25 August 2017, Male: At 1:30 am on Friday, the Criminal Court of the Maldives sentenced Leader of the Jumhooree Party, MP Qasim Ibrahim to 3 years, 2 months and 12 days in jail, in absentia. MP Qasim was sentenced under charges of “attempted bribery,” for a public speech in which he called on more MPs to join the opposition. The politically motivated charges and sentence were brazenly framed and fixed to strip MP Qasim Ibrahim of his Parliamentary seat.
On Thursday afternoon, Qasim collapsed during a hearing of his trial, and was rushed to hospital. The Head of the Department of the National Cardiac Center of the state hospital advised that MP Qasim Ibrahim must be immediately flown abroad for urgent treatment, unavailable in the Maldives, or his life could be in danger. However, another court hearing was set for 11pm, while the opposition party leader was hospitalised.
MP Qasim Ibrahim’s lawyers have maintained that the investigating authorities, the Prosecutor General and the Court failed to respect due process, his trial was unfair and deeply flawed. From the beginning, the trial was conducted in contravention of the Constitution and proceedings were conducted without due regard for the Criminal Procedures Act. The trial was conducted in a closed court, the Criminal Court had also refused to give a preliminary hearing and refused the defense sufficient time to prepare after the case was resubmitted by the Prosecutor General.
The law states all cases classified under corruption must be investigated by the Anti Corruption Commission. However, MP Qasim’s case was investigated by the Police. The judge, although he agreed on the point initially, refused to apply the benefit to MP Qasim’s case. The lawyers stated that the only evidence the prosecution presented were excerpts of MP Qasim Ibrahim’s speeches, and the State failed to produce any witnesses to testify. MP Qasim Ibrahim’s passport had been seized at the start of the trial, and the authorities had refused to grant him leave to travel abroad for medical treatment. In last night’s verdict, the the Court had expressly ordered the authorities to make arrangements for MP Qasim to fly abroad for medical treatment, and had the Court had also cancelled the order withholding his passport. However, the authorities are yet to respond on the matter.
In July, the opposition had submitted an impeachment motion against the Speaker, a Yameen crony. 45 Members of Parliament, including 15 defecting MPs of the ruling party, signed the motion, demonstrating that the opposition coalition commands a clear majority of seats in the 85- member legislature. The last session of the Parliamentary term saw the Government’s share of the vote fall dramatically. With the Government exerting maximum effort and intimidation, surrounding the Parliament under heavy military guard to manhandle and block opposition MPs, the Government managed less than 39% of the vote.
The sentencing of MP Qasim Ibrahim, one of the main opposition leaders, is part of a relentless campaign of persecution of the opposition since the submission of the motion: 10 more opposition MPs are on trial on brazenly trumped up charges, three more have had their passports seized, while MP Faris Maumoon remains arbitrarily detained. MP Ahmed Mahloof, Spokesperson for the Joint Opposition, was arbitrarily detained on Friday night, for leading protests against the sentencing of MP Qasim Ibrahim.
The sentencing of MP Qasim Ibrahim once again confirms the lack of transparency and independence of Maldives’ judiciary, and the breakdown of the entire criminal justice system.
Like all other leaders of the opposition now sentenced to jail, the Jumhooree Party leader has been punished for challenging President Yameen’s tyranny. This sentence is a deliberate attempt to undermine the struggle to restore democracy in the Maldives. We reiterate our call on all state authorities to uphold the Constitution, our laws and stand up now to bring an immediate end to President Yameen’s unchecked abuse of power.