A criminal court judge overseeing charges against 15 opposition supporters accused of protesting at the airport has allegedly said he may bar the defence from calling witnesses if evidence by the state is sufficient to prove charges.
Some 14 women and one man were arrested on March 5 while carrying posters calling for former president Mohamed Nasheed’s release at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport.
The freedom of assembly act prohibits protests at airports. The penalty is a MVR150 fine or a six-month jail term, house arrest or banishment.
Lawyers claimed the women were not protesting, and requested the opportunity to present defence witnesses. But criminal court judge Sujau Usman said if the testimony by ten police officers proves charges, he may not allow the defence to present evidence.
Usman sat on the three-judge panel that sentenced ex-president Nasheed to 13 years in jail on terrorism charges, without allowing him to call defence witnesses.
The UN high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein described the move as “contrary to international fair trial standards.”
Former defence minister Mohamed Nazim was also not allowed to call the majority of his defence witnesses in a weapons smuggling charge. He was sentenced to 11 years in jail by the same bech that oversaw Nasheed’s trial.
The opposition has held nightly street protests and mass demonstrations on February 27 and May 1 over Nasheed’s sentencing, but it is rare for demonstrations to take place at the airport in view of international tourists.
Among those arrested were Malé City deputy-mayor Shifa Mohamed and MDP women’s wing vice-president Shaneez “Thanie” Saeed.
One woman, Yumna, says her passport has been withheld over the charges.
Meanwhile, MDP MP Ali Azim has been charged with obstructing police duty during a mass protest on February 27. The first hearing is scheduled for May 25.