Supreme Court initiates contempt charges against EC, begins surprise trial

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The Supreme Court has pressed contempt of court charges against the Elections Commission (EC) and held an unannounced hearing today under new regulations that allow the apex court to initiate charges and hold trial.

“The [Supreme Court] judges believe comments made by the Elections Commission in various forums on the court’s decisions and orders are contemptuous of the court. Today’s hearing is on our own initiative,” Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz said.

In addition to allegations of contempt of court, the EC is being charged with allegedly violating a Supreme Court order by dissolving eight minor political parties.

All four EC members were handed summons yesterday to attend the Supreme Court. However, Minivan News understands EC members and lawyers were not informed the Supreme Court would hold trial today. Case documents were only given to the commission a few minutes before trial began.

EC lawyer Hussein Siraj requested the Supreme Court to allow the commission an opportunity to research case documents and respond accordingly.

After a five-minute discussion break, Faiz agreed to the commission’s request and adjourned the hearing. He said a date for the next hearing would be announced later.

Five of the seven Supreme Court judges presided over today’s hearing, including Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz, Judge Ali Hameed, Judge Abdulla Saeed, Judge Ahmed Abdulla Didi, and Judge Adam Mohamed Abdulla.

Sumoto regulations

New regulations, titled ‘sumoto’ and publicised on February 6 allow the Supreme Court to initiate trials against any organisation or individual.

The defendants must be allowed the right to defend themselves, the regulations state.

The seven-member judge panel will preside over sumoto cases unless the Supreme Court decides otherwise.

“[The Supreme Court] must refer to how free and democratic countries act in such cases, in a manner that does not contradict the constitution of the Maldives,” the regulations state.

Contempt of court

Faiz said that the EC had made remarks in various press conferences that amounted to contempt of court, and which violated Article 145 of the constitution which states that the Supreme Court shall be the final authority on the interpretation of the constitution.

EC President Fuwad Thowfeek has previously criticised evidence used by the Supreme Court in annulling the first round of September’s presidential elections.

Four of the seven judges claimed that dead and underage voters had been allowed to vote, though it later emerged that several of those listed as deceased were in fact alive while several individuals listed as minors were in fact eligible to vote.

The EC has also said a 16-point electoral guideline imposed by the Supreme Court was “impractical”.

A leaked report by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives has also questioned the evidence, noting that the Supreme Court does not have the authority to delineate guidelines.

Political Parties Act

The EC is also being charged with violating a January 9 Supreme Court order, which invalidated an EC order to smaller political parties requiring raising their membership to 10,000.

The EC had sent the letter as per Article 27 of the Political Party Act that states that it must give political parties a three-month deadline to increase party membership to 10,000.

The Supreme Court on January 9, however, ruled that the letter was invalid as the apex court had in September struck down Article 11 of the Political Party Act. Although the Supreme Court had not expressly struck down Article 27 in its initial verdict, the January 9 order said Article 27 was no longer functional.

Speaking to Minivan News before today’s trial, Fuwad said the EC had not disobeyed the Supreme Court’s order, saying that he believed the court may be referring to the EC’s decision to dissolve eight parties on February 6 for failing to reach the mandatory minimum of 3,000 members.

“While most of these parties are not active at all, the Elections Commission made a public announcement in 2013 to find out where their offices were located as letters and other documents sent to the parties were not being delivered,” the EC stated in a press release at the time.

“We also note that these parties to whom funds have to be released every year from the state budget have not been regularly submitting audit reports to the Elections Commission.”

As inactive parties were provided large amounts of state funding, the EC noted that dissolving the parties would alleviate the strain on the state budget.


High Court overturns Magistrate Court ruling against Fulidhoo Council President

The High Court has overturned the island of Fulidhoo’s Magistrate Court ruling sentencing the island’s Council President Bushry Moosa to two months house arrest.

Bushry was sentenced to house arrest for his failure to be answerable to questions put forth by the Magistrate regarding a case against Fulidhoo Island Council.

After Bushry appealed the sentence at the High Court, the superior court overturned the Magistrate Court’s ruling on Sunday, stating that the case in question is not against Bushry as an individual, but against the council as an entity.

The High Court stated that although Bushry is the Council President, he cannot be answerable to the magistrate’s questions unless so mandated by law and regulation. It also noted that the sentence had been given after a letter had been submitted to the magistrate court informing that the council will notify them of a representative who will be answerable in the said case.

The superior court’s verdict further said that Bushry’s refusal to respond to the court’s queries cannot be considered contempt of court, or failure to abide by the judge’s orders.

It also said that if Bushry has been denied any remuneration or benefits due to the ongoing case, he has the right to submit it to the relevant court as a separate matter.

The superior court’s verdict was passed unanimously by the panel of three judges presiding on the case.


Supreme Court questions MDP Lawyer Hisaan Hussain over alleged contempt of court

The Supreme Court has questioned opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) lawyer Hisaan Hussein today for alleged contempt of court.

On September 24, the Supreme Court suspended Hisaan from defending the Elections Commission (EC) in the apex court’s hearings into a case filed by Jumhooree Party (JP) to annul the first round of presidential elections held on September 7.

The Supreme Court letter posted by Hisaan at the time stated that she had been barred from appearing before the court as her remarks “in the media as well as social media” had allegedly “diminished the dignity” of the court and were under investigation.

The letter also accused Hisaan of criticizing a Supreme Court order to delay the second round of polls until a verdict in the vote annulment case is issued.

The MDP’s Hassan Latheef and Election Commission’s (EC) Husnu Suood were also suspended.

Expressing concern over the Supreme Court’s investigation, Hisaan said: “It is deeply concerning when a court investigates lawyers. The constitution guarantees freedom of speech to all citizens without discrimination.”

Hisaan said she had told the Supreme Court that she respects the court system and that she had not disrespected the courts in any manner.

The Supreme Court had told her they would summon her later to sign her statement, she added.

The Supreme Court annulled the September 7 polls based on a secret police document that the EC was not allowed to respond to and issued several guidelines dictating the electoral process. The EC has criticized the guidelines as “restrictions” that limit the EC’s powers.

EC President Fuwad Thowfeek has also slammed the evidence used by the Supreme Court to annul the vote as “baseless.”

Meanwhile, the UN has conducted an expert UN review of the secret police report and said the September 7 poll was “all inclusive, there was no disenfranchisement and the quality of the voter register met international standards.”

UN Assistant Seceretary General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez- Taranco joined the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay in expressing deep concern over the conduct of the Supreme Court.

Several MDP MPs are currently on trial for contempt of court. The Criminal Court held a hearing yesterday against MP Imthiyaz ‘Inthi’ Fahmy for alleged contempt of court.

Fahmy’s lawyer Masthoor Husny said the regulation criminalizing contempt of court had expired in 2011.

Private broadcaster Raajje TV is also under investigation for criticizing the Supreme Court.


MP Imthiyaz Fahmy charged with contempt of court under expired regulation

Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Imthiyaz ‘Inthi’ Fahmy is being tried for contempt of court under a regulation that expired in 2011, the MP’s lawyer Masthoor Husny has said during a Criminal Court hearing today.

The Prosecutor General’s Office is charging Fahmy for comments criticizing the Supreme Court during a Raajje TV program called “Fala Suruhee” (Headlines).

Police have asked the PG to try MDP MPs Alhan Fahmy, Mohamed ‘Bonda’ Rasheed, Ali Waheed and ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik on the same charges.

Husny cited Article 19 and 59 of the Constitution ratified in 2008 which states that a citizen is free to engage in any conduct or activity that is not expressly prohibited by Islamic Shariah or by law and states that no person shall be found guilty of any act or omission.

The regulation criminalising contempt of court was to expire with the ratification of the new constitution.

But the People’s Majlis voted at the time to extend the validity of several regulations until the government is able to submit new laws that are streamlined under the new constitution.

However, in 2011, when the regulations were up for yearly review, the Majlis failed to extend the validity of the regulation criminalising contempt of court.

The hearing was adjourned today when the state prosecutor requested more time to review the matter.

Meanwhile, MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor has returned home after four weeks of refuge inside the People’s Majlis to evade Criminal Court summons issued in violation of the Parliamentary Privileges and Powers Act.

The Criminal Court then sentenced Hamid to six months in jail in absentia for disobedience to order.

The MDP had pledged to ‘clean the judiciary’ following a series of sex tapes in which Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed appears to be having sex with several foreign women in a Colombo hotel room.

The MDP has also condemned a series of controversial Supreme Court rulings annulling the first round of presidential elections held on September 7 and the stripping of parliamentary seats of MDP MP Ali Azim and MDP aligned DRP’s Mohamed Nashiz.


Chief Justice threatens action against dissemination of “invalid information”

Legal action will be taken against media organisations or journalists who disseminate false or inauthentic information concerning the judiciary, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain has warned.

Speaking at a swearing-in ceremony yesterday (October 27) for seven new judges to the superior courts, the Chief Justice warned of measures against those who report “invalid information, if it relates to courts or judges.”

“Citizens need valid information. Freedom of expression means expressing valid or authentic information. Whether it is information relating to individuals or state institutions, the information conveyed should be valid, there should be no error or deceit in the information,” he said.

“If the court is held in contempt, action will be taken,” he asserted. “I will not allow the court to be [held in] contempt through deception. If the court is [held in] contempt, I will do what I can within the bounds of the law,” Faiz added.

The Chief Justice’s remarks came after the Supreme Court last week ordered police to investigate opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV for airing a report on October 19 criticising the judiciary.

Raajje TV News Department Head Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed was summoned to the police headquarters last night concerning the investigation of the report, which raised issues surrounding the leaked sex tape of Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed.

Following the police interrogation, Asward told local media that he was accused of contempt of court over the Raajje TV report criticising the apex court.

Asward said he exercised the right to remain silent in protest of the police taking over the mandate of the Maldives Media Council (MMC) and the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) – the institutions legally empowered to investigate complaints regarding the content of media outlets.

Both the MCC and MBC have expressed concern with the court ordered investigation of Raajje TV, contending that it threatens press freedom and encroaches on the mandate of the media watchdog bodies.

Appealing to the apex court to withdraw the order to investigate, Mohamed Shaheeb from the MBC told local media yesterday that he was informed by Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz that the police were obliged to obey the Supreme Court’s order.

Following an arson attack that destroyed the headquarters of Raajje TV on October 7, Reporters Without Borders criticised the police’s failure to defend the station despite repeated requests for protection.

Moreover, Asward was attacked with an iron bar in February this year while Raajje TV’s offices were vandalised in 2012, with cables severed in the station’s control room.

Judicial reform

Faiz meanwhile contended that altering the composition of the 10-member Judicial Service Commission (JSC) –  consisting of three representatives each from the executive, legislature and judiciary as well as a lawyer elected by licensed practitioners – was necessary to strengthen the judiciary.

In a comprehensive report on the Maldivian judiciary released in May, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Lawyers and Judges, Gabriela Knaul, stated that there was near unanimous consensus during her visit that the composition of the JSC was “inadequate and politicised.”

The issue was also highlighted in a report by the International Committee of Jurists (ICJ) in 2010.

“Because of this politicisation, the commission has allegedly been subjected to all sorts of external influence and has consequently been unable to function properly,” said Knaul.

While the composition of the JSC in the Maldivian constitution was based on the South African model, Faiz said in his speech yesterday that he was told by a retired South African judge that the model had “failed” in his country.

“A lot of people believe that every fault of the JSC is reflected in the judiciary,” Faiz said, adding that proper functioning of the oversight body would benefit the judiciary.

The JSC should work together with the courts following extensive consultation to implement changes to strengthen the judiciary, Faiz suggested.

The JSC should also expedite investigations of complaints concerning judges and “free” them from the allegations to ensure public confidence in the “integrity of judges,” he said.

“If not, the issues we are facing now, what is being said [about the judiciary] now will continue in the same vein,” Faiz said.

However, he added, criticism of the judiciary or “a complaint against a judge” does not warrant disregarding court judgments.

“If the decisions of the courthouse are not enforced, rule of law will not be maintained in this country. The courthouse has been entrusted with upholding rule of law. So the decisions of courts should be and will be enforced in this country,” Faiz asserted.

Under no circumstances could the enforcement of a court decision be delayed or ignored, he stressed.

Faiz revealed that he had spoken to the speaker of parliament regarding a recent Supreme Court judgment, referring to the apex court disqualifying two MPs over an alleged decreed debt.

“I told him that the Supreme Court’s decision must be enforced. There is no question about it. Who will determine if the Supreme Court’s decision is legitimate? Who will determine if the Supreme Court decision was made in accordance with the procedures? It will still be determined by the Supreme Court,” Faiz said.


Media Council expresses concern with court ordered police investigation of Raajje TV

The Maldives Media Council (MMC) has expressed concern with the Supreme Court asking police to investigate a report aired by opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV.

The MMC noted in a press release yesterday (October 25) that attending complaints concerning the content of Maldivian media outlets and taking measures was within the legal mandate of the media council and the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC).

“The Maldives Media Council Act states that it is the media council that should investigate issues concerning press freedom and take measures. And a police investigation of such a case would be an obstruction of the press freedom established in the Maldives as well as an act that would instil fear in the hearts of journalists,” the statement read.

The MMC statement concluded by urging all state institutions to submit complaints regarding the media to the council and to “respect the laws and the bounds of the constitution.”

According to local media reports, the Supreme Court asked both the police and the broadcasting commission to investigate the Raajje TV report.

Mohamed Shaheeb from the broadcasting commission told newspaper Haveeru that the Supreme Court ordered the commission to share the findings of its investigation within 10 days.

Shaheeb noted that the law gave the commission 60 days to investigate complaints, adding that it had to provide sufficient time to the accused media outlet to respond to the charges.

The offending programme on Raajje TV reportedly compared the state of the Maldivian judiciary to the injustice of ancient Sodom.

Following an arson attack that destroyed the headquarters of Raajje TV on October 7, Reporters Without Borders criticised the police’s failure to defend the station despite repeated requests for police protection.

“Contempt of court”

The Supreme Court has previously asked the police to investigate lawyers and MPs for alleged contempt of court for publicly criticising the judiciary.

In February 2013, the Supreme Court suspended lawyer Abdulla Haseen after he criticised the judiciary in an appearance on Raajje TV.

Haseen was barred from advocating in any court in the country while the Supreme Court asked police to investigate him for contempt of court.

The Prosecutor General’s Office however decided not to prosecute Haseen after police concluded its investigation.

However, opposition Maldivian Democratic Party MPs Imthiyaz Fahmy and Alhan Fahmy have been charged with contempt of court after allegedly defaming the Supreme Court.

In a comprehensive report on the Maldivian judiciary released in May, United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Lawyers and Judges, Gabriela Knaul, expressed concern over “the case of a lawyer who had been indefinitely suspended by the Supreme Court for allegedly criticizing one of its judgements in public”.

“Such a suspension leaves no avenue for appeal and review and it represents a violation of the rights of the lawyer. The Special Rapporteur is also concerned about reports regarding threats of contempt of court used to muzzle the freedom of expression of lawyers,” the report stated.


Police probing MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy’s “contemptuous remarks” against judiciary

Police have begun investigating opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Imthiyaz ‘Inthi’ Fahmy for allegedly making “contemptuous remarks” against the  judiciary, during a TV program broadcast by opposition-aligned television station Raajje TV.

Fahmy told Minivan News that police called him on Wednesday and informed him that the case was being investigated on the judiciary’s request.

However police media official Sub-inspector Hassan Haneef said he was “unsure” whether  police were currently investigating the matter, but said cases concerning contempt of court previously been investigated and sent for prosecution.

Police sent a case concerning Imthiyaz Fahmy for prosecution in June 2012, requesting he be charged with disobeying orders, obstructing police duty and physically assaulting a female police officer during an MDP demonstration on May 29, that had followed the dismantling of the party’s protest camp at Usfasgandu.

In a subsequent statement condemning “excessive use of force” against demonstrators, Amnesty International staed that according to Fahmy, “police in Dhoonidhoo told him he was arrested for ‘disrupting peace’.”

The next day in court, police stated that he had been detained for ‘physically attacking a woman police officer.”

Fahmy denied the charges pressed against him by the prosecution.

Regarding the new police investigation, Fahmy claimed the judiciary was attempting to silence elected members of the public and that allegations of contempt of court were a facade.

“People elected me to find faults in institutions such as the courts find ways to reform them, to correct those faults. I have been elected as a member of parliament by the people to talk about such issues and that is my responsibility. It is a duty vested in me by the people and I will remain firm in executing that duty,” Fahmy told Minivan News.

He further claimed that discrepancies and flaws within the courts were already being widely discussed by the general public.

“The courts themselves do not comprehend the real meaning of the concept of judicial independence,” he claimed.

“They should also understand that dignity and honour is not a one-way train. It goes both ways. Their actions should be of a standard and performed in a transparent fashion so as to have dignity.”

In a statement issued during her visit to the Maldives in February 2013, United Nations Special Rapporteur (UNSR) on Independence of Judges and Lawyers Gabriela Knaul  stated that she had found that the concept of independence of the judiciary has been “misconstrued and misinterpreted” by all actors, including the judiciary itself, in the Maldives.

“The requirement of independence and impartiality does not aim at benefiting the judges themselves, but rather the court users, as part of their inalienable right to a fair trial,” Knaul stated in her concluding statement.

Beyond Knaul, Fahmy noted that several other international experts on judicial independence, including International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), judicial expert Professor Paul H Robinson, United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) as well as the report by the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) – which was set up to look into the legality of the controversial ascension of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan to presidency on February 2012 – had highlighted “serious flaws” within the judiciary.

“The first thing is that the judges were wrongfully reappointed. The constitutional provisions indicate that the judges were appointed by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) wrongly without proper consideration being given to Article 285 of the constitution. That is unconstitutional,” he added.

Fahmy – who is a lawyer himself – claimed that other powers of the state including the legislature and the executive had been set up in accordance with the 2008 constitution and that it was only the courts and the judiciary that had failed to be established in accordance with the new constitution.

“Am I being punished for coming out and speaking the truth? What is so wrong in me reiterating the same facts that are being highlighted by several respected international authorities on the same issue?” he questioned.

Apart from Fahmy, cases against several other MDP MPs are either being currently investigated or being heard in the courts including that of MP Ali Waheed (the party’s Deputy Parliamentary Group Leader), MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor (the party’s spokesperson for international affairs), MP Abdulla Jabir, MP Mohamed ‘Matrix’ Rasheed and MP Ibrahim ‘Bondey’ Rasheed.

Charges faced by the MPs include contempt of court, obstruction of police duty as well as offence of consumption of alcohol.  According to the constitution, a member of parliament loses his seat should he be convicted of a criminal offense that requires serving a sentence longer than a period of 12 months.


Kodey councillor loses seat after being sentenced for contempt of court

Gaaf Alif Kodey Councillor Ahmed Abbas of the Jumhoree Party (JP) has lost his seat on the island council after being sentenced to four months imprisonment for contempt of court.

The Kodey magistrate court sentenced Abbas on June 19 after he refused to comply with three court summons and appear at court in relation to two ongoing cases.

Under the landmark Decentralisation Act of 2010, councillors convicted of a criminal offence are to be stripped of their seats.


Attorney General accuses Gahdhoo Court of misleading the public

The Attorney General’s Office has accused Gahdhoo Island Court of misleading the public, after the Court summoned the AG and threatened to hold him in contempt of court if he failed to appear.

The judge had requested the AG’s Office send a representative to appear in an ongoing trial of a case concerning the government.

In a statement, the AG’s Office said that the case Gahdhoo Island Court was referring to was a suit related to the Pension Administration Office, which had its own legal authority to both file suits and respond to legal summons. The government was not required to send representatives from the AG’s Office, it said.

The AG’s Office further claimed said that the Gahdhoo Island Court had not examined the suit in as much detail as it was obliged to do legally, and had mistakenly registered the suit as against the government rather than the Pension Administration Office.

According to the statement, the AG Office had not received any summons chit from the court besides the one sent yesterday, and that there was no reason for the Prosecutor General to take action against the AG.

The AG Office accused Gahdhoo Island Court of phoning media outlets and telling them that the Attorney General was in contempt of court.

Gahdhoo Island Court yesterday sent a summons chit to Attorney General Abdulla Muiz, requesting he produce himself to the island court.

According to the local media, the Gahdhoo Court Judge decided to summon Muiz after the AG’s Office did not send a representative from the AG in a case involving the office.

The judge claimed that the AG was guilty of contempt of court and requested the Prosecutor General to take action against him, and said that no exemption would be made if Muiz defied the summons.