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High Court upholds conviction against jailed judges but lowers sentence

Maldives' first appellate court on Sunday upheld the conviction against the two top court judges found guilty of abuse of power to influence lower court judges but shaved a few months off the prison sentence.

The island nation has been embroiled in fresh political turmoil after the Supreme Court on February 1 ordered the immediate release of jailed political leaders including self-exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed.

President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom on February 5 had declared state of emergency after his last ditch attempt to convince the top court to revoke the order failed, purged the Supreme Court by arresting two judges and the remaining political leaders and ultimately had the order revoked.

Less than a day after the arrest of the two judges, the remaining three judges rescinded its ruling to release the political leaders referring to the concerns raised by president Yameen in the letters he had sent to the chief justice hours before state of emergency was declared.

Chief justice Abdulla Saeed along with top court judge Ali Hameed facing four separate charges which includes terrorism after being accused in the plot to overthrow the government were convicted of abuse of power to influence lower court judges and sentenced to one year, six months and one day in prison.

The criminal court had delivered a sentence four times the usual punishment for the charge which was nine months and 18 days saying that as judges of the apex court, the defendants had the foremost responsibility to ensure justice.

The High Court however, had reduced the sentence to one year, two months and 12 days.

The prison sentence came on top of the four months and 24 days given to chief justice Saeed who was also convicted of impeding the functioning of the state after he was found guilty of blocking the receipt of the letters sent by the president following the landmark Supreme Court order.

The two judges would be automatically removed from office in accordance with a recently ratified amendment to the judges Act if the Supreme Court also upholds the sentence.

According to the controversial amendment, a judge convicted of a criminal offence would be removed with immediate effect after the sentence. The amendment was also designed to bypass the constitutional article on removal of judges arguing that it does not relate to the conduct of judges.

The amendment said the judicial service commission (JSC) must suspend the judge with pay following his or her arrest. However, once the judge is formally charged he or she would cease to receive pay while he or she would be immediately removed from office if convicted.

The ruling party in its amendment has also limited the time for appeal. A convicted judge must file the first appeal within 10 days while first appellate court is given 30 days to arrive at a sentence. The same time frame has been afforded to the Supreme Court as the last stage of appeal.