The Commonwealth and Canada have expressed concern over the denial of legal representation to former President Mohamed Nasheed at his trial on terrorism charges yesterday.
The Commonwealth spokesperson noted in a statement yesterday that the intergovernmental organisation was closely monitoring developments in the wake of the opposition leader’s arrest on Sunday (February 22).
“The Secretary-General is concerned to note reports that former President Nasheed was denied the right to legal representation at the court hearing that took place on 23 February. The Commonwealth has also noted the arrest of former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim on 10 February,” reads the statement.
“The Secretary-General raised his concerns today with the Foreign Minister of Maldives, Hon Dunya Maumoon, and has stressed the importance of ensuring that the rule of law is respected, with adherence to due process, and in accordance with the Commonwealth Charter.”
The statement added that Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma also “reiterated his offer to provide Commonwealth expert assistance in relation to upholding the separation of powers in Maldives, consistent with the Commonwealth’s Latimer House principles on the separation of powers between the three branches of government.”
Nasheed appeared in court for the first hearing of the trial yesterday with his arm in a makeshift sling after police officers manhandled the former president outside the court building when he attempted to speak with journalists.
Canadian Foreign Minister Rob Nicholson meanwhile put out a statement yesterday expressing “grave concern” at Nasheed’s arrest.
“Developments in Maldives and the brutal and unjustified treatment of the former president call into question Maldives’ commitment to due process and democratic principles,” reads the statement.
“Mr. Nasheed’s unlawful detainment and the denial of his constitutional rights, including to legal counsel and appeal, under the politically charged allegation of ‘terrorism’ are abhorrent.
“We expect that Mr. Nasheed will receive medical care without delay. Canada calls on the Government of Maldives to reaffirm its commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and it urges that differences be resolved within the constitutional framework of Maldives. As tensions rise in the country, Canada urges calm and restraint on all sides.”
Official spokesperson at the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, Syed Akbaruddin, also expressed concern yesterday over the recent developments, “including the arrest and manhandling of former President Nasheed,” and appealed for peaceful resolution of the political crisis.
Meanwhile, the US State Department revealed yesterday that Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia Nisha Biswal had spoken to Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon to express concern over Nasheed’s arrest and subsequent developments.
“She urged the government to take steps to restore confidence in their commitment to democracy, judicial independence, and rule of law, including respect for the rights of peaceful protest and respect for due process,” State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said at a regular news briefing.
Right to legal counsel
The Criminal Court yesterday refused to register any of the former president’s five lawyers to advocate on his behalf at the terrorism trial.
Citing new regulations, the Criminal Court informed the legal team on Monday morning that the lawyers had to register at the court two days in advance despite being unaware of the trial until the former president’s arrest less than 24 hours ago.
“How can we submit forms two days ahead for a trial we did not know would take place two days before? It is clear to any sane person this is absolute nonsense,” Nasheed’s lawyer, Hisaan Hussain, told the press.
The legal team was also unable to appeal the Criminal Court’s arrest warrant – which they contended was “arbitrary” and riddled with irregularities – after the court informed the lawyers that the new appeal form was as yet unavailable.
Concluding the first hearing of the terrorism trial yesterday, Judge Abdulla Didi granted Nasheed three days to appoint a lawyer and prepare his defence on charges of ordering the military to detain Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.
The judge also ordered police to hold Nasheed in pre-trial detention until the conclusion of the trial.
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