Dr Azmiralda Zahir, the Maldives’ most senior female judge, resigned from the high court this morning in protest against her transfer to a regional branch in southern Addu City.
In a letter to the watchdog Judicial Services Commission, Azmiralda said she had no choice but to resign as her unannounced transfer last year prevents her from taking care of her young children, aged four and six.
“I would like to continue my sincere service, but I am forced to resign from the high court bench, as I have not received any indication from any authority that my services are required and because the rights of my children have been violated.
“Over the course of the five months of service in Hulhudhoo, the relevant authorities have refused to clarify the length of my transfer period, preventing me from making the necessary arrangements to take care of my young children,” she said.
Azmiralda was among three judges chosen for the regional branch by the supreme court in June. The move followed amendments to the Judicature Act in 2015 that split the nine-member appeals court bench to three branches.
The northern branch is yet to be established.
Azmiralda had previously written to the supreme court and the JSC seeking a clarification on whether her transfer was permanent. When she did not receive a response, she then wrote to a parliamentary oversight committee in March asking MPs to intervene.
She told MPs that she was the only judge having to care of children on her own, and that she was transferred without her consent or notice. Neither the apex court nor the JSC had made any contact with her from the time of her appointment in June to her departure to Addu City in November, she added.
The committee, however, rejected the complaint claiming it had no jurisdiction.
The International Commission of Jurists has criticised Azmiralda’s transfer, saying it was arbitrary and amounted to a demotion, as the regional branch is not authorised to hear complaints over constitutional matters or election-related complaints.
The threat of transfer or removal of judges undermines the independence of the judiciary, the group said.
In her resignation letter, Azmiralda said she had also written to President Abdulla Yameen, who told her it was “not a matter he could address.”
She went on to slam inaction by the parliament and oversight bodies, saying: “In recent days, laws and regulations aimed at individuals have been passed, but oversight bodies mandated by the constitution have stopped short of taking the necessary action. Such measures violate fundamental rights and freedoms, but there are no parties that can be approached with complaints or to solve the issues pertaining to the fundamental civil rights.”
The judiciary no longer valued sincerity, impartiality and respect for the constitution and laws, she suggested.
Azmiralda’s resignation is a further blow to women’s representation in the judiciary. Civil Court Judges Mariyam Nihayath and Aishath Shujune, resigned in 2015 and 2014, respectively. They were the only women judges on the civil court.
A second judge who was reassigned along with Azmiralda, Abbas Shareef, had resigned from the bench shortly afterwards.
The transfer came amid appeal hearings in a weapons smuggling charge against former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim, stalling the case for some six months.
The controversial amendments to the Judicature Act, voted through by the pro-government majority in parliament, also saw the dismissal of former Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain and Justice Muthasim Adnan.
The government has promised reforms to the embattled judiciary, criticised for political influence, bribery and poor qualifications of judges.