The Supreme Court of Maldives has overturned a High Court ruling to keep MPs Gasim Ibrahim and Abdulla Yameen under house arrest for 15 days, ordering the immediate release of the high-profile businessmen and minor opposition party leaders.
Yameen and Gasim were detained pending an investigation into alleged corruption, bribery and treason.
A legal team led by former Attorneys General Azima Shukoor and Dr Hassan Saeed, representing the MPs, appealed the High Court decision last week on the grounds that the arrest was unlawful as Gasim was taken to the police station “to clarify something.”
Today’s ruling invalidates both the Criminal Court order to keep the MPs under house arrest for three days and the High Court ruling to extend the period to 15 days.
Chief Justice Abdullah Saeed said there was no room to uphold the lower court rulings granting the police authority to arrest the MPs.
The panel of five judges on the interim court concurred that the evidence presented was not sufficient to keep Gasim and Yameen under house arrest or in custody.
Speaking to press after the verdict, former Justice Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed and Dr Hassan Saeed said the ruling was “a victory for separation of powers in the Maldives.”
“Both of them were arrested in violation of the constitution and today this has been proven,” the Dhivehi Qaumee Party leader said.
Mulaku MP Yamin told reporters that the highest court of appeal in the country has ruled that police disregarded the law and the constitution in arresting the MPs.
“This is a victory for the Maldivian people, a complete victory,” said Gasim.
Crowds of PA and JP supporters gathered outside the former presidential palace Theemuge that houses the Supreme Court and High Court, to celebrate the ruling.
The leaders of the opposition People’s Alliance and Jumhoori Party (Republican Party) was arrested on 29 June in the wake of the en masse resignation of the cabinet, who claimed that opposition MPs were obstructing the government with the passage of laws intended to wrest executive power from the president.
The first hearing
At last week’s Supreme Court hearing, police requested that the court abolish provisions in the parliamentary rules of procedure that restrict the detention of MPs.
Ibrahim Riffath, Deputy Solicitor General advocating on behalf of the police in his personal capacity, argued the provisions were unconstitutional as article 88(a) of the constitution only grants authority to the People’s Majlis to formulate regulations for its administration and that MPs’ privilege could not be extended through such regulations.
According to local newspaper Haveeru, another point of contention at the hearing was interpreting article 45 of the constitution, which states everyone has the right not to be arbitrarily detained, arrested or imprisoned except as provided by law enacted by the People’s Majlis in accordance with article 16.
Article 16 restricts Majlis to enacting laws that could limit rights and freedoms to any extent only if demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.
Grilled by the judge, Mohamed Jinah from police said the law referred to in article 45 was the Police Act, which grants police extensive powers for criminal investigation.
However, former AG Hassan Saeed said it refers to the Criminal Justice Procedures Act, which was being drafted at the same time as the constitution.
Hassan Saeed said the Police Act does not specify how arrests and detentions should be made.
Asked whether such a law existed, he answered no.