The Maldivian government has clashed with the youngest and first female SAARC Secretary General, Fathimath Dhiyana Saeed, over the legality of its arrest of Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed.
Speaking at a press conference held by a group of lawyers contesting the legality of Judge Mohamed’s arrest, aired on Jumhoree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim’s VTV last night, Saeed accused the government of ignoring the law and called for parliament to oppose the ruling body.
The government does not have the authority “to say ‘we will act on this article, and this article does not exist for us’,” Saeed claimed. “This is not something we can pick and choose.”
The government’s rejection of court orders to release the judge could “only be solved by the people”, Saeed said, but added this should be through the parliament “and not by coming out on the roads”.
The government has expressed outrage over Saeed’s television appearance, arguing that her position as SAARC Secretary General demands her political impartiality in the internal affairs of all SAARC nations – including her own.
Article one of the SAARC Charter emphasises “strict adherence to the principles of the United Nations Charter and non-alignment, particularly respect for the principles of sovereign equality, territorial integrity, national independence, non-use of force and non-interference in the internal affairs of other States and peaceful settlement of all disputes.”
President Mohamed Nasheed’s Press Secretary, Mohamed Zuhair, said Saeed’s stating her “personal, private position” on VTV “clearly contravened the SAARC Charter”.
“The SAARC charter forbids interference in the matters of any state, including the state she represents,” Zuhair said.
“She should have resigned and then taken her stand, or brought her concerns to us – or someone like the Attorney General. We are her colleagues. This is at best very dishonourable,” Zuhair said.
He claimed that Saeed had pledged her allegiance to the government “and her husband (Abdulla Jabir) is head of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and a senior member of the party,” Zuhair said. “Even should she resign, [her behavior] is still dishonourable and indecent. “
Saeed reacted angrily to Zuhair’s allegations and said his comments were not indecent, and that she had not violated the SAARC Charter.
“I am first and foremost a Maldivian citizen. It is my right [to comment] on whatever happens in my country, and I will not give away that right. As a lawyer I am also a member of the Maldivian bar,” she told Minivan News.
“[The Chief Judge’s detention] is a violation of individual human rights, a violation of the independence of the judiciary, and the violation of the constitution,” she stated.
“The constitution defines how a person should be detained, and this is not an ordinary person, this is a judge. Up until last night no one even knew where he was held.”
If the government contended that Abdulla Mohamed had violated the constitution, “he has to be dealt with within the confines of the law,” she insisted. “The government should not take the law into its own hands.”
“This action is very clearly unconstitutional. If you look at the how the government has acted these last three years you can see a trend. The government thinks any means to an ends is alright,” she said.
Saeed said she did not wish to comment on whether she intended to resign.
The government has meanwhile contended that Abdulla Mohamed’s detention is legal under the President’s mandate to protect “the letter and spirit” of the constitution, arguing that not only had he corrupted elements of the judiciary in favour of the political opposition, but that the constitutional body mandated with overseeing the judges – the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) – had also been politically compromised.
The JSC failed to table or even acknowledge receipt of a report on the judiciary produced by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), which questioned whether the JSC possessed the technical ability and knowledge to investigate complaints and hold the judiciary accountable, as well as its independence.
In May 2011 the JSC abolished its complaints committee. By its own statistics, of the 143 complaints received in 2010 concerning the conduct of judges, none were tabled and only five were ever replied to.
Chair of the JSC’s dissolved complaints committee, former President’s Member of the JSC Aishath Velezinee who was stabbed in the street in January 2011, said at the time that the complaints committee had been unable to operate as the chair of the JSC, Supreme Court Judge Adam Mohamed, had persistently scheduled timetable clashes.