Rule of law, human rights “severely damaged” by Nasheed conviction, says MDN

The rule of law and human rights in the Maldives have been “severely damaged” by the Criminal Court’s sentencing of former President Mohamed Nasheed to 13 years in prison on terrorism charges, NGO Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) has said.

In a press release yesterday, MDN Executive Director Shahindha Ismail noted that Nasheed was denied legal representation despite repeated requests in every since hearing since March 9 when his legal team quit in protest of the court’s refusal to grant sufficient time to study the prosecution’s evidence and mount a defence.

“Should Nasheed appeal this decision, we strongly urge the higher courts to ensure that the blatant contraventions of human rights and fair trial standards by the Criminal Court are not condoned or accepted,” said Shahindha.

“We urge the Judiciary, together with other relevant institutions, including the Human Rights Commission of Maldives and the Parliament, to act immediately to stop the backslide in the rule of law and human rights in Maldives, which has been severely damaged by yesterday’s verdict.”

She also pointed to several instances when judges answered for the prosecution and state witnesses during cross examination.

Moreover, MDN noted that the three-judge Criminal Court panel ruled that two of the judges did not have a conflict of interest in presiding over the case despite having provided witness statements during the investigation.

Nasheed was accused of ordering the military to arrest Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.

Shahindha meanwhole noted that two of the judges who refused to recuse themselves were “allegedly involved in the incident for which Nasheed was charged, and have been among the witnesses requested by Nasheed,” adding that Nasheed was also denied admission of witnesses to counter the prosecution’s case.

“The right to freedom of expression and media freedom, as well as the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, have also been suppressed in the context of the persecution of Nasheed,” MDN noted.

“On 8 March 2015, Rajje TV journalists were arrested and forced to delete the video footage after they videotaped an alleged meeting at a café in Malé between a presiding judge in the trial and the Prosecutor General. Key media outlets were also denied access to the courtroom during Nasheed’s trial. Over 50 Nasheed’s supporters have been arrested for protesting against the arrest and trial of Nasheed since his arrest on 22 February 2015. Many of them were released by the court on the condition that they do not attend a protest or rally for 60 days.”


Court’s argument for annulling election “materially baseless”: Maldives Democracy Network

The International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and the Maldives Democracy Network (MDN) have issued a joint statement expressing concern over the Supreme Court’s 4:3 decision to annul the first round of the 2013 presidential election.

“The unjustifiable delay and judicially forceful suspension of the second round of the election, due on 28 September, indicates an encroachment of the judiciary over the powers of the Elections Commission, an independent constitutional body answerable to the Parliament of the Maldives,” read the statement.

The statement described the court’s verdict as being founded on “materially baseless arguments”, after the first round was “applauded as a success by the international community.”

“Maldivian authorities must swiftly bring the electoral process to an end, in a free and fair manner”, said FIDH President Karim Lahidji.

The 4:3 verdict hinged on a confidential police report supposedly claiming that 5,600 votes were ineligible due to errors such as address mismatches. The report has not been made public and was not shown to the Election Commission’s defence lawyers.

The court issued the verdict 13 days after it heard the concluding statements, issuing an injunction halting the election and missing the constitutionally-mandated deadline for the run-off.

International reaction

European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton said the EU had noted the verdict, and expressed continued faith in the EC.

“The international community recognised the outcome of the first round on September 7 as inclusive and credible. Under these circumstances, I urge that elections planned for October [19] take place in full compliance with national and international standards and that the Maldives democratic institutions are safeguarded and the will of the people respected,” Ashton stated.

“I urge that elections… take place in full compliance with national and international standards and that the Maldives democratic institutions are safeguarded and the will of the people respected. The EU restates its confidence in the ability of the Election Commission to ensure this [and] remains ready to support a democratically-elected government in confronting the major challenges that the country is facing.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon also “noted” the Supreme Court’s decision, in  a statement reiterating calls for a “peaceful, inclusive and credible process” for the re-scheduled vote.

“The first round of the presidential election was widely recognised as a success by international and domestic election observers,” the UN statement read, adding that Ki-moon “acknowledges the continuing efforts by the Elections Commission of the Maldives.”

“The election had been seen as an important step in the country’s democratic transition,” the UN stated, referring to the “contested circumstances” of 2012’s change of government.

UN Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco last week briefed the UN Security Council on the situation in the Maldives.

Local concern

MDN is the first local NGO to comment upon the verdict, expressing alarm at the conduct of the country’s highest court as well as the escalating tensions in the country.

“We call upon the Supreme Court and the judiciary to uphold the supremacy of the Constitution and the democratic will of Maldivian people, at all times,” said Shahindha Ismail, Executive Director of MDN.

“The elections must absolutely take place as soon as possible, given the arbitrary and unconstitutional deadline set by the Supreme Court, which ruled yesterday that the current government would remain in place should the elections not be held by early November,” she added.

Global criticism accompanied the Supreme Court’s initial decision to to delay polls on September 23, including statements of concern from the UN, Commonwealth, and the EU.

Local NGO Transparency Maldives (TM) – also the group behind the single largest observer mission conducted during the first round – expressed doubts over the integrity of the Supreme Court in late August, urging it to “maintain its actions in such a fashion that the court does not allow further diminishing of its integrity and to be transparent in its functioning and sharing of information to strengthen the public trust towards the institution.”

The Home Ministry this month announced that it would be investigating TM for its challenging of the Supreme Court, prompting the NGO’s international affiliate – Transparency International – to express its concern “grave concern” over potential intimidation of the Maldivian chapter.


Contradictory findings in PIC’s report on February 8 crackdown

The Police Integrity Commission (PIC) has released the second of its three pending reports regarding police action around the contentious transfer of power in February.

The PIC states that it initiated the investigation due to allegations of police brutality when breaking up the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s demonstration on February 8, following the controversial resignation of President Mohamed Nasheed the previous day.

The PIC report on the events in Male’ on February 8 states that the investigation was carried out with a committee inclusive of all five members of the commission.

However, the report has two contradicting accounts, with President of the PIC Shahinda Ismail including her own findings in contrast to those of the other commission members.

The report states that the PIC looked into three main areas: whether police used disproportionate force in breaking up the MDP demonstration, whether individual police officers committed inhumane acts and acts of violence against citizens after breaking up the protest, and whether there were any police actions of the day which senior police officers must take responsibility for.

The investigation was carried out based on interviews, phone records, photos and video evidence.

Police acts within the law

PIC report contends that on February 8 , police acted within the boundaries of law and regulations.

It says that police acted in accordance with Article 6(4) and Article 6(8) of the Police Act and as protection from any danger that may ensue from the MDP demonstrations.

The investigation justified police action by stating that demonstrators had caused damage to property on their way to the MMA area, and that as there were large numbers of demonstrators, it may have led to unrest had the police not broken up the protest when they did.

The report further states that although sufficient warning had not been issued before breaking up the demonstration, police acted in line with Article 24 of the Freedom of Assembly Act as there was a small number of police officers controlling the demonstration which had a large number of participants, and any delays in breaking it up may have led to danger.

The PIC also stated that there were no incidents on February 8 that senior police needed to take responsibility for. It stated as reasons that there had been no prior knowledge of the protest being planned, that the intelligence department was not functioning at its best due to changes in management after February 7, and that after former President Nasheed’s statement in his resignation speech that his continuing to stay in power may cause harm to the citizens, there was no reason for police to expect his party to orchestrate such a demonstration against the new government.

Individual acts of brutality

The report however went on to say that individuals in the police force had committed acts of violence, inhumane acts, and used verbal abuse against demonstrators on February 8, acting against Article 54 of the Constitution of the Maldives, Article 7(a.11) of the Police Act, Articles 16(a), 16(d.2), 16(d.3), 16(d.5) of the Regulations for handling and use of weapons.

The report highlights 12 specific incidents, including video evidence and interviews proving inhumane acts of police against former President Nasheed, police brutality against MDP Chairperson Reeko Moosa Manik and member of parliament Mariya Ahmed Didi and video evidence of police beating 14 individuals with batons.

The commission states here its intention to further investigate these acts, and take legal action against the officers who were involved.

Contradicting viewpoints

President of the PIC, Shahindha Ismail, has however stated in the report that she sees acts of police on February 8 to have been against the law, and that she observed no valid reason for police to have broken up the MDP demonstrations in the manner the police did.

Ismail stated that while demonstrations were permitted in the MMA area, there was no evidence beyond that of statements by police officers to prove that any illegal acts had been committed, or that there was any intention to do so by the demonstrators.

Ismail further stated that the police broke up the protest without prior warning, acting against the orders of the officer in charge in the area, Inspector of Police Ahmed Shameem, order to ‘hold’ without advancing, and also against the advice of Maldives National Defense Force commanders. She said that the police had acted under orders from Unit Commander Seargant Mohamed Naeem.

Ismail described the acts of brutality noted in the PIC report as “targeted attacks to cause immense harm to certain people”, stating that these acts could not be seen as actions to protect anyone and should be further investigated and taken action against.

Ismail also states that Assistant Commissioner of Police Abdulla Fairoosh and then Acting Head of Police Specialist Operations Department Ahmed Shameem must be held responsible for not having carried out the responsibilities of their posts in a sufficient manner.

She also notes the accounts given to PIC investigations by Fairoosh, Shameen and Assistant Commissioner of Police Hussain Waheed, stating that providing false statements to the investigation is a criminal offence as noted in Article 62 of Chapter 3 of the Penal Code.

Ismail further states that Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz and Head of Police Professional Standards Directorate, Assistant Commissioner of Police Ali Rasheed, must be held accountable for failing to investigate the acts of police on February 8. She states that this failure is a breach of the constitution and the Police Act.

Recommendations to the Minister of Home Affairs

The PIC report presents two recommendations to the Minister of Home Affairs.

It calls on the ministry to order the police to investigate undue use of force with batons during February 8.

Noting that many officers during the February 8 had had their faces covered with hoods and helmets, the report additionally calls on the Ministry to establish a system in the police which would facilitate identification of police being investigated under similar situations.

Police Media Official Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef told Minivan News today that they are in the process of studying the PIC report.

“After studying it, if we find that any steps need to be taken, or any reforms need to be made, then we will work on that,” Haneef said.

Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz was not responding to calls at the time of press.

Minivan News also tried contacting the Police Integrity Commission, but was unable to get a response at the time of press.


Police acts on February 8 unlawful, Police Integrity Commission tells Majlis Committee

President of the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) Shahindha Ismail has told the Majlis’ Independent Institutions Oversight Committee that police actions on February 8 were unlawful, and that police officers had used undue force to disperse a Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) demonstration.

Video footage of the February 8 demonstration show police in riot gear tear gassing and brutally beating unarmed civilians in front of Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) building.

The MDP took to the streets after former President Mohamed Nasheed claimed he was had resigned “under duress” following a police and military mutiny the previous day on February 7.

Responding to questions from MDP MP Ahmed Sameer, Shahindha said police had violated clauses 1, 8 and 11 of Article 7 of the Police Act. These clauses stipulate that police must respect and uphold fundamental rights of citizens, uphold and protect individual dignity, humanity and human rights, and must not under any circumstances subject any individual to inhuman, degrading or cruel treatment.

MP of the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) Mohamed Hussein asked Shahindha which measures the PIC had used to determine whether police had in fact used excessive force.

“There is a specific act regarding the use of batons,” Shahindha said. “While watching live coverage of the protest, I saw a policeman stretch out his arm with a baton and hit a citizen on his head. That is indisputably unlawful.”

Shahindha said the PIC had immediately called police-in-charge at the time Abdulla Phairoosh and had asked that police show restraint.

“Phairoosh said he was not aware [of police brutality]. We also asked for the police to leave the site if they cannot act within the law. Phairoosh agreed. But we did not see that happen,” she claimed.

Moreover, Shahindha said the police had also violated Article 41 of the Police Act which requires the police to inform the PIC if a police officer causes any harm to a citizen due to use of force, or while individual is under custody.

But Shahindha noted police were fully cooperating with the PIC in investigations, and that the PIC was prioritising the investigation of the events of February 6, 7, and 8.

Responding to questions from MP of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), Rozaina Adam, Shahindha said while the police had the fundamental right to disobey an unlawful command and the right to ask their commissioner to resign under such circumstances, she could not state whether police actions on February 7 constituted a police mutiny until investigations were complete.

Parties allied with President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan refute allegations of police mutiny, stating that police officers were exercising their right not to obey an unlawful command on February 7.

In addition to the PIC, the Independent Institutions Oversight Committee also met with the Human Rights Commission (HRCM) and the Prosecutor General (PG) to question them about police brutality allegations and the detention of Criminal Court Chief Justice Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.

Human rights violations

The HRCM told the Independent Institutions Oversight Committee that they believed human rights violations had occurred on February 8. HRCM said their monitors were active on the streets and had visited Dhoonidhoo Remand Center and the hospitals that day.

Speaking at a meeting held to mark the 79th anniversary of the Maldives Police Services, Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz said he would not conduct an internal investigation, saying that he had asked the HRCM to look into the matter.

But President of HRCM Mariyam Azra said the police had not asked the HRCM for a formal investigation into police brutality.

“We did not receive a formal request for investigation. However, in a meeting with the police commissioner, after we asked the police to conduct an internal investigation through the police’s professional standards unit, he asked us to look into it as well. We do not believe that is a formal request for investigation,” Azra said.

Speaking to Minivan News after the committee hearing, Shahindha said if the police conducted an internal investigation into brutality allegations it would increase their integrity in the public eye.

CNI not independent: PIC

DRP MP Visam Ali asked if the PIC would collaborate with the presidential Committee of National Inquiry (CNI), which is charged with assessing the facts regarding Nasheed’s resignation.

New President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan instituted the three member committee following international pressure for an independent investigation into the transfer of power. However, the CNI has come under fire from the MDP and local civil society groups for unilateralism and lack of independence.

“The CNI has said it is not carrying out a criminal investigation. All of the PIC’s investigations carry a criminal aspect. I do not see the point of joint-investigations with the CNI,” Shahindha said.

“I do not believe the commission is independent or impartial nor does it have the mandate to investigate the matter,” she added.

The PIC had now completed 90 percent of its February 6, 7, and 8 investigations, Shahindha said.

Although the PIC and HRCM said they would be looking into police brutality and human rights violations during the transfer of power, the commissions had previously told Minivan News they did not have the mandate to look into the legality of the transfer of power.

Footage of the MDP protest and police response on February 8, following the change of government