Maldives judges undermining democracy: UN rights chief

GENEVA (REUTERS) - United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay accused the Maldives Supreme Court on Wednesday of undermining democracy in the Indian Ocean republic by interfering in its presidential elections.

The former South African judge also argued that the court was lining up with Maldivian government efforts to cripple the opposition whose candidate led in a first round of voting on September 7. The court nullified the outcome.

In a statement from her Geneva office, Ms Pillay said she was alarmed that the court was "interfering excessively in the presidential elections and in so doing is subverting the democratic process" on the island chain.

Ms Pillay, officially UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, spoke as the Maldives waited to see if the first round of a new election set by the country's independent electoral commission for November 9 would be allowed to go ahead.

Police stopped an earlier rerun on October 19, arguing it did not conform with tough guidelines issued by the court, which endorsed the February 2012 ouster of president Mohamed Nasheed, now the government's leading opponent.

The Maldives, famous for luxury tourist resorts largely built under an authoritarian regime which had imprisoned Mr Nasheed, has been in turmoil since then amid a rise in Islamic ideology, rights abuse and a decline in investor confidence.

Mr Nasheed, who won the republic's first free elections in 2008, was replaced in what he described as a coup by his vice-president Mohamed Waheed, whose term ends on November 11.

Dr Waheed insists he does not want to stay on.

The United States, Britain and the Commonwealth have already condemned the prevention of the October 19 poll as well as the annulling of the September 7 vote in which, the Supreme Court said, there had been fraud.

This assertion was contradicted by international observers, who said the vote - in which Mr Nasheed emerged well in the lead over an opponent who is half-brother to the hardline leader who had jailed him - was free and fair.

The UN's Ms Pillay said judges should be impartial, but noted that the Maldives' top court had threatened to charge lawyers and journalists for challenging its decisions and seemed set on stifling public debate.

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