Home Minister Umar Naseer’s trial at the Criminal Court on charges of disobedience to order after calling for protesters in January 2012 to storm military barracks has concluded today.
After hearing closing statements, Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed reportedly said the verdict would be delivered at the final hearing if there were no further matters for clarification.
The Prosecutor General’s (PG) Office is charging Naseer with violating Article 8 (a) of the General Laws Act of 1968 for calling on anti-government protesters in January 2012 to storm the military headquarters with 50 ladders.
The clause prohibits speech or writing contravening Islamic tenets.
According to local media, the prosecution presented video footage of Umar’s remarks as evidence at today’s hearing, while Naseer contended that his remarks were open to interpretation and could not therefore be the basis for pressing charges.
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).
Judge Abdulla Mohamed had taken over the case after Naseer requested a change of judge in letters to both the chief judge and Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz.
The request came after Judge Abdulla Didi refused to accept a procedural point raised by Naseer in the previous hearing in June.
Naseer had asked Judge Didi to annul Article 8 (a) of the General Laws Act on the grounds that it contradicted the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by the constitution.
Didi ruled, however, that Naseer’s claim does not classify as a point of procedure. Naseer’s lawyer Adam Asif meanwhile refused to proceed with the trial until Didi’s decision on the procedural matter was issued in writing. Didi then said he took Naseer’s refusal to proceed with the trial as a refusal to speak in his own defence.
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 final hearing.
A similar request for a change of judge was granted to Maldivian Development Alliance (MDA) Leader Ahmed ‘Sun’ Shiyam in May after the resort tycoon objected to the manner of the presiding judge in his alcohol smuggling trial.
On January 23, 2012, Naseer told anti-government demonstrators in front of the Maldives Monetary Authority building that they should use tactics to tire out the soldiers on duty before climbing into the military barracks, at which point “the people inside will be with us.”
“From today onward, we will turn this protest into one that achieves results,” Naseer had said.
“We know how people overthrow governments. Everything needed to topple the government of this country is now complete.”
After he was questioned by the police in September 2012, Naseer told the press that “there will be no evidence” to prove he committed a criminal offence.
Naseer was appointed Home Minister on a cabinet slot allocated for the Jumhooree Party (JP) on a now defunct coalition agreement with ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM).
Two other ministers appointed on JP slots have switched to the PPM and its ally MDA following the dissolution of the coalition.
Meanwhile, following this defeat in the PPM primary to Yameen last year, Naseer held a rally in which he alleged widespread vote rigging and accused the PPM presidential candidate 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.