Four minors acquitted of terrorism charges

Four minors from the island of Thinadhoo in Gaaf Dhaalu atoll charged with terrorism over arson attacks on February 8, 2012 were acquitted by the Juvenile Court today.

The minors were accused of setting fire to the Thinadhoo police station during protests that erupted across the country in the wake of a brutal police crackdown on a Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) march in the capital Malé.

MDP supporters took to the streets after former President Mohamed Nasheed declared that his resignation the previous day was “under duress” in a “coup d’etat” instigated by mutinous elements of the security forces in collusion with the then-opposition.

A Juvenile Court official told local media today that the minors were found not guilty as the prosecution was unable to prove their culpability based on the testimony of witnesses at the trial.

Witnesses had testified that they saw the minors throwing rocks at the police station and helping to set fire to a police motorcycle. The verdict however noted that none of the witnesses saw any of the rocks hit either a police officer or the station.

Witnesses for the defence insisted that the minors did not participate in the arson attacks although they were present in the area at the time.

The Juvenile Court judge stated in the verdict that the prosecution’s witness testimonies established that the minors were guilty of obstructing the police. However, the judge noted, the court could not alter the charges pressed against the accused for sentencing.

Today’s verdict was delivered more than a year after the terrorism trial began with two recent hearings postponed or canceled.

On February 8, protesters in Thinadhoo – an MDP stronghold in the south – set fire to the island’s police station, magistrate court, atoll council office and all police vehicles.

Nine policemen were assaulted and subsequently treated at the Thinadhoo regional hospital. Police declared at the time that the island was unsafe for police personnel, claiming “MDP supporters have threatened to attack residences of policemen”.

Following its investigation into the nationwide unrest and violence on February 8, the police forwarded over 100 cases to the Prosecutor General’s (PG) office, requesting that 108 individuals be charged with terrorism.

Acts of arson are considered terrorism under the Terrorism Prevention Act enacted by the administration of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. The offence carries a jail term of between 10 to 15 years.

While more than 100 persons were charged with terrorism, most cases currently remain stalled at the Criminal Court.