Former Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) Male’ Area Commander, retired Brigadier General Ibrahim Didi, has denied the charge of arresting Chief Judge of Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed, levied against him by the state.
Ibrahim Didi is charged for the controversial military detention of Chief Judge of Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012. Along with Didi, former President Mohamed Nasheed, his Defense Minister Tholhath Ibrahim Kaleyfaanu, former Chief of Defense Force retired Major General Moosa Ali Jaleel and Colonel Mohamed Ziyad are all facing the same charges.
During the hearing held at Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court on Sunday (February 24), Didi told the judge that he had not arrested the judge, and contended that he should not be facing charges as an individual for an act that was carried out by the then Defence Ministry.
He further claimed that the arrest was made by the Defence Minister under the direct orders of the president, and that he had no role to play in it.
The former Brigadier General claimed that the charges levied against him by the state were unfair and raised question over the credibility of the witnesses presented by the state against him.
He also stated that he was protecting the legitimate government in power up until February 7, and that the state presenting those officers who did not like him as witnesses could jeopardise the fairness of the trial.
Presenting her case in the court, State Attorney Aishath Fazna argued that following orders at the time from the Commander in Chief, President Mohamed Nasheed, the operation carried out by the MNDF in which Didi had been the commander, “arbitrarily arrested and detained an innocent man”.
As such, retired Brigadier General Ibrahim Didi was charged for the offence of arbitrarily detaining an innocent individual as stipulated in article 81 of the Penal Code, Fazna argued.
Article 81 of the Maldives Penal Code states: “It shall be an offense for any public servant by reason of the authority of office he is in to detain to arrest or detain in a manner contrary to Law innocent persons. Persons guilty of this offense shall be subjected to exile or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 3 years or a fine not exceeding MVR 2,000.00.”
Following the reading of the charges, Didi’s lawyer Ismail Wisham – who had in previous case contended the legitimacy of the magistrate court – raised two procedural points.
In the first point, Wisham questioned whether article 81 of the penal code could be used to press the charges citing that it had not been put to use.
In the second point, he raised question as to whether the state had proven to the court the innocence of Judge Abdulla Mohamed, to which article 81 of the penal code referred to.
In response, the state attorney contended that a similar charge was pressed by the state against a person and that the state had successfully prosecuted the accused at the time. She further said that the details of this case would be presented during the next hearing.
The state attorney in response to the second procedural point argued that the constitution clearly denotes that every person is innocent until proven guilty; therefore it should be no different for Judge Abdulla Mohamed.
The sitting judges dismissed the procedural points taken by the defendants stating that the points did not object to the continuance of the trial, but said the court would consider it while issuing the verdict.
The state attorney also presented a list of witnesses and evidences to support its case. The witnesses included current Chief of Defense Force Major General Ibrahim Shiyam and several other senior members of the military.
Evidence presented includes video footage of the arrest and several other documents.
Concluding, the judge stated that the next hearing would be held on March 20 in which the courts would be hearing the witnesses presented to the court.
Didi’s trial was also heard by all three judges of Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court appointed to look into the case. The panel consists of Judge Shujaau Usmaan, Judge Hussain Mazeed and Judge Abdul Nasir Abdul Raheem.
Earlier, former Defense Minister Tholhath Ibrahim Kaleyfaanu also denied the charge of arbitrary detention of Chief Judge of Criminal Court Abdullah Mohamed, during the first hearing of his criminal trial held in the controversial Hulhumale Magistrate Court.
Detention of the judge
Judge Abdulla Mohamed was taken into military custody after the former Home Minister Hassan Afeef wrote to Defense Minister Tholhath asking him arrest the judge as he posed a threat to both the national security of the country and a threat to the country’s criminal justice system.
Minister Afeef at the time of the judge’s arrest accused him of “taking the entire criminal justice system in his fist”, listing 14 cases of obstruction of police duty, including withholding warrants for up to four days, ordering police to conduct unlawful investigations and disregarding decisions by higher courts.
Afeef accused the judge of “deliberately” holding up cases involving opposition figures, and barring media from corruption trials, ordering the release of suspects detained for serious crimes “without a single hearing”, maintaining “suspicious ties” with family members of convicts sentenced for dangerous crimes, and releasing a murder suspect “in the name of holding ministers accountable”, who went on to kill another victim.
Afeef also alleged that the judge actively undermined cases against drug trafficking suspects and had allowed them opportunity to “fabricate false evidence after hearings had concluded”.
Judge Abdulla “hijacked the whole court” by deciding that he alone could issue search warrants, Afeef alleged, and had arbitrarily suspended court officers. He also accused the judge of “twisting and interpreting laws so they could not be enforced against certain politicians” and “accepting bribes to release convicts.”
The Judicial Services Commission (JSC) itself had investigated Abdulla Mohamed but stopped short of releasing a report into his ethical misconduct, after the Civil Court awarded the judge an injunction against his further investigation by the judicial watchdog.
JSC whistleblower Aishath Velezinee has also contended that the JSC’s blanket reappointment of all interim judges and magistrates in 2010 violated article 285 of the constitution guaranteeing an ethical and qualified judiciary, and that as such, the case “is based on a false premise, the assumption that Abdulla Mohamed is a constitutionally appointed judge, which is a political creation and ignores all evidence refuting this.”
An investigation led by Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) found the former President as the “highest authority liable” for the military-led detention of the Judge. The HRCM also identified Tholhath Ibrahim as a “second key figure” involved in the matter. Others included Brigadier General Ibrahim Didi and Chief of Defense Force Moosa Ali Jaleel.
In July 2012, Prosecutor General Ahmed Muizz pressed charges against the parties who had been identified in the HRCM investigation as responsible for the arrest.
Following the charges, former President Nasheed’s legal team challenged the legitimacy of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court in High Court, but the Supreme Court intervened and dismissed the claims by declaring the magistrate court was legitimate and could operate as a court of law.
The Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court, which is also trying former President Nasheed for his detention of the Chief Criminal Court Judge during his final days in office, was created by the Judicial Services Commission (JSC).
The JSC, which includes several of Nasheed’s direct political opponents including rival presidential candidate Gasim Ibrahim, also appointed the three-member panel of judges overhearing the trial.
Parliament’s Independent Institutions Oversight Committee has previously declared that the JSC’s creation of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court was unconstitutional.
However, the Supreme Court declared parliament overruled, issuing a statement that “no institution should meddle with the business of the courts”, and claiming that as it held authority over “constitutional and legal affairs” it would “not allow such interference to take place.”
“The judiciary established under the constitution is an independent and impartial institution and that all public institutions shall protect and uphold this independence and impartiality and therefore no institution shall interfere or influence the functioning of the courts,” the Supreme Court stated.
A subsequent request by the JSC that the Supreme Court bench rule on the court’s legitimacy resulted in a four to three vote in favour. The casting vote was made by Supreme Court Judge Adam Mohamed, also president of the JSC.