UPR report shared with judiciary before submission, says HRCM at Supreme Court trial

The Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) shared its Universal Period Review (UPR) report with the Department of Judicial Administration (DJA) and sought feedback ahead of submission to the UN Human Rights Council, the commission’s lawyer told the Supreme Court today.

The DJA – which functions under the direct supervision of the Supreme Court – did not respond to the request for commentary on the report or object to its content, the lawyer noted at the first hearing of the trial.

All five HRCM members are on trial after the apex court initiated suo moto proceedings in relation to the UPR report, which suggested that the Supreme Court’s control over the judiciary was undermining powers of lower courts.

At the beginning of the hearing, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain reportedly said that the HRCM’s report contained false and misleading information concerning procedural matters of the judiciary.

The suo moto proceedings – which allows the court to act as both prosecution and judge – were initiated to hold the commission’s members accountable under Article 141 of the Constitution, Article 9 of the Judicature Act, and Supreme Court regulations, the chief justice said.

Article 141(b) states, “The Supreme Court shall be the highest authority for the administration of justice in the Maldives.”

Article 141(c) states, “No officials performing public functions, or any other persons, shall interfere with and influence the functions of the courts,” while section (d) states, “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.”

The commission’s attorney Maumoon Hameed explained that each UN member state was required to submit a report for the UPR.

The UPR is a state-driven process that reviews the human rights records of all 193 UN member states every four years, based on submissions by the government, the UN, NGOs and human rights commissions. The Maldives’ review is scheduled to take place in April or May 2015.

In a press release today, the HRCM said it submitted as evidence information regarding the UPR process as well as commentary received from various state institutions.

“At today’s hearing, the commission requested an opportunity to submit further information and evidence,” the press release stated.

“The Supreme Court adjourned today’s hearing. The commission has not yet been informed of a date for the next hearing.”

The next hearing has since been scheduled for 1:30pm on Sunday, September 28.

Noting that Supreme Court decisions could not be challenged as it was the highest court of appeal, Hameed had, however, asked for five working days to prepare a defence.

Control of judiciary

Less than two weeks before the parliamentary polls in March, the Supreme Court had charged Elections Commission Chair Fuwad Thowfeek and Deputy Chair Ahmed Fayaz with contempt of court and dismissed the pair under unprecedented suo moto proceedings.

Subsequent changes to contempt of court regulations made in June authorised courts to penalise individuals for any expression, action, gesture, or piece of writing “inside or outside a courtroom” that could be considered contempt of court.

Meanwhile, in a press statement yesterday, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party noted that under Article 27 of the HRCM Act a case could only be filed against the commission regarding published reports following an inquiry which proves components of the report to have been false.

In its UPR report, the HRCM stated that the Supreme Court’s control of the judiciary was weakening judicial powers vested in lower courts.

“Supreme Court issued a circular ordering all state institutions not to communicate to individual courts regarding any information relating to the judiciary except through the Supreme Court. HRCM is facing difficulties in gathering information related to judiciary due to lack of cooperation,” the report stated.

Moreover, the report noted that “due to shortfalls in judicial system, functioning of the judiciary is often questionable on various grounds including independence, transparency, interference, influence, competency, consistency, and accessibility.”

Through a raft of regulations enacted in recent months, the Supreme Court has sought to consolidate control over administrative affairs of the judiciary.

In a comprehensive report on the Maldivian judiciary released in May 2013, United Nations Special Rapporteur for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, wrote that centralising administrative decisions in the hands of the Supreme Court “has undoubtedly contributed to the strong impression that lower courts are excluded from the administration of justice and decision-making processes.”

The Maldives representative to the UNHRC subsequently accused the special rapporteur of undermining the sovereignty of the country.

Criticism of the Supreme Court’s role in the electoral process by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay last October was meanwhile described as “ill-informed” and “irresponsible” by former President Dr Mohamed Waheed.

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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.

Punishment

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.

‘Sumoto’

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.

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DhiFM Plus airs upside down photo of broadcasting commission chair

Private broadcaster DhiTV and sister network DhiFM Plus have responded to threats of action by the Broadcasting Commission regarding violations of the broadcasting code of practice by displaying an upside down photo of the commission’s chair, Mohamed Shaheeb.

The commission issued a stern warning yesterday of possible action against the broadcaster for repeatedly displaying upside down photos of Elections Commission (EC) members in late February.

As the commission had previously decided that the move contravened the broadcasting code of practice, the broadcasting regulator said in a statement yesterday that its members unanimously decided to issue a warning to Broadcasting Maldives Pvt Ltd – the company that operates DhiTV – under article 44(a)(2) of the Broadcasting Commission Act.

The upside down photo of Shaheeb on DhiFM’s visual radio channel – also aired on DhiTV during its downtime – is accompanied by a news ticker that reads, ‘Experts say that making such a harsh announcement while [we] have been apologising in compliance with the Broadcasting Commission’s instructions is a step backwards for democracy’.

Last month, the commission asked DhiFM Plus to publicly apologise for broadcasting an upside down photo of former EC Chair Fuwad Thowfeek.

The commission noted at the time that the station had previously been advised that the upside-down content was in violation of the code of practice, instructing the private broadcaster to issue a statement of apology to be aired between 8:00pm and 10:00pm before March 26.

The station had been asked in February to cease broadcasting upside down photos pending the conclusion of an investigation by the commission.

Similar advice was given to the broadcaster in November last year after upside down photos of three EC members were shown with a caption alleging electoral fraud in the annulled September 7 presidential election.

In March, the Supreme Court stripped Thowfeek and EC Deputy Chair Ahmed Fayaz of their membership over charges of contempt of court, prompting DhiTV and DhiFM to resume airing their upside down photos.

Following the incident, the broadcasting commission sent a circular to all broadcasters noting that it had received complaints and appealed against the disrespectful use of photos.

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EC members Manik, Farooq summoned for questioning by police

Elections Commission (EC) members Ali Mohamed Manik and Mohamed Farooq were summoned for questioning by police last night.

Farooq told the press upon emerging from the police headquarters that he was questioned about the distribution of voters on the Malé municipality special register to various constituencies in the capital.

Farooq said he answered all the questions put to him by police interrogators, declining to reveal further details.

The police summons for the pair followed questioning of dismissed EC Chair Fuwad Thowfeek on Sunday night.

Thowfeek was questioned over a leaked phone conversation between himself and former President Mohamed Nasheed, during which the pair discussed the distribution of citizens on the municipal register to constituencies in Malé ahead of the parliamentary elections due to take place on March 22.

The former EC chair exercised his constitutional right to remain silent, a police media official confirmed to Minivan News yesterday (March 17).

Following the release of the phone call recording on social media, Deputy Minister of Youth and Sports Abdulla Rifau ‘Bochey’ – a candidate of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) for the Maafanu South constituency in the capital – filed a case with the police alleging that Thowfeek had abused his powers as the commission’s chair.

Thowfeek, however, told local media that he had offered clarifications on the municipal registry issue to any politician who had contacted him over the phone.

The commission held a number of meetings with representatives from political parties to discuss the distribution of voters on the municipal registry, he explained.

Thowfeek also said that he shared his concerns regarding the Supreme Court’s contempt of court charges against EC members with various politicians.

“I also shared this concern with President Abdulla Yameen through a text message. In that same manner, I shared my concerns with Nasheed, too,” he said.

Municipal register

In December, the EC compiled a report on electoral constituencies for the 2014 parliamentary elections, increasing voting districts from 77 to 85 in accordance with the Electoral Constituencies Act.

Citizens on the municipal register – residents without a permanent address in Malé – were distributed among constituencies in the capital following consultation with MPs representing the 11 constituencies in Malé.

In the approximately three-minute long recording that surfaced on social media, Nasheed and Thowfeek are heard discussing the redistribution of voters.

“Some of our members went to discuss the matter of the municipal register border, didn’t they? It was agreed then that Maafannu will be kept as in the final report, yes? In short, it was agreed that some changes will be brought to Henveiru and the remaining people on the register will be distributed to the four constituencies of Maafannu, yes?” Nasheed is heard asking.

Thowfeek replies, “Yes, yes, the current borders are something that everyone has agreed on.”

Nasheed then inquires, “have any additional changes been brought to the list later on the request of Maafannu [West] constituency MP Abdulla Abdul Raheem?”

In response, Thowfeek states that no such changes had been made and that Abdul Raheem had visited the commission to discuss the issue.

MP Abdul Raheem was suspended from the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in January after voting to approve President Abdulla Yameen’s cabinet against the party’s three-line whip.

He did not contest in the party’s parliamentary primaries or seek re-election.

Following the leak of the phone conversation, MP Abdulla Abdul Raheem explained on Twitter that the EC “invited all members representing Malé constituencies to meet with them” on December 26 to discuss the final report on parliamentary constituencies.

“I highlighted the issue of dhafthar [municipal register] being allocated to only 1 constituency instead of distributing it equally between 4 constituencies,” he tweeted.

MPs ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik, Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, Mohamed Rasheed, and Ibrahim from the MDP along with PPM MPs Ahmed Nihan and Ahmed Mahloof attended the meeting, Abdul Raheem revealed.

The final report was amended “after our contribution,” he added.

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Dismissed EC Chief Thowfeek summoned to police over leaked phone calls

Former Elections Commission (EC) President Fuwad Thowfeek was summoned to police on Sunday night for questioning in an investigation regarding a leaked phone call between himself and former President Mohamed Nasheed.

In the leaked phone recordings, Fuwad and Nasheed are heard to discuss two issues – the Supreme Court case against the EC and the distribution of persons in the country’s municipal register to various constituencies.

A police media official confirmed to Minivan News that Thowfeek exercised his constitutional right to remain silent when questioned about the case.

Thowfeek was dismissed from his post by the Supreme Court earlier this month, and given a six month jail sentence, suspended for three years.

Delivering the verdict, the court contended that Thowfeek and his fellow EC members had “openly and systematically” brought the Supreme Court into disrepute, “deliberately challenged Supreme Court rulings” and “serially held [the court] in contempt” during press conferences.

The People’s Majlis subsequently declared the ruling unconstitutional, while its independent commissions oversight committee has maintained that he remains in his post despite the apex court’s verdict.

In response to the leaked recording, Thowfeek told media that he has shared concerns about the case with many politicians in addition to Nasheed, as well as having provided clarifications on the matter of the municipal register to all politicians who had requested him to do so.

Following the release of the recording on social media, Deputy Minister of Youth and Sports Abdulla Rifau ‘Bochey’ filed a case with the police alleging that Thowfeek had abused his powers as EC president.

The case has also been filed with the Anti Corruption Commission.

Coming out of the Police Headquarters after an hour, Thowfeek declined from commenting and was not answering calls at the time of press.

“I have nothing to say on the matter at this time,” he was reported as telling media.

EC Legal Director Haneefa Khalid accompanied Thowfeek to the police station as his legal representative.

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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.

Verdict:

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.”

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EC dismissals: MDP condemns, government coalition commends decision

Following the Supreme Court’s removal of Elections Commission (EC) President Fuwad Thowfeek and Vice President Ahmed Fayaz from their posts, responses have come from across the political spectrum.

While coalition partner Jumhooree Party (JP) leader and tourism tycoon Gasim Ibrahim has spoken in support of the court’s decision, senior members of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) have condemned the verdict, with former President Mohamed Nasheed appealing to the public to stage demonstrations.

Meanwhile, the government has announced that it will proceed with setting in place arrangements to ensure that the upcoming Parliamentary elections are held on schedule on March 22.

Verdict must not be challenged: Gasim

Gasim has stated that no one holding any state position should challenge the verdict of the apex court, which he has claimed demonstrated that no one in any state position can act against any decision of the Supreme Court.

Speaking at an event held at the JP’s central campaign office Kunooz on Sunday night, he asserted that the verdict was the direct result of the actions of EC President Fuwad Thowfeek. Fuwad himself had admitted to having acted against the orders of the Supreme Court, he added.

“The reason why I am praising the decision of the Supreme Court is because, in order to maintain national unity and peace, this verdict has demonstrated that no one can act in breach of the rule of law,” Gasim is quoted as saying in local media.

Gasim stated that the final decisions lie with the apex court, and no one – including the parliament – can challenge these decisions. He called upon those displeased with the court’s verdict to “adopt the way of peaceful dialogue instead of taking to the streets and protesting”.

Nasheed calls on citizens to protest

Speaking at a political rally in the island of Dhihdhoo on Sunday night, former President Mohamed Nasheed described the verdict as “unconstitutional” and called on citizens to come out in protest.

He stated that it was the saddest moment in the constitutional history of the Maldives, accusing the apex court of “undermining the constitution which consists of high hopes of the citizens” and of “stripping independent commissions of their powers”.

“Tonight we are seeing the Supreme Court undermine the constitution of the Maldives by leaving the EC powerless and sentencing its president and vice president to jail.”

“It is the parliament that is tasked with oversight of the work of the EC. The constitution very clearly states this. Tonight we have seen [the Supreme Court] attempt to undermine the hopes of a large number of citizens”.

Nasheed stated that the new constitution of the Maldives was set in place and accepted by the people due to the bitter experiences that they had previously known.

“It was because injustice, discrimination, and inequality had settled among us to alarming extent. The Maldivian people wanted to enjoy the country’s richness to its full extent, Maldivians wanted to enjoy the certainty of having human rights safeguarded at its fullest. They wanted justice to be served in the Maldives.”

“If the elections are not held in a free and fair manner, then the resulting government will not be free or fair either,” Nasheed stated, calling on citizens to get strength from one another, to overcome their fears, and to come out in protest against the Supreme Court’s decision.

Nasheed said that the MDP needed to decide whether it will participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections. A meeting of the party’s National Council will take place at 9pm tonight.

Party Chairperson ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik questioned whether the court had the authority to remove members of the EC, whilst Spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor described the decision as “evidence that we will not see a free and fair election in this country”.

Will take necessary action to implement SC verdict: Government

The government has meanwhile stated that it will take all necessary action to implement the Supreme Court verdict without delay.

“The government will not criticize or challenge this verdict. In the current system of governance, the executive’s role is to implement whatever responsibilities that such an order places on us without further delay. We will proceed to do just that,” President’s Office Spokesman Ibrahim Muaz Ali stated.

The president will work on sending names for the vacant EC posts of the parliament as soon as possible, he said, noting that the court’s verdict ordered the elections to go ahead on schedule.

“The government believes that the parliament should also cooperate in such matters. The sad thing is that this is not the spirit we are seeing from the parliament,” Muaz stated, expressing concern about the delay in parliament in appointing a member to the previously vacated EC position.

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Alleged calls between EC Chair Thowfeek and former President Nasheed leaked

Following the Supreme Court’s verdict removing Elections Commission (EC) President Fuwad Thowfeek and his deputy Ahmed Fayaz from their positions, an alleged phone call between Thowfeek and former President Mohamed Nasheed has been leaked on social media.

The approximately 3 minute long recording consists of Thowfeek and Nasheed allegedly speaking on two different instances. The first conversation appears to involve Thowfeek expressing concern that the court was looking into the case against the EC, and the second focuses on the re-registration to various constituencies of people on the municipal register.

In the first call, the voice alleged to be Thowfeek’s states that “the Supreme Court has once against started on one of its games”, opining that it posed challenges in the work that the commission is conducting in preparation for the parliamentary elections.

While half of the response – alleged to be Nasheed’s – is unclear, he can be heard as saying that he has been made aware of the matter and is thinking about it.

The second call – seemingly initiated by Nasheed – consists of Nasheed calling Thowfeek and speaking about those on the municipal register being redistributed to various constituencies.

“Some of our members went to discuss the matter of the municipal register border, didn’t they? It was agreed then that Maafannu will be kept as in the final report, yes? In short, it was agreed that some changes will be brought to Henveiru and the remaining people on the register will be distributed to the four constituencies of Maafannu, yes?” the voice alleged to be Nasheed’s is heard saying.

The respondent in the recording is then heard to say: “Yes yes, the current borders are something that everyone has agreed on.”

The first voice then inquires, “have any additional changes been brought to the list later on the request of Maafannu Hulhan’gu constituency’s MP Abdulla Abdul Raheem?”

Thowfeek responds saying that no such changes had been brought, but that Abdul Raheem had come to the commission and made many comments.

“I deliberated with various politicians about my concerns”: Fuwad Thowfeek

Thowfeek has responded to the leaked audio, speaking to local media Haveeru today (March 10).

He stated that in various instances, he had deliberated about numerous concerns that arose during his work at the Elections Commission, with numerous political actors.

He detailed that he had spoken of his concerns regarding the Supreme Court’s case against the commission with various politicians, including former President Nasheed.

“I also shared this concern with President Abdulla Yameen through a text message. In that same manner, I shared my concerns with Nasheed too,” he is quoted as saying.

Regarding the conversation about the municipal register, Thowfeek stated that various politicians had visited the commission and held a number of different discussions on the matter.

He said that he had addressed any questions that politicians had about how the commission had sorted out the matter of the register, and had clarified any doubts they might have had.

In this manner, he had offered clarifications to Nasheed, as well as to various members of parliament via phone or through their visits to the commission offices.

“This includes members from all political parties. This even consists of members who support the government. I do not see that there is any problem with offering clarifications about a matter to anyone,” he stated.

The full leaked recording can be listened to here.

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Supreme Court strips Fuwad, Fayaz of EC membership

The Supreme Court has stripped Elections Commission (EC) President Fuwad Thowfeek and Vice President Ahmed Fayaz Hassan of their membership in the commission and sentenced the former to six months in jail.

The jail sentence was however suspended for three years.

The Supreme Court judgment also ordered the executive, parliament and the EC to “make all necessary arrangements” within six days to conduct the parliamentary elections as scheduled on March 22.

According to article 175 of the constitution, at least three members are required to “constitute a quorum at a meeting of the Elections Commission, and any decision of the Elections Commission shall be taken by a majority of votes of the members present and voting.”

With the Supreme Court’s removal of the EC’s president and his deputy, the remaining members are Ali Mohamed Manik and Mohamed Farooq.

Thowfeek was sentenced under article 88 of the penal code, which states that it is an offence to “disobey a lawful order”.

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

Of the five judges on the bench hearing the case, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain and Justice Adam Mohamed Abdulla issued dissenting opinions.

The majority opinion was formed by Justice Abdulla Saeed, Justice Ali Hameed Mohamed, and Justice Ahmed Abdulla Didi.

Delivering the verdict, Justice Saeed contended that EC members had “openly and systematically” brought the Supreme Court into disrepute, “deliberately challenged Supreme Court rulings” and “serially held [the court] in contempt” during press conferences.

The EC’s announcement for dissolving political parties without a minimum membership of 3,000 was in violation of the Supreme Court judgment that struck down articles in the Political Parties Act, the verdict stated.

Moreover, Fuwad Thowfeek’s public statements against the Supreme Court’s “procedures and jurisdictions” contravened the Judicature Act and constituted an act in violation of article 141 of the constitution – which states, “No officials performing public functions, or any other persons, shall interfere with and influence the functions of the courts.”

The court determined that the president and vice president must bear responsibility for “disobeying and challenging” Supreme Court judgments and orders, which were issued in its capacity as “the guardian of the constitution.”

Fuwad and Fayaz’s actions also contravened article 145(c) – which 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.”

The court ruled that the pair had “lost the right and legal status to remain members of the commission” and declared the seats vacant.

“Practical difficulties”

While testimony given to a parliamentary committee was used to implicate commission members of contempt of court at the second hearing, at the last hearing of the ‘sumoto’ trial on March 5 the Supreme Court imposed a travel ban on EC members pending a judgment.

Following the Supreme Court’s summoning of EC members last month, former President Mohamed Nasheed declared that the MDP will boycott the parliamentary elections if the court removes EC members.

The Supreme Court’s actions have also been been criticised by civil society and the European Union.

Speaking to Minivan News tonight, Thowfeek said he was unsure how the parliamentary polls could take place as scheduled in less than two weeks.

He noted that the president would have to invite applications from interested candidates for the three vacant EC posts and forward nominees to parliament, after which a parliamentary committee would evaluate the nominees ahead of a vote on the Majlis floor.

“It’s very difficult for me to say anything because the Supreme Court reason given for our punishment is because of when I spoke about the impracticality of the 16 point guidelines,” he said.

“When I talk about the practical difficulties, they say nobody is supposed to talk about the practical difficulties.”

Today’s Supreme Court judgment meanwhile stated that Thowfeek had admitted to attempting to hold the second round of last year’s presidential election despite a Supreme Court stay order halting the electoral process.

Following the first round in which former President Mohamed Nasheed emerged the frontrunner with 45.45 percent of the vote, third-placed candidate Gasim Ibrahim sought annulment of the results alleging widespread electoral fraud.

Pending a ruling on the business magnate’s appeal, the Supreme Court indefinitely suspended the second round scheduled for September 28 and issued a supplementary midnight ruling ordering the police and military to forcibly prevent the EC from conducting the polls.

The EC had said it intended to comply with the constitutionally-mandated deadline for the run-off, but was forced to capitulate after it was surrounded by special operations police with orders to storm the building, arrest officials and confiscate ballot papers.

On October 7, the Supreme Court annulled the results of the first round of the polls conducted on September 7 in a controversial 4-3 decision – citing a confidential police report – despite unanimous positive assessment of the polling by more than a thousand domestic and international election observers.

The eventual revote on October 19 was also obstructed by police, after Progressive Party of Maldives candidate Abdulla Yameen and Gasim refused to sign the voter registry – a requirement from a 16-point guideline imposed on the EC by the Supreme Court judgment.

* A previous version of this article stated that all four members were sentenced to jail. The Supreme Court verdict later shared with the media however stated that only Fuwad Thowfeek was sentenced.

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