ICJ condemns violent assault on Velezinee

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has condemned the violent assault earlier this week on Judicial Service Commission (JSC) member Aishath Velezinee, calling on the government to “immediately launch an independent, impartial, and transparent investigation into this shocking crime.”

Velezinee, President Mohamed Nasheed’s outspoken member on the JSC, was stabbed three times in the back by unidentified assailants on Monday morning while walking in Chandanee Magu in Male’.

“The ICJ is gravely concerned that the attack may be politically motivated. The stabbing took place in daylight in a public space, with no evidence of robbery or theft,” reads a press release issued by the ICJ yesterday.

“Ms. Velezinee’s fearless and controversial advocacy on behalf of justice for ordinary citizens of the Maldives has earned her a constant barrage of verbal attacks from prominent political figures,” said Roger Normand, the ICJ’s Asia Pacific Director. “The government must take swift action, not only to investigate this cowardly stabbing, but equally important, to reaffirm the centrality of rule of law in the new constitutional order.”

After visiting Velezinee at the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) shortly after the attack, President Nasheed vowed that “no stone will be left unturned” to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said today that police were not ready to disclose details at this stage of the investigation or confirm if any arrests have been made.

The ICJ notes that Velezinee has publicly criticized the JSC for “abandoning its constitutional mandate under articles 159 and 285 by failing to follow transparent and lawful procedures during the vetting process of the judiciary.”

Article 285 of the constitution mandated the JSC to determine, before 7 August 2010, 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”.

In May 2010, the JSC decided to reappoint all sitting judges unless they have been convicted in court of either a crime with a punishment prescribed in the Quran, criminal breach of trust or treason – a decision that, Velezinee warned at the time, could “rob the nation of an honest judiciary” by giving tenure to 19 judges with either prior convictions by other state institutions or allegations of gross misconduct.

In August, a majority of the 10-member JSC – including MPs of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), Speaker Abdulla Shahid and Afrashim Ali, together with the three judges on the commission – decided to reappoint 191 of 197 sitting judges despite Velezinee’s vocal opposition and concerns about the competency and integrity of a number of judges appointed under the former administration.

President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair observed at the time that while two members opposed the move to rush the reappointments – Velezinee and General Public Member Shuaib Abdul Rahman – “a common thread ties all the other eight members. They either belong to the opposition DRP, or they are strong supporters.”

“The outgoing government has made sure it would retain control of institutions like the judiciary,” he noted.

Zuhair explained that while the government was communicating with international institutions on the issue, such as the ICJ, “so far we have been advised to do everything possible to keep to ‘norms and standards’. But that’s difficult when of the 197 judges, only 35 have any recognised qualifications. All the others have a local diploma.”