Two of former President Mohamed Nasheed’s lawyers have been barred from representing him by the Hulhumale Magistrate Court.
Nasheed is being tried for ordering the detention of Chief Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed during his final days in office, a move Nasheed’s government defended on grounds of national security after institutions responsible for holding the judiciary accountable failed to do so.
Spokesperson for the Department of Judicial Administration Latheefa Gasim was reported as informing local media that lawyer and former Youth Minister Hassan Latheef had been barred from the trial as the state had called him as a witness.
Another of Nasheed’s defence lawyers, Ahmed Abdulla Afeef, was barred as he had not signed new behavioural regulations for lawyers recently issued by the Supreme Court.
This regulation, published earlier this year in June, prevents lawyers from openly criticising discrepancies within the courts, among other restrictions.
Following its publication a number of the country’s top lawyers held a crisis meeting to try and amend the regulations, including Prosecutor General Abdulla Muiz, Deputy Prosecutor General Hussain Shameem (now resigned) and Independent MP Mohamed ‘Kutti’ Nasheed.
Nasheed has two remaining lawyers: former President’s Office Legal Advisor Hisaan Hussain and Criminal Court lawyer Abdulla Shair.
Latheef was not responding to calls at time of press, while Hisan told Minivan News that Nasheed’s defence counsel were preparing a statement on the matter.
A legal source familiar with the Nasheed case told Minivan News that Afeef was one of the lawyers who contested the legality of the Supreme Court’s issuing of behavioural guidelines for lawyers, which he had refused to sign in protest.
“He submitted the matter to the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) in writing. However in the interest of this trial he has submitted the documents to sign the decree,” the source stated.
Latheef, meanwhile, had been summoned as a witness by the state to prove that Abdulla Mohamed had been kept on the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF) training island of Girifushi, “a fact not disputed by anyone,” the source said.
“The court is right – a key witness cannot serve as a defence lawyer because of conflict of interest,” the legal source added, “but it looks like a deliberate attempt by the Prosecutor General to sabotage the defence counsel and make its work difficult.”
Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) have previously alleged that the trial is a politically-motivated effort to convict and bar the former President from competing in future elections.
During the first hearing, Nasheed’s defence challenged the legitimacy of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court which it alleged had been created by the JSC without constitutional authority.
The JSC has also appointed the three-member panel of judges which overseeing the trial of the former President. The Commission’s members include two of Nasheed’s direct political opponents, including Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid – Deputy of the government-aligned Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP) – and Gasim Ibrahim, resort tycoon, media owner, MP and leader of the Jumhoree Party (JP), also a member of the governing coalition.
UK lawyers to assist defence
The MDP has meanwhile confirmed that two senior UK-based legal experts – one a specialist in Shariah Law – will be joining the defence team: Sir Ivan Lawrence QC and Barrister Ali Mohammed Azhar.
One lawyer told Minivan News that the appointment of two foreign legal experts in a domestic trial was an “unprecedented” development in the Maldives’ legal history, however Nasheed’s legal team has stated that the foreign lawyers will be unable to represent the former President in court and will instead provide advice and counsel.