Opposition protests continued on the streets of Male’ on Saturday night, while parliament’s National Security Committee (NSC) meeting to resolve the political instability was dismissed abruptly after heated arguments broke out between opposition and ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) parliamentarians.
Opposition protests have continued every night since January 16, after the Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed was arrested by military forces and detained at a training facility in Kaafu Atoll Girifushi – an unprecedented move that has led to a judicial impasse, intensified by political polarisation.
Home Minister Hassan Afeef and Defence Minister Tholhath Ibrahim Kaleyfaanu were summoned to the first session of the meeting and questioned by the opposition MP’s about the arrest of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed on January by military forces, which has subsequently led to consecutive opposition protests calling for his immediate release.
In response, the Defence Minister interjected that the judge is not under arrest, and that he is being “supervised to ensure national security”.
He avoided MP’s repeated requests to explain the reasons for the judge’s arrest, claiming that reasons have been explained in a previous public statement which was aired on state TV channel three days after the arrest. Afeef at the time had accused the judge of “taking the entire criminal justice system in his fist”, stating that the executive had been compelled to act to protect the constitution. The judicial watchdog – the body mandated to investigate and act on such allegations – had complied with a civil court injunction filed by the judge against his own investigation.
Several opposition MPs walked out of the meeting, complaining that the ministers did not answer their questions.
In his statement the Defence Minister revealed that police sent a letter to the armed forces on January 16 “requesting assistance to carry out its legal duty under article 71 of the Police Act, stating that the Criminal Court was not cooperating with police and that as a consequence of Judge Mohamed’s obstructing police work, the country’s internal security was threatened and police were unable to maintain public order and safety.”
Therefore, Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) exercised authority under chapter nine of the constitution and the Armed Forces Act of 2008 to take the judge into custody, he said, disputing that the judge’s detention was unconstitutional.
Tholhath added that MNDF would provide assistance to ensure public safety, and that the consecutive protests and unrest had jeopardised it.
Meanwhile, Afeef observed that those accused of causing the current unrest and destroying public property were swiftly being released by the judges, thus encouraging more unrest.
“Public safety is being lost because of judges’ actions,” Afeef concluded.
However, speaking at the NSC meeting’s second session, Judicial Service Commission (JSC) President and Supreme Court judge Adam Mohamed insisted that the current crisis had not been caused by the incompetence of the commission.
He claimed that the commission was executing its duties duly. The “earlier environment did not allow the commission to work,” Mohamed claimed – a comment directed at the former President’s member of the JSC, Aishath Velezinee, who had openly protesting against the unconstitutional appointment of unqualified judges, delays in investigating allegations against judges – including the chief judge – and politically biased decisions of the JSC. She was dismissed from the position in May 2011.
Velezinee attended the committee meeting with a box full of papers on the judiciary, and maintained her stance that public has “lost confidence in the courts due to the JSC’s failure to take action against the chief judge”, and due to the reappointment of judges with life time tenure in violation of the constitution.
Velezinee has previously alleged that Abdulla Mohamed was at the heart of a “silent coup to hijack the judiciary”, with the complicity of opposition MPs seeking to prevent cases against them moving through court.
The NSC meeting heated up, after opposition MP Abdu Raheem objected to the summoning of JSC members to the national security committee.
Raheem claimed that the JSC must be summoned to parliament’s independent commissions committee, and the NSC’s meeting should be continued under the advice of Consul General.
Committee chair MDP MP Ali Waheed interjected that anyone can be summoned to the committee for questioning and adjourned the meeting after repeated attempts to maintain order failed as MPs continued arguing.
Meanwhile, out on the streets, the opposition continued to call for the release of Judge Mohamed and the resignation of President Mohamed Nasheed. The protests began near the Progressive Part of Maldives (PPM) camp, as pockets of MDP activists obstructed the rally, leading to mild confrontations which were controlled by the police.
The police comfirmed 16 were arrested last night.