Police to break up “unauthorised” protests

Police have announced they will break up protests which have not received authorisation in advance, in an apparent attempt to clamp down on daily demonstrations over the jailing of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed.

The opposition said its daily protests would continue, while decrying the move as a violation of the right to peaceful assembly guaranteed in the constitution. A member of the human rights commission also said the police plan was unconstitutional.

Police said last night that regular protests using “unusually loud” sound systems have been disrupting schools, businesses and are not in the public interest.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and allied parties have been holding daily protests throughout the country to demand the release of Nasheed, who was sentenced last month to 13 years in jail on terrorism charges. Protesters in the capital Malé have been marching through the streets every night, often through its main thoroughfare Majedhee Magu and through its narrow alleys.

Police said that demonstrators must apply for authorisation in advance for any “pre-planned” protests , as required by article 13 of the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act.

The act was passed in 2013 but police have not so far enforced the authorisation requirement, although hundreds of protesters have been arrested on other charges.

Police last night warned they will break up any unauthorized protests after one warning, and will confiscate loud sound systems.

The police announcement was deemed “unconstitutional” by Human Rights Commission member Ahmed Tholal.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Tholal said that freedom to assemble peacefully without permission from the state is a fundamental right granted by article 32 of the constitution.

“They [police] cannot withhold constitutional rights by referring to a provision in the [assembly] act. If there are problems with regards to the provisions in the act, they should address it without limiting constitutional rights,” said Tholal.

Police have arrested over 100 people at recent opposition protests. While some of them have been released without detention, several were barred by the criminal court from going to further protests for 60 days.

Elsewhere, the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure wrote to the MDP on April 1 saying that the ministry would not be able to provide any plot of land for political activity because of the political situation in the country.

However, Minivan News understands that ruling Progressive Party of Maldives will be holding a rally at the artificial beach tonight (April 9).

MDP MP Eva Abdulla described the government actions as an attempt to “harass the opposition by attempting to obstruct peaceful assembly.”

“This is a coordinated attack by the government on our constitutionally stipulated rights to freedom of assembly and yet another example of how far this regime is willing to go in its harassment and persecution of the opposition,” Eva said.

“There is no longer any pretence of the government upholding our laws and our constitution,” she continued.

Minivan News was unable to obtain any comment from the Housing Ministry about the letter at the time of going to press.


Global MPs’ group calls for Mahloof release

Global MPs’ group Parliamentarians for Global Action has condemned the detention without charge of MP Ahmed Mahloof and called upon authorities to immediately release him from house arrest.

Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA) expressed its “undiminished solidarity” towards MP Mahloof in a statement today.

He was arrested at an opposition rally on March 26 for allegedly “obstructing police duties and disobeying police orders.”

Noting that Mahloof may have been “targeted” by police for his criticism of the government, PGA expressed concern that freedom of speech, freedom of expression and the constitutional rights of MPs may have been violated.

After five days at the Dhoonidhoo detention centre, Mahloof refused to accept the court’s conditional release, which would have barred him from protesting for 60 days. The criminal court then placed him under five days of house arrest.

Mahloof was expelled from the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives after its disciplinary committee said he brought President Abdulla Yameen into disrepute with false statements in the media.

Meanwhile, a letter from the Prosecutor General’s office was leaked to Minivan News, which arguesthat some recent decisions by the court may have limited individuals’ rights relating to pre-trial detention.

The letter, addressed to Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed, said the decisions limited rights under Article 49 of the constitution.

This article says that no one shall be detained prior to sentencing unless there is a fear of the accused failing to appear at court, for the protection of public safety, or to prevent the accused interfering with witnesses.

Local media have interpreted the letter, dated yesterday, as a warning to the criminal court over the conditional release of people arrested at protests, which often stipulates they must not go to any more demonstrations for 60 days.

Previously, MP Fayyaz Ismail, of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), was detained for 15 days after he refused to accept release on these conditions following his arrest at a protest on March 8.

At the time, the Criminal Court had released 33 of the 77 individuals arrested at protests, on the condition they would not participate in further protests for 60 days.

“This is not a limitation of rights, but a violation of [the detainee’s] rights to assembly, expression, and free will,” said Shahindha Ismail, executive director of Maldivian Democracy Network’s, earlier this month.

Courts can enforce conditions on detainees to ensure a person’s attendance at hearings, for example having to obtain a permit from the court when travelling, but they cannot place a condition asking the individual not to go to a protest, she said.

The government has started implementing stronger measures in the crackdown against opposition protests, which escalated after the arrest of former President Mohamed Nasheed on February 22.

President Abdulla Yameen today ratified an amendment to the Civil Service Act which bars civil servants from holding posts in political parties and taking part in political activities.

The amendment comes at a time where several state owned companies have been accused of firing opposition supporters for participating in anti-government protests.

Since March 1, at least four employees of State Electric Company Limited and one from Malé Water and Sewerage Company were dismissed, and at least five were suspended from Maldives Ports Limited.


33 protesters barred from protests for 60 days

The Criminal Court has conditioned the release of 33 opposition protesters arrested last week on their staying home from further protests for 60 days.

Human Rights NGO Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) has described the move as unconstitutional, arguing the condition violated the right to freedom of assembly and expression.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Fayyaz Ismail was remanded for additional 15 days when he refused the Criminal Court’s condition on Saturday.

Supporters have commended Fayyaz’s “bravery,” and called on protesters to follow his example.

MDN Executive Director Shahindha Ismail said a fundamental right could only be limited by a law passed through the People’s Majlis.

“This is not a limitation of rights, but a violation of [the detainee’s] rights to assembly, expression, and free will,” she said.

“The Court can enforce conditions on detainees to ensure a person’s attendance in court. For example, having to obtain a permit from the court when travelling. However, they cannot place a condition asking them to not go to a protest,” she said.

According to the Maldives Police Services, a total of 77 individuals have been arrested from opposition protests since February 27. If individuals released with conditions are seen at protests, the police will take action, a spokesperson said.

The opposition continues to hold nightly protests demanding the release of former President Mohamed Nasheed, imprisoned ahead of a trial on terrorism charges over the military detention of Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.

The opposition leader has denied ordering the judge’s arrest. If convicted, he faces a jail term or banishment between ten and 15 years.

The MDP in February allied with former ruling coalition partner Jumhooree Party (JP) against what they call President Abdulla Yameen’s repeated breaches of the Constitution.

Nasheed was arrested on Februrary 22 after Prosecutor General Muhthaz Muhsin alleged he may abscond from the unannounced terrorism trial scheduled for the next day.

Police arrested 26 individuals on March 6 alone. In addition to Fayyaz, MDP Vice President Mohamed Shifaz and former MP Ilyas Labeeb were arrested.

Two journalists from Villa TV and CNM were also briefly detained for allegedly obstructing police duties.

Of the 26 arrested, 21 were brought for remand hearings the next day. The Criminal Court released 18 on the condition they do not participate in further protests.

Shahindha, who also served as the President of the Police Integrity Commission from 2009 to 2012, accused police of using disproportionate force in making arrests, using pepper spray at close range and verbal abuse.

“This is not humane treatment at all, and should not be allowed. The police are reverting back to old times by being brutal and forceful,” she said.

The former police integrity commissioner also expressed concern at reports of police officers refusing to use any identification at protests.

“The alleged reasoning behind this is to prevent personal attacks against individual officers,” said Shahindha. “But there should be some sort of identity on the individuals so independent commissions will be able to hold them accountable, even if it’s a number code.”

She also claimed police were setting up barricades and closing down streets at random. Barricades had been set up outside of green zones in which protests are prohibited.

The police have banned protests near the Malé City Hall until March 15, claiming businesses in the area had been complaining over protesters allegedly disrupting business.

The PIC and Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) must investigate alleged violations, Shahindha said.

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Abdulla Saeed appointed as new Chief Justice, dismissed Justice Faiz laments “black day”

President Abdulla Yameen has appointed Supreme Court Justice Abdulla Saeed as the Maldives’ new Chief Justice within an hour of Majlis unanimously approving him for the position.

Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs staged a walk out prior to the vote, accusing the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) of burying the country’s 2008 democratic constitution.

MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy described the PPM and its coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) as “enemies of democracy bent on taking revenge on the people after having assumed power through brute force.”

Tonight’s extraordinary session at 9pm followed an extraordinary morning session during which a two-third majority of MPs voted out incumbent Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz and Justice Muthasim Adnan.

Speaking to local media today, Faiz condemned the Majlis vote as unconstitutional, and said the move raises doubts over the separation of powers and the continuation of judicial independence in the Maldives

“Today will be written down as a black day in the constitutional history of the Maldives. I state this is a black day for the constitution. Taking such a vote against the constitution is, I believe, disrespectful to the constitution,” he said.

Faiz and Muthasim were voted out after the Majlis amended the Judicature Act to reduce the seven-member Supreme Court bench to five judges.

The ruling coalition maintains the move will strengthen the judiciary and facilitate judicial reform.

Black day

Former President Mohamed Nasheed had appointed Faiz as the country’s first Chief Justice in 2010, days after he ordered the army to lock up the Supreme Court premises when the interim Supreme Court bench illegally declared themselves judges for life.

Faiz and Muthasim have formed the dissenting opinion in several controversial cases, including the decision to annul the first round of presidential polls in September 2010.

“Dismissal of a country’s Chief Justice against the constitution is no small matter,” Faiz told CNM today, adding “MPs are mandated to uphold democracy. But today there are doubts over how they perceive democracy.”

Faiz said he had decided not to speak in his defense prior to the vote due to conflict of interest and because he did not want politicians to benefit from any of his statements.

Muthasim was the only Supreme Court Judge with a background in common law.

New Chief Justice

Saeed, who served as the Chief Justice of the Maldives’ first interim Supreme Court from 2008 – 2010, was voted in with 55 votes.

Jumhooree Party (JP) MPs Gasim Ibrahim and Hussain Mohamed voted for Saeed despite having opposed Faiz and Adnan’s removal this afternoon. JP MPs Ali Hussein and Abdulla Riyaz, who had voted against the two judges’ dismissal, did not participate in the vote.

The watchdog Judicial Services Commission (JSC) had recommended that the two judges be dismissed for gross misconduct and incompetence on Thursday. But details of the ruling or evaluation criteria have not been made available to MPs or the public yet.

The seven member Civil Court last night declared the Judicature Act amendment unconstitutional and said it could “destroy judicial independence” in the Maldives.

PPM MP Riyaz Rasheed said Saeed’s appointment would strengthen the judiciary and facilitate judicial reform as MDP had advocated for.

He described Saeed as an educated and capable candidate with a master in Shari’ah and law. Saeed had also committed the Qur’an to memory, Riyaz claimed.

Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed, implicated in a series of sex tapes, administered Saeed’s oath of office.


Niyaz challenges auditor general reappointment clause at High Court

Former Auditor General (AG) Niyaz Ibrahim has requested the High Court to declare the People’s Majlis’ decision to reappoint the AG as unconstitutional.

President Abdulla Yameen yesterday approved Hassan Ziyath as the new AG hours after 59 MPs voted in his favor. The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) had pushed through a surprise amendment to the Audit Act on October 29 requiring the AG be reappointed within 30 days.

Speaking to Minivan News, Niyaz’s lawyer Ibrahim Riffath said Niyaz could not be dismissed half way through his seven year term through an amendment to the Audit Act.

“Article 215 of the Constitution clearly sets the AG’s term to seven years. Niyaz was appointed in May 2011. Further, Article 218 states the AG’s position only becomes vacant if the incumbent resigns or through a no confidence vote by the People’s Majlis,” he explained.

“The Majlis will have to amend the constitution to dismiss him by any other means.”

Niyaz has also requested that the High Court issue an injunction on the enforcement of the new amendment.

According to Riffath, the High Court is yet to make a decision on accepting the case as the matter had been lodged at the Supreme Court as a public interest litigation matter.

The Supreme Court this evening rejected the case. The High Court now has no legal barriers in examining the case, Riffath said.

“This is a very sensitive issue. I hope the High Court expedites a verdict. If the amendment is unconstitutional, as we believe it to be, then the legality of the current auditor general’s actions are questionable.”

Yameen’s appointment of Ziyath for the post has raised controversy as his brother, Abdulla Ziyath was recently implicated in a US$6million corruption scandal alongside tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb.

Niyaz had revealed the corrupt transactions in a special audit report a day after PPM MPs pushed through the Audit Act amendment.

The audit report accused Abdulla Ziyath, the Managing Director of state owned Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) of illegally pushing through loans worth US$6million from state funds to two private companies owned by Adeeb’s family members.

Adeeb has denied allegations, and accused Niyaz of colluding with MP and former Deputy Speaker of parliament Ahmed Nazim in releasing the audit report. Adeeb suggested Nazim had a personal vendetta against him following his refusal to support Nazim for the Majlis Speakership in May.

The Criminal Court on October 26 withheld Nazim’s passport on allegations of blackmail.

Hassan Ziyath yesterday received cross party support from ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), its allies the Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) and Jumhooree Party, as well as the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

MDP MPs including ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik, Ahmed Marzooq, ‘Rukuma’ Mohamed Abdul Kareem and Ibrahim ‘Mavota’ Shareef voted in favor despite the party previously claiming the amendment was unconstitutional.


Media Council asks Criminal Court to stop obstructing press freedom

The Maldives Media Council (MMC) has requested the Criminal Court halt unconstitutional efforts to obstruct press freedom, reports local media.

The MMC sent a letter to the Criminal Court yesterday (May 26), addressed to Chief Judge of Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed, in response to the court’s request that local media outlet Sun Online reveal a source related to a recently published article.

“The council believes that this impedes the protection guaranteed to journalists in article 28 of the Constitution, and also obstructs journalists’ freedom in carrying out their duties. We urge all groups to refrain from repeating such acts,” the letter stated.

Investigations by the MMC in regard to the article in question – for which the Criminal Court requested the source of information – revealed that the Ali Shifan murder case report was delayed due to an administrative error of the court.

The MMC also highlighted that Sun Online was the only media outlet requested to reveal their source(s), despite other local media groups reporting the incident in the same manner.