Independence of judiciary under serious threat in the Maldives, say UN human rights experts

A group of United Nations human rights experts on Monday denounced the detention of two Supreme Court judges in the Maldives and warned that the independence of the judiciary is under “serious threat” in the country.

“The independence of the judiciary is under serious threat, along with the principle of separation of powers between the State and the courts,” the experts said in a joint statement issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

The experts noted that the detention of two Supreme Court judges in the Maldives is an attack on the independence of the judiciary and undermines the court’s ability to work freely and effectively.

“This direct attack on the Supreme Court undermines its legitimacy and independence, and casts serious doubt on its ability to protect constitutional principles and to uphold human rights and fundamental freedoms.

“It is clear that the rule of law in the Maldives is now under siege. We call on the government to refrain from any threats or interference that may hamper the court’s independence as the supreme guardian of the country’s constitution and legislation,” the experts added stressing that “judicial independence was enshrined in the national constitution as well as in international human rights treaties, and had to be guaranteed by the State.”

Highlighting the group’s concerns over the possible motivation behind the detentions, one of the experts, Diego García-Sayán, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers said “The timing of the arrests, five days after the Supreme Court had ordered the release and retrial of nine opposition leaders including former President Mohamed Nasheed, is at best suspicious.”

“This constitutes an intolerable act of intimidation against the highest judicial authority in the country,” he added.

Last week, Chief Justice of Maldives Abdulla Saeed and Justice Ali Hameed were arrested from the Supreme Court shortly after the government declared a state of emergency. After their arrest, the three remaining Supreme Court judges overturned the order to free the nine leaders.

At the same time, the UN experts have been in contact with the government regarding their concerns.

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