Maldivian acquittal of opposition activist welcomed by UN rights expert

14 March 2008 – An independent United Nations human rights expert today welcomed the recent decision of a court in the Maldives to acquit an opposition party member of accusations of “causing disharmony through an unlawful assembly,” saying the ruling demonstrated that the island chain was making progress towards having an independent judiciary.

Leandro Despouy, the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, issued a statement after the decision of the Criminal Court on 5 March to acquit Imran Zahir, a member of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), of an accusation that is punishable under the penal code.

Mr. Despouy visited the Maldives in February last year, after which he voiced concern that the Maldivian constitution placed the judges under the control of the President and that there was “a serious lack of trained judges and lawyers.”

He also noted that since 2004 a number of political activists have been charged under the current penal code with such offences as disobedience to order, disruption of religious harmony, unlawful assembly, peace disruption and obstructing police duty.

“The current effort of the Government of the Maldives, through the Attorney General’s Office, to review these cases represents an important step towards the effective implementation of the human rights obligations of Maldives under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR),” Mr. Despouy’s statement said.

“The political determination of the Government of the Maldives to comply with its international human rights obligations prior to the first multi-party election is very encouraging. The Special Rapporteur is committed to offer his assistance to support the current effort of the Government to review the remaining cases.”

Special Rapporteurs are unpaid experts serving in an independent personal capacity who report to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council.

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