South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

The Maldives is in danger of sliding back to authoritarianism through political interference in its judiciary and a deteriorating human rights situation, a new report from civil rights groups said this week.

The recent, high-profile prosecutions of the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Nasheed and former Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim “raised concerns regarding the independence and impartiality of the judiciary, judicial accountability and respect for the principle of separation of powers,” said the report.

Titled “Justice Adrift: Rule of Law and Political Crisis in the Maldives,”  the report was produced by the Geneva-based International Commission of Jurists and Colombo-based South Asians for Human Rights, and says that the island nation’s transition from authoritarian rule, which ended in 2008, has failed to set in train the necessary changes to secure strong and stable democracy.

The report asks the international community to maintain its focus on the human rights situation in the Maldives and encourage the island’s government “to engage in serious dialogue” to restart the process of democratic consolidation.

Mr. Nasheed was taken into custody in February for having arrested criminal court judge Ahmed Mohamed during his time as president. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison just under three weeks later.  In July, Mr. Nasheed was allowed to return home citing health reasons but was re-arrested on Sunday. His party condemned the re-arrest, insisting Mr. Nasheed’s sentence was commuted to house arrest, a claim denied by the government.

The speed of the trial was criticized by the international community, including the United Nations, as politically motivated and failing to follow due process, allegations the Maldives government has denied.

Mr. Nazim was defense minister in the current Maldivian government until he was arrested in January on charges of importation and possession of illegal weapons and for allegedly conspiring to overthrow the government. His family has denied the charges on his behalf. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison in March in a trial that the report says had “significant procedural irregularities that amount to a failure to ensure fairness.”

Such examples of political meddling in the judicial system “undermined the protection of fundamental rights” in the Maldives, the report says.

The Maldivian government said it doesn’t interfere with the judiciary. “The government upholds the rule of law and we believe that the law should apply to everyone equally,” said Ibrahim Mauz Ali, a government spokesman. “Anyone has the right to appeal their sentence if they feel it is wrong.”

The critical report comes ahead of the 30th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council next month that is scheduled to discuss the human rights record of the Maldives.

The Indian Ocean island nation emerged from decades of authoritarian rule in 2008 when a new democratic constitution was promulgated and the first multi-party elections were held. But the country’s transition to democracy faced a setback in 2012 after Mr. Nasheed’s government was forced from office by the opposition, in what supporters of the ousted president called a coup.  New elections brought to power the party of former ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom who ruled the Maldives for three decades until 2008.

“The Maldives embarked on an ambitious democratization process in 2008,” the report says. “However, the transitional process has failed to implement critically needed reforms, thus contributing to the present crisis in constitutional governance and respect for human rights and rule of law.”

The report says the trials and subsequent sentencing of Mr. Nasheed and Mr. Nazim were grossly unfair and violated international fair trial standards.

“Serious concerns have emerged regarding the fair trial rights of those perceived as failing to fall in line with the government,” the report says.

The report urges the present administration of President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom to provide Messrs. Nasheed and Nazim with the opportunity for fair and transparent appeal hearings before an independent tribunal. It says that that if the appeals “fail to ensure fairness and impartiality,” the president “must exercise his authority under the Clemency Act to pardon the defendants to comply with the Maldives’ international obligation” in the administration of justice.

The report also asks the Maldivian government to ensure judicial independence and impartiality by changing the appointment process for judges.

“Government must end the climate of impunity and ensure accountability for violations of fundamental human rights,” the report says. Updated On: Aug 27, 2015