Former Maldives president Mohamed Nasheed was formally charged on Sunday with illegally arresting a former chief justice of the nation's criminal court and thereby violating the nation's constitution [text, PDF]. The constitution allows for the arrest of a judge only after a warrant is issued for a particular criminal act, suspicion of such conduct alone being insufficient. However in January the former president unilaterally ordered the arrest [JURIST report] of the Chief Justice Abdulla Mohamed on corruption charges. The secret arrest sparked numerous protests [AP report], with claims that the arrest was made solely in response to the judge's ruling a day earlier that opposition leader Mohamed Jameel Ahmed was being illegally detained under an old criminal defamation law not part of the current democratic law established in 2008. The affair led to Nasheed's resignation [JURIST report] in February. Supporters of the former president have demanded an early reelection, along with the resignation of the current president Mohammed Waheed Hassan [official profile]. Hassan has announced that an election will be held in July of next year, the earliest time permitted under the constitution. Under the current charge, Nasheed faces a maximum sentence of three years in prison or banishment to a remote island.
The arrest of the chief justice and the resulting unrest in Maldives have sparked weeks of tension and unrest that drew international attention. Last week the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) [advocacy website] claimed that press freedom in the country has been deteriorating [JURIST report] since Nasheed's resignation. CPJ argued that under the current president reporters are facing police brutality and attacks by political extremists. In April the Maldives Police Service [official website] had sent the case of the chief justice to the Prosecutor's General Office filing charges against the former president two months after an arrest warrant [JURIST reports] against him was issued. Nasheed has claimed that the arrest and charges against him were politically motivated. The warrant was issued two days after he resigned from his office. A group of Maldives lawyers in January had submitted [JURIST report] the case at issue to the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website] seeking the intervention by the UN-backed court. The lawyers were asking the court to deem the detention of the chief justice a violation of the International Convention on the Protection of all Persons against Enforced Disappearance [text]. During the same month, the Maldives Minister of Foreign Affairs [official website] had asked [JURIST report] the UN to help them to resolve the unrest arising out of the arrest of the chief justice.