An audio clip of President Mohamed Nasheed vowing to ensure a fair judiciary before the 2013 presidential election has been leaked to local media.
The audio was reportedly one of several recorded during a meeting with the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF).
“Freedom of expression and an independent and fair judiciary in this country – I will not go for the election after these five years without doing these two things,” Nasheed is heard to say.
He added that according to Home Minister Hassan Afeef, “the entire criminal justice system of this country is being destroyed because of a single judge.”
Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed, who was detained on January 16 by the MNDF after he sought a High Court injunction to prevent a police summons, “will not retain his place on the bench under this government even if he is released [from Girifushi].”
“I will tell the army very clearly that [Abdulla Mohamed] will not get closer than 100 meters to the courthouse,” Nasheed said.
In another leaked clip, Nasheed argues that judges were not appointed lawfully and their verdicts and judgments were therefore suspect.
Several local media outlets reported Nasheed’s comments as a threat from the President not to hold elections unless the judiciary was reformed.
President Nasheed’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair was not responding to calls at time of press.
“The opposition is twisting what the President said,” responded a source in the President’s Office. “He was promising to reform the judiciary before the conclusion of his first term in office – he has no intention of calling off any elections.”
The Maldives is currently in the throes of a judicial crisis, after Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed scuttled an investigation by the judicial watchdog into his alleged misconduct by applying for a Civil Court injunction to halt the process. The Judicial Services Commission (JSC) yesterday argued in parliament that it had no option but to obey the ruling of a body it was tasked with overseeing.
That investigation concerned politically bias comments made on DhiTV, which an unreleased JSC report states violated the judge’s Code of Conduct.
The government has presented a bevy of allegations against the judge, listing 14 cases of obstruction of police duty including withholding warrants for up to four days, ordering police to conduct unlawful investigations and disregarding decisions by higher courts, “deliberately” holding up cases involving opposition figures, barring media from corruption trials, ordering the release of suspects detained for serious crimes “without a single hearing”, and maintaining “suspicious ties” with family members of convicts sentenced for dangerous crimes.
The judge also released a murder suspect “in the name of holding ministers accountable”, who went on to kill another victim.
Earlier allegations, forwarded to former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in 2005 by then Attorney General Dr Hassan Saeed, included allegations of misogyny, sexual deviancy, and throwing out an assault case despite the confession of the accused.
In one instance, Dr Saeed told Gayoom, the Chief Judge made two underage victims of sexual assault act out the assault “in the presence of the perpetrator and the rest of the court.”
The judge remains in detention and the government is appealing to the international community for independent and authoritative legal assistance to resolve the impasse and reform the judiciary. Meanwhile, opposition supporters have held two weeks of nightly protests calling for the judge’s release.
No organisation has yet stepped forward, however a UN spokesperson from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights over the weekend encouraged the government to “release the judge from custody or charge him with a crime.”
The matter has also been raised in the UK Parliament’s House of Commons by Conservative Party MP for Salisbury, John Glen.
“Although the judiciary is constitutionally independent, sitting judges are underqualified, often corrupt and hostile to the democratically elected regime,” Glen stated.
Leader of the House of Commons, George Young, responded that Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Alistair Burt, was “in touch with the Maldives President to see whether we can resolve the impasse. The high commission in Colombo is also engaged. We want to help the Maldives to make progress towards democratic reform in the direction that John Glen outlines.”