“Courageous and exemplary work”: President dismisses JSC Velezinee

President Mohamed Nasheed has removed the President’s member of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), Aishath Velezinee, from her post.

“There was no reason given. All I can say is that the President is extremely grateful for the courageous and exemplary work Velezinee has done,” said Nasheed’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair, adding that a new member would soon be appointed.

Minivan News understands that Velezinee’s departure from the JSC may be part of a back room deal not unrelated to impending judicial reform, opposition MPs crossing the floor and the arrest of former government officials on allegations of torture.

Velezinee herself was not commenting on the decision.

One woman army

Velezinee became an outspoken whistle-blower on the JSC last year after claiming that her many letters of concern to parliament – which provides oversight on the independent commissions – were being ignored.

In early 2010, she set about publicly exposing the independent institution she claimed was operating “like a secret society” and serving as a “shield” for a judiciary that was “independent in name only”, and had tabled only several of the hundreds of complaints submitted against judges.

Using her access to court documents, Velezinee revealed that almost a quarter of the sitting judges had criminal records – ranging from theft to terrorism – and that an even greater number had not even completed grade 7 education. The only qualification of many was a ‘Diploma in Judging’ presenting to them by the former Ministry of Justice, Velezinee contested.

For the past 30 years judges effectively worked as the employees of those “hand-picked” by the former government, Velezinee explained – to the extent that failures to extend a particular ruling as required by the Ministry of Justice resulted in a black mark on the judge’s file.

“The only qualification it appears was a willingness to submit to the will of the government at the time – to follow orders,” Velezinee told Minivan News is a previous interview.

“Not everyone has the mindset to follow orders and serve in that kind of capacity. I believe it has excluded people with independent thinking, or the necessary legal knowledge – such people would take it as an insult for someone to order them how to decide a case.”

Velezinee’s concerns – met with noticeable silence from both the JSC and the then-opposition majority parliament – sparked her ‘Article 285’ campaign.

Article 285 was the Constitutional stipulation that the JSC determine before the conclusion of the interim period – August 7, 2010 – whether or not the judges on the bench possessed the characteristics specified by article 149: “the educational qualifications, experience and recognized competence necessary to discharge the duties and responsibilities of a judge, [and] high moral character”.

At the eleventh hour prior to the conclusion of the interim period, the JSC reappointed the vast majority of sitting judges for life in a surrepticious ceremony conducted behind doors that would have remained closed had Velezinee not rushed the podium.

“The JSC decided – I believe with the support of parliament – that the same bench will remain for the next 40 years, retitled as an ‘independent judiciary’,” Velezinee said following the reappointments.

She further alleged that senior members of the parliamentary opposition were present in the JSC office over the weekend prior to the interim period deadline, personally assisting the JSC secretariat with photocopying the letters of appointment.

“I’m telling you: this is big. What we are seeing is all interconnected – it is one big plot to try – in any way possible – to return power to the corrupt,” she told Minivan News in July 2010, noting that her concerns had led to her being labelled “the Article 285 madwoman” by not only the opposition.

Less than a year later, many of her allegations were independently corroborated by a report produced by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), which attended JSC sessions and criticised its independence.

The JSC, the report stated, “was unable to carry out its functions in a sufficiently transparent, timely, and impartial manner. To date, JSC decision-making has been perceived as being inappropriately influenced by a polarised political environment. Also troubling is that members of the judiciary have been subject to threats and intimidation as well as improper inducements by both governing and opposition party members.”

The JSC refused to table the ICJ’s report, and disputed having ever received it.

Towards the end of 2010 Velezinee upped her campaign to incorporate parliament, naming both opposition and independent MPs as being involved in what she described as “a silent coup” to deprive the country of an independent judiciary for the sake of providing continued judicial impunity to senior power brokers of the former administration.

The reason for that failure, she suggested, was a fear among leaders of the former administration “who are continuing with criminal activities they have allegedly been carrying out for a long, long time.”

“There is widespread public perception that certain members of parliament are behind all the serious organised crime going on in this country. This includes serious drug issues, gang violence, stabbings,” she alleged, in a previous interview with Minivan News.

“These are allegations only because they have never come up before a court of law in all this time.”

“It is a much discussed issue, but it has never come up in the courts. I can see now that perhaps it may be true – otherwise why prevent the formation of an independent judiciary? I don’t think they would have confidence that they would get away free,” Velezinee said, observing that former political figures such as attorney generals were now representing these MPs in court as their lawyers, “and, by and large, they win every case.”

“This is not such a far-fetched radical thought coming from me any more because of the things we have seen over the last year to do with politicians and judicial action. The courts are a playground for politicians and are not trusted by the general public. Parliament has failed, and there is no other institutional mechanism in this constitution for the JSC to be held to account.”

In January this year Velezinee was stabbed three times in broad daylight while walking down Male’s main tourist street, on the same day that the High Court judges were due to be appointed.

“My first fear was that I would easily I bleed to death,” she told Minivan News, after she was discharged from hospital. “But I took a deep breath and realised I was alive. As soon as I realised this, the only thing I wanted to do was go and get the blood stopped and get to the Commission because this was the day of the High Court appointments, and I know they wanted me out of the way. I didn’t realise how serious the wounds were, I didn’t see them until two days later when I went for a dressing change.”

Many international organisations, including Transparency International and the ICJ, expressed “grave concern that the attack may be politically motivated.”

“There are honourable men in this country who are owned by others, and they may be put in a position where they believe they have to take my life. I knew there was a chance that I was risking murder, and I wasn’t wrong,” Velezinee told Minivan News, following her recovery. “It was only because of God’s grace that I survived.”