Q&A: Silent coup has cost Maldives a judiciary, says Aishath Velezinee

Aishath Velezinee was formerly the President’s Member on the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), the watchdog body assigned to appoint and investigate complaints against judges.

She has consistently maintained that the JSC is complicit in protecting judges appointed under the former government, colluding with parliament to ensure legal impunity for senior opposition supporters. During her tenure at the JSC she was never given a desk or so much as a chair to sit down on. In January 2011 she was stabbed twice in the back in broad daylight.

The JSC is now at the centre of a judicial crisis that has led to the military’s detention of Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, Abdulla Mohamed.

JJ Robinson: To what extent does the current judicial crisis represent the failure of Article 285 in 2010, the constitutional provision guaranteeing an independent and qualified judiciary at the conclusion of the two year interim period?

Aishath Velezinee: 100 percent. This was what I was trying to bring out at the time – but I could only allege that Abdulla Mohamed was at the heart of the matter. But it was very obvious to me that this was not just the action of one man, but a hijacking of the judiciary [by the opposition] – the ‘silent coup’.

In the highly politicised environment at time it was very difficult to get people to look into this, because parliament was out to cover it up – nobody was willing to take it up, and everyone wanted distance because it was too sensitive and so highly politicised. So really no one wanted to try and see if there was any truth to what I was saying.

Time passed. I didn’t imagine all this would come up so soon – it has been an amazing experience to see all of this suddenly happening so quickly.

It was inevitable – with everything Abdulla Mohamed has done inside and outside the courts, it was very obvious that he was not a man to be a judge.

With all the highly political rulings coming from the Criminal Court, it was clearly not right. The JSC’s cover up of Abdulla Mohamed was also apparent.

He had spoken on TV [against the government] – and it was not just his voice. There was no need to spend two years investigating whether he had said what he said.

Finally they decided yes, he is highly politicised, and had lost the capacity to judge independently and impartially. His views and verdicts were expressing not just partiality towards the opposition, but apparently a very deep anger against the government. It is very obvious when you speak to him or see him on the media. We had to look at what was behind all this.

JJ: Abdulla Mohamed filed a case in the Civil Court which ordered the JSC investigation be halted. Does the JSC have any jurisdiction to rule against its own watchdog body?

AV: Absolutely not. If the judicial watchdog can be overruled by a judge sitting in some court somewhere, then it’s dysfunctional. But that’s what has been happening. And [Supreme Court Judge] Adam Mohamed, Chair of the JSC, has probably been encouraging Abdulla Mohamed to do this.

The whole approach of the JSC is to cover up the judge’s misconduct. When it comes to Abdulla Mohamed it’s not just issues of misconduct – it’s possible links with serious criminal activities. There is every reason to believe he is influenced by serious criminals in this country.

JJ: The international community has expressed concern over the government’s ongoing detention of the judge by the military. Is the government acting within the constitution?

AV: It is impossible to work within the constitution when you have lost one arm of the state: we are talking about the country not having a judiciary. When one man becomes a threat to national security – and the personal security of everyone – the head of state must act.

He can’t stand and watch while this man is releasing people accused of murder, who then go out and kill again the same day. We are seeing these reports in the media all along, and everyone is helpless.

If the JSC was functioning properly – and if the Majlis was up to its oversight duties – we would not have got to this stage. But when all state institutions fail, then it is necessary to act rather than watch while the country falls down.

JJ: What next? The government surely can’t keep the judge detained indefinitely.

AV: We have to find a solution. It is not right to keep someone detained without any action – there must be an investigation and something must happen. I’m sure the government is looking into Abdulla Mohamed.

But releasing him is a threat to security. I have heard Vice President Mohamed Waheed Hassan calling for him to be released. Abdulla Mohamed is not under arrest – but his freedom of movement and communication would be a danger at this moment. We are at the point where we really and truly need to get to the bottom of this and act upon the constitution.

We talking about cleaning up the judiciary, and this is not talking outside the constitution – this is the foundation of the constitution. The constitution is build upon having three separate powers.

The judiciary is perhaps the most important power. The other powers come and go, politics change, but the judiciary is the balancing act. When that is out of balance, action is necessary.

With regards to attention from the international community – I tried really hard in 2010 to get the international community involved, to come and carry out a public inquiry, because we do not have any institution or eminent person with the authority to look into the matter. We needed outside help.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) did come and their report highlighted some things, but they did not have access to all the material because it’s all in Dhivehi. We need a proper inquiry into this, and a solution.

JJ: The Foreign Minister has asked the UN Office of Human Rights to send a legal team able to look into the situation and advise. To what extent will this draw on the constitution’s provision to appoint foreign judges?

AV: That has been something we were interested in doing, but the former interim Supreme Court Judge Abdulla Saeed was absolutely against it – not only bringing in foreign judges, but even judicial expertise. He was also against putting experts in the JSC so it could be properly institutionalised. The ICJ tried very hard to place a judge in there but didn’t get a positive response.

The UN brought in a former Australian Supreme Court Judge, but he didn’t get any support either. There was a lady [from Harvard] but she left in tears as well. There was no support – the Commission voted not to even give her a living allowance. They are unwelcoming to knowledge – to everyone. It is a closed place.

JJ: Is there a risk the UN will send a token advisor and things will quickly return to business as usual?

AV: We need the ICJ to be involved – someone like [former] UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Leandro Despouy. He was here for a fact-finding mission and had a thorough understanding of it, and gives authoritative advice.

We need to look for people who understand not only the law in the constitution, but what we are transiting from. Because that is really important.

JJ: There was talk of foreign judges and the establishment of a mercantile court for cases involving more than Rf 100,000 (US$6500). Based on the current state of the judiciary are people now more open to idea of foreign judges, where once they may have opposed it on nationalistic grounds?

AV: It is not a new thing. We have always used foreign knowledge since the time of the Sultans. We used Arabs who came here as our judges, they were respected people. Ibn Battuta practiced here as a judge during his voyages.

So it is not a new concept. This is the way we are – we do not have the knowledge. Now we are transitioning to a modern, independent judiciary, so of course we need new knowledge, practices and skills. The only way to get our judges up to standard is [for foreign judges] to be working in there, hands on.

Of course before that we have to make sure that the people on the bench are people who qualify under the constitution. With the bench we have right now it wouldn’t do much good bringing in expertise, because many of the people sitting there do not even have the basics to understand or move forward, they are limited in not having even basic education.

JJ: What percentage of the judiciary has more than primary school education?

AV: As a foundation, at least 50 percent have less that Grade 7. But they all say they have a certificate in justice studies – a tailor-made program written by the most prominent protester at the moment, former Justice Minister Mohamed Jameel of the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP). There were no textbooks on the course – they were given handouts.

Now we do have access to resources through the internet. But do the judges and magistrates have the skills or language abilities necessary to research on the internet? No they don’t.

JJ: Based on your access to privileged JSC information, you have also previously expressed concern at the high number of judges with actual criminal records. What about Abdulla Mohamed?

AV: Abdulla Mohamed was already a criminal convict before he was appointed to the bench. This man was found guilty of creating public disorder, hate speech and had publicly shown himself to be a woman hater or fearer- I don’t know which. But he has this bias against women and has been quoted as such in the courtroom. He’s got issues.

There are unchecked complaints against him in the JSC. The JSC has this practice of taking every complaint and giving it to committee one at a time. But if you look at everything, there is a pattern suggesting links to criminals. The Criminal Court has been given power as the only court able to rule on police custody during police investigations – why does Abdulla Mohamed have a monopoly on this? He personally locks up the seal. Why does he control it?

JJ: What do you mean when you claim he has links to organised crime?

AV: It’s a pattern. He tries to prevent investigation of all the heavy drug cases, and when the case does make it before the court his decisions are questionable. In one instance newspaper Haveeru sent a complaint saying the Criminal Court had tried a case and changed the verdict behind closed doors.

Haveeru later called for the complaint to be withdrawn. But my approach is to say, once we have a complaint we must check it. The complainant can’t withdraw a complaint, because there must have been a reason to come forward in the first place. That verdict referred to something decided two years before – Abdulla Mohamed changed the name of the convict. A mistake in the name, he said. How can you change a name? A name is an identity. The JSC never investigated it.

JJ: Prior to the JSC’s decision to dissolve the complaints committee, it was receiving hundreds of complaints a year. How many were heard?

AV: Five were tabled, four were investigated. Their approach was that if nobody was talking about the judge, then the judge was above question. So they would cover up and hide all the complaints.

Approach of this constitution is transparency – and the investigation is itself proof of the judge’s independence. An accusation doesn’t mean he is not up to being a judge. But if it is not investigated, those accusations stand. Instead, the JSC says: “We don’t have any complaints, so nobody is under investigation.”

We are struggling between the former approach and the new approach of the constitution. We have seen judges with serious criminal issues kept on bench and their records kept secret. They have a problem adapting themselves to the new constitution and democratic principles that require them to gain trust.

The JSC has many other issues- taking money they are not entitled to, perjury; none of this was looked into. All sorts of things happened in there.

JJ: Is it possible to revive Article 285, or did that expire at the conclusion of the interim period?

AV: Article 285 is the foundation of our judiciary, the institutionalisation of the one power that is going to protect our democracy. How can we measure it against a time period set by us? Two years? We did everything we could to try and enact it. It was a failure of the state that the people did not get the judiciary.

We cannot excuse ourselves by saying that the two years have passed. Parliament elections were delayed – much in the constitution was delayed. 80 percent of the laws required to be passed under this constitution have yet to be adopted. Are we going to say ‘no’ to them because time has passed?

We can’t do that, so we have to act.

JJ: Parliament has oversight of the JSC – what ability does parliament have to reform it?

AV: Parliament has shown itself to be incapable of doing it. We are seeing parliamentarians out trying to free Judge Abdulla Mohamed – including Jumhoree Party (JP) MP Gasim Ibrahim, a member of the JSC.

So I don’t think we even need to enter into this. it is apparent they are playing politics and do not have the interest of the people or the state at heart. They never believed in this constitution, they were pushed into adopting a democratic constitution, they failed in the elections, and now they are out to kill the constitution.

I am wondering even what they are protesting about. Last night it was Judge Abdulla, and the religious card. It is fear driven.

What we are seeing is [former President Maumoon Abdul] Gayoom and [his half brother, Abdulla] Yameen trying to turn their own personal fears into mass hysteria. Nobody else is under threat – but they are if we have an independent judiciary. If their cases are heard they know they are in for life.

JJ: So this is a struggle for survival?

AV: Exactly. The final battle – this is the last pillar of democracy. If we manage to do this properly, as stated in the constitution, we can be a model democracy. But not without a judiciary.


23 thoughts on “Q&A: Silent coup has cost Maldives a judiciary, says Aishath Velezinee”

  1. Well done Velezinee. I think government has tried all means to be "hiiythiri" (down to earth) for three years. It just cannot afford to that anymore. The judicial system is getting way too dangerous.

    I must say that the government either didn't see or ignored the cold and calculated operations of former president and the brother. Look at the people in the JSC. Mohamed Fahumy Hassan of CSC is planted by Yaamin. In a way I blame the MPs representing the govt for this too. If they have not voted at least Fahmy wouldn't have been elected.

    The same has happened to Elections Commission. One day Ahmed Shareef Adam was Yammeen Party's Secretary General and the next day Election Commission's.

    I hope the government's efforts to save the nation is not too little too late.

  2. There are, supposedly, many lawyers in the Maldives. But how good are they, and how many are they? Why have they not played a key role in transforming the judiciary from something bad into something good?

    When the criminal justice system is not functioning well, it becomes very difficlt and dangerous even for the Police and the Army.

    Mohamed Nasheed, the president, is an inspired politician; and I do not think he will contemplate arresting a judge light-heartedly.

    If the judiciary does not inspire confidence in its integrity, it is bound to clash with the executive arm of government, which is nowadays MDP controlled.

    Mohamed Ameen,Ibrahim Ali Didi,Ibrahim Nasir,Mohamed Zaki, Koli Ali Maniku. I am afraid these were not people who would even have wanted to create a great judiciary. They would not have even known where to start.

    And then our saintly little man: Maumoon Gayoom. He was a great guy in his own right. But he was totally totalitarian, and wanted to keep the judiciary in his fist, and his pocket.

    I think Gasim Ibrahim is really the head of the judiciary now. What a man. I really love him.

    Thank you so much, my beloved country.

  3. Thank you Velezinee for telling us the true story of the JSC. We should all demonstrate and protest agains the JSC and the Majlis for destroying our country first.

    Lets first reform them and get rid of corruption before going after the government.

  4. Nasheed's administration is doing too little too late. The game is really over, I'm afraid. The tentacles of the old guard have had 3+ years to fully root themselves in this so-called democracy. The wily old men and the not-so-old who follow them, unfortunately, have the upper hand.

    What we're witnessing today are the undoings of the Maldivian Democratic Party and what they stood for. They should really blame themselves for the blame. A lot of very arrogant people with too much brawn than brain suddenly didn't know what to do with their new found "power".

    Well, that "power" has been mostly used to harm theselves, as is clearly evident now. Velezinee was one of the few lonely figures who fought for what they really believed in. She was sacrificed as a mere pawn in the power game. Maldivian Democracy, R.I.P!

  5. I agree. The biggest problem in the Maldives is and have been the judiciary forever.

    If the parliament or the executive have done wrong we can go to the judiciary for recourse but just where do we go when judiciary itself is the problem. You cannot have a democracy without a functioning judiciary.

  6. I am glad Anni called it enough!. Better late than never. We need him to push the Majlis and get things done as well. If anyone is obstructing anything for the sake creating chaos, send him to Girifushi holiday. We are all behind you. As die hards of Gayoom and recently of Yaameen, we have realized that these crooks are turn coats, with no love to the country. Anni, be bold and firm. The people are behind you. No more appeasing to the opposition. Democracy is not worth, if we have to go back to become a banana republic.

  7. In a society where highly qualified and intelligent people like this Valnzinne are not respected, what you can expect from this chimpanzees. The criminals like that Abdulla judges are the respected ones in this ape’s society.

  8. What an evil, kaafir woman! Why do I say this? Well, would a muslim woman fail to cover herself as ordered by her creator, Allah SWT? Of course not! Just look at our sisters from Saudi Arabia, or even Afghanistan!

    Velezinee is insulting Islam by dressing this way. I call upon the authorities to arrest her immediately, before she damages Islam even more. She definitely is among the Jews!

  9. Interesting..Shall we then say yes to future presidents who shall arrest the judges and MP's and put a pretext that I the president couldnt resolve this matter within law?
    - President Nasheed, remember when you were "uprooted" from your home (infront of your family who suffered) for just picking up a piece of paper? And was not give your legal rights? And now look what you did? Justice? My foot!!
    - Look at the corrpution and illegal pratices that your MP's (people like Rekko, e.g: the wine bottles that was founds in his car and poor driver got kicked out of the country) and opposition MP's both juvanial cases and fraud cases! And you choose to be silent and most cases laugh and say, its ok to do it?? Pathatic!!
    President you are no where near our expectation! You are building a dictatorial regime!! Good luck! You are selling this country's culture and religion for few billion dollars from zionist!!

  10. @ Ahmed bin Addu bin Suvadheeb on Wed, 25th Jan 2012 4:05 AM.
    Agree with you and hope that the game is not over yet!

    Aishath Velezinee to my belief is a champion of champions and is very brave lady, leave aside negatives!

    Thasmeen, Gasim, Yaameen, Dr. Hassan Saeed, Dr. Jameel and the many others are raving to release this one judge! Why?

    To my belief, without him in that seat they are in grave danger of being vulnerable if JUSTICE is called for by whosoever!

    The many who are advocating and spilling their guts out to prove Abdulla Mohamed is right and the government acted unconstitutionally arresting Abdulla Mohamed cannot, or do not want to see when and where the Judiciary and especially Abdulla Mohamed went to breach constitution prior to him being detained!

    I do not say and claim that the government's decision is right and constitutional.

    I would say and believe that the Judiciary Commission and the entire Judiciary System failed to oversee deeds of Abdulla Mohamed for reasons whatsoever.

    If the government has done injustice let them face trial and face consequences!

    But JUDICIARY and JUSTICE, please do JUSTICE for yourselves and the people you serve!

  11. Kidnapping people by the state military and still holding him after 10 days without due process in this day and age is totally unacceptable regardless of anyone thinks how good or bad the person.

  12. Yes we all know that the JSC is the designated body to address complaints against judges. But what happens when they don't? And how can the JSC which is supposed to be the regulatory body for the judicary be ordered by the courts to stop investigating complaints against judges? There is something very wrong here. If the current laws allow the JSC to be an impotent and dysfunctional body then the laws must be changed. And if necessary the constitution rewritten.

  13. The problem is that there are ignorant imbeciles on both sides.
    People like Yameen, Gayoom are not ignorant. They are very cold calculating and very intelligent. Then there are the others like Umar Naseer, Mahloof etc.
    In MDP, they have people like Reeko Moosa Alhan, Mustapha and them. Then we have the Mullahs.
    I sincerely hope that we can urgently sort and save Maldives before we slide down and everything is lost.

  14. Mr. Nasheed will get nowhere with this kind of actions. More and more educated people are leaving mdp government because of his actions. I see that eventually Mr.Nasheed has to give in on this stand off, and will not only lose his credibility but MDP's too. Very sad indeed

  15. The loud coup by Velezinee & Co. has cost decades worth of careful planning and coordination.

    It has threatened to destroy respect for institutions as well as the only chance at convincing the judiciary to accept additional reformative measures.

    It has also distracted attention from the Executive which was the main institution the public had a problem with. The Executive is rife with corruption and most of it is systematic and endemic.

    While the PAS has made some progress we need to find a lasting solution to the failure to implement any real reform in the non-compliance with open tender regulations.

    Also, some system of checks and balances need to be in place to prevent the President from;
    a) Creating as many political posts as the President wishes.
    b) Creating as many State Enterprises as the President wishes.
    c) Pardoning criminals at the President's whim and fancy.

    Also, the lack of coordination and planning at the policy level has cost us dearly in terms of both assets and public funds. The Parliament needs to do its job to hold the government accountable. Also Parliamentary scrutiny needs to have some real teeth rather than the mere filibustering and occasional obstructive Act or resolution passed.

  16. @feydhoo
    @ Feydhoo,

    Perhaps you said “more and more educated people are leaving mdp …” lightly, just to say something against this government. Perhaps you, like many of those others who write on these forums are paid to write something almost anything to take attention away from the very fact that the Judiciary in the country has been hijacked, and the arrest of one of the biggest criminals in the country is an act against the Constitution instead of an act to protect what little decency is left in this country…. That may very well be, but I would like to come to the point about these ‘educated people’.


    The success of MDP is not its ability to attract educated people. Instead it is, its ability to draw every day people to the party. In country where only 0.001% has a postgraduate degree, an educated person is not an everyday person. You my friend does not sound very educated, but that’s fine too.


    The party I hope would  not attract so many ‘educated people’ as most educated people are the elite and whatever said and done are against the very grain of what MDP (should)  stands for i.e. greater distribution of wealth etc etc. Indeed, educated people can and will come and take mileage of the party, but it would be ridiculous to fashion the party to attract them as the New Maldives did…, and look where it got them (next time do not forget to crunch those numbers!)


    In fact, I think the problem with the party is since it came to power it attracted too many of these ‘educated people’ who were also the ‘educated people’ of the old regime and they wanted the same jobs that sustained their children in universities in the west and got them flats in Singapore, and they did and now they don’t want to let go and what a mess! what a mess!
    It will be better if this lot left the party!!!

  17. Vel, ignore the negatives comments here. They don't have half the guts to do what you have done and can only comment on these forums. Obviously a lof of people have a lot at stake here because the Judge is in custody and so there will be some raving lunatics. Just ignore them and carry on with the wonderful work you are doing. There are a lot of us who are proud of you and pray for your safety and protection and for the successful reform of our Judicial system. Only then can we even begin to really protect the democratic rights of our citizens. Great Job, Vel!

  18. Yes Vel,

    Ignore the sentiments of the Maldivian public and be even more inflammatory and controversial while still aspiring to be a politician.

    Infuriating the people is of course the very basis of becoming a politician in a democratic society.

    After all that is why Marilyn Manson was elected President of the U.S. for two whole terms.


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