Opposition MPs “purged” as Supreme Court strips Ali Azim, Mohamed Nashiz of parliament seats

The Supreme Court in a 4-3 judgment today stripped Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ali Azim and Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Mohamed Nashiz of their parliament seats over a decreed debt.

The verdict was delivered in absentia after the pair dismissed their lawyer and a new one was not appointed in time for the re-scheduled session at 5:00pm.

The majority was formed by Justices Abdulla Saeed, Adam Mohamed Abdulla, Ali Hameed Mohamed and Dr Ahmed Abdulla Didi, the same four judge majority which annulled the results of September 7 election following a petition from third-placed candidate Gasim Ibrahim.

Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain and Justice Abdulla Areef issued dissenting opinions ruling that there were no grounds to disqualify the MPs while Justice Muthasim Adnan reportedly refused to issue a ruling stating that he did not have sufficient time to study the case as he received the testimonies and statements yesterday.

Ali Azim, former MP for mid-Henveiru, joined the MDP from the government-aligned DRP in June this year.

Nashiz, former MP for Raa Alifushi, is a half-brother of DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali and husband of the party’s deputy leader MP Rozaina Adam. Following the annulled first round of the presidential election on September 7, the DRP decided to back MDP presidential candidate and former President Mohamed Nasheed.

With the provisional support of 10 DRP MPs, the MDP had gained a majority of the 77-member parliament. The opposition party had 34 seats.

The Supreme Court case was filed in November 2012 by Mohamed Haleem, a member of the Jumhooree Party’s (JP’s) legal committee. The last hearing of the case took place almost a year ago.

Haleem contended that the MPs should be removed from parliament following a Civil Court judgment in February 2010 involving non-payment of five credit facilities worth MVR117 million (US$9 million) issued to Funadoo Tuna Products by the Bank of Maldives (BML), for which the pair had signed as loan guarantors.

As the lower court judgment was subsequently upheld by the High Court, the Civil Court in 2012 authorised BML to seize the assets mortgaged for the loans, which included Funadoo island, a yacht, and the Reethi Beach Resort.

While the majority verdict held that mortgaged assets was not cause for disregarding a judgment to settle the debt, Chief Justice Faiz ruled that the guarantors would only have to bear responsibility if the debt could not be settled by selling the mortgaged assets.

The case was submitted to the Supreme Court with reference to article 73(c)(1) of the constitution, which states that a member of the People’s Majlis immediately becomes disqualified if the MP has “a decreed debt which is not being paid as provided in the judgment.”

Article 74 states, “Any question concerning the qualifications or removal, or vacating of seats, of a member of the People’s Majlis shall be determined by the Supreme Court.”

The Supreme Court verdict comes days before voting on a no-confidence motion against Attorney General Azima Shukoor scheduled for October 28.

Moreover, an MDP-sponsored bill on transitional arrangements that require President Dr Mohamed Waheed to step down if an election is not held by November 10 was submitted yesterday (October 23).

“Purge” of MPs

The MDP released a statement on MPs being “purged” today, condemning “the continued harassment and intimidation” of its members through “politically-motivated” court cases.

The party noted that Azim and Nashiz’s case was “fast-tracked a day after a crucial vote in parliament, which saw the MDP and its allies win a parliamentary vote by 43 votes to appoint an MDP member to the independent judicial oversight committee, the Judicial Service Commission.”

“Thus the MDP believes the sudden scheduling of the Supreme Court case against MPs Azim and Nashiz is a deliberate attempt to disqualify them from parliament. The MDP notes that while this case has suddenly been taken up enthusiastically by the Maldivian justice system, corruption charges against government-leaning MPs have been dropped,” the statement read.

The statement also noted that the Criminal Court yesterday issued an arrest warrant for MDP MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor “in violation of the Parliamentary Privileges Act, during a session of the parliament, while Hamid had in writing informed the court he was unable to attend due to his parliamentary duties.”

Hamid remains in the parliament building at the time of press.

Hamid along with MDP MP Abdulla Jabir is being prosecuted for alleged alcohol and drug use as well as refusal to provide a urine sample to police. The pair were arrested in November 2012 following a police raid on an uninhabited picnic island in Haa Dhaal atoll.

The Supreme Court has lost all credibility in the eyes of Maldivians and the watching world. The judges are working with political leaders of MDPs opponents to further their wishes. These judges are closely linked to the former dictatorship and continuously work to disrupt the democratic process. After invalidating, delaying and obstructing elections, they are now after an MDP parliamentary majority, who have publicly pledged to reform the judiciary,” said MDP Deputy Chairperson Ali Shiyam.

The MDP statement listed the cases of 10 MPs who currently face “politically-motivated charges that threaten their parliament seats.”

The party also noted that its former MP for Thaa Thimarafushi, Mohamed Musthafa, was stripped of his seat over a disputed decreed debt, two weeks after the controversial transfer of presidential power on February 7, 2012.

Police have meanwhile sent cases against MDP MPs Imthiyaz Fahmy, Mohamed Rasheed and Alhan Fahmy to the Prosecutor General’s Office for alleged contempt of court for publicly criticising the Supreme Court.

A Criminal Court case is also ongoing against MDP parliamentary group deputy leader Ali Waheed for allegedly crossing a police barricade in 2010.

The government-aligned Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) meanwhile declared last month that it would seek the removal of MPs through the Supreme Court for challenging rulings of the apex court.

“There is a dispute on whether [MPs] have lost their seats in parliament due to speaking out against Maldives’ Supreme Court’s order and defaming the Supreme Court, and other court’s judges. I would like to inform you we will file this case at the Supreme Court,” PPM legal advisor Mohamed Waheed Ibrahim told the press on September 29.

Maldivian judiciary

The MDP statement noted that a 2004 report on the Maldivian criminal justice system by Professor Paul Robinson, prepared at the request of the then-Attorney General, concluded that “the Maldivian criminal justice system systematically fails to do justice and regularly does injustice”.

The party also referred to the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) expressing concern in February 2011 with “the apparent failure of the JSC to fulfil its constitutional mandate of properly vetting and reappointing judges” as well as the “judicialisation of politics”.

Moreover, the MDP noted that in July 2012, the United Nations Human Rights Committee stated that it was “deeply concerned about the state of the judiciary in the Maldives.”

The MDP statement also referred to concerns raised by UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Lawyers and Judges, Gabriela Knaul, in a report on the Maldivian judiciary in May this year.

“Justice must not merely be done but must also be seen to be done, and judges must not only be actually impartial they have to appear impartial to the public,” the party statement quoted Knaul as stating.