Supreme Court enacts new contempt of court regulations

The Supreme Court has enacted new regulations authorising courts to initiate legal proceedings and punish individuals for any expression, action, gesture, or piece of writing “inside or outside a courtroom” that could be considered contempt of court.

The contempt of court regulations (Dhivehi) promulgated on July 24 states that its purpose is “establishing justice, removing obstacles to trials, and upholding the honour and dignity of courts.”

“Contempt of court is a crime. And holding courts and its judges in contempt, and committing any act that could diminish the honour and dignity of courts is against Article 141(c) and (d) of the Constitution,” states section three of the regulations.

Spoken or written words as well as deeds and gestures that constitute contempt of court include portraying the judiciary in a negative light, an utterance or action that demeans a court, a judge, or court officer, “criticising or berating a court or a judge, or committing any act that causes loss of respect and dignity of a court or a judge, or attempting to bring the court into disrepute.”

Other actions include obstruction of ongoing trials, non-compliance with court orders or verdicts, refusal to provide testimony at a trial, refusal to answer summons to appear at court or flying overseas without permission, and use of obscene language inside a courtroom.

Additionally, causing physical harm to a judge or a court officer, damaging court property, bringing cameras or recording devices into courtrooms without permission, leaving a courtroom during ongoing proceedings, causing disorder at a trial, and using a public forum or the media to unduly influence an ongoing trial would also be considered contempt of court.

Initiating proceedings

While judges could immediately take punitive measures for contempt of court either during trials or within court premises, the regulations stipulate that the state must press charges and initiate criminal prosecution for words or deeds constituting contempt of court outside a courtroom.

However, the Supreme Court, High Court, and lower courts could initiate proceedings if either is the target of the contemptuous remark or action.

The apex court meanwhile has the discretion to initiate proceedings in cases involving contempt towards any court or judge.

If an institution exhibits contempt of court, the regulation states that its most senior official must bear responsibility and face charges.

The accused party in contempt of court trials would have the right to seek legal representation and defend themselves verbally or in writing. An odd number of judges must preside over such trials.

The accused could avail themselves of legal defence arguments used in criminal trials while evidence presented at such trials “with good will or intention to assist in the dispensation of justice” would not be considered contempt of court.

While providing information to the public regarding ongoing trials “truthfully and impartially” is permissible, the regulation states that courts could prohibit dissemination of information at its choosing.


Persons found guilty of contempt of court during proceedings at a hearing or trial could be sentenced to up to 15 days in jail, placed under house arrest for up to one month, or fined up to MVR10,000 (US$649).

For other cases of contempt of court during proceedings or inside court premises, the regulations state that persons could be sentenced pursuant to Articles 85 through 88 of the penal code.

However, section 13 – which deals with punishment – does not specify the punishment for instances of contempt of court outside the courtroom

Moreover, sentences passed during proceedings or following a contempt of court trial cannot be appealed at a higher court. However, the Supreme Court has the authority to take measures or issue orders while a contempt of court trial is ongoing at a lower court.


On March 9, less than two weeks before the parliamentary elections, the Supreme Court stripped former Elections Commission (EC) Chair Fuwad Thowfeek and Deputy Chair Ahmed Fayaz of their membership in the independent commission over contempt of court charges.

The Supreme Court had summoned EC members on February 27 and began a surprise trial on charges of contempt of court under new ‘sumoto’ regulations – promulgated in February – that allow the apex court to initiate proceedings and act as both prosecution and judge.

Meanwhile, in January, the Supreme Court suspended former Attorney General Husnu Suood and ordered police to investigate the lawyer for alleged contempt of court. The Prosecutor General’s Office, however, dropped the charges in March.

The former AG had represented the EC in an election annulment case before being ejected and barred from proceedings.

Moreover, the court also sought criminal charges against opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV over a report criticising the judiciary while Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain threatened legal action against media organisations or journalists who disseminate false or inauthentic information concerning the judiciary.

Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party MPs Alhan Fahmy and Imthiyaz Fahmy were meanwhile charged with contempt of court for criticising the apex court on Raajje TV.


EC dismissals: Translation of Supreme Court verdict

The following is an unofficial translation of the Supreme Court verdict removing Elections Commission (EC) President Fuwad Thowfeek and Vice President Ahmed Fayaz from their posts for contempt of court.

While the verdict delivered in court included an order for the relevant authorities to investigate EC members for contempt of court “through criminal justice procedures,” the copy of the verdict later shared with media did not include such an order.

The Supreme Court has reportedly insisted that there was no difference between the verdict read out at court and the copy shared with media hours later.

Although Minivan News attended the trial, the reporting of the sentencing was based on the consensus of journalists in attendance after confusion concerning the jail sentence.

Local media reported without exception that all four EC members were sentenced to jail. However, the verdict later shared with media stated that only Fuwad Thowfeek was sentenced.

Meanwhile, Thowfeek as well as observers from civil society organisations inside the court room were under the impression that both Thowfeek and Fayaz were sentenced.

“The Supreme Court said they are giving six months jail term to Vice Chair Fayaz and me and that will be executed after a three year period and that we have been removed from out position in the elections commission and we are no longer Elections Commission members,” Thowfeek told Minivan News last night.

Contacted by Minivan News today, a Supreme Court media official declined to confirm or deny any discrepancies. The full judgment (Dhivehi) including the reasoning and dissenting opinions was uploaded to the Supreme Court website today.


Whereas the right to vote in elections and public referendums and to take part in the conduct of public affairs directly or through freely chosen representatives is guaranteed for every citizen of the Maldives 18 years of age or older by Article 26 of the constitution of the Republic of Maldives; and while ensuring that all elections and public referendums are conducted freely and fairly, without intimidation, aggression, undue influence or corruption is stipulated by Article 170 of the constitution; and as the Elections Commission had not complied with both the Supreme Court judgment in case number 2013/SC-C/11 that struck down articles eight and 11 of law number 4/2013 (Political Parties Act), which required a minimum of 10,000 members to register and operate a political party, since it was in conflict with both the constitution of Republic of Maldives as well as practices of developed democratic societies in the world, and the Supreme Court order 2014/SC-SJ/01 – issued after the Elections Commission announced its intention of dissolving political parties with less than 3,000 members in violation of the judgment delivered in the case – ordering the Elections Commission not to dissolve political parties already registered in the Maldives despite not having a minimum of 3,000 members for reasons specified in Supreme Court case number 2013/SC-C/11, stating that dissolving parties already registered on the basis that a political party’s registry should include 3,000 members would be a violation of the constitution and the judgment in the Supreme Court case number 2013/SC-C/11, and that parties registered under the previous political parties regulation will continue to exist without being dissolved; and as the Elections Commission’s senior officials have openly displayed disobedience to articles 141(c) and (d) and 145 (c) of the constitution and articles 20(b) and 77‡‡ of the Judicature Act through the media and challenged the Supreme Court’s rex judicata [a matter already judged] judgment in case number 2013/SC-C/42 as well as the orders related to the 2013 presidential election that were issued to protect the basic rights guaranteed by the constitution for Maldivian citizens, to uphold the rule of law, to protect the constitutional right of Maldivians to vote in elections, and in public referendums, conducted freely and fairly, without intimidation, aggression, undue influence or corruption and to guarantee that elections are held under the conditions specified under Article 170 of the constitution, obstructed justice and brought the court into disrepute, in addition to the commission’s President Fuwad Thowfeek’s statements made during the trial against the Supreme Court’s procedures and jurisdictions, which held the court in contempt, and since these actions of Fuwad Thowfeek are such that it could diminish the dignity of the courts stated in Article 141*(c) and (d) of the constitution, [we] sentence Fuwad Thowfeek of Ma. Thalhamudhige to six months imprisonment under Article 88(a) of the penal code, and order that the enforcement of the sentence be delayed for a period of three years, with reference to Article 88 of the Supreme Court regulations, under the Supreme Court’s powers and responsibilities granted by articles 11††(1)(2)(3), 9(f) and 22‡of the Judicature Act to establish justice, prevent the misuse of the judiciary and uphold the honour and dignity of the judiciary as stated in Article 141 of the constitution; and since after assuming the responsibilities of their posts with an oath to uphold the constitution, the Elections Commission’s President Fuwad Thowfeek and Vice President Ahmed Fayaz, who have to bear the responsibility of running the Elections Commission in accordance with the law, stepped aside from fulfilling their legal responsibilities, challenged and disobeyed judgments and orders issued by the Supreme Court in its capacity as the guardian of the constitution and laws, (we) determine that Elections Commission President Fuwad Thowfeek of Ma. Thalhamudhige, and Vice President Ahmed Fayaz of M. Hazaareevilla, must legally bear responsibility as the two seniormost officials of the commission for disobeying and challenging Supreme Court judgments outlining the legal perspective as well as the court’s orders, and since these actions contravene Article 145 (c)** of the constitution and Article 20 of the Judicature Act and diminishes the dignity granted to the court by Article 141(c) and (d), [we] declare that Elections Commission President Fuwad Thowfeek of Ma. Thalhamudhige, and Vice President Ahmed Fayaz of M. Hazaareevilla, have lost the right and legal status to remain members of the commission and that the pair’s seats on the commission have become vacant, under the powers and responsibilities granted to the Supreme Court by articles 11(1)(2 (3), 9(f)† and 22 of the Judicature Act to establish justice and prevent the misuse of the judiciary and to uphold the honour and dignity of the judiciary as stated in Article 141 of the constitution and with reference to Article 88 of the Supreme Court regulations ; and [we] order the executive, parliament and the Elections Commission to complete all the necessary arrangements for conducting the People’s Majlis elections which are to be held in 2014 on the date for which it has been scheduled within the next six days (including holidays), and order the Elections Commission and all relevant state institutions to hold the election as planned.

*Article 141 of the constitution states, “(a) The judicial power is vested in the Supreme Court, the High Court, and such Trial Courts as established by law (b) The Supreme Court shall be the highest authority for the administration of justice in the Maldives. The Chief Justice shall be the highest authority on the Supreme Court. All matters adjudicated before the Supreme Court shall be decided upon by a majority of the judges sitting together in session (c) No officials performing public functions, or any other persons, shall interfere with and influence the functions of the courts (d) Persons or bodies performing public functions, through legislative and other measures, must assist and protect the courts to ensure the independence, eminence, dignity, impartiality, accessibility and effectiveness of the courts.

**Article 145 (c) states, “The Supreme Court shall be the final authority on the interpretation of the Constitution, the law, or any other matter dealt with by a court of law.”

†Article 9(f) of the Judicature Act states that the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction extends to “all matters adjudicated by the Supreme Court under the powers bestowed upon the court as the highest authority for the administration of justice.”

††Article 11(a) states, “The Supreme Court has the jurisdiction to adjudicate on constitutional issues with the following characteristics as matters within the inherent jurisdiction of the Supreme Court: 1. An issue with legal reasons which may send the country into a constitutional void or remove it from the constitutional framework; or 2. A dispute between two powers or institutions of the state regarding the interpretation of the Constitution; or 3. A constitutional issue concerning public interest of the nation.”

‡Article 22 states, “In addition to the powers conferred on the Supreme Court in its own right by the constitution and the jurisdiction of the court laid out under various articles of this Act, the Supreme Court has the jurisdiction to do the following: a) The power to give all orders under this Act and the Supreme Court Regulation, relating to a matter ora case submitted to the court, and to administer justice with regard to such matters or cases, and to take necessary actions to prevent the misuse of the judicial system and to uphold the confidence in the judicial system, b) In its own initiative or at the behest of a concerned party, in order to administer justice and to prevent the exploitation of the judicial system the power to issue various orders in accordance with the law, if any party is found to have violated this law or any principles of the Supreme Court regulation, c) In accordance with the law and regulation, the power to summon people in relation to a case or matter submitted to the Supreme Court, d) In relation to a case or matter submitted to the Supreme Court and for the purpose of finding the truth or any facts surrounding the case, the power to pose any question to any witness or party to the case at any time or in any manner, e) The power to issue an order requesting for the submission of any document required by the court in relation to a case or matter submitted to the Supreme Court.”

‡‡Article 77 states, “In carrying out the ruling of a court if it has not be delayed by that court or a court where the case was appealed, the ruling of every court is binding towards, the executive,parliament, the judiciary, persons in independent positions, state institutions, persons fulfilling state positions, the security service sector composing of the police and defence force and all other members of the public.”


Gasim to contest election results in court: “I am saying I believe I was in first place”

Third-placed candidate in Saturday’s presidential elections, Gasim Ibrahim, has announced that he will not accept the results released by the Elections Commission (EC).

“I am saying I believe I was in first place,” said Gasim at a press conference this afternoon. “Different result reports on different media shows there were many, immense issues.”

His Jumhoree Party (JP) is disputing the election following rumours that 10,100 additional votes appeared on the results published in a number of media outlets on polling day.

Vice President of the EC Ahmed Fayaz today maintained that the EC did not consider the complaints credible, describing them as “ridiculous” and “baseless”.

According to the provisional results Gasim received 24.07 percent of the votes, narrowly losing the position of runner up to Abdulla Yameen with 25.35 percent. The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) placed first with 45.45 percent of the vote.

At today’s press conference, Gasim alleged that the EC had recommended the JP take the case to court after refusing to provide information that the party is legally entitled to.

“In some boxes, there were lots of discrepancies in numbers of eligible voters, votes cast, invalid votes,” said Gasim, whilst running-mate Dr Hassan Saeed argued that the voter lists included deceased persons and children.

“If they aren’t guilty, they should clarify offer clarifications already,” said Gasim.

JP spokesperson Ibrahim Khaleel told Haveeru earlier today that, despite approaches from other parties, Gasim had not yet held talks regarding a coalition with either of the parties through to the second round.

Commonwealth observers have praised the voter registry as “accurate and robust”: “Fears expressed by some political parties regarding possible large numbers of deceased voters and voters registered in the wrong geographic area seem to be unfounded, based on the low incidence of election day complaints,” the group stated, in its interim statement released this afternoon.

Lessons to be learned

Fayaz explained that the EC was still in the process of re-checking all votes, anticipating that a final result may be confirmed tomorrow.

Asked about the confusion over the voting figures, Fayaz criticised local media’s role in the confusion.

“Politicians and newspapers have reported this [10,000 votes issue]”, he said, singling out the online publication for particular criticism.

Fayaz urged all media outlets to carefully check their information before publication, though he did acknowledge that the EC’s own website was a source of concern.

“We wanted to share real-time results but the system did not function properly – many got misleading information from our website,” he said, assuring that the problem would be fixed before the second round.

Revealing its election observations today, the Commonwealth observer acknowledged issues related to the “private media”.

“We have to highlight this point as an area where the authorities in the Maldives should in the future sit down and see where improvements can be made. In this context the role of the Broadcasting Commission we consider to be extremely important,” said mission head Lawrence Gonzi.

“Similarly, it is important for the institutional set up to be clear on who is responsible for what. Should this be dealt with by the Elections Commission or Broadcasting Commission, and does the law empower them to redress an imbalance and what solutions are put forward?” he continued.

Drawing other conclusions from the first round, Fayaz singled out the performance of certain election officials as an issue that would need addressing.

“Some elections officials were too slow during the first round. Some will need re-training and some will need replacing,” he explained.

Upon hearing the rumours of unexplained votes after the closing of polls, a group of demonstrating JP supporters delayed the EC’s announcement of the provisional result early on Sunday morning (September 8).

The small but vocal group called for the resignation of EC Commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek, who – when finally able to announce the provisional results – dismissed the possibility of this many anomalous votes.


Elections Commission delays publishing amended voter registry

The Elections Commission (EC) has said it has been forced to delay the publication of an amended voter registry for September’s presidential election as a result of the number of complaints filed by the public.

The amended list of voters was originally due to have been published today in the government gazette.

EC Vice President Ahmed Fayaz said that despite the delay, the commission was in “full swing” with its preparations for the presidential election scheduled for September 7. He added that the commission was presently working to address a number of concerns, including assuring that the legitimate electorate were not deprived of their right to vote due to preventable issues.

According to the latest EC records, the electorate presently consists of 240,302 individuals – 31,008 more voters than the number of participants in the 2008 presidential election.

The statistics indicate that 123,565 males and 116,737 females are presently eligible to vote on September 7.

Voter registry to be “hopefully complete by week’s end”

Thaufeeq informed local media that the commission had received 2,790 complaints based on the initial voter registry, adding that verifying these complaints had proved to be highly time consuming.

“When we are verifying complaints about deceased people being listed in the voter registry, sometimes we need to actually send staff to the addresses in question to carry out verification of the claims. It’s this verification process that is taking up time,” he was quoted as saying.

Thaufeeq stated that with the commission’s staff working day and night to complete the required amendments to the voter registry, he remained hopeful that the final list would be published by the end of the week.

Thaufeeq further called on citizens and political parties to extend their cooperation in checking whether the amended list had addressed the previously lodged complaints.

“It is also very important that each individual checks the voter registry within five days after it is published to ensure that their details are correctly included in it,” he continued.

Previously, EC President Thaufeeq stated that the commission was confident the voter registry would be completed by a deadline of June 14.

He said at the time that the amendment of the voter registry had gone “better than expected”, despite challenges remaining in notifying all the complainants about the changes made to the list, as is required according to regulations.

Ballot boxes

The EC said it estimated approximately 500 ballot boxes would need to be set up for the vote on September 7.

“As per our current estimate, 495 ballot boxes will need to be set up countrywide, but that number may still increase,” Thaufeeq was quoted as telling local media.

According to the existing EC plans, 122 ballot boxes will be placed in Male’ City: 48 for citizens registered in Male’, and an additional 74 for citizens registered in other islands who live in Male’. While ballot boxes are to be placed in other inhabited islands, 55 tourist resorts will also have polling booths stationed in them.

Resorts which do not have a minimum of 50 eligible voters working in it will not have a dedicated polling booth. Instead, the Elections Commission is appealing to management of such resorts to allow staff to travel to the nearest island to place their votes.

Additionally, all jails and detention centres in the country will have ballot boxes, as well as other nations which have a minimum of 100 Maldivian citizens living in them. These countries are said to include India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and the UK.

Concerns pending solutions

EC Vice President Ahmed Fayaz has however expressed concern that the identity cards of hundreds of inmates will have expired prior to voting day.

“We have been discussing the issue with them. The renewal of identity card requires a fee to be paid, and the Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation Services have told us that they do not have sufficient funds to carry out ID renewals for the inmates,” Fayaz said.

“In the end, the only viable solution is for the concerned state authorities to find a solution for this,” he said.

Political parties contesting in the upcoming election have previously spoken to Minivan News about their respective concerns over registration and identity card renewal ahead of the vote.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s Membership and Campaign Committee member Ahmed Shahid spoke of such concerns, alleging that based on the current situation, “it doesn’t seem as though the state is really trying to solve the issues prior to the elections”.

“From the information we have gathered, we understand that approximately 40,000 identity cards will expire before September 7. According to the the information we have, the Department of National Registration has the capacity to issue about 350 or so cards a day. This suggests that the 40,000 people from the electorate will not all be able to get the cards renewed before the elections,” Shahid said at the time.

Earlier this month, Government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Nihan said the party was continuing to come across issues within the recently published election registry due to incorrect information and the inclusion of voters now believed to be deceased.

He said that with an estimated third of the population also having moved from their home islands to the capital in recent years, correct registration would be another vital issue in the lead up to September.

Nihan claimed the EC therefore “has a lot of work to do” in the lead up to September to ensure its database of registered voters was both up-to-date and correct.

“The government also has to try and provide the funds for the EC and also participate with international stakeholders to get the assistance to ensure elections are free and fair,” he said.


Elections Commission deputy backs dropping fingerprinting for party membership applications

A decision by Parliament’s Independent Institutions Committee to cease requiring fingerprints on political party application forms has been welcomed by Vice President of Elections Commission (EC) Ahmed Fayaz, who downplayed concerns over the potential for future membership fraud.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Fayaz stressed that the EC would not be officially commenting on the parliamentary commission’s decision yesterday until speaking with various party leaders. However, he claimed that he personally believed the Majlis recommendation to discontinue the use of fingerprints would make the system of membership applications more efficient and easier for both the EC and political parties.

Announcing the decision yesterday to recommend an end to fingerprinting, the Independent Institutions Committee members questioned the efficiency of such technology, arguing that no mechanism or database presently existed in the Maldives that could store the required amounts of information.

Nonetheless, local NGO the Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) told Minivan News that while it was unsure of the efficiency of the EC’s fingerprint system, fraudulent membership registration for Maldivian political parties remained a significant problem that needed to be addressed. MDN claimed that alternative methods of party member verification should now be sought by parliament and the EC.

Fayaz responded that under regulations adopted in 2005, political parties had not been requested to submit membership forms to the EC. Instead, he said they have been required every three months to produce a list of their members including names and their ID number.

“When these lists are sent, these members should not be registered with other political parties,” he said. “[Parties] must check for themselves that these members are genuine.”

Fayaz said he believed that the present system of checking party membership lists every three months left little room for “fraud” within the system. He claimed therefore that a larger issue facing party membership rather than fraud was the state system of giving payments to parties on the basis of which group had the largest number of followers.

Fayaz accepted that the use of a verification system “like fingerprinting” could help stop possible fraud within party memberships, particularly in the case of people charged with recruiting members for the country’s political parties.

“I think some of the people doing recruiting [for parties] may in cases go beyond the rules,” he said, noting that there had been an improvement in following regulations in recent years.

Upon taking his oath of office along with current EC President Fuad Thaufeeq back in 2009, Fayaz claimed they had discovered “a culture” at the commission where regulations were often not being followed as required under laws outlining political party memberships.

“Perhaps under pressure from political parties there was a regulation where membership lists were not being checked every quarter,” he added, claiming that regulations were now being upheld up by the EC.

Speaking to Minivan News yesterday, MDN Executive Director Humaida Abdul Gafoor said the NGO was extremely concerned at ongoing cases of members being signed up to parties fraudulently.

“Often, people are not aware they have been signed up,” she stated. “It is imperative that it is down to an individual to decide which party they want to belong to and no one else.”

Humaida Abdul Gafoor said it was vital that some form of verification mechanism was in place to ensure party memberships were genuine, adding that a bigger issue facing the committee was in finding alternatives to the fingerprint technology, rather than simply halting it.

“We don’t know if the EC’s adoption of fingerprinting was a move in the right direction in first place,” she added.

System criticism

Explaining the decision to discontinue the EC’s request for fingerprints, Deputy Chairman of the Independent Institutions Committee, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ahmed Sameer, said that the Maldives did not presently have a mechanism or system to collect and store such information.

“In regards to issues with the fingerprinting system, the EC, Department of National Registration and the Maldives Police Service all agreed they didn’t have enough records or verification systems available,” he told Minivan News.

One ongoing critic of the EC’s fingerprint system is MP Ahmed Mahloof of the government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

Back in September, Mahloof alleged via local media that close to 8000 membership forms from his party have been rejected by the Elections Commission (EC) – mainly due to the quality of fingerprints appearing on the forms.

The MP claimed that the fingerprint issue had arisen because the EC did not have sufficiently modern machinery to look at the fingerprints, relying instead on the perception of its staff – drastically limiting memberships numbers for the party.

A spokesperson for the EC told Minivan News at the time that similar complaints had been received from other political parties including the Jumhoree Party (JP), Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP), and the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

PPM MP Mahloof, DRP chief Ahmed Thasmeen Ali and DQP Leader Dr Hassan Saeed were not responding to phone calls by Minivan News at the time of going to press.