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Thursday roundup: Maldives Supreme Court poses ‘major threat to democratic rule’

A roundup of the day’s top stories.



  • Government proposes increasing term of local councils to five years
  • Witnesses in murder trial of liberal blogger face intimidation and assault
  • Opposition condemns arrest of protester

Watchdog probes overreach of Supreme Court justices

The Judicial Service Commission decided on Wednesday to investigate three Supreme Court justices involved in unlawful decisions by the top court over the past decade.

The probe was prompted by a report compiled in August that flagged 17 instances where the Supreme Court violated the constitution or usurped the powers of the executive, parliament and independent state institutions, the JSC noted in a press brief.

The commission also considered an assessment of proposed judicial reforms by Johann Kriegler, a retired South African justice who worked as a consultant for the Attorney General. The damning report, which was made public on Wednesday, called the Supreme Court “a major threat to democratic rule in the Maldives, not because of any fault in the Constitution but because of the unlawful conduct of the Court over the last decade.”

The report recommended a JSC investigation of the incumbent justices “on charges of gross misconduct in undermining the constitution.” Criminal charges could be raised if there was “reliable evidence of personal corruption or other impropriety,” it added.

Constitutional amendment proposed to lengthen term of local councils

A constitutional amendment and other legal changes aimed at empowering municipal councils have been shared with the president’s office for submission to parliament, the Attorney General’s office announced on Thursday.

The first bill seeks to amend the constitution to increase the term of councils from three to five years, change the membership of atoll councils to be comprised of island council presidents and to directly elect council presidents and vice presidents, the AG office explained in a statement.

Atoll councillors are presently elected to represent constituencies in an administrative atoll. Council presidents and vice presidents – mayor and deputy mayor in the case of city councils – are elected from among council members.

A three-quarters majority of the 87-member house will be needed to amend the constitution. The ruling Maldivian Democratic Party has 65 seats.

In line with President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s campaign pledges, proposed changes to the 2010 decentralisation law include reserving 33 percent of council seats to female candidates, restoring powers and responsibilities stripped from city councils by the previous administration and introducing rules to change ownership of all land, resources and assets within a council’s jurisdiction under its management.

The revised law would also mandate earmarking five percent of government income to councils as well as 40 percent of rent from land, lagoons and reefs outside the council’s jurisdiction, which would be divided among all councils through a fiscal formula. Councils would also be authorised to charge fees for services, create and run corporations and appoint the highest-ranking civil servant at the council administrative office.

Infrastructure projects in the government’s Public Sector Investment Programme that are valued below MVR5 million (US$324,200) would be carried out by councils, which would also be able to enlist third parties to provide utility services such as water and electricity. Councils would be mandated with consulting the public as much as possible about development plans, land use plans and other important municipal decisions.

The fourth local council elections of the Maldives is scheduled to take place during the first week of April 2020.

Witness refuse to testify in Yameen Rasheed murder trial

A secret witnesses in the murder trial of liberal blogger Yameen Rasheed refused to testify and some witnesses have been assaulted.

According to media reports of Thursday’s hearing, the state prosecutor told the judge that the witness who was due to testify anonymously refused to appear. Other witnesses have faced assault and intimidation, the prosecutor said, prompting defence lawyers to object over the insinuation against their detained clients.

Only the prosecution and criminal court would know the identity of secret witnesses, lawyers said. A police investigation is underway, the prosector replied.

Due to their refusal to testify, the prosecution decided not to call two secret witnesses.

A secret witness who testified via audio link at Thursday’s hearing about being near the crime scene on the night of the murder. But the witness could not remember the time or any other details.

The trial is set to continue next week.

Opposition condemns arrest of protester

Former MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla with opposition protesters (Photo from Twitter)

Opposition parties on Wednesday condemned the arrest of a woman while opposition supporters protested outside the courthouse during former president Abdulla Yameen’s money laundering trial.

According to police, a 38-year-old woman was arrested on charges of assaulting a police officer. The woman is a member of the People’s National Congress council, the opposition coalition said in a statement. The Progressive Party of Maldives-People’s National Congress coalition accused police of arresting her in a brutal and demeaning manner while she was peacefully exercising her right to freedom of assembly. Riot police also obstructed the live coverage of the opposition-aligned Channel 13, the statement alleged.

Former MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla told the press that opposition supporters gathered in solidarity with former president Yameen, calling the trial unjust and politically motivated.