Opposition parties have strongly condemned a protest launched by the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) against the judiciary and Supreme Court last week, warning of “dangerous” consequences for the nation.
At a press conference today, Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Deputy Leader Ibrahim ‘Mavota’ Shareef argued that with its campaign against the judiciary the ruling party was risking the Maldives becoming “a failed state.”
“We are starting to see in our country scenes similar to what we saw in countries like Rwanda and Uganda which became failed states, plunged into unrest and bloodshed,” he said.
If judges were accused of misconduct or corruption, said Shareef, complaints could be filed at the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), the oversight body for the judiciary.
“Trying to undermine the eminence and dignity of the whole judiciary cannot be seen as efforts to reform judges and put the courts back on the right track,” he contended.
The courts, police and Prosecutor General must take “legal action” against those who undermine the judiciary’s honour and prestige, Shareef said.
The DRP was “very concerned” with fears that the “whole system of justice in this country could fail,” he added.
Following the MDP’s national council approving a resolution to protest against the judiciary, DRP put out a joint press statement with its coalition partner Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) condemning the planned protest as an attempt to “influence the judiciary, intimidate judges and bring the courts into disrepute.”
In response to the MDP protest, the newly-formed Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) led by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom organised a demonstration at artificial beach Friday night to protest the MDP’s “intimidation of judges” and vowed to defend the judiciary.
The religiously conservative Adhaalath Party meanwhile issued a press statement yesterday characterising the MDP protest as “a dangerous warning from the MDP to Maldivian citizens who are against its ideology.”
Adhaalath claimed that the “true purpose” of the MDP’s campaign was to “nullify Islamic shariah, introduce common law to the country and bring foreign judges into the Maldivian judiciary.”
Adhaalath also accused the ruling party of using “bribery, undue influence and intimidation” to threaten separation of powers and “bring all the powers of the state into the President’s fist.”
Echoing a criticism made by other opposition parties, Adhaalath criticised police for failing to protect the former President’s residence. “This shows that the police as an institution is shackled by political influences,” the party said.
In its statement, the Adhaalath Party called on the Supreme Court to take action against the President’s advisor Ibrahim ‘Ibra’ Ismail for saying at an MDP rally Friday night that the judiciary should be freed from “seven idiots” on the apex court.
Ibra recently filed a defamation case against the Supreme Court after it reprimanded him for calling on the public to “rise up and sort out the judges”.
In response to Ibra’s calls, the Supreme Court and the JSC demanded authorities investigate the former Male’ MP and chairman of the Special Majlis’ constitution drafting committee, claiming that “making such statements in a free, democratic society under lawful governance goes against the principles of civilisation.”
The Supreme Court subsequently issued a writ of prohibition and took over the case against it from the Civil Court, as a result of which, said Ibra, “I now have to go before the Supreme Court and say to them, ‘You have defamed me, now please decide in my favour.'”
Speaking at MDP Haruge on Friday night, Presidential Commission Spokesperson Abdulla Haseen noted that judges were not independent under the former government and had to follow instructions from the President or the Justice Minister on how to issue verdicts.
A majority of judges on the bench today were appointed by the former President and lacked educational qualifications to enforce the new constitution, he argued.
Haseen said the Presidential Commission was reluctant to send cases for prosecution as a number of cases against opposition MPs remained stalled at the Criminal Court for over two years.
MDP MP Mohamed Nazim said the party was powerless to prevent the contentious reappointment of judges without a parliamentary majority.
In August 2010, the JSC reappointed 160 of the judges appointed by the former government, despite a quarter of the bench possessing criminal records and many others with only primary school level education.
The Supreme Court meanwhile sent the President a letter claiming it had ruled itself tenure for life.
“The only thing we were able to do was [include a provision in the Judges Act] stating that lower court judges must obtain a diploma in seven years,” Nazim said.
Nazim accused the courts of partisan behaviour when it summoned Independent MP Ismail Abdul Hameed to court 45 minutes before a crucial vote on the Goods and Services Tax (GST) legislation. Hameed was found guilty of abuse of authority in his position as former director at the Male’ municipality and sentenced to one year’s banishment.
In his remarks, former Attorney General Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad observed that political parties neglected the development and modernisation of the judiciary during the reform movement that led to the adoption of a liberal constitution and multi-party democracy.
Criticism and civic action was necessary because of the current state of the judiciary and lack of public confidence in the institution, Sawad said, adding that criminalising persons who criticise the judiciary was contrary to “principles of democracy.”
The public should be able to criticise and comment upon court verdicts, individual judges and perceived failings of the judiciary, he insisted.
In May this year, the JSC abolished its Complaints Committee citing “efficiency”, with complaints against judges subsequently forwarded for review by the legal section and Commission Chair Adam Mohamed, a Supreme Court Justice.
Last year the JSC received 143 complaints concerning the conduct of judges. By its own statistics none were tabled in the commission, and only five were ever replied to. Chair of the former complaints commission, Aishath Velezinee, was meanwhile stabbed in the street in January this year.