Government declares state of emergency and detains Supreme Court judges

Expression

As reported previously by the CIVICUS Monitor the Maldives was thrown into a political crisis on 1st February 2018 when the country's Supreme Court ordered the release and retrial of a group of opposition politicians, including exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed.

On 5th February, The Maldives government declared a 15-day state of emergency, saying the Supreme Court ruling that overturned "terrorism" convictions against nine of his opponents was illegal. The emergency decree gave security forces sweeping powers to make arrests, curtailed the authority of the judiciary and scrapped immunity granted to Supreme Court judges.

Suspended constitutional rights include the right to privacy, freedom of information, the right to strike, the right to freedom of assembly, the right not to be unlawfully arrested or detained and the right to appeal.

Reading out the emergency decree on state television, Legal Affairs Minister Azima Shakoor said the Supreme Court's verdict had "resulted in the disruption of the functions of the executive power, and the infringement of national security and public interest".

In early hours of 6th February, the President sent security forces to storm the Supreme Court building and detain the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Abdulla Saeed and another Supreme court judge, Ali Hameed. Police also arrested Hassan Saeed Hussain, the chief judicial administrator. In the early hours of 7th February, judge Ali Hameed, was admitted to the Indira Gandhi medical hospital.

The President also ordered the arrest of his estranged half-brother, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who has sided with the opposition, along with his son-in-law Mohamed Nadheem. Both were arrested on charges of “bribery”.

There were also attacks against the media. On 5th February, pro-government protesters threatened to burn down RaajjeTV. A crowd had gathered at the RaajjeTV office and threw rocks at RaajjeTV journalists at the scene. At a recent press conference held by the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), the party’s deputy leader Abdul Raheem Abdulla said opposition leader and former President Mohamed Nasheed “should not be able to say whatever he wants on RaajjeTV,” and called on security forces to close down the station.

In response to the state of emergency, human rights group Amnesty International stated:

“Since the declaration of a state of emergency yesterday, we have seen a wave of arbitrary arrests in the Maldives. A state of emergency cannot be used to carry out what appears to be a purge of the Supreme Court and the opposition. These judges and opposition politicians must be released immediately...the Maldivian government must uphold its obligations under international human rights law and not use measures adopted under the state of emergency as a justification for further human rights violations.”

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres also expressed serious concern about the unfolding situation in the Maldives and urged the government to uphold the constitution and rule of law, lift the state of emergency as soon as possible, and take all measures to ensure the safety and security of the people in the country, including members of the judiciary.

On 6th February, an amendment was made to the emergency decree lifting the restriction or suspension of Article 145(c) of the Constitution which states that the Supreme Court shall be the final authority on the interpretation of the Constitution, the law, or any other matter dealt with by a court of law.

On the same evening, in an about turn, the remaining three judges of the Supreme Court said they were rescinding their 1st February order to release the prisoners “in light of the concerns raised by the president”.