A group of lawyers from the Prosecutor General’s (PG) Office Thursday night signed a petition supporting PG Aishath Bisham’s letter to the police, in which she stated that the state of emergency was no longer valid, and that the parliament had voted to extend the state of emergency unlawfully.
In the petition, the PG Office lawyers had appealed to Bisham not to change her stance on the state of emergency, currently in place.
On Wednesday, sources from the PG Office claimed that PG Bisham wrote a letter to the police on a personal capacity, saying that she no longer believed that the state of emergency was legally valid, and that no one should be held in custody under the decree.
However, she had not officially called the police to release any political detainees.
The petition from the lawyers came just a day after PG Bisham allegedly sent the letter to the police; she has not made any public comments regarding the matter yet.
PPM Responds to PG’s Decision
Ruling Progressive Party of Maldives’ (PPM) parliamentary group leader Villimale MP Ahmed Nihan responded to the PG Office’s petition Friday, claiming that the party was “saddened” by its action.
He had taken to Twitter to say that the PPM and Maldivian Development Alliance’s (MDA) parliamentary groups were dismayed by the petition, and that they would not accept it.
He even added that the Supreme Court had issued a temporary order to enforce the parliament’s decision to extend the state of emergency by 30-days, and said that it should be abided, until the court gives its legal counsel on the disputed matter of the quorum required to take such a vote.
Further, PPM’s deputy leader and Fonadhoo MP Abdul Raheem Abdullah, at a press conference on Thursday night, said that only the top court has the jurisdiction to comment on the validity of the state of emergency, and that PG has no authority making such claims.
Lawyers Grievances on the State of Emergency
Whilst PG Office lawyers continue to lobby against the recent extension of the state of emergency, the deputy counsel general at the Attorney General’s Office Shafeea Riza has resigned after the parliament voted to extend the state of emergency.
Another lawyer at the Attorney General’s Office Maryam Shunana had also Tweeted expressing her discontent with the state of emergency and asked President Abdulla Yameen to lift it, adding that the “state of emergency should not be used as a weapon to restrict non-derogable liberties under Article 255 of the Constitution.”
It was also reported that the parliament’s Counsel General Fathmath Filza had walked out of the parliament chamber ahead of the vote that extended the state of emergency, on February 20.
Meanwhile, many prominent lawyers had also publicly stated that the parliament’s vote to extend the state of emergency was unconstitutional since it is a matter that required public compliance, and Article 87 (b) of the Constitution states that any such matter can only be undertaken when half of the total membership of the parliament is present at the voting.
Since there are 85 members in the parliament, the lawyers said that the constitutionally mandated quorum to rectify the resolution would be 43 members. However, there were only 38 pro-government legislators present when the vote was taken, and no opposition member was represented at the sitting since they had boycotted it hours ahead of the controversial vote.
Some lawyers even questioned the legitimacy of the Supreme Court’s verdicts passed without the Chief Justice, and claimed that it is under siege by the government, since the military stormed the court and arrested two of its Justices early on February 5.
The Prosecutor General's Role
Many opposition supporters, including some MPs had praised Bisham for “upholding the constitution” and congratulated her on her decision.
According Article 220 (c) of the Constitution, the PG is independent, impartial, and should not be under the direct control of any person or authority in carrying out his responsibilities and exercising his powers. The PG is to carry out his responsibilities and exercise his power without fear, favour or prejudice, subject only to the general policy directives of the Attorney General, and on the basis of fairness, transparency and accountability.
Article 223 of the Constitution outlines the responsibilities of the PG, which includes: supervising the prosecution of all criminal offenses; assessing the evidence presented by investigating bodies and determining whether charges should be pursued; conducting criminal proceedings before any court in respect of alleged offences; overseeing legality of preliminary inquiries of alleged criminal activities; monitoring and reviewing the circumstances and conditions under which any person is arrested, detained or deprived of freedom prior to trial; ordering investigations if he becomes aware of any criminal activity; taking over, continuing or discontinuing any criminal proceedings instituted by other prosecuting bodies at any stage prior to judgement; reviewing, reverting and discontinuing any decision to prosecute or not to prosecute an alleged offender; appealing any judgement, verdict or decision in criminal matters; issuing policy directives which should be observed in all prosecutorial processes, and upholding the constitutional order, the law, and the rights and freedoms of all citizens.
A day after the parliament voted to extend the state of emergency, the Supreme Court February 21, issued a temporary order calling to enforce the parliament’s decision until it gives its referrals, as per Article 95 of the Constitution, which allows MPs to seek the top court’s counsel on disputed matters.
When the Supreme Court’s unprecedented order to release nine high-profile political prisoners and reinstate the 12 parliamentarians who were unseated for floor-crossing was issued February 1, the government had initially conferred the responsibility of reviewing the legality of the order and handling all the necessary paperwork pertaining the order, to the Attorney General and Prosecutor General.
The offices had even taken the government’s grievances in enforcing the landmark ruling, to Chief Justice Abdullah Saeed, who was arrested from the premises of the Supreme Court by security forces in riot gear, shortly after the president declared the state of emergency on February 5. Chief Justice Abdullah Saeed and Justice Ali Hameed of the Supreme Court have since been charged with bribery and conspiring to overthrow the government.