A prominent human rights lawyer has been suspended for six months by the criminal court on charges of “tarnishing the good name of judges and inciting hatred against the judiciary.”
Nazim Abdul Sattar, brother of former President Mohamed Nasheed, is barred from representing clients at the criminal court until April 6, 2017, the criminal court’s chief judge, Abdul Bari Yoosuf, said in a letter on Thursday.
The suspension came days after Nazim filed a complaint at the judicial watchdog, accusing a criminal court judge of denying legal representation to a client of his.
Judge Ibrahim Ali, in a hearing held without informing Nazim, had ruled that his client be kept in police custody until the conclusion of a trial on assault charges.
Nazim has represented a number of political prisoners pro bono over the past two years, including several opposition supporters who were jailed over the historic May Day protest, and whistleblower Gasim Abdul Kareem, who leaked bank records of a private company involved in the Maldives’ biggest ever corruption scandal.
Nazim described his suspension as “yet another assault on free speech.”
He added: “This is deeply concerning. It will hard for my clients to find lawyers who will work pro bono.”
The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party said it is extremely concerned by the six-month suspension.
It does not affect Nazim’s law licence. He can represent clients at all other courts.
Other lawyers representing political detainees have faced similar action in the past.
In November 2015, the supreme court suspended former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb’s lawyer and ordered a criminal inquiry against him, forcing him into exile.
The apex court has seized the authority to regulate the legal profession.
The former UN Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, in a 2013 report, expressed concern over action against lawyers by the courts and highlighted the need for an independent self-regulating bar association.
“The regulation of disciplinary measures against lawyers falls outside the prerogative of the judiciary or any other branch of power and contradicts the principle of independence of the legal profession,” she said.