Prosecutor calls Maldives’ extension of state of emergency unconstitutional

Friday, 23 February 2018 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

MALE (Reuters) - The extension of a state of emergency in the Maldives was unconstitutional, the country’s prosecutor general has said, according to two sources and local media on Wednesday.

Parliament approved on Tuesday the extension sought by President Abdulla Yameen, but it was passed without the constitutionally required quorum of 43 lawmakers.

The prosecutor general, Aishath Bisham, had told police in a letter the state of emergency was unconstitutional, two senior officials of the Prosecutor General’s office told Reuters.

“The prosecutor general said that she believed the vote was unconstitutional and as a result the state of emergency is also unconstitutional,” one official said.

“She did not ask the police to release the state of emergency arrestees, but she said that she could not see any legal basis for keeping them under arrest.”

Prosecutor General’s letter comes after several travel advisories since Yameen declared the state of emergency on Feb. 5 and several tourists have been cancelling hundreds of hotel bookings every day despite government assurances that all is normal in the resort islands, far from the capital.

When parliament approved the extension of emergency, the ruling party legislators also sought a Supreme Court opinion through a resolution on the approval without the quorum.

In his request to extend the emergency, Yameen said a threat to national security had not diminished and a constitutional crisis had not been resolved.

Yameen imposed a state of emergency on Feb. 5 for 15 days to annul a Supreme Court ruling that quashed convictions against nine opposition leaders and ordered his government to free those held in prison. The emergency ended on Tuesday.

The Supreme Court after the parliament vote on Tuesday issued a temporary stay, asking all state institutions to follow the state of emergency declaration until it deliberated on a resolution submitted to the court by the parliament. The resolution raised questions about the legality of the vote to extend the state of emergency.

Abdul Raheem Abdulla, the vice president Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) said the Supreme Court’s stay order means that the Court has seen the state of emergency declaration vote as “something that can be lawfully done”.

Ahmed Mahloof, an opposition spokesperson, said the president was forcing the police to keep the people arrested in detention, despite the prosecutor general’s letter.

“The chief justice and a judge of the court are detained illegally,” Mahloof told reporters. “The Supreme Court can’t deliberate without the chief justice. They can’t even use the seal of the court without the permission of the chief justice.”

Police dispersed night protests by opposition supporters who have been demanding the detention of president Yameen and release of opposition leaders.

Under the emergency, Yameen’s administration has arrested the chief justice, another Supreme Court judge and former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom on allegations of attempting to overthrow the government.

Though Yameen has ignored the court rulings, he has stopped short of saying he will not obey them. He has, however, fired two police chiefs who said they would uphold the rulings, and he continues to jail opposition members.