Following former president Nasheed’s midnight conviction, Maldives politics plunge into crisis
Former Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed being taken to criminal court in Male on Monday, a day after he was arrested on terror charges. (Source: PTI)
Maldives’ opposition leaders have begun consultations on a programme of nationwide protest against the controversial conviction of former President Mohammad Nasheed on terrorism by a criminal court on Friday. Maldives Democratic Party leaders told The Indian Express they were also considering issuing appeals for support from the international community for action against President Abdulla Yameen’s government.
Nasheed was sentenced to thirteen years in prison on terrorism charges by a Male criminal court late on Friday night, on charges have having ordered the military detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Didi in January 2012. The arrest of the judge sparked off a crisis, leading to a coup in which Nasheed was dethroned.
The Maldives criminal court began its hearings, the tenth in just 24 days, at 9:15 PM on Friday. Following closing arguments by prosecutors, the judges adjourned proceedings. However, the court again reconvened around 11:00 PM to deliver their judgment.
Early this morning, Nasheed’s aide Shauna Aminath tweeted on behalf of the former President, calling on his supporters, “to take all of your lives in your hands and to go out onto the streets in protest. These judges have no fear of the day of judgment, and no shame in this world.”
However, there were no street protests in Male. Police had put up barricades cutting off streets housing ministries and government buildings, but shops and businesses were operating normally.
International reaction was sharp, with the United Kingdom’s Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire saying “we are concerned that the former President’s trial has not been conducted in a transparent and impartial manner.”
The United States’ embassy in Colombo also voiced concern that they were “particularly troubled by reports that the trial was conducted in a manner contrary to Maldivian law.”
New Delhi, which has acted in close concert with the United States and United Kingdom did not issue a statement on Nasheed’s conviction. However, Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose not to visit Male on his Indian ocean tour — in the face of an official Maldivian announcement welcoming his visit.
The late-night judgment was just the latest in a series of irregular legal steps which have raised eyebrows internationally. Two of the three judges who had heard the case, PG Muhtaz Muhsin and Abdul Bari Yusuf, provided sworn evidence to investigators probing Didi’s detention, which was placed in evidence before them. Nasheed’s legal team also resigned from the case, saying there were not given adequate time to prepare for the trial.
“This was a clear violation of Islamic Sharia and law and also international judicial principles”, says Nasheed legal advisor Hassan Latheef. “The prosecution, witnesses and the judge cannot be the same parties.”
Government spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali, responded to the criticism that the government had rigged the trial, saying President Abdulla Yameen had no wish to “jail opposition politicians or plunge the country into civil unrest.” “We have a system of separation of powers,” he said. “In a democracy, the head of state does not interfere in judicial proceedings and is not to blame for court proceedings.”
“Political leaders in other countries, such as Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka, have been summoned and tried in court as well.”
MPD Member of Parliament Eva Abdulla, however, attacked the conduct of the trial judges, saying sarcastically that the late-night “was a stellar example in work culture for all judges everywhere in the world.” “In our courts”, she said, “cases against pedophiles, murderers and drug-dealers run for years, but here there was this.”
The court’s proceedings, opposition leaders allege, were rushed in order to beat the coming-into-force of the new Maldives penal code, which is scheduled to kick in April. The new code will displace the pre-democracy era terrorism laws under which Nasheed was tried. The Maldives’ existing Penal Code was drawn up before 2008, when the country’s first democratic elections were held.
Nasheed now has ten days to file an appeal, but the MDP says it has no confidence in the judicial process. “There is zero chance that this verdict will be reversed on appeal,” Abdulla said.
MPs of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives have also introduced a bill in Maldives’ Parliament, the Majlis, that would make it ineligible for convicted criminals to stand for elections or hold membership of political parties. If the bill passes, Nasheed’s political career would thus end.
The judgment is being read by experts as a key test for Maldives’ fledgling democracy. “This is the moment when the people of the Maldives will be tested on whether they really want a democracy or not,” said analyst and writer Maryath Mohamed. “In the years since the democracy movement flowered, people have generally enjoyed high incomes and stable lifestyles. The government is gambling they won’t jeopordise that for a principle.”
In 2003, the murder of teenage prison inmate Hasan Evan Nasheem and the shooting of three of his fellow inmates in prison riots that followed, a popular movement built up that ended in the overthrow of the decades-old regime of President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom—the half-brother of President Yameen.
Source:: Indian Express