Politicization and compulsion by the state in prosecuting or often persecuting political opponents has been a major obstacle to reforming a judiciary that has the faith and confidence of the public and in turn, a facet to developing a modern democracy in the Maldives. Particularly, the past few years have been tumultuous for the judiciary following the nomination of multiple senior figures from the ruling party including its President into the judicial oversight commission (Judicial Services Commission) which has since imposed a slew of derisory steps all under the notion of judicial reform.
However, while the current Judicial Services Commission has implemented a plethora of changes to the judiciary, they have so far failed to enact real reform, instead, implementing questionable measures to further solidify the ruling party’s stronghold over the judiciary, packing it with their political allies and party activists.
The Political Persecution of Opposition Leader President Yameen Abdul Gayyoom: Is He Exempt from Justice and a Fair Trial?
The trials of the opposition party, Progressive Party of Maldives’ (PPM) presidential candidate former President Abdulla Yameen is a key example of judicial travesties and misconduct, and the state’s undue influence over the judiciary. At the initial trial, the trial judge, then Chief Judge of the Criminal Court of Maldives Judge Ahmed Hailam was replaced a mere 4 hours ahead of issuing a verdict, replacing him with a junior judge who summarily issued a guilty verdict. The former Chief Judge of the Criminal Court would later go on to issue a public statement accusing the President’s Chief of Staff of issuing direct threats to ensure a guilty verdict against the opposition leader.
Judge Ahmed Hailam’s replacement, Judge Ali Rasheed who issued the guilty verdict, was promptly “rewarded” with an unprecedented triple promotion, securing a seat at the Supreme Court of Maldives.
In a more recent case of inexplicable derisory initiatives by the Judicial Services Commission, the judicial oversight committee ordered a disciplinary inquiry against Supreme Court Justice Mahaz Ali Zahir for a laughable lunch take-out from a restaurant, after he issued a verdict overturning the 5-year jail sentence against the opposition’s presidential candidate. Tyranny and injustice go hand in hand to suppress democracy and overturn the system in favor of an autocracy, on a slippery slope of lies, intimidation and propaganda. The state under President Solih has engaged in targeted political persecution of the opposition leader and countless individuals not allied with the ruling party, leading to the current judicial farce that we see today. Inline with the countless leaked audios of judges accusing the state and the Judicial Services Commission of threatening and at one point raising credible threats of kidnapping and bodily harm to the families of judges, the trial judge of yet another controversial case lodged against opposition’s Presidential candidate has recused himself from the trial ahead of issuing the final verdict.
His replacement, Judge Ali Nadeem further provokes the notion of judicial integrity as he was the attorney of the primary witness (the actual perpetrator of the crime and convicted terrorist) against the defendant. The Prosecutor General Hussain Shameem, trial Judge Ali Nadeem both were attorneys of Ahmed Adeeb who is serving as the primary witness against the defendant, President Abdulla Yameen, under a plea bargain as Ahmed Adeeb is incarcerated for the MMPRC graft, corruption and an assassination attempt against President Abdulla Yameen. Though the Prosecutor General has repeatedly denied conflict of interest, there is undeniable wrongdoing where the former defense trial attorneys of a highly controversial and political case could serve as both the case can be both the prosecution and trial judge against a defendant, against whom they had represented. This blatant conflict of interest and judicial atrocity entirely removes the very notion of fairness in jurisprudence.
Moreover, another point of interest noted in both this trial and the highly publicized trial from 2019 raised allegations of state forging evidence against the defendant. As noted by the Supreme Court of Maldives’ verdict on 30th November 2021, in the initial trial lodged against the defendant, the evidence presented in the form of a bank cheque had no connection whatsoever to the actual bank ledger of the defendant while in the current trial, the state presented a document as evidence against the defendant, while three individuals whose’ signature is required for the document and is missing from the document itself has testified in court that the document was the product of forgery and that their signature would have been present on it if it had been authentic.
With the state’s leading prosecutor Aishath Mohamed recusing herself from all cases related to the MMPRC case citing the Prosecutor General’s personal vendetta in persecuting targeted individuals, the question of judicial integrity and reform shifts from that of a passive political dialogue to an issue of urgency.
This prompts us to question the motive of the current ruling party and the state in pursuing “reform” of the judiciary while actively influencing and undermining the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. Could it be viewed in any other perspective than a blatant attempt to intimidate the judiciary to influence the current trial of the opposition leader?
With the Presidential Elections 2023 less than a year ahead of us, it is now more pertinent than ever to address the judicial farce that we see today enabled under the pretext of judicial reform, enabling state sanctioned political persecution. The idea of a democratic election quickly fades away when one realizes that the Judge, the Jury, the Witness and the State are being represented by the President and his closest ally against the defendant who is the opposition’s Presidential Candidate.