The President’s Member on the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) and outspoken whistleblower Aishath Velezinee has vowed to continue pushing for a public inquiry into the activities of the JSC, despite what she has described as an “assassination attempt” on Monday January 3.
Velezinee was hospitalised after she was stabbed three times in the back, in broad daylight on the main tourist street of Male’, “right outside the Home Minister’s door.”
Many international organisations, including Transparency International and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), have expressed “grave concern that the attack may be politically motivated.”
Velezinee turned whistle-blower on the JSC in August 2010, after parliament failed to issue an injunction she had requested on the reappointment of judges before the conclusion of the constitutional interim period. Velezinee contends the reappointment of unsuitable judges – many largely uneducated and some with criminal convictions – was rushed through in collaboration with senior members of parliament.
Since then she has campaigned against what she alleges is a “silent coup”, an “alliance between parliament and the judiciary to subvert the rule of law, derail constitutional democracy and use the courts to bring down the executive.”
“I didn’t stop complaining. I realised this was a bigger thing, a conspiracy, and mentioned names. They were not interested in change – they are using all their powers, their status and the respect people have for them to subvert the rule of law.”
The public, she claims, is poorly informed on the matter as “there is a huge information gap because the JSC meetings are closed. If the JSC sittings were open to the media, the public would be able to put together what has happened.”
“I sit in the JSC and I see the Speaker of Parliament (Abdulla Shahid) and DRP MP (Dr Afrasheem Ali), also members of the Commission, do whatever they will. What is done in the JSC is done by parliament.”
For example, she explained on the last day of the final parliament session for 2010, the opposition-majority Majlis amended the Judges’ Act (13/2010) to award a Rf 53,250 (US$4140) monthly retirement package to former JSC Vice Chair and Interim-Supreme Court Justice Mujthaz Fahmy, despite a conviction for embezzling state funds in 1996.
“It was not an honourable discharge, he was not fit to be a judge. But they made an amendment to the judges bill solely for one man – only Mujthaz it applies to, and only Mujthaz it will apply to,” Velezinee explained.
MP Afrasheem observed at the time that judges are awarded high salaries and benefits to ensure their ethical and disciplinary standards, and that it is essential for them to continue to be able to uphold their dignity and impeccable ethical standards even after they leave office.
“If a retired Justice were forced to wheel a cart on the street after leaving the bench, it will not give them the respect and the love that they received in office, and still deserve,” Afrasheem said.
The entire amendment, Velezinee alleges, was “to pay Mujthaz his dues for his role as an instrument in the silent coup.”
Meanwhile the public, she stated, “ is misinformed as to the reality of the judiciary they have. We have high state officials using their status and their authority to confuse the public, and legitimise that which is unconstitutional.
“The public are helpless when it is the state that has dissented. We Maldivians have been taught to obey. Obedience is the priority – our religion is about obedience. It is a completely different culture for us to stand up for ourselves and demand things of our leaders.”
Days prior to being stabbed in the street, Velezinee had been trying to get the Majlis to distribute a 34-page letter to members of the JSC’s parliamentary oversight committee, without apparent success. On January 2, she delivered 250 posters to citizens around Male’, calling for a public inquiry into the JSC.
“The Constitution grants everyone a free and fair trial, but JSC’s treason has deprived the people of not only a right to a free and fair trial but thereby compromised all other fundamental rights,” she wrote on her website, the day before her stabbing. “The State can neither protect fundamental rights of the people, nor further human rights and practice democratic government without the institutionalisation of an Independent judiciary.”
At 10am on the morning of January 3, Velezinee was walking along the main tourist street of Chandhanee Magu near Islanker school, “when I felt this knock on my back.”
“I thought I had been bumped, I didn’t realise I had been stabbed,” she said. “When I looked back I made eye contact with a guy as he was turning around. So I kept walking and then he turned back and stabbed me a second and third time.”
Her assailant, whom she described as “a young kid, a teenager”, jumped on the back of a waiting motorbike driven by another and rode off.
“At that point I put my hand up and it was completely soaked in blood, and I realised I had been stabbed. If I had fallen I would have been dead, the second two stabs would have finished me off, as would the first if their aim had been correct. But I’m light and my bag got in the way. I think it was meant to be assassination attempt or else hit my spine and make me a vegetable for the rest of my life.”
While still upright she was, however, “bleeding everywhere. I was soaked through.”
“My fear was that I would easily I bleed to death. But I took a deep breath and realised I was alive. As soon as I realised this, the only thing I wanted to do was go and get the blood stopped and get to the Commission because this was the day of the High Court appointments, and I know they wanted me out of the way. I didn’t realise how serious the wounds were, I didn’t see them until two days later when I went for a dressing change.”
“I tried calling 119, it took four attempts to get through, I told them I was stabbed. Nobody stopped to help me, so I saw a neighbour from my childhood and didn’t give him a chance to say no and jumped on the back of his motorbike and said ‘take me to IGMH (Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital), I’ve been stabbed.”
“He took me round the corner to his home, where he could get a vehicle. At that point another man stopped and said “no, you can’t wait if you’re bleeding like that, get on my bike.”
“I got on the bike without thinking and then wondered, ‘who are you?’ He was really good, screaming at traffic to get out of the way, but I was bleeding very heavily. I had to hold on and he was afraid I would faint – it was dangerous on a motorbike.
“He came to Majeedhee Magu. He tried to get a taxi to respond, but I saw a police car and they took me to hospital.”
On the agenda at 2:30pm that day at the JSC was the decision over which applicants would qualify for appointment as High Court judges.
“It was very suspicious the way the Commission acted [after the stabbing],” Velezinee said.
“Not a single Commission member called or came to the hospital or made any effort to see how I was. Instead they hurried to organise an extraordinary meeting to discuss the assault, and then decided to hold a press conference – all of this without checking on me – and as I understand it, it was suggested by the Speaker of Parliament that the Chair of the Commission, who’ve I’ve previously alleged is suffering from a psychiatric disorder, be nominated to give a press conference.
“At the press conference they made very strange statements. They said that ‘Nobody should be attacked for having different opinions, or the way they express their different opinions’.
“The commission did not show me any respect, because after that press conference they organised a meeting on Tuesday to decide on the High Court judges. The Commission had previously agreed not to meet on Tuesdays because Tuesday is cabinet day.
“So I requested Commission members talk with the chair and make him postpone the meeting. The Speaker was leaving the country that night – I asked the Secretary General to speak with the Chair and delay the meeting until Wednesday, but the response I got was that they could not delay the meeting because it was ‘the right of the people to have the High Court’.
“I put out a rude statement accusing the Commission of trying to expedite things while I was incapacitated, and that persuaded them to cancel the meeting. But they did not say they were doing so out of concern for my wellbeing – instead they told the media that the meeting was postponed “because some members are busy.”
Velezinee says she does not believe last week’s attempt on her life will be the last.
“I don’t believe the State can actually protect me. Because it is the state that wants me silenced – the parliament and the judiciary. If you look at what happened in the days before the attack, there was a flurry of attacks in the media – including by the parliamentary oversight committee – criticising me, my character and my performance in the JSC. This has been a very organised effort to discredit me, and some people speak in different voices.
“There are honourable men in this country who are owned by others, and they may be put in a position where they believe they have to take my life. I knew there was a chance that I was risking murder, and I wasn’t wrong. It was only because of God’s grace that I survived.”
The police, she said, had been “very effective” in their investigation so far. However police spokesperson Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said that it was “very difficult” for police to release an update on the case, as it was “complicated”.
Police were, he said, collecting evidence and would release an update to the media “as soon as it is available.”
As to whether the attacks would dissuade her from continuing to campaign against the “derailment of democracy” by parliament and the judiciary, “if I close my eyes, I will have betrayed my country and people,” Velezinee said.
“I will have betrayed them by failing to inform people and give them a chance to change this. When the State fails it is up to the citizens to hold the State accountable. The state has failed here, and as a state official it is my responsibility to inform the public and give them the chance to make an informed decision.
“I know for a fact that rule of law has been subverted. I know for a fact that there is corruption at the highest level in parliament. And I know that if I join the majority in keeping silent, I have become a traitor.”