Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation arrive for urgent visit

A delegation from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) has arrived in the Maldives in order “to help find ways to improve trust and confidence between State institutions”.

“The frequent intimidation, harassment and attack of MPs as they go about their work have been deeply worrying,” read an IPU press release.

The organisation’s request for an urgent visit was prompted by the growing list of cases – 24 in total – involving Maldivian MPs currently filed with the IPU’s Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians.

Local NGO Transparency Maldives has meanwhile called upon the Supreme Court to ensure that all MPs are treated impartially whilst calling upon members not to abuse parliamentary privileges for personal gain.

The IPU delegation, having arrived on Friday (November 1), will spend one week in the country during which time it will meet with government leaders, senior parliamentary authorities – including Speaker Abdulla Shahid, Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz, and members of the Supreme Court.

The group will also meet with President Dr Mohamed Waheed – recently returned from a private trip to Singapore and Hong Kong.

“The mission not only aims to promote confidence and trust between State institutions ahead of the forthcoming election, but also to have a better understanding of recent allegations of human rights violations against members of parliament. These include arbitrary arrests, attacks and intimidation, including death threats,” says IPU head of human rights programmes and mission member, Rogier Huizenga.

The delegation’s arrival follows a fraught week in the People’s Majlis, during which two MPs were unseated by the Supreme Court – a decision subsequently rejected by the speaker.

Meanwhile, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor – who has sought refuge within parliamentary grounds – was handed a six month jail term by the Criminal Court.

Both the verdict for Hamid and for the MPs unseated by the Supreme Court were given in absentia, a tactic the MDP has described as reminiscent of “old autocratic practice”.

The party described the Hamid sentence as “the latest move by the Maldivian judiciary in a political witch-hunt to purge MDP MPs following the party’s newfound majority in parliament.”

Transparency Maldives

Whilst calling for neutrality in the courts, Transparency Maldives (TM) has also condemned what it characterised as “attempts to shape laws and rules for protecting personal interests of the Members of the Parliament and abuse of parliamentary privileges and the institution of the Parliament.”

In a statement last week, TM contended that such attempts “weaken the legal system and obstruct the rule of law. Similarly, such acts undermine the integrity of the Parliament, eroding public confidence in the institution.”

“Members of the Parliament must be provided with appropriate privileges and immunities in order to carry out their duties as lawmakers. However, Transparency Maldives reiterates its concern that the Parliamentary Privileges Act affords undue privileges and powers to the MPs,” the statement read.

The press release followed this week’s submission of amendments to the penal code, the Drugs Act and the parliamentary rules of procedure by the MDP.

The amendment to the penal code seeks to abolish article 81 regarding public servants exercising their authority to detain innocent persons. The MDP presidential candidate and former President Mohamed Nasheed is being charged under the article for the military’s detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.

The amendment to the Drug Act meanwhile proposes shortening the jail sentence for the offence of refusing a urine sample from one year to 15 days while the amendment to the parliament regulations would allow MPs convicted of a criminal offence to attend parliament and participate in votes.

In addition to his sentence for refusing to attend court hearings, MP Hamid stands charged of drug and alcohol offences, as well as allegedly refusing to provide police with a urine sample.


MP Azim’s arrest extended for 15 days

The Criminal Court has extended Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ali Azim’s detention by 15 days.

The Maldives National Defense Forces (MNDF) stormed the People’s Majlis yesterday and forcibly removed Azim, handing him over to Maldives Police Services on charges of assaulting an MNDF officer.

Azim’s lawyer Mohamed Fareed said the MP is currently in Dhoonidhoo Island Remand Center and is in good health.

The MNDF obstructed Azim from entering Majlis after the Supreme Court had stripped him and DRP MP Mohamed Nashiz of their parliamentary seats over decreed debt on October 22.

Dissenting judges said the two MPs cannot be disqualified as the two were guarantors on a loan in which mortgaged assets had been taken over by the creditor. The parliamentary privileges committee has said it does not accept the “politically motivated” ruling as it was issued against the Supreme Court’s procedures.

Speaker Abdulla Shahid has sent a letter to the Chief of Defense Forces Ahmed Shiyam condemning the army’s actions in obstructing and removing Azim from the Majlis.

Shahid called on Shiyam to act within the confines of the law in overseeing Majlis security.

Noting that the constitution and Parliamentary Privileges and Powers Act affords the Majlis speaker control over Majlis premises and that the MNDF is required to act on the Speaker’s orders within the parliament, the letter said, “We note, with great sadness, that the [MNDF] acted against the aforementioned procedures in obstructing and arresting Medhu Henveiru MP Ali Azim.”

“At the request of the Chief of Defense Forces, the Majlis had sent a letter outlining how the [MNDF] were to act on the matter. However, without any instructions from the Majlis Speaker, a large number of uniformed MNDF officers entered the People’s Majlis and forcibly removed Ali Azim,” the statement read.

The letter further stated that the MNDF had infringed upon the powers of the Majlis Speaker as detailed in the Constitution and Act no 5/2013 on the Parliament’s Privileges and powers.

No contact with speaker, say MNDF

Article 4 of parliamentary regulations read: “Unless otherwise explicitly stated in the Constitution or laws, the Majlis building, chambers, the pathways and corridors leading to the chambers within the Majlis premises and the Majlis courtyard is under the control and orders of the Majlis Speaker.”

However, the MNDF in a statement disputed receipt of a letter by the speaker, claiming that he had failed to respond to the MNDF’s request for instructions on how to proceed on the Azim and Nashiz case.

“The Maldives National Defense Forces will not prevent the two from entering the People’s Majlis if the Speaker orders the MNDF in writing to let them enter the Majlis,” the MNDF said.

The President’s Office has said the government accepts the disqualification of the two members, stating that the removal of Azim from the Majlis premises was the MNDF’s duty.

“The government believes that the two disqualified members no longer hold seats in the parliament. MNDF, as part of their duty, has prevented one of the disqualified members from entering the parliament building today. When this particular member assaulted the MNDF security officers, MNDF has now handed over custody of the member to Maldives Police Service,” a statement by the President’s Office said.

“Every Maldivian citizen must at all times obey the Constitution. In this regard, every citizen must respect the courts’ rulings. The government will not tolerate any individual who challenges the courts’ decisions,” the statement added.

The MDP has condemned the government and Supreme Court’s “purging” of its MPs, and has suggested that Azim and Nashiz’s removal was to obstruct a no confidence motion scheduled against Attorney General Azima Shakoor. The party has also submitted no-confidence motions against Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim and Prosecutor General (PG) Ahmed Muizz.

Three MDP MPs are currently on trial, while police have asked the PG to prosecute four additional MDP MPs.

MP Ali Waheed is on trial for disobedience to order for crossing a police barricade, while Hamid Abdul Gafoor and Abdulla Jabir are on trial for alleged alcohol and drug abuse. Police are charging MPs Alhan Fahmy, Imthiyaz Fahmy and Mohamed Rasheed with contempt of court for criticizing the Supreme Court, and MP Ibrahim Rasheed with assaulting a police officer.

The MDP notes corruption charges against several government aligned MPs have been dropped since the controversial transfer of power in February 2012.