The International Commission of Jurists condemned today “arbitrary and politically motivated actions against judges” in the Maldives, shining the spotlight on the arrest of a magistrate judge and the abrupt transfer of two others in the past year.
Magistrate Judge Ahmed Nihan’s arrest on a charge of forging an arrest warrant against President Abdulla Yameen, the reassignment of Criminal Court Chief Judge Judge Abdulla Mohamed, and the sudden demotion of High Court Judge Azmiralda Zahir last year were listed as issues that undermine judicial independence.
“The government must immediately stop targeting judges and other public officials with arbitrary criminal proceedings, threats, intimidation and harassment,” said Nikhil Narayan, ICJ’s senior legal advisor for South Asia, in a statement.
Narayan, who visited the Maldives in February, said the ICJ was dismayed to see that the Maldives government has “continued to erode the rule of law and weaken the independence of the judiciary.”
Nihan’s arrest on February 7 on a charge of issuing an arrest warrant – a function well within the ordinary powers of the judiciary – violates judicial independence and suggests the arrest was politically motivated, the ICJ said.
“Moreover, the severity of a charge of ‘terrorism’ for such an act, even if taken at face value, cannot reasonably be viewed as proportionate to the alleged offence,” Narayan added.
Nihan and his alleged accomplice, the former Prosecutor General and former Criminal Court Judge, Muthaz Muhsin, are being prosecuted under a new terror law passed last year. The pair are accused of attempting to take Yameen hostage.
The ICJ noted that the Maldivian Constitution does not provide immunity for the president from criminal accountability even while still in office.
The group, criticising Judges Abdulla and Azmiralda’s transfer, accused the government of using the threat of transfer or removal of judges as a tactic of political retribution, harassment and intimidation.
Abdulla was reassigned after a late-night meeting of the Judicial Services Commission in February.
The ICJ said: “While the JSC has given no reasons for its decision, lawyers, human rights defenders and former government officials with whom the ICJ spoke suggested that the transfer had been taken in retaliation for Judge Abdullah’s failure to remand former Prosecutor General Muhsin following his arrest.
“It was also suggested by those interviewed that a further motivation for the transfer was to ensure that Judge Abdullah could not indirectly influence the three-judge bench hearing the former Vice President’s criminal case in favor of the defendant. Judge Abdullah was reported to have close ties with both defendants.”
Former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb is on trial for corruption and terrorism. He was arrested on suspicion of links to a blast on Yameen’s speedboat last September.
Two other judges of the criminal court have since moved to the family court.
The ICJ went on to note that the Supreme Court’s decision to transfer Judge Azmiralda from the Malé appellate bench to a southern regional branch came without formal notice or opportunity to challenge her transfer.
Azmiralda has urged the parliament to protect her rights.
The Maldivian judiciary is under fire over the jailing of opposition politicians, including former President Mohamed Nasheed, in trials Amnesty International has called “grossly unfair.”
The Supreme Court accused Amnesty International of Islamophobia and hate crimes when it criticised lack of judicial independence and overreach last month.
The government has promised judicial reform, but has dragged its feet on implementing recommendations by experts, including that by the UN Rapporteur for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers Gabriela Knaul, who issued a comprehensive report three years ago.