President Nasheed Prevented from Exercising Right to Lawyer; Trial Observers, Diplomats, Journalists Denied Entry to Court in Latest Hearing

President Mohamed Nasheed was prevented from exercising his right to a lawyer and to seek legal consultation, as stated in Article 53 of the Constitution, during the second hearing in his surprise trial for ‘terrorism’, held on Thursday evening at the Criminal Court in Male’, Maldives.

The former President was kept in the witness stand, rather than being allowed to sit alongside his lawyers, despite repeated requests to do so.

The presiding judge refused to grant leave for President Nasheed to sit alongside his legal team and stated that the bench has already given a ruling on the matter and it could not be changed.

As a result, President Nasheed was effectively prevented from properly consulting with his legal team.

Moreover, President Nasheed’s legal team raised concerns that they had not been given adequate time to prepare a reasonable defense against a charge as serious as terrorism.

Nonetheless, the bench allowed the legal team a mere three days to prepare their case. Normally, the court grants a period of 10 days to prepare a defence.

During the first hearing on Monday, President Nasheed’s lawyers were prevented from even attending court.

In another irregular move this evening, the Criminal Court denied entry to local journalists, NGO representatives, international trial observers and international diplomats, even though they had successfully registered to attend the session earlier in the day.

Blinne Ni Ghralaigh, from the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales was denied access to the court and thus prevented from observing the trial, as was a diplomat from the British High Commission in Colombo.

Commenting on the hearing, Mariya Didi, a lawyer and MP from President Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party, said:

“President Nasheed’s trial is being conducted in breach of the Maldives’ Constitution, laws and regulations.

“President Yameen’s regime is operating with total disregard to the principles of natural justice and international human rights norms.

“The international community must step up its pressure on the government to halt this sham trial.”

Dragnet Widens Against Opposition Leaders

President Yameen is ratcheting up his harassment and persecution of leaders of the political opposition.

In further developments on Wednesday, state prosecutors accused former Defense Minister Colonel (Ret.) Mohamed Nazim, who is on trial for alleged ‘treason’, a charge he vigorously denies, of conspiring with Gasim Ibrahim to harm state officials.

Gasim Ibrahim is an opposition leader and head of the JP political party, which is in alliance with President Nasheed’s MDP.

The MDP is concerned that Yameen intends to arrest Gasim as well, and presumably charge him with a serious offence.

If Gasim is jailed, Yameen will have locked up all of his political opponents, who are likely to contest the 2018 presidential elections.

Background information

President Nasheed is the Maldives’ first democratically-elected president. He was elected into office in 2008, bringing to an end the 30-year dictatorship of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

In February 2012, President Nasheed was ousted in a coup, after mutinying police and army personnel overrun the institutions of state.

In the first round of presidential elections in 2013, President Nasheed received 45% of the vote to Yameen’s 25%. But the Supreme Court constantly meddled in the election – repeatedly annulling, cancelling and postponing the ballot in order to favour the candidacy of Yameen, Gayoom’s half-brother, who went on to assume the presidency.

On January 24 2015, Gasim Ibrahim, who polled third in the first round of the 2013 elections with 24% of the vote, and his party the JP, quit Yameen’s coalition government and sided with President Nasheed and his party, the MDP.

In quitting the governing coalition, Gasim cited President Yameen’s continued attempts to undermine the rule of law and institutions of democracy, including the sacking and harassment of members of the Elections Commission.

In recent weeks, President Yameen’s allies in parliament announced plans to put an upper age limit for those running for President, which would bar Gasim from competing in the 2018 presidential elections.

On February 10 2015, Yameen’s Defense Minister, Colonel (Ret.) Mohamed Nazim, was arrested following a power struggle within government. He has been taken to Dhoonidhoo Detention Centre and faces charges of treason.