“Will you script the evolution of judicial system in the Maldives for us”, asked the Chief Justice of Maldives Abdulla Saeed

Hemant Batra | Writer, Author, Speaker, Law & Policy Expert

Yes, I was asked in November 2017 by the Chief Justice of Maldives Abdulla Saeed that will I help and author a voluminous publication on the Maldivian judiciary. That man who asked me to do the script is now incarcerated and jailed for pursuing the principles envisioned by B. R. Ambedkar.

Ambedkar once said that “What are we having this liberty for? We are having this liberty in order to reform our social system, which is full of inequality, discrimination, and other things, which conflict with our fundamental rights.”  But where is the liberty, which Ambedkar talked about? The voices of libertarians are getting crushed each day no matter what positions they hold or aspire to hold.

Judicial Administrator Hassan Saeed, Chief Justice of Maldives Abdulla Saeed and Author Hemant Batra

Reforms are always met with resistance that has always been the history of any change be it at the micro-local level or at macro domestic level. The first time, I had visited the Maldives in 1993 for pleasure cum professional trip. I wanted to explore the probability of setting up a small commercial and corporate law advisory in Male. However, on my said visit, I realized that the nation had not more than two dozen lawyers and each one was a general practitioner handling petty dispute matters. There wasn’t any organized legal, judicial or policy mechanism. No structure for private legal consulting. The Judiciary at that time was purely and entirely driven by customary or sharia laws. There were no commercial dispute resolution forums.

Interestingly, the society and the system of governance was highly conservative in so far as Maldivians were concerned. As far as foreigners, the system was quite liberal. The islands running into hundreds with international resorts on many of them had alcohol freely flowing with the prohibition on nudity but acceptability on partial nakedness on the mesmerizing beaches of white sand and blue-green waters.

Thereafter, I made few more trips to the Maldives over a span of more than two decades. I had casual, informal and in some cases formal interaction with senior functionaries of the Maldivian administration. This was more in my capacity as the senior office bearer of a south Asian regional apex body of lawyers, judges, law professors and law officers.  I remember closely interacting with the then Attorney General Dr. Mohamed Munawar. He was AG of the Maldives between 1993 and 2003. A formidable man who eventually landed-up or landed in jail for allegedly conspiring a coup against the then Government. Another reformist, former president Mohamed Nasheed also was jailed and then permitted to flee the country on UN intervention. Apparently, all bright people and reformists are branded as conspirators in the Maldives. This fact is becoming more and more obvious with each passing year and unfolding events in that nation.

I cannot or if I may say, I should not stop myself from sharing this information with all concerned at large. The photos shared in this article or write-up include that of the Chief Justice of Maldives Abdulla Saeed, Justice Ali Hameed, the Judge of the Maldives Supreme Court and Judicial Administrator Hassan Saeed and myself. In fact, the first photo was actually clicked by Justice Hameed in Manila at the HQ of ADB. I met the Chief Justice Saeed in Colombo two months back and then the three of them together in Manila. We had personal and then professional chat. The Chief Justice and the Judicial Administrator had read some reference books and articles authored by me and published internationally in the south Asian context as well as on policy matters. They asked me whether I would be willing to write on the judicial, legal and policy reforms in the Maldives. They briefed me as to how forward-looking the entire judiciary was in the Maldives in the present day. They were desirous of bringing further reforms and changes in the rule of law mechanism. The Chief Justice had a brighter, progressive and sustainable vision with complete transparency in the justice delivery system that is what I gathered in my discussion with them in Manila. I was requested to script the evolution of the new judicial system of the Maldives under the leadership of the incumbent Chief Justice. I gave my in-principle consent without thinking much. The project in my understanding entailed studying the entire judicial system in the Maldives commencing perhaps 1930s. It expected several visits to the Maldives and small working facility in the Supreme Court periphery.

Then I was asked that how would I like to structure my involvement in the intended project. I told them that I would like to engage a policy intern from the United States, who was already virtually interning under me. They also offered a dignified remuneration, which was left to be discussed and agreed at the next meeting in the near future.

I was in touch with the Chief Justice and the Judicial Administrator through phone and email medium. I was told to wait until they returned from Kuala Lumpur. They did return but to be jailed as they were also reformists and for reformists the real destination is captivity.

These three people whom I have discussed in my article were taken into custody by the current regime of Maldives for passing a judgment requiring the instant release of imprisoned political leaders comprising self-exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed, another reformist.

Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen has alleged that the jailed Chief Justice of the Maldives Supreme Court was plotting or part of a coup to overthrow the government. The President declared a state of emergency as he had serious apprehensions over the order passed by the Supreme Court. Immediately on the declaration of the emergency, the police took chief justice Abdulla Saeed and Supreme Court Judge Abdulla Hameed into custody.

Chief Justice of Maldives Abdulla Saeed, Justice Ali Hameed, the Judge of the Maldives Supreme Court and Judicial Administrator Hassan Saeed | Photo Source: AVAS

A bid by the judiciary in the Maldives to enforce the rule of law, to uphold the life and liberty of its people, to guarantee the freedom of speech and expression, to restore the democracy and above all fundamental rights of the citizenry has got a severe jolt.

Who will now stand-up before it’s too late and when the sun has already set.