Home Minister Umar Naseer has refused to cooperate with a Criminal Court trial on charges of disobedience to order.
The Prosecutor General’s Office charged Naseer with violating Article 8 (a) of the 1968 General Laws for his public call in January 2012 to storm the military headquarters. The clause prohibits speech or writing contravening Islamic tenets.
In a previous hearing, Naseer asked Judge Abdulla Didi to annul Article 8 (a), claiming the clause contradicted the freedom of expression guaranteed by the constitution.
Didi ruled Naseer’s claim does not classify as a point of procedure and has ordered the trial continue.
Naseer’s lawyer Adam Asif has refused to proceed with the trial until Didi’s decision on the procedural matter is issued in writing. Asif has said that Naseer intends to appeal the decision.
Didi today declined despite these repeated requests and adjourned the hearing.
On Thursday (June12), Didi had issued an arrest warrant ordering the police to present Naseer at court today after he missed three consecutive hearings. The home minister had been out of the country on official visits during all three hearings.
The police made no move to arrest the minister on his return to the Maldives yesterday, with Naseer travelling to the court this morning with a bodyguard escort.
Meanwhile, President Abdulla Yameen has urged his ministers not to leave the country on court dates.
“I’ve told all ministers. But I have not had an opportunity to tell Umar Naseer. With recent events, I’ve said even if you have an official visit, cancel it if you have to attend court. And even on private visits, if it’s a family medical emergency, get permission from the court to leave,” he said.
Disobedience to order
Rejecting Naseer’s point of procedure, Didi said the General Laws stand until the People’s Majlis decides to annul the law.
The Criminal Court would interpret the law if needed, Didi said and ordered the state and Naseer to proceed with the trial and to present witnesses.
Asif asked for the decision in writing, stating that Naseer would like to appeal the court’s decision. The constitution guarantees right of appeal to all individuals, Asif argued, stating that Naseer will only proceed with the trial after appealing Didi’s decision.
Didi said he took Naseer’s refusal to proceed with the trial as a refusal to speak in his own defense.
He adjourned the hearing after allowing the state to present video evidence of Naseer’s speech, and said he would hold one more hearing for concluding statements and issue a verdict in a separate hearing.
If convicted under Article 88 of the penal code, Naseer faces imprisonment, banishment or house arrest not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding MVR150 (US$10).
Attorney General Mohamed Anil last week asked the parliament to annul several clauses of the General Laws. Asif claims Article 8 (a) is among the clauses up for annulment.
The heated trial comes in the aftermath of the dissolution of a coalition agreement between Naseer’s Jumhooree Party (JP) and the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM).
Four ministers were appointed to the cabinet on JP slots, but following recent defections and dismissals, Naseer remains as the only JP minister.
The JP’s backing had been crucial in Yameen winning November’s presidential polls, although the JP’s agreement with the PPM fell apart in May following JP leader Gasim Ibrahim’s decision to stand for the Majlis speakers position.
Naseer had joined the JP in 2013 after losing to Yameen in the PPM’s presidential primaries.
Following this defeat, he held a rally in which he alleged widespread vote rigging and accused Yameen of illicit connections with gangs and the illegal drug trade.
Naseer also implicated Yameen in MP Dr Afrasheem Ali’s death, claiming he had witnessed a meeting between Yameen and an individual who was under investigation for Afrasheem’s brutal death.
The PPM expelled Naseer after he refused to apologise for his comments.
Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Eva Abdulla has asked the Majlis to summon Naseer on his comments on Afrasheem’s death and progress on the investigation.