The International Commission of Jurists has condemned the detention of Judge Ahmed Nihan on charges of forging a warrant for the arrest of President Abdulla Yameen.
The senior judge of the Alif Dhaal Maamigili magistrate court was arrested with former Prosecutor General Muhthaz Muhsin on Sunday night. The High Court placed the judge in police custody for a week.
The government has “dealt another blow to the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law” with the judge’s arrest, said ICJ’s Asia Director Sam Zarifi.
It is also “another step down in the country’s downward spiral away from democracy and stability, and is squarely at odds with the Maldives’ international obligations,” he added.
President Yameen has said that the fraudulent warrant was part of a coup plot to overthrow his government.
The warrant stated that police were seeking his arrest over the Maldives’ biggest corruption scandal, Yameen said on Monday, denying the opposition’s allegations of his involvement in the embezzlement of nearly US$80 million from the state-owned tourism promotion company.
Speaking at a harbour opening ceremony on the island of Kudafari in Noonu atoll, Yameen stressed the gravity of forging an arrest warrant for the president as it undermined public trust in the police and judiciary.
The watchdog Judicial Service Commission meanwhile suspended Nihan yesterday pending an investigation into the fraudulent warrant.
According to Nihan’s lawyer Ahmed Nazim Sattar, the judge is being held in a “baking cell with no fan” in the police detention centre on Dhoonidhoo island.
The judge should be afforded all the privileges and rights due to his office as he has not been found guilty of committing a crime, Nazim said.
A police media official told The Maldives Independent that the rights of individuals brought under police custody are respected. They are treated in accordance with the constitution, laws and regulations, he said, but refused to comment on Nihan’s case specifically.
The ICJ’s Zarifi meanwhile went on to say that the judge’s “arbitrary and seemingly politically motivated arrest is yet another example of executive highhandedness and the corrosion of separation of powers in the Maldives.”
Calling for the judge’s immediate release, the ICJ also reiterated its previous call for the government to “implement recommendations on human rights and the rule of law, including the independence of the judiciary, received as part of the UN Universal Periodic Review process.”
The judiciary came under fire during the UPR session in May last year over “politicisation,” inadequate qualification of judges, and lack of conformity to international fair trial standards as well as the Supreme Court’s contempt of court cases against the Elections Commission and Human Rights Commission of Maldives.
Recommendations for reform included strengthening the JSC’s process of selecting and appointing judges, reviewing the oversight body’s composition, and implementing recommendations made by the UN special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers in 2013.
Additional reporting by Mohamed Saif Fathih.