‘Drug trafficker’ acquitted on lapses highlighted in former president’s trial

Citing severe procedural irregularities, the Supreme Court on Thursday acquitted a man sentenced to life in prison over drug trafficking charges.

The unprecedented ruling deals with similar lapses noted by former president Mohamed Nasheed and former defense minister Mohamed Nazim, who were sentenced to jail on terrorism and weapons smuggling charges, respectively.

In acquitting Abdulla Unais, the Supreme Court said he was not given access to a lawyer or the opportunity to call defense witnesses.

Unais was arrested in Addu City in May 2012. Police officers found more than 46 grams of heroin in envelopes on the ground at the time of his arrest and in his trouser pockets.

Unais had denied charges and claims he was framed by police officers.

The Supreme Court said the lower courts should have investigated Unais’ claims of a police set-up by verifying if the accused police officer had left any fingerprints on the envelope. The ruling went onto question the validity of the police officer’s testimony.

The criminal court’s sentencing of Unais without providing access to legal counsel contravenes the constitution, which states that the government must set lawyers for individuals accused in serious crimes, the ruling said.

Unais, who had remained in police custody throughout the duration of his trial, had repeatedly told the criminal court he was unable to hire a lawyer, the Supreme Court said.

Nasheed, in a petition to the UN working group on arbitrary detention, noted that he was denied legal counsel at a first hearing. Then, when his lawyers recused themselves in protest over the criminal court’s refusal to provide sufficient time to prepare defense, judges proceeded with hearings, despite Nasheed’s repeated request to hire new lawyers.

The government maintains due process was followed. A ruling is expected in September or October.

Nasheed’s 19-day trial was criticized by foreign governments and UN rights experts. The UK Prime Minister David Cameron, the EU parliament and high profile US senators have called for his immediate release.

Nazim, meanwhile, contends rogue police officers had framed him by planting weapons during a midnight raid. The criminal court, however, did not allow the former defense minister to call witnesses to prove his case.

Nazim’s lawyers also contend anonymized statements provided by the police officers involved in the raid are inadmissible in court.

Appeal hearings in Nazim’s case have been stalled after the Supreme Court transferred two of the five judges on the panel to a newly created branch in Addu City.

Nasheed and Nazim’s imprisonment triggered a political crisis with daily protests and historic antigovernment marches. The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party is now negotiating with the government for the pair’s release. Nasheed is currently under house arrest.

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Council ‘defied’ court order to change un-Islamic Eid banner

The island council of Gaaf Alif Villigili has been accused of refusing to comply with an order by a magistrate court to change the wording on an Eid celebration banners.

The banners put up on behalf of ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) Saud Hussain read, “MP Saud’s Eid Happiness.” The Maldives marked the religious holiday on Friday, July 17.

The president of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Villigili branch, Ameez Hassan, filed a case against the island at the island’s magistrate court on Thursday, which ordered the pro-government majority council to change the wordings on the banner.

Ameez told Minivan News today that he objected to the phrase “Saud’s Eid,” contending that the banner was un-Islamic.

“Children see these banners, read them and tell their parent’s that this Saud’s Eid. So I realized these banners are confusing children and contradicts our religion,” he said.

Ameez said he sued the council as the municipal authority’s permission was required to put up banners on the island.

MP Saud meanwhile told Minivan News that he has complied with the court’s ruling.

“The wordings have been changed according to the court’s ruling. This issue did not disrupt any of our festive Eid celebration activities,” he said.

However, PPM councillor Fathuhy Moosa that the banners now read, “MP Saud Eid happiness 2015, Gaaf Alif Vilingili.” The Villigili island council consists of one MDP councillor and six PPM councillors.

Ameez meanwhile said more banners have been put up since the court’s ruling, including one in front of the court. The wordings on the same banner near the island’s performance stage have also been enlarged, he said.

Ameez accused the council of disrespecting the judiciary by “clearly disobeying” an order from the court.

“I plan to take this matter to court as soon as offices open,” he said.

Photo from MP Saud.

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Afrasheem murder suspect’s departure to Syria under investigation

President Abdulla Yameen has ordered an investigation into how a suspect in the murder of MP Afrasheem Ali was allowed to leave the Maldives in early January and travel to Syria.

“I have now ordered the police to investigate this. Azlif Rauf, who is said to have information on the murder, left the country while the case was ongoing,” Yameen said at a press conference at Muleeaage tonight.

“I want to raise the question as to why he was allowed to leave the country? Immigration officials and the defense minister who was in charge of immigration at the time must be accountable.”

Azlif is reported to have left the Maldives along with a suspect in the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan in the first week of January. His family claims he was killed in battle in May, and have publicised pictures of him in military fatigues carrying guns.

The police had forwarded accomplice to murder charges against Azlif to the Prosecutor General’s Office, but charges were never filed due to insufficient evidence.

At the time of Azlif’s departure, the criminal court told Minivan News it had not issued any order to withhold his passport, as there were no pending charges.

Azlif left the Maldives in the same week that the defense ministry was temporarily handed over to tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb. Defence minister Mohamed Nazim was on leave at the time.

Soon after Nazim returned, the police raided his apartment and found a pistol and three bullets in a bedside drawer. He was dismissed from the cabinet and jailed in March on weapons smuggling charges.

President Yameen’s announcement comes after local media reported today that the police had brought back a Maldivian man from Malaysia last week, after his family reported that he was attempting to travel to Syria to join the civil war.

The police in January brought back four Maldivians from Malaysia on the same charges. The government has recently submitted to parliament an anti-terrorism bill that hands out a jail sentence of up to 20 years for Maldivians who leave the country with the intent of fighting in a foreign war.

Meanwhile, several opposition politicians and Yameen’s own home minister have accused the president of involvement in Afrasheem’s murder. Home minister Umar Naseer made the allegations after he lost the ruling party’s presidential primaries to Yameen in 2013. He retracted the allegations after assuming the cabinet portfolio.

Yameen in May vowed to file criminal charges against Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla over statements linking him with the murder. Imran is currently in police custody facing terrorism charges over an anti-government protest.

Reiterating concern over “unfounded allegations” tonight, Yameen censured journalists for “biased reporting,” claiming the media had failed to seek comments from the president’s spokesperson over the murder allegations.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) is negotiating with the government for Nazim, Imran and former president Mohamed Nasheed’s release.

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Comment: Special laws must not pre-empt general criminal law

On 6 July 2015, a new anti-terrorism bill was submitted to the People’s Majlis that aims to replace the existing Anti-Terrorism Act 1990. Drafted by the Attorney General’s office, the bill was submitted by the President’s Office and is yet to come up for discussion in the parliament.

According to media reports, the bill defines offences and actions that constitute an act of terrorism and bestows additional investigative powers to state authorities. If passed, the bill will expand the legal framework to deal with terrorism.

This gives rise to several concerns. First, any new anti-terrorism law must abide by the 2008 Constitution. At present, Maldives is working to finalize its Penal Code, Evidence Act and Criminal Procedure Code to revise basic criminal law to align with the 2008 Constitution. Special laws are based on an assumption that a distinct legal framework, beyond general criminal procedures and standards, is needed. There is no basis as yet for this assumption in the Maldives. Laws like on anti-terror are legitimised under the pretext that “special circumstances require special procedures” but are often an excuse to let the inefficiencies of the state continue at the expense of civil liberties. Across the world, they have been used to reduce the rigor required by the standards of fair trial and have made it easier to put away dissidents and other people inconvenient to the ruling regime of the day. Once a specialized security regime is put in place, it is very difficult to rollback powers vested with the authorities as well as mitigate impact on civil liberties.

The government must, therefore, clearly articulate reasons behind introducing this bill. What is the level of terrorism threat in the country? What are the factors including socio-economic causes leading to its purported spread, and why is general criminal law (as being finalized) considered ill-equipped to address the threat? These concerns must be addressed now if Maldives is to avoid a legal regime where exceptionalism prevails over constitutional principles and accepted legal standards of criminal justice as embodied in general laws.

Moreover, the definition of terrorism provided in the bill, as indicated through media reports, is likely to be misused particularly in the absence of a penal code. The definition, for instance, includes activities carried out with the intent of promoting ‘unlawful’ political ideologies among others but what constitutes unlawful is not defined anywhere. This leaves space for subjective interpretation. Who gets to define an ideology or what is unlawful, or at what stage an ideology becomes unlawful?

Such drafting appears designed to curtail rights of Maldivians to freely associate and to establish and participate in the activities of political parties guaranteed under Article 30 of the Constitution. It also has the potential of being used arbitrarily to target and suppress political opposition, particularly when seen in light of additional powers of surveillance vested with the authorities. Even if left unused the very presence of such laws lying on the books creates a chill that shrivels the democratic impulse.

These concerns are amplified in light of the continued attempt to restrict constitutional rights through legislative action. Under the bill, those suspected of terrorism can have their right to remain silent and access to lawyers restricted. In November 2014, the Majlis amended the Law Prohibiting Threatening and Possession of Dangerous Weapons and Sharp Objects which restricts the same rights for arrested persons in case of violent assault. These rights are fundamental features of a fair trial and need to be protected for proper administration of justice.

Given the serious ramifications of the bill, a process of public engagement on the subject matter is crucial. The government must use this as an opportunity to galvanize a national debate on whether an anti-terror law is needed at all in the Maldives, and if so, how best to ground it within the framework of democratic freedoms, human rights and international norms. Parliamentary committee review, which is likely to follow once the bill is accepted at the floor of parliament, is important but not sufficient.

The government is urged to make the bill public at this stage, invite public comments and hold wide-range consultations, as is now the accepted practice in several democracies. The benefits of such an engagement are manifold, from building public confidence, creating a more informed citizenry to generating a sense of ownership among the public. It is also imperative that legal experts are involved to ensure that any new legislation is necessary and if so, that it is drafted in strict accordance with the 2008 Constitution.

Ultimately, unless the government makes sincere efforts to inform and involve the public before laws are enacted, restrictions being proposed through such laws are likely to lead to unrest and deep dissatisfaction among the public. The process of democratisation which began in 2008 is ill-served by processes which take no account of public opinion when drafting legislation; it is time this gap is addressed and this seems a good moment to make a new beginning.

Devyani Srivastava is a Senior Program Officer (South Asia) at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. She can be reached at [email protected].

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]

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Two attempted suicides reported on Saturday

Two cases of attempted suicide were reported in Malé and Meemu Atoll Muli today.

A woman in Malé stabbed herself in the stomach after her husband left to Syria, local media report. The 28-year-old woman was hospitalized at 1:30pm today and underwent a surgery, police said.

According to Haveeru, the woman’s husband left to Syria last week with a second wife. He was a suspect in the Sultan Park bombing of 2007.

Scores of Maldivians have left the country to fight with radical Islamist groups in Iraq and Syria. Some include women and children.

In Meemu Atoll Muli, a 26-year old man attempted to commit suicide at 12:40am after a quarrel with his family. When police officers broke down his door, he had already inflicted harm to some areas of his body, the police said.

Attempting to commit suicide is a class one misdemeanor in the new penal code and is punishable by up to a one year in prison.

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Rules on removal and appointment of vice president changed

A committee has approved changes to the People’s Majlis standing orders to offer the vice president just 30 minutes to respond to an impeachment motion, and proposed changes to fast-track the process of voting on a new vice presidential nominee.

The standing orders did not previously specify a time period for the impeachment debate.

The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) is seeking to remove vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed and replace him with tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb.

A motion to impeach Jameel is likely to be included in the agenda for Monday’s sitting of the People’s Majlis. Jameel is currently in London. He is yet to respond to PPM MPs’ charges of incompetency and disloyalty.

Explaining the change to the response period for impeachment, PPM MP Ali Arif, who chairs the general affairs committee, told CNM that the vice president will now have 10 minutes to make an opening statement, 10 minutes to respond during the debate, and 10 minutes to make a closing statement.

MPs will have an hour and half to debate the motion.

Arif said the changes were approved today with the backing of opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and Jumhooree Party (JP) MPs on the committee.

Since the committee has the authority to determine time periods for agenda items, the changes will not have to be put to a vote on the floor.

The general affairs committee also approved changes to the rules today to fast-track the process of voting on a president’s nominee to fill a vacancy in the vice president’s post. PPM MPs have said Adeeb will be sworn in as the new vice president by July 26, the golden jubilee of independence from the British.

The rules were changed to allow the speaker to call for a vote on the day a committee’s evaluation report is sent to MPs. Items are normally tabled in the agenda three days after the committee report is sent out.

The changes will have to be put to a vote on the Majlis floor.

In June, the parliament also amended its standing orders to fast-track the vice president’s impeachment process. Under the new rules, the parliament can vote on an impeachment motion in the vice president without an investigation.

A two-third majority or 57 votes will be needed to remove the vice president. The ruling coalition has 48 seats in the 85-member house, but appears to have secured the backing of opposition MPs to pass the motion, which was submitted with 61 signatures.

Jameel has labeled his imminent impeachment a “constitutional coup” and called for the international community to intervene.

In response, Adeeb accused Jameel of plotting a coup d’etat with the opposition.

“A lot of people are accusing him of leaving with a lot of money and a lot of things. He is even now accused of dereliction of duty and fleeing the country. He has left the country because the coup he had planned has failed,” he said.

President Yameen is meanwhile yet to publicly comment either on the vice president’s impeachment or a favoured candidate for the post.

In a meeting with the PPM parliamentary group last week, Yameen reportedly showed MPs proof of Jameel’s correspondence with opposition politicians ahead of a mass anti-government protest on May 1.

In the messages, Jameel reportedly asked if the opposition will let him assume the presidency if Yameen is ousted.

The opposition says Yameen wants to replace Jameel because he is fatally ill and is seeking a more loyal deputy ahead of a major surgery.

A constitutional amendment was also passed with overwhelming multi-party consensus to set new age limits of 30-65 years for the presidency and vice-presidency.

Adeeb is now 33. The constitution previously stated that candidates must be 35 years of age.

The opposition’s backing for the amendment was widely perceived to be a deal made in exchange for jailed ex-president Mohamed Nasheed’s transfer to house arrest.

The government and Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party are currently engaged in talks to resolve a six-month long political crisis.

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Former presidents, Nasir and Gayoom, to be honored on Independence Day

Former presidents Ibrahim Nasir and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom are to receive an honorary shield on the Maldives’ golden jubilee of independence from the British on July 26.

Nasir, who served as the president of the Maldives from 1968 – 1978, is being honored for his role in securing independence for the Maldives. When the independence agreement was signed in 1965, he was prime minister of the Maldives.

Nasir died in exile in Singapore in 2008 at 82 years of age. His body was flown back to Malé where he received a state funeral.

Gayoom, who succeeded Nasir and served as the president from 1978 – 2008, is being honored for his role in maintaining the Maldives’ independence, the president’s office said today. He remains influential in Maldivian politics.

The government is planning to hold grand celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of independence, including a parade by the army and school bands, reopening public parks with water fountains, and an official function at the Usfasgandu area. More than 100 foreign dignitaries are expected to attend.

The government is yet to disclose the full program for the day. Several areas at Male’s waterfront have meanwhile been closed off as the government rushes to complete major renovation projects including a new official jetty and a musical water fountain at the Republic Square before July 26.

Ibrahim Muaz Ali, the spokesperson at the president’s office, said President Abdulla Yameen had asked for updates on preparations at a cabinet meeting today.

“The President requested his minister’s to use all the government’s resources to hold the Independence Day celebrations,” he said.

A budget of MVR150million (US$9.7million) has been allocated for Independence Day activities.

The Supreme Court, the President’s Office, the foreign ministry, the Malé power plant and other government offices have been decked in lights for July 26. Plastic palms have been set up in some areas. Malé’s streets have also been decked in flags.

Deputy minister for home affairs Ahmed ‘Maaz’ Saleem, who is in charge of the organizing the activities, told the press previously that a three-hour play will take place at the national stadium from 9pm to 12pm on the night of July 27.

The play will show different stages of Maldivian history from the Buddhist-era to the present and depict the sacrifices of national heroes to maintain the country’s independence. It will also feature video projections.

The Minivan 50 or independence 50 office has awarded a contract to a British company called The Projection Studio to manage sound, light and projection at the official celebrations.

Some 15 Maldivians have meanwhile undergone a 15-day training session in Addu City for a skydiving event on the night on June 27.

The skydivers will land at the national stadium using special parachutes manufactured with the national flag. The second part of the skydiving training is due to start in Malé today with Malaysian trainers.

Meanwhile, president’s office minister Mohamed Hussain Shareef told the press earlier this week that more than a 1,000 people will attend the official function on July 26, including all Maldivian citizens born on July 26, 1965.

Shareef also dismissed allegations of corruption in the use of the Independence Day budget. The home ministry has received special permission from the finance ministry to award some projects without a bidding process due to lack of time.

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Cabinet reassesses Maldives’ membership in Commonwealth as UK welcomes talks

The cabinet has decided to reassess the Maldives’ membership in the Commonwealth following repeated threats to leave the inter-governmental organisation.

President’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali told the press today that government “needs to explain to the people how much the country benefits from being part of the Commonwealth.”

“That is what the government is going to reassess,” he said, adding that the government will consider the assistance and benefits the country has received since joining in 1981 as well as the Maldives’ present role in the organisation.

Ministers recommended the reassessment to President Abdulla Yameen at today’s cabinet meeting, he said.

Muaz, however, stressed that the cabinet has not decided to leave the Commonwealth.

Earlier this month, foreign minister Dunya Maumoon said the Maldives “will seriously consider its membership at the Commonwealth” if it is placed on the agenda of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) for a second time in four years.

Some Commonwealth members had pushed for the CMAG to assess alleged violations of the Commonwealth’s principles by the Maldives over the widely criticised imprisonment of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

However, the Maldives was not placed on the CMAG agenda despite “efforts made by some of the most powerful countries in the Commonwealth to place the Maldives on the group’s agenda and harm the nation,” the foreign ministry said on July 5.

But former foreign minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed said that the CMAG only granted the Maldives further time to “sort out [the] mess Maldives is in.”

In mid-June, Canada had called on CMAG to “urgently put the deteriorating situation in the Maldives on its formal agenda.” The Commonwealth’s democracy and human rights arm can recommend measures for collective action to restore democracy and constitutional rule.

Diplomatic pressure has been mounting on President Abdulla Yameen to release Nasheed and other jailed politicians, including two former defence ministers and a ruling party MP.

UK “closely involved”

Meanwhile, in response to a question posed by Karen Lumley, conservative MP for Redditch, at the House of Commons on Tuesday, minister of state at the foreign and Commonwealth office Hugo Swire said the British government remains “deeply concerned by the situation in the Maldives.”

He noted that Prime Minister David Cameron had called for Nasheed’s release from custody as well as all-party talks to resolve the six-month long political crisis.

Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) is currently engaged in talks with the government. At the third meeting of the talks this week, MDP representative Ibrahim Mohamed Solih suggested that the opposition leader could be freed on July 26, when the Maldives marks 50 years of independence from the British.

Nasheed was transferred to house arrest in late June after the opposition backed a constitutional amendment that will allow President Abdulla Yameen to replace his deputy.

Swire meanwhile welcomed Nasheed’s transfer to house arrest and the ongoing political dialogue. “We hope the talks will provide the basis for progress on the numerous concerns within the Maldives,” he said.

Asked if he believed the Commonwealth should take action against the Maldives, Swire noted that the UK is not a member of CMAG.

“I have discussed these matters with the Commonwealth Secretary General,” he said.

“I understand that there has been a telephone conversation between CMAG members and that they keep the situation under continuous review.”

John Glen, conservative MP for Salisbury, urged the UK government to “resist complacency on the Maldives,” suggesting that “the current regime seems also to be a recruiting sergeant for ISIL in the Maldives.”

“There will come a time when the government will need to stand clearly on the right side of the argument and intervene more fully to secure justice in that country,” he advised.

In response, Swire said he has recently discussed the Maldives with the Indian foreign secretary and the US assistant secretary of state.

“Both my right honourable friend the Prime Minister and I have met Mr Nasheed’s wife, and Amal Clooney and other members of Mr Nasheed’s legal team, to discuss the situation. We are closely involved,” he said.

Asked about possible sanctions on the Maldives in late June, Swire had said that the UK government has not “discussed the possibility of sanctions with international partners, though we are keeping all options under review.”

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Maldives celebrates historic penal code

A new penal code came into effect today, repealing a law written in 1968. Government offices, the opposition and influential figures have welcomed the law as a momentous change that will usher in major reforms to the Maldives’ criminal justice system.

The landmark law is hailed as one that is compatible with both the Islamic Shari’ah and international human rights standards. The penal code comes into effect nearly ten years after it was first drafted and despite recent efforts by the judiciary to overhaul it.

Attorney General Mohamed Anil today said the new law would bring the Maldives criminal justice system on to equal footing with that of other developed nations. Thanking all stakeholders involved in its enactment, Anil said the penal code is the most well-researched law to come into effect in the Maldives.

Law enforcement officers and public prosecutors have now been trained in its application with the help of a legal resource center set up by the UNDP, he said.

“The Attorney General asks all government institutions and the Prosecutor General to complete all the tasks in order to fully comply with the new penal code,” he said in a statement today.

Anil also called on Majlis to expedite the criminal procedures bill and stressed the need for laws on evidence and legal aid to complete reforms to the criminal justice system.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) said: “We believe the enforcement of the new penal code is a progressive step for a better criminal justice system. It brings to an end to the injustice wrought by the old law.”

Foreign minister Dunya Maumoon said: “I am extremely proud that with this significant move, the Maldives becomes the first Islamic country to bring into place a penal system that is in line with the principles enshrined in both Islamic Shariah and the common law.”

Ahmed Faiz, the former chief said: “Never will a more significant change happen to the Maldivian criminal justice system. “

The PG office and the police have said that they are fully prepared to implement the new penal code.

“The PG office was actively involved in training of lawyers, the police and other institutions for the penal code. We are well prepared,” a spokesperson said.

According to the police, some 3100 officers have been informed on the provisions in the law.

Amidst all the celebration, former Attorney General Husnu Suood was more cautious. “The people will benefit from the penal code provided that judges are god fearing, selfless, loyal and uphold the most sincere ethics,” he said.

The first draft of the penal code was prepared in 2006 at the request of then-Attorney General Hassan Saeed by Professor Paul H. Robinson, a legal expert at the University of Pennsylvania.

However, the legislation was stalled at the 16th People’s Majlis. It was resubmitted to the 17th Majlis in late 2009 where it remained with a committee until December 2013. In the first vote, the bill was rejected 36-34 and sent back to a committee.

It was finally passed in April last year, but its enforcement was delayed by a year to provide state institutions time to prepare. Ruling party MPs this year delayed the penal code’s enforcement by a further three months, claiming more time was needed to raise public awareness.

The decision was made against the wishes of the Attorney General and the Prosecutor General.

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