Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Maldives military arrests senior judge

The Maldives' military has arrested the chief justice of the country's criminal court after he released an opposition leader who had been detained without a warrant for allegedly defaming the government.

Monday's arrest of Judge Abdulla Mohamed sparked a brief street protest in the capital of the Indian Ocean archipelago. The arrest of a judge by the military is unprecedented in the Maldives, which recently became a multiparty democracy after 30 years of autocratic rule.

A government statement quoted Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem as saying Tuesday that Mohamed was arrested "for corruption, in particular for allowing his judicial decisions to be determined by political and personal affiliations and interests."

"The government of the Maldives fully supports and will always protect judicial independence," Naseem said. "However, judicial independence does not mean that judges are above the law and can behave as they see fit contrary to the laws of the land. A judge is a citizen of the Maldives no more or less important than any other citizen."

The country's supreme court, the prosecutor general's office and judicial services commission all issued statements calling the judge's arrest illegal and requesting his release.

The prosecutor general's office said that under the constitution a judge can be arrested only after a supreme court decision to do so.

Opposition activists said the arrest was in retaliation for the judge's ruling that opposition leader Mohamed Jameel Ahmed's detention a day earlier was illegal.

Police arrested Ahmed for allegedly defaming the government during a television interview in which he accused President Mohamed Nasheed's government of working against the state religion, Islam, with the support of Christians and Jews.

Religious debates have gained prominence in this Sunni Muslim nation of 300,000 people where practicing any other faith is forbidden.

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