Male: The Maldives' military has arrested the
chief justice of the country's criminal court after he
released an opposition leader who had been detained without a
warrant for allegedly defaming the government.
Yesterday's arrest of Judge Abdulla Mohamed has prompted
all courts in Maldives to boycott sessions Tuesday, in what
could become a showdown between the country's first government
chosen in free elections and the independent judiciary
introduced by former pro-democracy political prisoner
President Mohamed Nasheed after coming to power in 2008.
The arrest of a judge by the military is unprecedented in
the Maldives, which became a multi party democracy after 30
years of autocratic rule.
It also sparked street protests in the capital of the
Indian Ocean archipelago.
At least 200 protesters gathered near the police and
military headquarters Tuesday demanding adherence to court
orders and release of the arrested judge but police and
soldiers used batons to disperse them.
One policewoman was injured in the scuffle.
A government statement quoted Foreign Minister Ahmed
Naseem as saying Tuesday that Mohamed was arrested "for
corruption, in particular for allowing his judicial decisions
to be determined by political and personal affiliations and
"The government of the Maldives fully supports and will
always protect judicial independence," Naseem said.
"However, judicial independence does not mean that judges
are above the law and can behave as they see fit contrary to
the laws of the land. A judge is a citizen of the Maldives no
more or less important than any other citizen."
The country's supreme court, the prosecutor general's
office and judicial services commission all issued statements
calling the judge's arrest illegal and requesting his release.
The prosecutor general's office said that under the
constitution a judge can be arrested only after a supreme
court decision to do so.
With no positive response to their calls to release the
judge, all other judges and court staff announced they are
boycotting sessions and not extending detention orders Tuesday.
Opposition activists said the arrest was in retaliation
for the judge's ruling that opposition leader Mohamed Jameel
Ahmed's detention a day earlier was illegal.
Police arrested Ahmed for allegedly defaming the
government during a television interview in which he accused
Nasheed's government of working against the state religion,
Islam, with the support of Christians and Jews.
Opposition activists say the government is trying to use
an old criminal defamation law to persecute them while it is
not part of the current democratic law.
Religious debates have gained prominence in this Sunni
Muslim nation of 300,000 people where practicing any other
faith is forbidden.
First Published: Tuesday, January 17, 2012, 23:12