional mandate to protect the constitution. Judge Abdulla had in September 2011 received an injunction from the Civil Court preventing his investigation by the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), the watchdog tasked with overseeing the judiciary, which complied with the ruling.
Parliament’s Independent Commissions Committee, the body mandated with holding the judicial watchdog accountable, took no interest in the matter.
The then-opposition began nightly protests over the judge’s detention, while the government sought assistance from the UN and Commonwealth for urgent judicial reform.
However, Nasheed resigned on February 7 amid a police and military mutiny the day after the Commonwealth team arrived.
Judge Abdulla was released, and the Criminal Court issued a warrant for Nasheed’s arrest. The warrant was not acted upon.
Former Defence Minister Tholhath, former Chief of Defence Force Major General Moosa Ali Jaleel, Brigadier Ibrahim Mohamed Didi and Colonel Mohamed Ziyad are also facing charges for their role in detaining Judge Abdulla in January 2012.
The charges include a breach of article 81 of the Penal Code: “Arresting an innocent person intentionally and unlawfully by a state employee with the legal authority or power vested to him by his position is an offence. Punishment for a person guilty of this offence is imprisonment or banishment for 3 years or a fine of MVR 2000 (US$129.70).”
“The full story”
Former President’s Member on the JSC, Aishath Velezinee, has written a book extensively documenting the watchdog body’s undermining of judicial independence, and complicity in sabotaging the separation of powers.
Over 80 pages, backed up with documents, evidence and letters, The Failed Silent Coup: in Defeat They Reached for the Gun recounts the experience of the outspoken whistleblower as she attempted to stop the commission from re-appointing unqualified and ethically-suspect judges loyal to former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, after it dismissed the professional and ethical standards demanded by Article 285 of the constitution as “symbolic”.
That moment at the conclusion of the constitutional interim period marked the collapse of the new constitution and resulted in the appointment of a illegitimate judiciary, Velezinee contends, and set in motion a chain of events that ultimately led to President Mohamed Nasheed’s arrest of Abdulla Mohamed two years later.
According to Velezinee, “the assumption that Abdulla Mohamed is a constitutionally appointed judge is based on a false premise, a political creation [which] ignores all evidence refuting this.”
“Judge Abdulla Mohamed is at the centre of this story. I believe it is the State’s duty to remove him from the judiciary. He may have the legal knowledge required of a judge; but, as the State knows full well, he has failed to reach the ethical standards equally essential for a seat on the bench.
“A judge without ethics is a judge open to influence. Such a figure on the bench obstructs justice, and taints the judiciary. These are the reasons why the Constitution links a judge’s professional qualifications with his or her moral standards,” she wrote.
“There is no legal way in which the Civil Court can rule that the Judicial Service Commission cannot take action against Abdulla Mohamed. This decision says judges are above even the Constitution. Where, with what protection, does that leave the people?” Velezinee asked.
“The Judicial Service Commission bears the responsibility for removing Abdulla Mohamed from the bench. Stories about him have circulated in the media and among the general public since 2009, but the Commission took no notice. It was blind to Abdulla Mohamed’s frequent forays outside of the ethical standards required of a judge. It ignored his politically charged rulings and media appearances.
“Abdulla Mohamed is a man who had a criminal conviction even when he was first appointed to the bench during President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s time. Several complaints of alleged judicial misconduct are pending against him. The Judicial Service Commission has ignored them all. What it did, instead, is grant him tenure – a lifetime on the bench for a man such as Abdulla Mohamed. In doing so, the Judicial Service Commission clearly failed to carry out its constitutional responsibilities. It violated the Constitution and rendered it powerless.”