Maldives authorities suspended 56 lawyers on Monday for signing and trying to submit a petition to the Supreme Court calling to uphold the rule of law. The petition cited court violations primarily in cases against opposition politicians. The Department of Judicial Administration (DJA) deemed the petition to be an unlawful document because it interfered with the judicial system by overstepping the system’s procedures and rulings. The suspension applies [AP report] to one-third of the lawyers in practice in Maldives, and the DJA offered no opportunity for a hearing. Former Attorney General Husnu al-Suood [materials], who now heads the private Maldives Lawyers’ Association, was among those suspended. He said that the lawyers plan to challenge their suspension.
The Maldives government has generated significant controversy in recent years. Since coming to power in November 2013, Maldives President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom [official profile] has led a crackdown on political dissent. Last October Yameen signed into law a controversial bill criminalizing defamation with fines and jail terms despite widespread criticism. The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression David Kaye issued a warning [JURIST report] condemning the bill approved by the Maldives parliament. In October 2014 the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights [official website] expressed concern [JURIST report] over the Supreme Court’s prosecution of five members of the Maldives’ Human Rights Commission [official website]. In February 2014 the UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers found that lawyers and judges in the Maldives are not adequately independent [JURIST report] from outside influence and called for a separation of powers between the parliament and court system. In November 2013 the Supreme Court suspended [JURIST report] the nation’s presidential election for the third time.