Controversial blogger and “prisoner of conscience” released from custody

Ismail ‘Khilath’ Rasheed was released from police custody last night, where he had been held since December 14 without charges while police investigated his role in a peacefully-intended protest held on December 10.

Police confirmed that Rasheed was released on a court order, and said that the investigation into his involvement in a silent peaceful protest on December 10 had been concluded with no findings against him.

Rasheed was arrested on December 14 for his involvement in a protest for religious tolerance held at Male’s Artificial Beach on International Human Rights Day. The group of approximately 30 protestors were attacked with stones, and Rasheed was taken to the hospital with head injuries.

Rasheed’s detention was twice extended by the court, which subsequently launched an investigation into the contents of his controversial blog which was previously blocked by the Islamic Ministry on the grounds that it contained anti-Islamic content.

After Rasheed’s detention was extended a second time on December 27, Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari requested parliament’s National Security Committee to include a clear, strong punishment for those advocating religious freedom within the Maldives in the new Penal Code currently at committee stage.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International declared Rasheed a prisoner of conscience, and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) challenged Bari’s argument that calling for freedom of religious was unconstitutional within a democratic Muslim society.

“The Maldivian constitution bans the promotion of any religion other than Islam but guarantees freedom of assembly and expression as long as it does not contravene Islam. Rasheed professes to be an adherent of Sufism, which emphasises the inner, spiritual dimension of Islam,” read the statement by RSF.

Minivan News was unable to reach Rasheed at time of press.


JSC members ‘too busy’ to meet and adopt Standards of Procedure

The need to spend quality time with family, party political duties, and other outside commitments has prevented the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) from meeting to adopt its Standards of Procedure, now overdue by 10 months.

According to the JSC Act, the Standards of Procedure should have been adopted by January 26 this year.

The Standards of Procedure, or House Rules, are required to set the rules and regulations according to which the JSC should carry out its Constitutional responsibilities.

The JSC is an independent body constitutionally mandated to oversee the ethical standards and principles of the country’s judiciary.

Without the Standards of Procedure, the Commission is run on ad-hoc basis, often according to the discretion of the chairperson.

The day-long meeting in which members were to work on adoption of the Standards of Procedure was scheduled for Saturday.

It was also decided that the meeting would be held outside of Male’ from 9:00 in the morning till 8:00 pm.

JSC Chairperson, Supreme Court Justice Adam Mohamed, excused himself from the meeting citing court work and family commitments on Saturday.

Dr Afrasheem Ali, Deputy Chair and Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), could not attend the meeting as his Saturdays, he told the JSC, are reserved for party political work.

Majlis Speaker Speaker Abdulla Shahid and Civil Service Commission President Fahmy would not be in the country on Saturday.

For Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Didi, the reason for being unable to attend was the location of the meeting. He was unwilling to travel outside of Male’.

The venue of the meeting had not been finalised when the meeting was cancelled. JSC Interim Secretary General Moomina Umar told Minivan News that it would have been a place where members had access to full conference facilities, allowing them to focus on the urgent issue at hand fully.

Moomina also said that subsequent attempts by her to move the meeting to Male’ to facilitate objections had not received a positive response, forcing the meeting to be cancelled.

The ten member JSC needs six members present before a meeting can be held.

On 21 October, JSC Chairperson Justice Mohamed walked out of a meeting in which some members pushed to have adoption of the Standards of Procedure put on the agenda as a matter of urgency.

Judge Abdulla Didi, who excused himself from Saturday’s meeting because it was to be held outside of Male’, also walked out of the meeting with Justice Mohamed, making it impossible for members to put the Standards of Procedure on the agenda of its next meeting.

Justice Mohamed, speaking to media, blamed his decision to desert the meeting on the ‘vulgar behaviour’ of the President’s Member at the JSC, Aishath Velezinee.

Velezinee, along with Attorney Ali Sawad, JSC Lawyer Ahmed Rasheed and JSC Member of the General Public had objected to the continued and systematic manner in which the JSC Chair avoided making adoption of the SoP a matter of top priority.

The JSC released news of Justice Mohamed’s desertion of the meeting immediately, an act which he has claimed is against JSC Regulations as communications with the media cannot be done without prior majority consent of members.

The claim, however, is inaccurate.

A unanimous JSC decision dated 2 September this year (JSC-B1/10/200), authorised Media Officer Hassan Zaheen, Deputy Legal Officer Abdul Fatthah Abdul Ghafoor and Moomina Umar to speak to the media on its behalf.


JSC President deserts emergency meeting, refuses to adopt House Rules

The Chair of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) deserted an emergency meeting of the JSC Thursday night, refusing to meet members’ demands for adoption of the Commission’s House Rules as a matter of high priority.

The JSC’s deadline for adopting House Rules, as stipulated in Article 40 of the Judicial Service Commission Act, expired ten months ago on 26 January of this year.

Without House Rules, the Commission’s work has no set standards of procedure according to which to carry out its responsibilities, allowing for Commission business to be conducted on an ad hoc basis, and according to the discretion of the Chair himself.

JSC is the independent body Constitutionally mandated with oversight of the country’s judiciary. It is responsible for maintaining the standards, principles, ethics and discipline of members of the judiciary.

Chair of the JSC Supreme Court Justice Adam Abdulla convened Thursday’s emergency meeting, which he later deserted, to discuss the impending departure of three Chief Judges who are travelling abroad to finesse their English Language skills.

The JSC is required to appoint substitute Chief Judges to replace any that leave their post on a temporary or permanent basis.

Four members of the JSC, however, refused to discuss the substitutes’ appointments unless Justice Abdulla acceded to their requests to put House Rules adoption at the top of the Commission’s agenda when it meets later today.

Justice Abdulla refused the demand of the dissenting members who included the Attorney General Ali Sawad, JSC Lawyer Ahmed Rasheed, Member of the General Public, and President’s Member Aishath Velezinee. He chose to abandon the meeting instead.

Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdullah Didi, one of the three judges scheduled to travel to India yesterday to brush up their English Language skills, joined Justice Abdulla in the walkout.

In a leaked audio recording of Thursday’s meeting listened to by Minivan, Chief Judge Didi is heard urging Justice Abdulla to leave saying, “Let’s go. Nothing can be done in this place. Let’s leave, Adam”.

The two men then walked out of the meeting. Both the matter of the House Rules and the matter of appointing substitute judges to stand in for those taking English lessons remain yet to be addressed.

Minivan has learned this morning that Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed remained in Male’, foregoing the English language training after the JSC’s failure to appoint his substitute.

The two jurisdictions without a magistrate, however, could remain a legal limbo until the JSC appoints substitutes.

Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed is one of the six judges under official investigation by the JSC for alleged misconduct

So far the Investigating Committee of the JSC appointed to look into allegations against Judge Didi has spent over a Rf100,000 solely on reimbursing its members for their attendance. The Investigating Committee, too, is yet to adopt any House Rules.

Before deserting the meeting Justice Abdulla told the dissenting members of the Commission that nobody had the authority to impose conditions on him, as stated in a press release issued by the JSC on Thursday night.

JSC regulations state that any matter which the Commission, or any member of the Commission, wishes to include in the agenda of its meeting should be duly included in the agenda.

When contacted by the media subsequent to the JSC press release, Justice Abdulla said he walked out because he could not tolerate what he described as “the vulgar behaviour of Velezinee”.

Justice Abdullah did not mention that three members of the JSC other than Velezinee, including the Attorney General, had joined together in demanding the adoption of House Rules as a matter of urgency.

Placing the blame squarely on Velezinee’s behaviour, he told the media she had “belittled the importance of the meeting” and accused her of being a disruptive force in the Commission’s work.

“Yes, I do try and disrupt the ‘work’ that they do”, Velezinee said. “They are not carrying out the responsibilities as required by the Constitution. It is my duty, and the obligation of every member of the JSC, to ensure that the JSC performs its proper functions.”

Velezinee said certain members of the JSC appear to have a false perception of the Commission as “a welfare organisation for members of the judiciary with the oversight to ensure their individual and collective well being”.

Justice Abdulla’s claims that Velezinee’s behaviour forced him to leave the proceedings contradict the press release by JSC, and also the proceedings as heard in the leaked audiotape.

When referred to the the JSC press release, which had been issued after his desertion and of which he was not aware until contacted by the media, Justice Abdulla told Haveeru that it was not a valid document as it had been issued without a required approval of the majority.

After the recent controversy over Article 285 of the Constitution and the re-assembling of JSC at the end of August, however, JSC had approved three senior Secretariat staff as media spokespersons with the authority to brief the media.

Dismissing Justice Abdulla’s claims as a frequently used strategy of “character assassination to deflect attention from the JSC’s sustained negligence of its Constitutional responsibilities”, Velezinee listed a variety of issues deliberately left out of the JSC agenda.

“Adopting the House Rules and other regulations required of the Commission under the JSC Act, appointing Justices to the High Court, and appointing a Secretary General to JSC”, she said, are vitally important issues that are yet to receive any attention.

Velezinee said that without House Rules the JSC has not been able to perform some of its chief responsibilities such as preventing impunity among judges and building public confidence in the judiciary.

The Complaints Commission of the JSC, mandated to examine complaints against members of the Judiciary, for instance, has met only once in the last five months despite having over a hundred complaints awaiting its examination.

To date JSC has not settled a single complaint it has received regarding the conduct of a judge.

Minivan has also learnt that Judge Abdulla ignored requests by the US Embassy and Commonwealth delegations to meet with the Commission, and failed to inform Commission members of such requests.

The 10-member JSC voted Justice Abdulla as Chair with five votes, while waiting to decide whether or not to investigate his involvement in the High Court Declaration of 21 January 2010.

The Declaration removed High Court Chief Justice Abdul Ghani from JSC accusing him of misconduct and installed Justice Abdulla as head of JSC.

Meanwhile, Justice Abdulla moved up to the Supreme Court, vacating the High Court seat in the JSC. To the seat was returned Chief Justice Abdul Ghani, who had been removed from the JSC by the High Court Declaration only months previously.

The allegations of misconduct against Chief Justice Abdul Ghani have not come to the fore since his re-instalment at the JSC.

A report of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) is due out soon, revealing the findings of its visit to the Maldives last month. The ICJ delegation was lead by former UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Dr Leandor Despuoy.


Court frees man who refused to swear before God

A man jailed for contempt of court for refusing to take the oath has been released after he changed his mind.

The Criminal Court sentenced Abdulla Shahid Mohamed of Maafannu Muthaafushi, a witness in an ongoing case, to four months on October 4 after he refused to swear before God prior to his evidence.

He changed his mind on Sunday, two weeks after being sentenced, and sent a letter of apology to the Court. Having accepted the apology, the court suspended his sentence yesterday, reports Haveeru.


Judicial Service Commission sued for negligence, says its decisions “affect only judges”

Judicial Service Commission (JSC), the constitutionally mandated body responsible for ensuring the standards of the nation’s judiciary, has said its decisions have a direct effect only on judges.

The JSC was defending against allegations of professional negligence made by Treasure Island Limited at a Civil Court hearing today.

“Treasure Island is not directly affected by the JSC decision not to investigate the complaints it made against the judges, and therefore, does not have any legal right whatsoever to bring a case against the Commission”, the legal representative for JSC, Abdul Faththah, told Judge Mariyam Nihayath.

Treasure Island has alleged that the JSC failed to execute its responsibilities by neglecting to investigate three complaints submitted in 2009. The JSC has a special sub-committee of five members, set up specifically to investigate complaints against the judiciary.

The complaints of misconduct concern two judges – Judge Ali Naseer and former Supreme Court Justice Mujthaz Fahmy, also former head of JSC. At the time Treasure Island made the complaints to the JSC, Justice Fahmy was the Comission’s deputy chair.

The cases in which Treasure Island complained of misconduct by judges involve some prominent members of the tourism industry, including the Ministry of Tourism, and a sum of money amounting to over a million US dollars.

Treasure Island complained to the JSC that Judge Ali Naseer wrongfully excluded the company’s evidence from a 2008 case in order to rule against it.

It told the JSC that at another hearing, then chief Civil Court Judge Fahmy threw out a Treasure Island case by calling an emergency sitting at 9:00pm on the evening of 14 May 2008.

Treasure Island complained that although it was summoned to the hearing, the defendants were not present when Judge Fahmy dismissed the case.

The JSC argued at today’s hearing that the constitutional right of every person, group or member of a community directly affected by administrative action to take the matter to court did not apply to Treasure Island.

“It is only the judge against whom the Commission takes disciplinary action that will be affected by the action and not Treasure Island,” Faththah argued. “Therefore, Treasure Island does not have any legal right to bring the matter to court”.

The JSC also denied the allegation that it had refused to investigate the complaints made by Treasure Island, and submitted to court a copy of its reply to the company’s first complaint. The one line response dated 28 July 2009 stated: “This is to inform you that we do not see anything in your letter to which this commission needs to respond.”

The JSC’s response to the second complaint, in August 2009, was to say that it was neither its responsibility nor within the mandate of the JSC to investigate the ruling of a judge, and reminded the complainant of appeal mechanisms available to anyone dissatisfied with a decision of the court.

In today’s hearing, the JSC’s Legal Officer, Faththah told the court that both the constitution and the JSC regulations state unequivocally that it has the choice to ignore any complaints that it does not see as valid or genuine.

The criteria for what constitutes a valid or genuine complaint is not defined in either document, and is left to the discretion of JSC members.

“To describe the commission’s decision to exercise a legally sanctioned choice as illegal is an allegation with no basis in law,” he told Judge Nihayath.

Article 163 of the Constitution also stipulates that any decision of the JSC “shall be taken by a majority of the members present and voting”. The JSC’s submission to court today did not refer to the stipulation, nor did its responses to Treasure Island make it clear that the decision not to investigate the complaints were made in the required manner.

Minivan has learned that 118 complaints against the conduct of judges have been made at the Complaints Committee of the JSC this year alone. Not one of the complaints have been investigated.

A meeting of the Committee was scheduled for 6 October 2010, a day ahead of the Treasure Island hearing in court. The meeting could not go ahead as planned, however, as only two members attended. Three members are required to attend before a meeting can be held.

Minivan has also learned that yesterday’s meeting was the first one scheduled by the Complaints Committee in the last five months despite the large number of complaints pending.

Treasure Island today refused an offer of an out of court settlement made by the JSC. Director Ali Hussein Manik told Judge Nihayath that he was tired of “going again and again to the JSC” and that he wanted a decision of the court.

Judge Nihayath adjourned the case until 17 October 2010, agreeing to a request by Manik to give him time to consider JSC’s submissions today.