Mutiny of the State: Maldives gets away with another coup d’état

VelTwitter

by Aishath Velezinee

A year ago the Supreme Court of the Maldives reigned supreme. The court, and at times the Chief Justice alone, ran wild with “the powers of the Supreme Court” citing Article 145 (c) for Supreme Court interference in all manner of issues. Article 268 on supremacy of the Constitution binds the Supreme Court too. But both the Supreme Court and Parliament majority were willfully blind to this as they got their way, citing the Constitution to justify outrageous breaches of the Constitution.

Few among the general public in a polity with a history of authoritarian rule and unfamiliar with the concept of the rule of law understood contraventions of the Constitution, especially when the breaches were blatantly defended by the Supreme Court. In the absence of a culture of democracy it was often reduced to whatever the “majority” decided, by hook or by crook. To win was the ultimate goal in elections as well as in litigation, no matter how. Reason by the minority was drowned out and, with the Supreme Court politicised and the Parliament majority with the President, an Executive dictatorship reigned in the shadow of the supreme Supreme Court.

The gravity of the situation became visible to the public and the international community during the 2013 presidential elections, when the Supreme Court repeatedly intervened in the election process, often working the graveyard shift and issuing midnight decrees and directives to control the elections. Polls were nullified and voting was repeatedly rescheduled to ensure an election win for Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, half-brother of the 30-year dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Why the Supreme Court may have had an interest in seeing Yameen as the president may be seen in Yameen’s statement to the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) that decided the 7 February 2012 coup was not a coup

Soon after the presidential elections, the Supreme Court also facilitated a win for President Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) in parliamentary elections, removing the Elections Commissioner and his deputy in the first suo moto case, suo moto vs Elections Commission of Maldives. The Elections Commissioner was accused of contempt of the Court and undermining the powers of the Supreme Court.

During the election campaign President Yameen, like PPM MPs in their campaigns, pledged to protect the judiciary from interference, condemning the local and international calls for judicial reform as “interference in the judiciary”. The Supreme Court is the highest authority, the bearer of the last word in all matters of law, and none had the power to criticize or demand reform of the judiciary, both the Supreme Court and President Yameen agreed.

Dismissive of all expert reports on the Maldives judiciary, the Supreme Court adopted contempt of court regulations to prohibit media and public criticism and went as far as to initiate court action against the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) in suo moto vs HRCM, charging all members of the HRCM with high treason for their 2014 report to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) for noting Supreme Court unduly influences and controls the judiciary.

Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain played his cards to win. From giving oath to Vice President Dr. Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik without question and legitimising the 7 February 2012 coup d’état to guaranteeing a win for coup-leader Yameen in the 2013 elections, facilitating a PPM majority in Parliament and remaining silent while PPM majority systematically undermined the Constitution and ruled by law instead of upholding the rule of law, Faiz never faltered.

None of these mattered when on Monday, 14 December 2014 when, following an amendment to the Judicature Act which required the Supreme Court bench to be reduced from seven to five justices, the PPM majority in Parliament removed from the bench Chief Justice Faiz and Justice Muthasim Adnan—the only voice of reason, and often only voice of dissent from majority opinion in the court.

PoliceJangiya

Supreme Court Justice and Chief of the Interim Supreme Court Abdulla Saeed who I maintain engineered hijacking of the judiciary in 2010 in what I have since called the silent coup, was rewarded with the title of Chief Justice. Solemnising the historic oath of the new Chief Justice was none other than Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed whose white underpants made international headlines after the Court ruled against display of white underpants in public protests. The white pants became a protest prop against Justice Ali Hameed after videos of the judge with foreign sex workers in a hotel in Colombo, Sri Lanka, went viral on the internet.

The Final Nail in the Coffin

Amendments to the Judicature Act were passed by the Parliament majority on Wednesday and ratified by President Yameen on Thursday.

Under the new amendments two judges were to be removed from the Supreme Court to reduce the bench from seven to five Justices; and the High Court bench is to be chopped in three equal parts, with three of the nine justices assigned to three geographical regions. A total of 43 MPs voted for the change, all members of PPM the government majority, and errant members of the opposition.

Within hours of ratification, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) who had staunchly refused to assess or remove a single judge as required for the de facto transition under Constitution Article 285, announced a decision to submit names of Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain and Justice Muthasim Adnan for removal. No reasons were given as to why or how the JSC reached the decision to remove them. The media was simply told it was a secret decision and that the Commission had decided not to reveal procedure or reason.

On Saturday, while the opposition, senior lawyers, commentators, media, social media activists, CSOs, the public and even the Civil Court declared the amendments to the Judicature Act unconstitutional and illegitimate, politicians “bargained” to win the two-third simple majority required to remove a judge.

On Sunday, the State worked overtime. Sunday morning, while opposition-led protests were kept at a distance by Police barricades around the Parliament building, government MPs with Parliament majority voted to remove Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain and Justice Muthasim Adnan. MDP issued a three-line whip to reject the dismissal of the justices but with at least five opposition MPs making themselves absent from the proceedings, the required two-third simple majority vote was guaranteed. MDP MPs and some JP MPs raised the matter of the unconstitutionality of the amendment to judicature Act—the fact is that Article 154 of the Constitution, under which the Majlis had scheduled to remove the justices, does not permit the removal of a judge except where the Judicial Service Commission finds the person grossly incompetent, or guilty of gross misconduct.  MPs also noted no such report  from the JSC regarding the two judges who were to be removed had been made available to them nor was it on record with the Parliament. It was noted that the only documentation before Parliament was a three-line note from the JSC seeking the removal of Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain and Justice Muthasim Adanan, and that this was forced upon the JSC by the Parliament with the unconstitutional amendment to the Judicature Act.

Parliament majority leader of PPM spoke for the government, laughing at opposition claims of unconstitutionality, and citing Constitution Article 70 and the powers of the Parliament therein to, in his interpretation, “make any law on any matter and any manner, whenever and wherever Parliament wish”! That there were limits upon the Parliament, and that the Parliament may not enact a law detrimental to the Constitution was lost upon him.

JangiyaaThe vote was won and, Sunday afternoon, it was reported that JSC had proposed Supreme Court Justice Abdulla Saeed for the post of Chief Justice. Sunday evening, Parliament was back in session and Abdulla Saeed was appointed the new Chief Justice with 55 votes. Before midnight, Abdulla Saeed had taken oath.

Amendment to the Judicature Act, execution of amendment on Supreme Court with the dismissal of Chief Justice and another Supreme Court justice, and appointment of a new Chief Justice, was all over before Monday morning, the earliest when the international community could possibly react.

Corrupting of the Judiciary

In 2010, the JSC, supported by then opposition Parliament majority, refused to execute Article 285, and re-appointed all sitting judges en masse. Further, both JSC and opposition MPs misled the public on JSC’s actions leading up to the collective judges’ oath on 4 August 2010, making false claims on the “procedure” as well as the discussions in the closed sittings of the Commission.

The JSC published what it called the  “legal reasoning on the Article 285 decision” speaking of the “human rights of judges” and citing Constitution section 51 (h) and ICCPR Article 14:2 and UDHR Article 11 on rights of the accused, to explain why no sitting judge may be removed for misconduct or failing to be of good character. “No one can be penalized (dismissed) by a retrospective law,” JSC claimed in 2010, the “law” referred to here by the JSC being the Constitution (2008).

The JSC’s decision stood as few protested against it, and complaints to Parliament oversight Committee, the Anti Corruption Commission and the Human Rights Commission on JSC’s treason were ignored or covered up.

The appointment of the Supreme Court too was a political decision influenced by the existing power balance in the Parliament, and the pressure from the international community for “political negotiation and peace”.

Reports of the International Commission of Jurists who probed the issue following appeals in 2010 and the UN Special Rapporteur on Independence of Lawyers and Judges and FIDH who made inquiries after the February 2012 coup d’état all recognise fundamental mis-conceptualizations in appointment of judges and in the use of concepts like independence of the judiciary and the rule of law in the Maldives.

Rule By Law: Precedents in the Maldives

Removal of Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain and Justice Muthasim Adnan from the Supreme Court bench through amendment legislation is not a first breach. A number of similar unconstitutional actions where political “majority” power reigned supreme have set the precedent. Some major comparable instances are found in the following:

  • Removal of the Chair of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), High Court Chief Justice Abdul Ghani Mohamed from the JSC through a High Court decree on 21 January 2010. The decision was taken by three of the five High Court Justices while the fourth was on leave, and, without the knowledge of Abdul Ghani himself. The move contravened democratic principles. The JSC did not investigate the misconduct and abuse of power by the three High Court Judges despite the adoption of a motion to do so, and appointed two of the said three High Court justices to the Supreme Court and appointed the third as Chief Justice of the High Court.
  • The legitimisation of JSC’s breach of Constitution Article 285 by the Judicature Act of 10 August 2010 which brought down the standards and qualifications stipulated in the Constitution for judges.
  • The amendment to the Judicature Act on 10 August 2010, the same day it was passed and ratified, to qualify Dr. Ahmed Abdulla Didi for the Supreme Court bench.
  • The legitimisation of the 7 February 2012 coup d’état by majority power in Parliament.
  • The removal of the Auditor General through amendment to the Auditor General’s Act in 2014.

Another coup d’état?

If a coup d’état is understood as hijacking of State powers, and bringing down of legitimate Constitutional government, and/or the derailment of Constitutional government, the Maldives has once again carried out a coup d’état, this time going full circle to complete what I have called earlier the silent coup.

With Monday’s move all State powers are once again with the President who has got himself Parliament majority with the power to write and rewrite law; and the shamelessness to do so without regard to the Constitution, democratic principles, public outrage or international criticism.

With the Supreme Court secured, Parliament is now on fast track, undoing the Constitutional rights and safeguards. Next step will be the elimination of all opposition including independent voices, all by Court order and verdicts, once again by the powers of the Constitution. Where do the people of Maldives go with this case of the mutiny of the state against its’ own Constitution and people?


Author’s Note: All illustrations and photos used in the article are taken from the public response to the issue on social media

 

    Like Water for Politics: Lessons from Male’ Water Crisis

    YameenWater

    by Azra Naseem

    On 4 December, a fire at the Male’ Water and Sewerage Company (MWSC) damaged the desalination plants supplying water to the congested capital’s 150,000 residents. Since then the two square kilometre island has been without running water. Drinking water has never really been free in the Maldives. A majority choose to buy bottled water rather than drink desalinated tap water. Soon after the fire at the MWSC, the island was on the verge of running out of bottled water, too, as people started panic buying in bulk.

    Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon asked for foreign assistance later the same evening. India was the first to respond. The first Indian aircraft carrying emergency water assistance for residents of Male’ arrived on the morning of 5 December. On Sunday, INS Deepak docked in Male’. She was carrying 900 tonnes of water, and has the capacity to produce 200 tonnes a day. Sri Lanka also sent water, and US agreed to help. 20 tonnes of water from China arrived Sunday night by air, and another 600 tonnes arrived this morning with the Chinese navy. As the newly set up [second] official Twitter account of the Maldives Ministry of Foreign Affairs shows, plenty more water has been shipped to Male’ in-between. Police and army are distributing the water from designated points, and people are queuing up in tens of thousands to collect it during specified times—it is all they have for drinking, cooking and all sanitary purposes.

    The crisis has revealed the MWSC—co-owned by the Maldives government (80%) and Japan’s Hitachi company (20%)—does not have a back-up plan for supplying water to Male’s residents. As any major crisis in a country tends to do, Male’s water crisis has also revealed interesting facts about its socio-economic and political life.

    Socially, the first day of free water distribution was marred by racism as some residents of Male’ tried to stop expatriate labourers from getting to the rationed water. The shameful behaviour even made it on to Al Jazeera. Sadly, it’s not a once-off. Discrimination against (non-white) immigrants is one of the defining characteristics of Male’ today. Often, Bangladeshis are at the receiving end of this racism. On Monday a naval vessel, BNS Samudra Joy, carrying 100,000 tonnes of drinking water and five mobile water treatment plants docked in Male. In addition to appreciating the water, many also admired the Bangladeshi gesture as a great way of raising the middle finger to Maldivian discrimination against their workers in Male’.

    There have also been many reports the foreign donated water is not being distributed equally.

    According to these reports, overseen by police and the army, water is being delivered to the houses of politicians and other influential authorities in lorry loads in the darkness of the night while people form long queues at the taps during the day. One person who objected to this practice was arrested.

    Such behaviour is again a reflection of the unequal distribution of wealth and privilege which is a defining characteristic of the city. On the positive side, the water crisis showed how—despite all the political divisions and conflict of recent years—people are willing to look out for each other at a basic human level. Many shared their limited running water with people who live on higher floors of Male’s many high-rise apartments and could not access the pressure-less water. Hundreds of volunteers joined Maldives Red Crescent to distribute water. Others allowed open access to their reserve underground water-tanks. Male’ City Council set up a make-shift desalination plant and started distributing water. Home deliveries were made for people with special needs.

    Political and economic mess

    Politically and economically, meanwhile, the water crisis revealed a country in shambles. It was 74 hours into the disaster when President Abdulla Yameen first put in an appearance. Not that it is unusual for the president to be missing in action. Yameen has spent as much time abroad on unofficial and unexplained visits as he has at home since he assumed the presidency in November 2013. Mysterious disappearances of any Head of State would lead to questions. And, in the absence of answers, they lead to speculation. Reports are rife in Male’ that the president has a brain tumour - Gliobastoma, to be specific. Aware as it is of the reports–it is impossible not to know, given how frequently it is discussed on social media–the President’s Office has neither denied nor confirmed them. Telling people as little as possible is characteristic of this government. In sharp contrast to governments which hasten to reassure the public of its leader’s well-being, Yameen’s sees no need to keep the public informed.

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      One hundred days of sorrow: missing moyameehaa

      “You run back and forth listening for unusual events,
      peering into the faces of travelers.
      “Why are you looking at me like a madman?”
      I have lost a friend. Please forgive me.” - Rumi

      Rilwan

      by Azra Naseem

      Sunday will be the 100th day since Ahmed Rizwan (Rilwan) Abdulla, @moyameehaa, was abducted. Time has dragged, weighted down by the burden of not knowing. Between then and now much, yet nothing, has happened. The posters brightening a thousand walls with Rilwan’s smile have faded with the sun and dissolved with the rain. Five thousand men and women put pen to paper, ‘Good Sir, kind Madam, please find Rilwan,’ they begged. At least as many thousand Tweets have echoed round the world: ‘#Findmoyameehaa, #Findoyameehaa.’ Hundreds of friends and supporters have marched on Male’s streets with the question: ‘Where is Rilwan?’ Scores have met many miles away in Melbourne and in New York, asking the same question.

      Rilwan’s mother has said, to any ears that would listen, ‘I am poor, but my love makes Rilwan a priceless treasure. Please find him for me.’ Hundreds have felt her tears roll down their faces. ‘He is alive,’ Rilwan’s father has insisted. His mind has been far from the assorted fruits and vegetables he sells at the local market. ‘How do you know?’ ask customers who have stopped to listen. Without batting an eyelid he has said, ‘I asked a clairvoyant.’

      It may seem odd, approaching a clairvoyant to look for a son abducted in this technologically advanced twenty first century. But when the natural world makes no sense, the supernatural often appears the only consolation. In its investigation into Rilwan’s disappearance, Maldives Police Service (MPS) has been more than negligent; it has been willfully perverse. In hundred days the MPS has given almost as many excuses for making zero progress in the search for Rilwan: nobody was abducted; it was a woman who was abducted; it was not an abduction, it was a rape; Rilwan ‘disappeared himself’; Rilwan is an apostate, not worth looking for; Rilwan is playing an elaborate joke; Rilwan is writing his own missing persons reports; Rilwan was abducted by gangs, there are no gangs in the Maldives; we have arrested someone, we have let him go; Rilwan was abducted by violent extremists, there are no violent extremists in the Maldives; Rilwan is not missing, it is all a political drama; no comment; Rilwan who?

      Rilwan the journalist who examined the many maladies of Maldives. Rilwan the teenage blogger who gave a damn about the poor and the wronged. Rilwan the ex-radical who understood the extremist mindset better than all official strategists. Rilwan the story-teller whose #FerryTales shortened the distance between Male’ and Hulhumale’ more than any bridge can. Rilwan the well-mannered young man who respected the elderly. Rilwan the friend who listened. Rilwan the writer who inspired. Rilwan the aspiring poet who read Rumi and Neruda. Rilwan the thinker who sought spiritual succor in meditation, Nusrat Fatah Khan and the Quran. Rilwan the friend who laughed; the brother who baked; the uncle who played; the son who loved. Rilwan the Maldivian who cared.

      The reasons why Rilwan’s friends, family and supporters want him found are the very reason the authorities want him to remain missing. What Rilwan abhorred in our society, our rulers cheer loudly.

      Rilwan wanted a society free of corruption; our leaders revel in it. He wanted to see Jihadist ideologies become less attractive to young Maldivians; our religious clerics encourage it while the government turns a blind eye. He wanted gang violence to have less power over society; senior government officials outsource authority to favoured gang members. Rilwan wanted equal justice for all; our rulers want judgement and punishment to be arbitrary, wielded by them how and when they please. He wanted a society where citizens shared its wealth more equally; our rulers want all wealth to be their own.

      Rilwan wanted us all to think more deeply about how to live a more meaningful, spiritual and equal existence; it is the antithesis of all that our rulers desire. For the moment we begin to think more deeply is the moment we begin to regret voting them in. It would be the beginning of our demand for change, the precursor to saying: ‘Enough. I will not let you rule me anymore.’

      If the past 100 days has made anything clear, it is that this government will do all it can to stop Rilwan from being found. It is in its interests to do so. The past 100 days has also made something else very clear: we must do all we can to find out what happened to Rilwan. It is in our interests to do so. Our pursuit of a more just, equal and democratic society, as dreamed of by Rilwan, cannot begin if we forget Rilwan’s abduction and the government’s role in it, either by taking him or covering it up.

      Let’s not stop our pressure on the authorities to #FindMoyameehaa. We owe it to Rilwan, and to our future.