Prosecutor General’s removal draws criticism over ‘due process violations’

Prosecutor General’s removal draws criticism over ‘due process violations’
November 13 13:12 2015

The parliament’s abrupt removal of Prosecutor General (PG) Muhthaz Muhsin in a midnight vote last week has drawn criticism from international rights organisations, local NGOs, and the main opposition party.

A no-confidence motion was submitted to the parliament’s independent institutions oversight committee on Tuesday afternoon. A subcommittee summoned Muhthaz for questioning at a closed session later in the day and he was voted out at a parliament sitting abruptly scheduled that night.

The vote followed media reports that Muhsin had stalled charges of bribery against recently impeached Vice President Ahmed Adeeb, who is in police custody on suspicion of links to the September 28 explosion on President Abdulla Yameen’s speedboat.

Mushin, in a tweet the before he was dismissed, said: “It has not been decided not to prosecute any case against Ahmed Adeeb.”

Nikhil Narayan from the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) told the The Maldives Independent that the “arbitrary removal” of the PG is another instance in a series of events deepening the rule of law crisis in the Maldives.

Narayan said the PG’s sacking was a clear violation of the international principle of independence and impartiality of independent institutions and the principle of separation of powers as enshrined under both international law and the Maldives’ constitution.

“The PGO is an independent constitutional body under the Maldives constitution, which clearly sets out the procedures and specific circumstances under which the PG may be removed from his office. The PGO must be free to carry out its legitimate constitutional mandate without arbitrary political interference or intimidation by the other branches,” he said.

Ruling party MPs had accused Muhsin of leaking confidential information, discriminating among criminal suspects, and failing to take action against his staff for political activities.

Speaking to reporters after the closed committee meeting, Muhsin said pro-government MPs had failed to specify exactly what he had done wrong.

The parliament had also refused to accept a letter he submitted to the speaker, seeking the opportunity to defend himself at a committee meeting open to the public, Muhsin said.

Muhsin declined to comment on his removal to The Maldives Independent.

MP Imthiyaz Fahmy, spokesperson of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) spokesman, said although the PG was “not in the party’s good books,” opposition MPs believe the pro-government majority in parliament did not follow due process in removing Muhsin.

The MDP MPs did not participate in the vote because the process was unfair, he said.

“Everything happened so quickly and he was removed within just about 11 hours after the government decided to remove him. The Majlis sitting was held at midnight without even notifying some MDP MPs,” he said.

“This impeachment was also  about the power struggle within the government and it was not an issue related to MDP. Because Yameen appointed him as PG and then removed him when he wanted. But MDP advocated due process for PG Muhthaz,” he said.

“Some members of the committee on the independent institutions, including myself, were also restricted from knowing the reason for his removal and the defence he made at the sub-committee as members were banned from entering the sub-committee hearing. PG Muhthaz was not given sufficient notice for his defence and he was only told of the case against him when he came to the committee after he was summoned.”

Shahindha Ismail, executive director of local human rights advocacy group Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN), said that the problems with Muhsin’s removal stems from depriving him of the constitutional rights to fair administrative action and the opportunity to speak in his defence. 

The reasons offered for his removal are also vague and unclear to the public, she said.

“I don’t understand why a rushed midnight hearing was required to impeach the Prosecutor General as there have been no allegations that he is a danger to the society. These kinds of actions from the state confirms that it’s in a volatile situation, which makes citizens distrust its government,” she said.

The PG’s removal was the latest in a series of incidents where the rule of law was disregarded, she added.

Former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb’s lawyers as well as prominent legal experts contend that his impeachment was “unconstitutional” as he was not offered an opportunity to defend himself against the impeachment charges.

The lawyers and the MDP also maintain that the president did not have the authority to shorten the constitutionally-mandated period for the vice president to respond to charges from 14 days to seven days by imposing a state of emergency.

The imprisonment of former President Mohamed Nasheed in March on a terrorism charge also drew widespread international condemnation over apparent lack of due process.

A UN rights panel has since ruled that the opposition’s leaders’ jailing was illegal and politically motivated.

Shahinda meanwhile referred to Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon’s repeated insistence that the Maldivian government is upholding the rule of law.

“The rule of law is not a subjective phrase in the foreign minister’s mind, the rule of law is universal. Just because she says that the rule of law is being upheld here, at an international podium, doesn’t change the situation in the Maldives when the public knows that she is lying,” she said.

“The question is how long the public will tolerate such a state.”

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