The attorney general’s office has decided to appeal a two-year ban imposed by a civil court judgment on former Haveeru staff for working at any other media organisations.
The much-derided order issued on July 3 had threatened the closure of Mihaaru, a newspaper set up in May by former Haveeru journalists who resigned en masse after the country’s oldest newspaper was shut down amid an ownership dispute.
The state believes the order is unconstitutional, unlawful, invalid, and cannot be enforced, the AG office said in a statement on Thursday.
The state will only appeal the portion of the judgment that imposed the the two-year ban, it added.
Judge Mohamed Haleem had also ordered the home ministry and the broadcasting commission to take action against former staff working at other media organisations upon request by the Haveeru News Agency’s majority shareholders.
The judgment did not specify the nature of the punitive action, but said it must be taken within seven days.
But the AG office said the government does not have the constitutional or legal authority to prohibit individuals from working for a particular organisation.
“Every citizen has the right to engage in any employment or occupation,” states article 37(a) of the constitution, which also prohibits slavery and forced labour.
While the ban was imposed in a final judgment on the Haveeru ownership dispute, the AG office noted that the claimants had not sought an order against individual Haveeru staff.
After the High Court controversially split the paper’s ownership four ways last year, the three new shareholders had sued the paper’s founder, Dr Mohamed Zahir Hussain, for a share of assets and profits for the past 35 years.
The civil court’s failure to allow the former staff to have a say before suspending or restricting their constitutional right to work contravened both article 42 of the constitution and the ‘audi alteram partem’ (listen to the other side) principle of natural justice, the AG office said.
The civil court had reprimanded AG Mohamed Anil for calling the two-year ban unconstitutional. The court issued a second order on July 4 calling the AG’s remarks “invalid and unlawful”.
Meanwhile, following the AG office’s announcement of its intention to file an appeal, the Maldives Broadcasting Commission and the Maldives Media Council have also decided to enter the case as third parties.
Represented by former AG Husnu Suood, some 35 employees of Mihaaru had also appealed the order at both the High Court and Supreme Court on Thursday.
Of about 80 employees who were working at Haveeru when the paper was shuttered, more than 50 are now employed by Mihaaru.
In a statement issued in the wake of the court order, Mihaaru had said that the court “has once again overlooked the rights as well as the plight of more than 50 employees and their families.”
It added: “This is an act of aggression by the state against independent and free media in the Maldives, and is part of a much wider and unprecedented crackdown by the government on media freedom.”