Asian Centre for Human Rights

Dedicated to promotion and protection of human rights in Asia

[The weekly commentary and analysis of the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) on human rights and governance issues]

Embargoed for 19 October 2005
Review: 95/05
Maldives: The Kangaroo Courts of the Paradise Lost

"Fury said to a mouse, That he met in the house, "Let us both go to law: I will prosecute YOU. --Come, I'll take no denial; We must have a trial: For really this morning I've nothing to do." Said the mouse to the cur, "Such a trial, dear Sir, With no jury or judge, would be wasting our breath." "I'll be judge, I'll be jury," Said cunning old Fury: "I'll try the whole cause, and condemn you to death". - Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

With the sentencing of Ms Jennifer Latheef, Councilor and Human Rights Coordinator of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to 10 years imprisonment for alleged terrorism charges on 18 October 2005, President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has put to rest any hope about the political reforms in the country. The Chairman of the opposition MDP, Mohammed Nasheed has been detained in jail since 12 August 2005 under charges of terrorism, sedition and treason.

In the post September 11th period, very few other dictators have so blatantly and systematically misused and abused counter-terrorism measures to silence peaceful political dissent. President Gayoom’s administration sought to conjure up Islamic terrorism after the arrest of Ibrahim Fareed. There has not been any case of use of firearm or bomb blast  - the usual manifestation of terrorism activities. Most political rallies have been peaceful demonstrations. If Mahatma Gandhi were to lead a civil disobedience movement in Maldives, he too would have been charged as a terrorist. The quotation of the 3rd preambular paragraph of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – “whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law” – in Dhivehi in a public meeting in Maldives is most likely to attract sedition and treason charges.

Ms Jennifer Latheef was charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for her alleged involvement in the civil unrest of September 2003 following the murder of four prisoners by the prison guards in Maafushi prison. The trial started in February 2004 and ended in July 2004.

On 17 October 2005, the police reportedly hunted for Ms. Jennifer Latheef across Male' to deliver the summon to appear before the Criminal Court for the verdict and finally served it in the evening. Earlier on 13 October 2005, police barged into her room at the ADA hospital where she was admitted for suspected dengue fever. Despite being ill, the police attempted to forcibly bring her to court in clear breach of Maldives' law.

Earlier on 2 October 2005, Abdulla Alexander, Abdulla Shabir and Ahmad Moosa, who have also been charged for committing acts of terrorism for participating in the September 2003 civil unrest, were each sentenced to 11 years jail. Ikleel Ibrahim was given 10 years sentence.

Politically motivated trial:

Given the fact that President Gayoom is the highest authority for administration of justice in the Maldives, the sentencing of the pro-democracy activists, more particularly key activists and family members of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, by the Kangaroo courts is a foregone conclusion.

Asian Centre for Human Rights is examining the verdict of the criminal court. However the information obtained by ACHR exposes the political motivation of President Gayoom’s administration.  There were seven witnesses against Ms Latheef, six of whom were police officers. The statements reportedly contradicted each other. One of the police officers claimed that he saw Ms Latheef throw a stone at him, which hit him on the shin, whilst he was walking away from her. It is simply not possible for a person, who is running for cover to identify particularly someone from a crowd throwing stone at him. Judge Fahmy of the Criminal Court reportedly completely ignored the inconsistencies in the statements given by the State's (prosecution) witnesses to the police as well as in the court. On one hand Judge Fahmy held that given the 'lapse of time' between police statements and court hearing the contradictions were insignificant. On the other hand, Judge Fahmy completely ignored vital defence arguments discrediting the prosecution evidences and witness statements. He reportedly relied on alleged confessional statements of Ms. Jennifer Latheef before the police and her photographs taken by anonymous sources. The defence counsel had argued against the use of photographs as evidence. The source of the photograph was not established in court and the person who took the video from which still photographs were made choose to remain anonymous and did not give evidence in the court. Further, the photographs did not establish time, place or event. Moreover, they showed Ms Latheef doing nothing incriminating in anyway.

Reliance on the alleged confessional statements made by Ms Latheef before the police to convict her is absolutely unacceptable under international law. Such confessional statements are often taken under duress and therefore, are inadmissible as evidence in any civilized court. This is based on a well-established canon of jurisprudence that no one can be forced to incriminate oneself.

Civil disobedience as terrorist activities:

It is not a case that the Gayoom's regime is not aware of what crimes constitute terrorism under international law.  However, President Gayoom appears determined to destroy any form of dissent and therefore, considers the civil disobedience movement as act of terrorism.

The events of the September 2003 were not a result of any conspiracy either to overthrow the government or to harm any person. The protest was a spontaneous outburst of rage of people against gross human rights violations committed by the security forces. Such protests against custodial killings or torture take place on a regular basis in India and other parts of South Asia.

Following international outrage for brutal suppression of the pro-democracy uprising on 12-13 August 2004, President Gayoom sought to address critical international community by withdrawing the charges against those who participated in the demonstrations in December 2004, holding sham elections in January 2005 and announcing political reforms including proposals for a new constitution in February 2005. In June 2005, he allowed registration of political parties.

But no political activity can be carried out in Maldives. The latest sentences by the Kangaroo Courts are an attempt to intimidate the MDP not to carry out any political protests or be charged as terrorist. President Gayoom fears that if no visible constitutional reforms take place by January 2006, a deadline set by himself, there might be more political unrest. If the present trend continues, MDP Chairman, Muhammed Nausheed might as well be sentenced for terrorism charges soon to silence all forms of peaceful dissent.

International community must urge President Gayoom, not only as the head of the State but also as head of the judiciary, to release Mohammed Nasheed, Jennifer Latheef and other political detainees. The reform process in Maldives must include the release of all political activists and accountability against human rights violations.

If President Gayoom does not undertake visible reform measures, provide freedom to political parties to carry on their democratic activities and release all the political detainees, the demand for imposition of sanctions including a visa ban on President Gayoom and his Cabinet Ministers, a freeze on their assets in foreign countries and a ban on technical and economic assistance might not be out of place. After all, repression of the political opponents by President Gayoom is not different from the ones being perpetrated by the military junta in Myanmar and King Gyanendra in Nepal. That it is judiciary, which sentences political activists in Maldives, does not give any credence. For all practical and legal purposes, President Gayoom is the judge and jury of Maldives.

© Copy right 2003, Asian Centre for Human Rights, C-3/441-C, Janakpuri, New Delhi-110058, India