Defence Minister Major General (Retired) Moosa Ali Jaleel has denied any involvement as then-chief of defence forces in the military’s controversial detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.
At the second hearing of his trial on terrorism charges last night, Jaleel repeatedly said he neither received nor gave any orders to arrest the judge.
Prior to the judge’s arrest on January 16, then-Defence Minister Tholhath Ibrahim Kaleyfan took over many responsibilities of the highest-ranking commander, Jaleel explained, which he contended was against the Armed Forces Act.
Jaleel had told parliament’s Government Oversight Committee in January 2013 that Tholhath usurped the army chief’s powers through a strategic defence directive (SDD), which required area commanders to answer directly to the defence minister.
Jaleel’s lawyer, Adam Asif, said Tholhath informed the chief of defence forces of the operation – dubbed ‘Liberty Shield’ – to take the judge into military custody on the night of January 16, adding that Jaleel had told the defence minister that it should not be done without a Supreme Court order.
Tholhath and then-Malé Area Commander Brigadier General Ibrahim Mohamed Didi – currently opposition Maldivian Democratic Party MP for mid-Hithadhoo constituency – was in charge of the operation, Jaleel said.
The pair are also on trial on terrorism charges along with former President Mohamed Nasheed and Colonel (Retired) Mohamed Ziyad.
All five defendants have pleaded not guilty to the terrorism charges. The charges were filed under Article 2(b) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1990, which criminalises kidnappings and abductions and carries a jail term of between 10 to 15 years.
President Abdulla Yameen appointed Jaleel to the cabinet on January 20 shortly after sacking former Defence Minister Colonel (Retired) Mohamed Nazim. Jaleel joined the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives in January 2014 and was subsequently appointed Maldives Ambassador to Pakistan.
At last night’s hearing, Jaleel repeatedly said the chief of defence forces had been reduced to a “ceremonial” official by Tholhath and that he was not consulted over the judge’s arrest.
However, Jaleel said he participated in meetings between the heads of the police and military to discuss challenges posed to law enforcement and domestic security by the Criminal Court’s alleged release of dangerous criminals and refusal to grant search and arrest warrants to police.
Jaleel said he also attended a meeting to discuss the issue with the Supreme Court bench.
However, Jaleel stressed that arresting the chief judge of the Criminal Court was not raised during any of the meetings.
In a back and forth between the prosecution and defence, State Prosecutor Aishath Fazna questioned whether the chief of defence forces was fulfilling his responsibility if he had been unaware of the impending arrest of the judge.
State prosecutors then submitted evidence against Jaleel, including a video of Judge Abdulla’s arrest and audio clips of public remarks by Nasheed at political rallies.
Senior officers of the police and military as well as former Police Commissioner Ahmed Faseeh were named among state witnesses, whom prosecutors asked to be summoned to court.
Jaleel also named six witnesses, including senior police officers and soldiers involved in the operation to arrest the chief judge, who he said would testify to the army chief’s non-involvement.
Adjourning the hearing, Judge Abdulla Didi said testimony of state witnesses would be heard at the next trial date.
Along with Judge Didi, the three-judge panel of the Criminal Court is comprised of Judge Abdul Bari Yousuf and Judge Shujau Usman.
Meanwhile, at hearings of the trials of MP Ibrahim Mohamed Didi and Colonel Ziyad – conducted separately last night – Judge Didi gave the pair three additional days to prepare their defence.
While Nasheed’s lawyers have named Judges Didi and Bari as witnesses – noting the pair’s presence at Judge Abdulla’s residence during the arrest – Judge Didi asked the defence lawyer not to name any judge on the bench as witnesses.
Judge Didi said the bench would not accept any of the judges as witnesses.
The third hearing of Nasheed’s trial has been scheduled for 8:00pm tomorrow night (March 2).
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