“I am not scared to speak, because I do not fear going to Jail”, Maldives MP and NLS grad Ali Hussain

Varun Chirumamilla February 7 2018

Back in 2002, a soft spoken Maldivian came to the National Law School of India University, Bangalore under a quota for students from member countries of the South Asian Association for Regional Co-operation (SAARC). His ambition was to become a judge in his home country.

Ali Hussain did not make the cut on his return to Male, for reasons best known to his interviewers. He did, however, go on to become a Member of Parliament for the Opposition Jumhooree Party.

Days after Supreme Court judges in the Maldives barricaded themselves in the premises of the Maldivian Supreme Court, and hours after the Chief Justice and another Judge was taken into custody, the opposition Parliamentarian gave Bar & Bench rare insight into the goings-on in his country.

Hussain spoke how the current declaration of emergency is illegal, how the powers of the Parliament and Judiciary were usurped overnight, and how his daughter, aged all of 13, understands that her father may have to go to jail; and is ‘okay with it’.

He says defiantly,

“I am not scared to speak, because I do not fear going to Jail”.

In this interview, he also throws some light on the role India could play in the resolution of the current clampdown by his government. He also spoke about his time in Bangalore, and a whole lot more.

It is being proved yet again in the Maldives that the space for political opposition and dissent is virtually non-existent. How afraid are you to voice your opinion as a Member of the Jumhooree Party, given the current political atmosphere?

To begin with, I feel that the most important fundamental right of any person, Member of Parliament or otherwise, is the freedom of assembly and the right to free speech and expression. If I remember correctly, it was in 2016 that the Parliament amended the law surrounding these rights. The wording of the law was restrictive of these rights, and there is hardly any space to express oneself today.

The lives of those who speak out are constantly under threat. What you say on Twitter or Facebook, or even on television can invite backlash. For instance, even today I received a message that I would be tried for treason, for suggesting the need for foreign intervention by the way of envoys, who should try and make sure that the February 1 Supreme Court verdict is enforced.

However, I am not afraid to speak out because I am not afraid to go to prison. In fact we are expecting it. We, as the opposition, haven’t got a choice, we have to speak out. The people are afraid to speak, and being their representatives, we have to speak and remind them to speak up, to  come out onto the streets, and use their fundamental freedoms that have been curtailed by this illegal emergency.

What does the declaration of the Emergency and the arrest of Judges of the Supreme Court mean for the rule of law, in a country that claims to be democracy with a clear separation of powers?

The imposition of the Emergency effectively means that the Constitution has been suspended. One of the most important powers of the Majlis or Parliament is to summon people to appear before the body. The article conferring this power has been suspended.

Provisions relating to no confidence motions against the President, the Vice President, the cabinet and the removal of the Prosecutor General all stand suspended. Effectively, the most important powers of the Parliament have been taken away.

The point is that the Constitution doesn’t allow the President to suspend these powers even under an Emergency. It only entitles the President to suspend certain fundamental rights of citizens. It does not allow for the suspension of any other parts of the Constitution, in relation to either Parliament or the Judiciary.

As far as the Judiciary is concerned, part of Article 144 of the Constitution which relates to the Supreme Court having the final say on matters before them, and provisions relating to the power of judges, have been suspended. Effectively, two organs of the State have been rendered toothless.

The three remaining judges of the Supreme Court (who are not under detention) overturned part of their own February 1 Judgment.

There were two parts to the judgement. One part dealt with 12 MPs whose positions were under question (for defecting to the opposition). The Court held that their seats were never in question. The other part ordered the release of 9 political detainees.

The second part has now been struck down, and I think they did that under gunpoint. After the Emergency was declared on February 5, we saw that the military barged into and took charge of the Supreme Court. We heard news that these three judges were taken to the President’s office. We have reason to believe that they acted under duress.

There is no point of talking about democracy or rule of law. I think it has become a dictatorship.

As a lawyer and former public prosecutor, what do you think of the State of the institutions of advocacy and justice delivery? Are processes free and fair? Can most citizens avail themselves of quality legal representation, and is the Judiciary balanced?

No, I don’t think so, because even on February 6, legal representation was denied to judges of the Supreme Court and a former President, who was arrested a day earlier. The government calls the shots as to when, where and who is entitled to representation.

My license to practice as a lawyer has been under suspension since 2016 for no reason. I think that these institutions you talk of are being used to legitimise the illegal actions of this government under duress.

Is there any realistic chance that President Abdulla Yameen will be impeached?

As of now, the military is under the direct control of Yameen, and they are not bothered about the Constitution or the Rule of Law. The military has gone on record saying that they will follow instructions, only from the Attorney General. Given this, and that fact that provisions of law relating to the removal of the President have been suspended, it is not possible at all.

What kind of role, if any, do you think India should play in the current crisis?

I think that India should send a high ranking official as an envoy to the Maldives, and tell the government to bring about a political solution to the current crisis, and release political detainees in keeping with the judgment of the Supreme Court.

I think the envoy must be empowered enough to convey a firm and stern decision directly to the government to respect the law. If that doesn’t work, India should do everything in its power to bring pressure on the government to do so, including targeted sanctions against individuals and institutions.

However, by everything in their power, I do not mean direct military intervention. I want to be absolutely clear on that.

Tell us about your time at the National Law School Bangalore. What made you decide come to India, and what were some of the most valuable things you took away?

A friend of mine told me that the National Law School in Bangalore was the best place to get a quality legal education, and I am very happy I came there.  It was an enriching experience. Not only did I get the opportunity to learn from and interact with some of the best legal minds, my interactions with fellow students were invaluable.

Law School was a place full of youngsters, with bright ideas and distinct individuals who had different opinions on each and every issue. The fact that I have learned Indian Law and the Indian Constitution is helping me immensely as a politician and as a lawyer.

The five year program has enriched my knowledge of the political and economic environment, and helped me contribute to the actual process of law making in my country. My law school experience was a treasure trove that I keep drawing on.

How and why did you decide to enter politics? Did the oppressive crackdowns on the opposition make you think twice?

I always wanted to be a either a judge or a politician, and took a Judicial Service exam, but couldn’t get through the interview. I got very good marks, but they didn’t let me become a judge after my interview for political reasons.

I then joined the Prosecutor General’s Office, where I worked for six months, and then practiced independently for five years. It was then that I decided to get into politics, as I felt that was the only way I could bring about a change. Politics is something that everyone should be interested in and bothered about; especially the young and educated. Because then you can’t blame or hold the so called dirty politicians accountable.

How did your wife and two children react to the decision?

My elder daughter, understands what it is I do and why. She is thirteen and has probably studied it in her social studies classes. She is happy about what I am doing and one day she said that she doesn’t mind me going to prison, because she knows what I stand for is the right thing.

Do you intend to dedicate the future to public life, or is a return to the profession likely at some stage?

I wish to remain in public life and contest the 2019 general elections. If I get re-elected I will stay in politics, but if not I will have to think of going back to the profession.

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