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Transparency Maldives is gravely concerned by the implications of the Media Commission Bill submitted to the Parliament on 22 October 2017, on the already dwindling freedoms of media and expression in the Maldives despite the Constitutional provisions guaranteeing these very rights. At a time when specific broadcast media are being disproportionately intimidated using the Anti Defamation and Freedom of Expression Act ratified in August 2016, Transparency Maldives believes the present Bill, by creating a single Commission to fulfill the role of the Media Council and the Broadcasting Commission, will expand its sphere of state control on print and social media as well.

Read the full press statement here: English/Dhivehi

 

 

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Transparency International is joining with the Maldivian Democracy Network, the International Commission of Jurists, Front Line Defenders and Forum-Asia to call on the Supreme Court of Maldives to rescind the indefinite suspension of all 56 lawyers who signed a petition to the Supreme Court calling for the independence and reform of the judiciary.

Their suspension follows a joint petition on 30 August 2017 by 56 lawyers, two of whom were already under suspension, to the Supreme Court raising concern over the conduct of the judiciary and calling for judicial reforms. The Supreme Court immediately rejected the petition without review, raising questions about the legal basis for its decision to dismiss the petition as unlawful. Subsequently, late Sunday night, 10 September 2017, the Department of Judicial Administration. the administrative arm of the Maldivian judiciary supervised directly by the Supreme Court, published an announcement via Twitter stating that 54 lawyers would be indefinitely suspended from legal practice from that day onwards. It is unclear from the announcement whether the action was carried out by the Department of Judicial Administration or directly by the Supreme Court of Maldives.

The announcement, which contained a list of the 54 affected lawyers, stated that the lawyers were being investigated for ‘obstructing the independence of the judiciary and the independence of the judges by forming a group and illegally assembling outside the Supreme Court, remarking on the duties of the judiciary and attempting to influence the courts by preparing and signing an illegal document against the jurisdiction, procedures and decisions of the courts in violation of the Article 141 (c) and (d) of the Constitution of the Maldives, the Regulation on the Legal Counsels Practicing in the Maldivian Courts and the Declaration contained in the Schedule 1 of the said Regulation, Regulation of Contempt of Court, the Judicature Act of Maldives, the Regulation of the Supreme Court of Maldives and the Constitution of the Maldives.’

Two of the key concerns highlighted in the lawyers’ petition include, among others, the Supreme Court’s tendency towards ruling on critical matters late at night and suspending dissenting lawyers without due process. The Court’s conduct on the night of 10 September by suspending the lawyers late at night has demonstrated the legitimacy of these concerns.

The accusation that the 56 lawyers formed a group to assemble outside the Supreme Court is false, as it is public knowledge that a few of the lawyers who signed the petition walked to the Supreme Court to submit it and not all the lawyers who signed the petition. The lawyers standing outside the court did not form a group to protest or hold a demonstration there, as it is clear that the lawyers stood outside for not longer than a few minutes.

We are further concerned by the Supreme Court’s blatant disregard for the lawyers’ right to due process. None of the 56 lawyers has been allowed to exercise the right to defend themselves or be heard before a disciplinary action. Furthermore, it is clear that all 56 lawyers have been penalised before an apparent investigation was conducted over allegations. Two of the 56 lawyers who signed the petition are already under indefinite suspension since November 2015 and August 2016. The incidents or actions that led to their suspension have still not been disclosed to them.

There are no bar councils or similar associations of lawyers, nor are their regulatory bodies comprised of lawyers in the Maldives. In 2012, the Supreme Court, at its own initiative, assumed the role of governing lawyers, including the power to take disciplinary action against them.

Lawyers suspended by the Supreme Court presently do not have a redress mechanism to challenge their suspension. Lawyers previously suspended have explored civil appeals, where the case has been annulled by order (number 2013/SC-SJ/01) of the Supreme Court on the basis that the Supreme Court cannot be challenged by anyone. The High Court has ruled in the case 2010/HC-A/123 (Imthiyaz Fahmy vs.The Criminal Court of Maldives) that courts must inform, verbally or by writing, directly the individual in question of a disciplinary or other action against them in order to maintain due process and procedural fairness.

The summary suspension of the 56 lawyers for demanding judicial reform only vindicates their concerns about the Supreme Court’s arbitrary exercise of its powers. The judiciary of the Maldives has been dogged by persistent censure from local and international human rights bodies, including the UN Human Rights Council, over the lack of independence and frequent violations of a right to fair trial. In the opening remarks at the 36th session of the UN Human Rights Council on Monday 11 September 2011 the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reiterated concerns over “reports of continued violations of the right to fair trial, and allegations of political bias by the judiciary” of the Maldives. The Supreme Court and the government have repeatedly rejected all such criticisms and calls for reform as unlawful infringements on the independence of the judiciary.

The suspension of almost one third of practicing lawyers who do not represent the State will take away the right of legal representation of several people, among them human rights activists, political prisoners and victims of severe injustices. This is a serious threat to the work of human rights defenders within the legal community.

The actions against the 56 lawyers, procedurally and substantively, are incompatible with international law and standards. Under international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which the Maldives is party, lawyers, like other persons, must be guaranteed the right to exercise fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression.

The suspension is also contrary to international standards on the role and independence of lawyers. Under the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, which were adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1990, lawyers are entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly, which includes “the right to take part in public discussion of matters concerning the law, the administration of justice and the promotion and protection of human rights.”

Disciplinary action against lawyers, including suspension, requires due process. The Basic Principles also provide that any disciplinary proceedings against lawyers must be conducted in a fair and impartial manner, including the right to be assisted by a lawyer of choice and an independent judicial review.

We call on the Supreme Court of the Maldives to immediately revoke the suspension of the 56 lawyers and ensure due process at all times, to engage with reform efforts, and we remind the courts that judicial reforms including those mentioned in the lawyers’ petition are necessary for the transition back into democratic governance of the nation.
For any press enquiries please contact

Natalie Baharav
T: +49 30 34 38 20 666
E: press@transparency.org

 

View/Download the press statement here 

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Transparency Maldives and six other Maldivian and international organisations have written to the President of Maldives to express concern at his announcement that executions in the country would resume by the end of September and ask for his intervention to halt the implementation of the death penalty in Maldives.

View/Download the press statement here

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Transparency Maldives strongly condemns  disproportionate use of force against the journalists of Raajje TV and Sangu TV by the Police during the coverage of protests organised by the opposition parties on Wednesday afternoon and evening outside MDP campaign center.

View/Download our Dhivehi press statement here

View/Download our English press statement here

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PRESS RELEASE – May 07, 2017

Transparency Maldives thanks its observers deployed across the country to observe the Local Council Election held on 6 May 2017. With the support of 25 observers and volunteers, TM observed 19 ballot boxes in 10 atolls: Haa Dhaalu, Baa, Kaafu, Alifu Dhaalu, Vaavu, Laamu, Gaafu Alifu, Gaafu Dhaalu, Gnaviyani and Seenu Atoll.  

In observing the Local Council Election, Transparency Maldives assessed both the election-day proceedings as well as the larger electoral and political environment. Transparency Maldives would like to express its gratitude to state institutions, civil society organisations and political parties for their contribution.

The following are the key findings we highlight based on our observation of 19 polling stations.

  • For various reasons, in several of the ballot boxes, voting began later than 08.00 am, as announced by the Elections Commission. In 17 out of the 19 ballot boxes observed, voting commenced between 8.10 and 09.00 am.
  • All necessary personnel and equipment were on site when voting began.
  • Except for two, all ballot boxes had the presence of one or more representatives from political parties or candidates when polling started.
  • Out of the 19 ballot boxes observed, one was placed at a  different location from where it was initially assigned.
  • Closing of polling was scheduled to 04.00pm, however close to this time, Election Commission announced to delay closing of polls to 06.00pm where polling started by 08.00am and to 08.00pm where polling started after 08.00am.
  • Out of the 19 ballot boxes observed, a total of 12 voters were not able to vote because due to administrative issues such as their names not being on the voter registry.
  • Out of the 19 ballot boxes observed, a total of 172 voters were assisted voters.
  • The ballot boxes observed by Transparency Maldives did not encounter any disturbances, neither was voting process disrupted for any reason.
  • Except for one, all ballot boxes had the presence of one or more representatives from political parties or candidates during the counting.
  • Out of the 19 ballot boxes observed, 15 ballot papers had extra marks, and three voters showed their ballot paper before casting the vote. Studies conducted in the Maldives suggests that similar acts are measures to ensure that those offered money or gifts vote to the candidate/party who offered money or gifts.

The following are our key observations of the larger political and electoral environment.

  • We note with concern that the 2017 Local Council Election was delayed on three occasions. While the first delay was the result of a Civil Court ruling following a case filed by the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), the election was further postponed a second and third time by the Elections Commission. A key feature of democratic elections is for it to take place regularly according to a predetermined schedule. Failure to hold elections as specified in the law, and the decisions by the Elections Commission to delay the elections will affect public confidence in the institution and in the electoral process.  
  • This election took place amidst political turmoil, with all opposition political leaders either currently in jail, in exile or facing criminal charges. This hindered opposition political parties’ ability to freely campaign in the run up to the election. 
  • Following the first postponement of the election, in February 2017, the fast-tracked amendments to the Local Councils Elections Act changed the requirements for candidacy in the election. This amendment allowed persons with previous criminal records to compete as candidates in the Local Council Election. Election delays coupled with such arbitrary legislative changes serve to undermine the credibility of elections.
  • Transparency Maldives and previous observer missions have repeatedly noted the problem of high level of vote buying in the Maldives. This continues to be an unchecked nationwide electoral issue that affect the credibility and integrity of elections.
  • We also note with concern that there were instances of misuse of state resources. For example, the Public Service Media (PSM) while denying coverage of opposition political campaigns, disproportionately covered political campaign events of the ruling party. Such actions not only undermine the integrity of PSM but also serves to provide the ruling party with an unfair advantage and precludes a level playing field.
  • Unfair restrictions on freedom of assembly  hindered the Opposition’s ability to campaign. Opposition parties expressed concern regarding arbitrary restrictions on leasing out public venues and allowing opposition street rallies while similar restrictions were not placed for ruling party candidates.
  • The Anti Defamation and Freedom of Expression Act passed in August 2016 placed severe limitations on media freedoms and restricted their ability to scrutinise election campaigns.
  • As with previous elections, Transparency Maldives notes a disproportionately low number of female candidates contesting in this Local Council Election. We also note the lack of efforts by the State and political parties to increase female political participation in elected leadership positions.

In light of our findings we observed that the administrative processes during election day was marred by the the questionable decision by the Elections Commission to arbitrarily extend the voting time. We urge the Election Commission to undertake serious confidence building measures to  strengthen the electoral process.  Moreover, significant problems exist in the larger electoral and political environment which include; the lack of a level playing field for opposition political parties, severe and arbitrary restrictions on media freedoms, freedom of assembly and expression, all of which restrict political and campaign activities; vote buying and the misuse of public resources for political campaigning.

We call on state institutions to lead the efforts to create a pluralistic political environment, work inclusively and with sincerity to address these issues and to create an enabling environment, conducive to a free and fair presidential election in 2018.

We offer our congratulations to all the newly elected councilors..

ENDS

Download the press statement in English and Dhivehi

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Read and download the joint statement by Transparency Maldives and Maldivian Democracy Network condemning the rejection of the letters submitted by Yameen Rasheed’s family to Maldives Police Service. The letters call for a credible investigation into the brutal murder of Yameen Rasheed and the forced disappearance of Ahmed Rilwan.

Download the letter here