Former President Nasheed’s trial politically motivated: Bar Human Rights Committee

The trial of former President Mohamed Nasheed on charges of illegally detaining a judge appears to be a politically motivated attempt to bar the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) candidate from the 2013 presidential election, the Bar Human Rights Committee (BHRC) concluded in a report launched on Thursday (December 13).

The report was compiled by Stephen Cragg on behalf of the BHRC, the international human rights arm of the Bar of England and Wales, following a visit to the Maldives from November 3 to 6 to observe hearings of former President Nasheed’s trial.

“BHRC notes that Mr Nasheed’s lawyers have petitioned the prosecutor-general to review whether the prosecution of Mr Nasheed is in the public interest, and it seems to BHRC that this is an application worthy of very serious consideration,” the report stated.

“BHRC is concerned that a primary motivation behind the present trial is a desire by those in power to exclude Mr Nasheed from standing in the 2013 elections, and notes international opinion that this would not be a positive outcome for the Maldives.”

According to a press release by the BHRC, the report was based on “an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the trial of ex-President Mohamed Nasheed.” The BHRC observer, Stephen Cragg, is a member of the bar and barrister at Doughty Street Chambers.

Former President Nasheed faces criminal charges for the military’s controversial detention of Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed on January 16 this year.

Home Minister Hassan Afeef sought to justify the arrest at the time on the grounds that the judge was a national security threat after he blocked investigation of his misconduct by the judicial watchdog and quashed a police summons for him.

The judge had “taken the entire criminal justice system in his fist,” Afeef said, accusing Abdulla Mohamed of obstructing high-profile corruption casesreleasing murder suspects, colluding with drug traffickers, and barring media from corruption trials.

Judge Abdulla “hijacked the whole court” by deciding that he alone could issue search warrants, Afeef contended, and had arbitrarily suspended court officers.

In the conclusions of the BHRC report, the author observed that the detention of the judge was “not a simple case of abuse of power.”

“Rather, the underlying narrative of the situation is that of a president desperate to bring change to a new democracy after decades of oppression, and finding himself thwarted by the inability of the organs of state set up by the constitution to deliver much needed  reform,” the report stated.

Referring to “the large number of international reports” that have found the Maldivian judiciary to be flawed, the BHRC noted that the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) “failed in its twin tasks of ensuring that the judiciary has the appropriate experience and qualifications, and in bringing to book the judges who fail to fully and fairly implement the rule of law.”

“Implicit in these criticisms is that Mr Nasheed cannot be guaranteed a fair trial,” the report concluded.

The BHRC also expressed concern with the “deterioration of human rights protection in the Maldives since the transfer of power in February 2012” as reported by Amnesty International and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).

“Again, a failure to comply with human rights standards by the Maldivian authorities is a grave threat to the democracy so recently achieved,” the report stated.

“How the Maldives deals with this prosecution and trial (if it goes ahead) may well decide the course of its government for years to come.”

Back in September, the government criticised Amnesty International’s report, “The Other side of Paradise: A Human Rights Crisis in the Maldives”, as being “one sided”.

The BHRC is a UK-based independent body “concerned with protecting the rights of advocates, judges and human rights defenders around the world.”

JSC and failure of oversight

The BHRC report also noted that article 285 of the constitution mandated the JSC to determine whether or not the judges on the bench possessed “the educational qualifications, experience and recognized competence necessary to discharge the duties and responsibilities of a judge, [and] high moral character.”

“However, the JSC  failed to bring in any standards in the two years allowed and in August 2010 almost all judges, good and bad, were re-instated in post at that point amidst much controversy,” the report observed.

It added that the International Committee of Jurists (ICJ) expressed concern with the JSC’s failure to “fulfil its constitutional mandate of proper vetting and reappointment of judges.”

“The JSC (made up of politicians, lawyers and judges) has also been criticised as ineffective in its other role of overseeing  complaints about judges. Complaints about the worst judges built up and were not investigated. A large number of complaints were made about the head of the criminal court in Malé, Judge Abdulla Mohamed,” the BHRC report explained.

“In an open letter to parliament in March 2011, former President Nasheed’s member on the JSC and outspoken whistle-blower, Aishath Velezinee, claimed that the politically-manipulated JSC was protecting Judge Abdulla.

She claimed this protection was provided despite the existence of “reasonable proof to show that Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed was systematically committing the atrocity of setting free dangerous criminals and declaring them innocent with complete disregard to the evidence [presented at court].”

Despite Judge Abdulla having been sentenced for a criminal offence, Velezinee wrote that Speaker Abdulla Shahid pushed for his reappointment and later “bequeathed the Criminal Court to Abdulla Mohamed until 2026″ under the Judges Act, which was passed hastily during the constitutional crisis period in July-August 2010.

Velezinee meanwhile told the author of the BHRC report that it was “the State’s duty to remove [Judge Abdulla] from the judiciary”.

“She has written a remarkable memoir of her time on the JSC, describing the machinations and tribulations of the Committee, and its failure to establish ethical or moral standards for judges,” the report noted.

Meanwhile, on January 16, 2012, “frustrated by an inability to remove allegedly bad judges, President Nasheed (or one of his ministers, it is still not entirely clear) ordered the detention of Judge Abdulla,” the BHRC report continued.

“He was taken to an island and kept there for almost three weeks, despite the protests of lawyers and judges. It does not seem that he was badly treated, and the government emphasised the lack of other effective powers to justify its actions.”

It added that the Supreme Court demanded the immediate release of the judge “as he was arrested not in conformity with the laws and regulations, and the acts of MNDF [Maldives National Defence Force] was outside its mandatory power.”

The trial

Former President Nasheed’s trial is set to resume after the Supreme Court on December 5 decided in a 4-3 ruling that the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court hearing the case was legitimate.

The BHRC report noted that Nasheed was charged under article 81 of the penal code, which states: “It shall be an offence for any public servant to use the authority of his office to intentionally arrest or detain any innocent person in a manner contrary to law. A person guilty of this offence shall be punished with exile or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 3 years or a fine not exceeding MVR 2,000.”

The former President’s legal team informed the author that “a range of defences will be advanced” in his trial.

“For example, is the President a public servant to whom the Article applies? Does the Article relate only to the person who, in fact, takes a person into custody or directly orders an arrest? What effect does the term ‘innocent’ have in the Article?” the report explained.

“The team is to request that the Prosecutor General reconsiders whether the prosecution against Mr Nasheed should proceed, arguing that it is not in the public interest that it should do so. It was explained that if Mr Nasheed is sentenced to more than a year in custody then (even if he is immediately pardoned) he will be excluded from running in the 2013 elections.”

The author of the report also spoke to a number of lawyers, politicians and the Prosecutor General during their visit, and “almost all criticised the failure of the JSC to bring about reform of the judiciary in the way expected by the new constitution.”

“Opinion was split between those who thought there was no option  but to prosecute Nasheed, and those who wanted the wider context to be taken into account by the prosecutor,” the report noted.

“There was a strong  feeling amongst some that the politicians of the old regime had escaped prosecution for much worse abuses of power. The foreign government representatives I spoke to clearly see Nasheed as a force for good in the region and desperately want a solution  to the current proceedings which will allow him to stand in the election next year.”

Independent MP Mohamed ‘Kutti’ Nasheed, chair of parliament’s Independent Institutions Oversight Committee, meanwhile explained that the absence of powers to replace members of the JSC “severely restricted” the parliamentary committee from ensuring that the JSC was functioning effectively.

Nasheed also criticised the Supreme Court for overturning Acts of Parliament that “purported to legislate for the justice system” as part of its stance that “anything to do with the administration of justice was a matter for the [Supreme] Court.”

Former MP Ibrahim Ismail ‘Ibra’, chair of the constitution drafting committee of the Special Majlis, meanwhile contended that the President “had no choice but to arrest Judge Abdulla” as the only option to “remove a rogue judge from the criminal justice system.”

Ibra explained that the “backdrop to President Nasheed taking or authorising the action he did against the judge” was the JSC’s failure to investigate serious complaints, some dating back to 2005.

“However, when the JSC did adjudicate against Judge Abdulla in one case, the Judge went to the civil court and obtained an injunction against the JSC to stop them taking action against the judge. Essentially the system had ground to a halt,” the BHRC report stated.

Prosecutor General Ahmed Muizz however insisted that “it was right that Mr Nasheed should face trial and that even before Mr Nasheed had lost power it was considered the right thing to do.”

“I asked him whether there was a code of practice which governed prosecution decisions. He said that there was but that it was not in the public domain. He said that it was possible for prosecution decisions to take into account the public interest, but was a little vague as to how this was actually done,” the report stated.

“He mentioned that when Mr Nasheed had been president there had been a decision in the public interest not to pursue him in relation to fairly minor electoral offences. He did say that it was possible for the prosecutors to reconsider, following charge, whether a prosecution should continue.”


Jumhooree Party gets two more MPs

MPs Hassan Adil and Abdulla Abdul Raheem, formerly of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and the Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP), respectively, have signed for the Jumhooree Party (JP), reports Haveeru.

Adil, who will take his parliamentary seat to a third different party after originally being elected on a Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) ticket, told Haveeru: “I felt that I could best serve the nation through JP. The present strife in MDP leadership was a reason that prompted my decision.”

The former President and Vice President of the MDP left the party last month to join the JP which, after today’s moves, controls six seats in the Majlis.

Abdullah Raheem announced he was to leave the DRP for the second time, following a brief spell with the MDP, two weeks ago. It was suggested that he would join the JP although before today he had not made his intended destination clear.

The party, headed by MP and resort owner Ibrahim Gasim, currently has just over 6000 members. It hopes to have gained 30,000 members before the next elections. This would make it the second largest party in the country.


Government will not allow religion to be used as a weapon for political purposes: Home Minister

Council members of the minority opposition Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) questioned by police were unable to substantiate “slanderous allegations” that the government was working with “Jews and Christian priests” to undermine Islam in the Maldives, Home Minister Hassan Afeef said today.

Briefing press at the police headquarters, Afeef criticised Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed and ‘Sandhaanu’ Ahmed Ibrahim Didi for exercising the right to remain silent when they were summoned for a second time last night and challenged the DQP leaders to point out or provide evidence of “the government’s efforts to wipe out Islam.”

“Where is that priest? Where is the money that priest gave? When was it given? Which account was it deposited to?” Afeef asked.

Dr Jameel told police interrogators that his claims were based on “rumours circulating in the island,” Afeef revealed, criticising the former Justice Minister for not realising the gravity of the allegations when repeating it without proof.

Sandhaanu Didi’s statement to police was meanwhile “useless chatter” claiming the President was “a madman and a Christian,” he added.

“We cannot allow such claims to cause unrest among the public, incite hatred towards the government and lead to discord,” Afeef asserted.

He reiterated that opposition leaders had a responsibility to substantiate “atrocious” allegations that the MDP government was intent on “wiping away Islam” to introduce religious freedom and the practice of other religions.

“This government will not allow anyone to use religion as a weapon for political purposes,” he continued. “Therefore, I would like to remind [journalists] that these actions are an atrocity. The government is not going to allow such atrocities to be committed. I urge you to be mindful of this when the media reports such news.”

Afeef also suggested that the Media Council and Maldives Broadcasting Commission were failing to fulfill their mandate by not objecting to religiously-based allegations by opposition politicians on privately-owned media outlets.

Asked why the police were not investigating cases filed by the opposition against President Mohamed Nasheed, Afeef insisted that the complaints were “baseless” and that police “would investigate if there was any truth to it.”

Among the cases filed with police include a request by PPM Deputy Leader Umar Naseer to investigate President Nasheed’s remarks allegedly “encouraging drug use”.

Calling for compassion towards heroin addicts, Nasheed said in June 2011: “When we don’t provide care for them, they take off with the box cutter and steal money from the mother’s drawers. [They] need it. They need to use. They must use. We have to come to know and understand this. We shouldn’t try talking about this politically or with the intention of hiding behind a nice veil, without using the real terms and words.”

The falsehood of such claims by Umar Naseer and others was evident and “clear as night and day,” Afeef argued.

Asked about DQP’s request for police to investigate President Nasheed’s claims to foreign media that islands in the Maldives were sinking, Afeef said the President was referring to beach erosion in recent interviews and not submersion by sea level rise.

DQP also requested police investigate Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair for allegedly “threatening the media.”

Meanwhile, according to his twitter page, Dr Jameel revealed that he and Sandhaanu Didi have been summoned to the police station tonight for a third time.

The pair were questioned by police for a second time Saturday night, but both exercised the right to remain silent. After the initial interrogation Thursday night, Did was detained for almost 24 hours and released around 7:00pm Friday night.

Sandhaanu Didi appeared outside the police headquarters with a mask and fins last night, explaining that he had cooperated with police for 30 minutes on Thursday night and intended to “go snorkeling with the police boys tonight.”


Inmate found hanged in Maafushi prison

A 35 year-old inmate was found hanged in his cell in Maafushi jail on Tuesday morning, according to Home Minister Hassan Afeef.

Speaking to press this afternoon, Afeef said Abdul Munnim, H. Cozy Corner, who was serving a sentence on drug-related charges, was found dead at around 11.35am in the fifth cell in unit three.

The deceased was alone in the cell today as his cell mate was in Male’ for medical treatment, Afeef explained.

The Home Minister promised a full and thorough investigation “to determine if there was any foul play and if we believe anyone else is culpable, we will take legal action against them.”

A team of journalists was allowed to visit Maafushi jail later in the afternoon by the Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation Services (DPRS) under the Home Ministry.

The family of another inmate in Maafushi jail told Minivan News that some inmates claimed to have “heard a man shouting last night.”

“The inmates knew about his death this morning when prison officers told them about it,” the family member said. “The prisoners said they remember hearing a man shouting that night.”

“The prison officers said that it was a suicide and that he hanged himself using a bedsheet,” he continued. “But that cell he was in when he died is a very small cell and there is no way a person could hang himself to death because that cell will not have enough height.”

The source further claimed that according to prison officers, the deceased was found in a sitting position and his neck was tied to the fence.

“Besides, prison officers are always on duty and it would be impossible to commit suicide in that cell because that’s not a regular cell,” he said. “Prisoners are put there usually when they are caught with something illegal like a mobile phone. The inmates heard that he was put there after prison officers found a mobile [in his possession].”

The source alleged that prison guards told prisoners that the man died of torture and that guards tied his neck to the fence using a bedsheet.

Home Minister Afeef and State Minister for Home Affairs, Mohamed ‘Monaza’ Naeem, currently in charge of DPRS, were unavailable for comment at time of press.

The President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair meanwhile told Minivan News that he believed there was “no institutionalised torture permitted under this government,” adding that torture by prison guards would be “a criminal act.”

“There’s no regimen of punishment that could be described as torture,” he said. “Inmates are under lock and key and are looked after. This government does not condone torture and if someone is accused of such a despicable offence, it will be investigated.”

A senior government official noted that it was possible there still existed remnants of “a culture of torture” among staff in the DPRS persisting from the former government, which faced many allegations of custodial abuse.

Heroin epidemic

In March 2009, Minivan News reported that five heroin addicts died of either overdose or suicide in the space of one month.

On 20 March, Abdullah Shiham, 33, an inmate at Maafushi jail serving a 25-year sentence for drug possession, was found dead in his cell. Police revealed at the time that the inmate died of a benzodiazepine overdose.

A forensic examination of drugs seized had uncovered that heroin sold on the streets was laced with benzodiazepine, a class of psychoactive drugs, according to police.

The combination of benzodiazepine with opiates is known to lead to coma and even death.

A week after the inmate’s death, a 33-year old woman hanged herself in Male’. According to her family, she had been in the local rehabilitation centre some years ago and had been sent abroad for treatment on many different occasions.

She committed suicide two months after police caught her with a small amount of heroin and was subsequently fired from her job.

The night before, on 24 March, police rescued a drug addict in Male’ as he attempted to hang himself.

Earlier in the month, another drug addict, a 29-year old woman, was found hanged at her house. She was reportedly denied the chance of rehabilitation by the authorities.

Over 70 percent of inmates in Maafushi jail were incarcerated for drug abuse, possession or drug-related offences.

A discussion paper on judicial reform prepared in June 2005 noted that between February 2000 and September 2003, there was a 243 percent rise in persons serving prison terms, of which 80 percent were convicted of drug offences and 75 percent of those were under 30 years of age.


MDP calls for justice for 17-year-old injured outside Endherimaage

The ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has condemned “the uncivilised, cowardly and inhumane attack” on 17-year-old Hussein Hassan, Gaaf Dhaal Thinadhoo Semy, who was struck on the head with a wooden plank allegedly thrown from Maafanu Endherimaage, residence of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

An MDP protest against the judiciary last Thursday turned violent outside Endherimaage after the 17-year-old was injured from the object, which eyewitnesses claimed was hurled from the second floor balcony of the building while the protesters led by MDP MPs and senior officials were passing below.

In a press statement released today by the MDP parliamentary group, the ruling party said the left side of the boy’s brain was not properly functioning and he could not recall past memories as a result of the injury.

“The Maldivian Democratic Party urges all relevant authorities of the state to bring everyone who took part in this lowly, inhumane act to justice,” it reads. “MDP will be watching how the investigation is progressing very closely and the party would like to assure the family of the injured boy as well as our members that we will take all necessary legal action in this case.”

Minivan News journalists at the scene on Thursday observed gravel, stones, hot water and sharp metals raining down on the protesters from Endherimaage.

The protest quickly turned violent after the boy was rushed to Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) by MDP MPs on a passing pickup near Athena cinema. MDP activists threw rocks at Endherimaage, smashed a window and attacked Gayoom supporters blocking the entrance.

Speaking at the MDP Haruge Friday night, former Chairwoman Mariya Ahmed Didi, who was in the front line of the protest march, said the wooden plank that injured the boy was with the police.

“They still haven’t apologised to the people for this,” she said. “This happened in broad daylight from that house [Endherimaage].”

Meanwhile, MDP MP Mohamed Musthafa called on Home Minister Hassan Afeef to resign from his post claiming the Home Ministry and law enforcement agencies were “failed institutions.”

“A wooden door was dropped from the building where former President was living, and Gassam Maumoon was summoned to the police headquarters and was allowed to walk away freely,” Musthafa said. “Letting him get away with it has showed us that the police and the Home Ministry has failed.”

Musthafa, who beat the former President’s son to win the Thimarafushi seat in a re-vote ordered by the High Court, alleged that Gassan was arrested in the UK for a hit-and-run accident where a British citizen died.

“There should be no protection or immunities for any son or daughter of former president because all of them are above 18,” Musthafa said. “Hassan Afeef was afraid of former President, he fears that he might lose his job or something.”

After Musthafa circulated a text message to MPs and Police Commissioner calling for Afeef’s “immediate resignation,”  he said Afeef later sent him a text saying “get lost.”

Afeef told Minivan News today that did not wish to comment on the issue.

Meanwhile, local daily Haveeru reports that according to the former President’s lawyer Mohamed Waheed Ibrahim ‘Wadde’, Gassan has been sent a summons chit to appear at the police headquarters at 10:00am tomorrow for further questioning.

Waheed claimed the wooden plank that injured the 17-year-old was thrown by an MDP protester.

After responding to the first summons, Gassan Maumoon told reporters outside police headquarters Saturday afternoon that he exercised the right to remain silent after “it appeared from some of their questions that they were accusing me.”


20 inmates disqualified from release programme

Twenty inmates have been disqualified from the government’s release programme after testing positive for drug use, Home Minister Hassan Afeef told state broadcaster MNBC One today.

Afeef explained that as most inmates in the country’s prisons were incarcerated for drug use, convicts chosen for release were subject to drug tests during their evaluation and interviewing process.

The list of inmates to be released has now been finalised, said Afeef.

On Independence Day, July 26, President Mohamed Nasheed announced that close to 400 convicts would be offered “a second chance” and released under a national rehabilitation programme.

The convicts are to be released on condition that they do not commit any offence in a three-year period along with compulsory participation in rehabilitation or training programmes.

Afeef explained that job placements had been secured for the convicts at government companies, while a mentor will be assigned to each released inmate to supervise their reintegration into society.


22 dead in gang violence since 2008: Home Minister

Some 22 people died of gang violence in the country since 2008, Home Minister Hassan Afeef informed MPs during Minister’s Question Time at parliament today amidst heightened public concern over violent crimes.

Responding to a query from MP Ahmed Mahlouf about police efforts to curb violent assault and organised crime across the country, Afeef explained that a special operation involving the capital police, special operations and serious and organised crime departments was currently underway.

In addition to increased police patrols, said Afeef, police were working with the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) to expedite cases and hold dangerous suspects in remand detention or monitored house arrest.

Afeef insisted that the government has not released convicts outside of the parole programmes, adding however that police were yet to find “about 300 people” sentenced in absentia.

“Now, as you know, some time ago a large number of people were sentenced in absentia,” he said. “There were about 300 people sentenced in absentia. We have to find out where these people are. We haven’t had complete information about them either.”

Afeef echoed concerns expressed by Commissioner of Police Ahmed Faseeh earlier this month that the main obstacle for effective policing was “the lack of a jail that could rehabilitate offenders and release them back to society.”

The Home Minister also flagged the issue of convicts escaping either directly from prison or during hospital visits in Male’ as a related problem.

Police meanwhile revealed last week that a large haul of dangerous weapons, including knives and a two-foot long sword, were confiscated from four houses in Male’ as part of the ongoing special operation.

Inspector Abdulla Nawaz, deputy head of the serious and organised crime department, on Thursday publicised crime records of “eight dangerous criminals,” most of whom had been arrested more than 10 times on average for offences such as violent assault and burglary.

“We will not hesitate to take a person to court for a third time,” an impassioned Nawaz told press. “If we have to do it for a fourth time, we’ll do it if it’s necessary, and keep him under policy custody for a fourth time if we have to. There is no other way that we can suppress this.”

During the past week, 53 suspects were taken into police custody and 14 were placed under house arrest, while 161 people and 45 minors were stopped and searched on the streets.

Anti-gang violence campaign

The Maldives National Broadcasting Commission (MNBC) meanwhile launched a special campaign last week to educate the public on the shortcomings of the criminal justice system and raise awareness about the challenges to public safety and security.

In a statement condemning Thursday’s knife attack on MNBC sports presenter Mohamed Sodiq, the public broadcaster said that “these brutal atrocities from out of control criminals” were intended to cause fear among citizens “and especially Maldivian journalists.”

Failure to enforce sentences and legal hurdles to securing convictions for “dangerous criminals” are the two main reasons for the worsening crime situation, the MNBC statement said.

While the lack of an Evidence Act and mechanism for witnesses protection has been identified as serious impediments, Deputy Prosecutor General Hussein Shameem told press last week that the absence of legislation was not the entirety of the problem.

“It is true, there are difficulties caused by the lack of Evidence Act,” he said. “For one thing, not knowing what kind of evidence will be accepted by court poses difficulties for us. However, we believe that this is a big opportunity for judges to contribute to the system.”

The PGO since 2009 has at times been at odds with the Criminal Court over the interpretation of existing laws.

At last week’s press conference however, Shameem revealed that two eye witnesses to gang violence who had retracted their statements at court have since been convicted to one year imprisonment each after being found guilty of giving false testimony.