Police stopped election illegally, in violation of constitution: Human Rights Commission

Police blocked the Elections Commission (EC) from conducting the re-vote of the presidential election on October 19 in contravention of the constitution, the Police Act, and the Elections Act, the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) has said.

The commission said in a press statement yesterday (October 22) that it had replied to a letter sent by the Maldives Police Service (MPS) seeking to clarify which laws the police had violated and whether its claims on local media that police stopped the election were based on an investigation.

Police said on their website on Monday (October 21) that claims of the police acting outside their law enforcement mandate were “misleading” and were made “without considering the truth of the matter at all.”

The HRCM said in its reply that an investigation had been launched “immediately” upon learning that police had obstructed the EC on the morning of October 19 – an hour before polls were due to open.

The commission’s staff went to the EC offices, made inquiries and sought information from the EC secretary general as well as police officers.

“It was established with certainty through the commission’s inquiries that [police] stopped the Elections Commission from taking anything out [of its office],” HRCM said.

Announcing the cancellation of the polls on October 19, the EC said in a statement that its staff were told by police officers that “no document relating to the election can leave the commission’s offices”.

As HRCM deputy chair, Ahmed Tholal, was unable to contact the police focal point until 11:45am despite repeated calls. The commission’s letter dismissed as “false” the police’s contention that the HRCM’s condemnation in the media was made “without any consideration [of the facts].”

The HRCM also revealed that Acting Home Minister Ahmed Shafeeu told the commission that police had “acted upon an order given to them”.

Moreover, the HRCM noted that “the police stand” was made clear in a press conference by Chief Superintendent Abdulla Nawaz on the morning of October 19, in which he said that the police decided not to provide cooperation to the EC as it had not followed the 16-point guidelines imposed by the Supreme Court judgment that annulled the September 7 election.

Following the HRCM statement, former President Mohamed Nasheed tweeted today that he believes the prosecutor general should prosecute Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz for blocking the re-scheduled vote.

Appearing before the parliamentary Security Services ‘241’ Committee on Monday, Riyaz had however denied that police had blocked the election, insisting that the MPS only refused to provide security and cooperation.

Constitution and laws

The HRCM statement meanwhile listed the articles of the constitution and relevant laws that the police violated by obstructing the EC.

By blocking the election, the police “deprived all Maldivian citizens of the right to vote stated in article 26 of the constitution”.

Police also prevented the EC from carrying out its constitutionally mandated duties specified in article 170, which states that the powers and responsibilities of the commission include conducting, managing, supervising and facilitating all elections and public referendums, ensuring the proper exercise of the right to vote, and ensuring that “all elections and public referendums are conducted freely and fairly, without intimidation, aggression, undue influence or corruption.”

Consequently, the HRCM contended, “the Maldives Police Service on October 19, 2013 robbed the Elections Commission of its legal status”.

The commission noted that article 237 specifies the responsibilities of the security services as protecting the nation’s sovereignty, maintaining its territorial integrity, defending the constitution and democratic institutions, enforcing law and order, and rendering assistance in emergencies.

The HRCM argued that the proper role of the police on election day should be “acting upon the advice and consultation” of the EC to prevent the possible intimidation or aggression referred to in article 170.

Relevant laws, MoUs, and Supreme Court guidelines

The HRCM further contended that police violated article 7 of the Police Act (Dhivehi) by obstructing the election and “blocking the basic right of citizens to vote” as the law states that police must respect and protect the fundamental rights of citizens in the performance of duties.

Moreover, since article 13 of the police law states that police powers and discretions are derived from and restricted by the constitution, relevant laws and regulations, and court orders, the HRCM stated that on October 19 police acted “outside the bounds of the law and without a court order to stop the election”.

While police claimed that security and cooperation was withdrawn because the EC breached point five of the Supreme Court guidelines, “as point five of the guidelines does not definitively order the Maldives Police Service to do or not do anything, this commission believes that the police violated the aforementioned guidelines.”

As the Elections Act does not authorise any institution “to exert influence or power” over the EC’s work, the HRCM letter stated that police obstructed the EC in violation of the election law and “in a way that undermines the independence of the Elections Commission guaranteed by the constitution.”

The HRCM also noted that police breached the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding signed between the MPS and EC on September 3, which specified the role of the police in assisting the EC with election-related security.

As police were asked to maintain security and provide protection to the EC, the MoU “under no circumstances gave the power to police to obstruct the Elections Commission.”

The HRCM also argued that police contravened the Supreme Court guidelines as the first point ordered the EC and all state institutions to ensure that the first round of the presidential election was held by October 20.