A three-judge Criminal Court panel has ruled it has no conflict of interest in overseeing former President Mohamed Nasheed’s terrorism trial, despite two of the three judges having testified as witnesses in the case’s investigation.
Nasheed is accused of ordering the abduction of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012. If convicted under anti-terrorism laws, he faces a jail term between ten and 15 years.
The opposition leader’s lawyers tonight requested Judges Abdulla Didi and Abdul Bari Yoosuf step down from the bench.
Citing statements provided during a police and Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) investigation, lawyers said Judge Abdulla had first called Judge Yoosuf on receiving news of his impending arrest, while Didi had been present at the scene of the arrest.
But, Judges Didi, Bari and Sujau Usman unanimously ruled there were no legal barriers preventing them from passing judgment, stating legal norms allowed judges to choose between acting as a judge or a witness.
They subsequently prohibited either state prosecutors or Nasheed’s lawyers from naming them as witnesses in the ongoing trial.
The judges also overruled Nasheed’s second procedural issue, in which he contended Prosecutor General (PG) Muhthaz Muhsin’s decision to re-prosecute him—after withdrawing lesser charges of arbitrary detention in early February—was unlawful.
The third hearing in the terrorism trial concluded with state prosecutors and Nasheed naming witnesses and outlining key pieces of evidence.
Nasheed has named Muhsin as a defence witness. State prosecutors today assured the former president that Muhsin would step out from the trial if he is called to the witness stand.
Presiding Judge Didi also warned Nasheed’s lawyers against publicly implying the former president may not receive a free and fair trial, noting such comments amount to contempt of court.
Conflict of interest
Nasheed’s legal team contended judges must be free of bias and be perceived to be without a conflict of interest to ensure the former president a free and fair trial.
Didi and Yoosuf’s involvement in the investigations into Judge Abdulla’s arrest, and their long history of working together indicated a special relationship, lawyers argued.
Lawyers also questioned Muhsin’s motivation in re-prosecuting Nasheed, noting he too had worked with Judge Abdulla for years up until his appointment as Prosecutor General in July 2014. Muhsin had also testified during police and HRCM investigations, they said.
Noting Nasheed’s terrorism charges came after he had effectively been on trial for arbitrarily detaining Judge Abdulla for three years, lawyers said the PG‘s decision to file new and harsher charges on the same facts allows Muhsin to abuse the criminal justice system by depriving the accused of finality.
However, state prosecutors contended the PG’s power to withdraw, review and re-submit charges translated into authority to re-prosecute on new charges.
Muhsin had testified in his personal capacity, not as the Prosecutor General of the Maldives, they said.
After the judges overruled Nasheed’s procedural issues, the state presented a list of witnesses.
They include former Commissioner of Police Ahmed Faseeh, police officers Ismail Latheef, Ahmed Shakir, Mohamed Jamsheed and Abdul Mannan Yoosuf, Chief of Defense Forces Ahmed Shiyam, former Defense Minister Tholhath Ibrahim and Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) officers Ali Shahid and Aishath Zeena.
State prosecutors also plan to submit a video of Judge Abdulla’s arrest, speeches made by Nasheed at a cabinet meeting, a meeting with the police and in public during January 2012.
But Nasheed’s lawyers said the Criminal Court had failed to provide them with key evidence including the arrest video, and some transcripts of Nasheed’s speeches.
But Judge Didi ordered lawyers to name defense witnesses, assuring them the court would provide the items as soon as possible, and would allow them to name new witnesses to counter the new evidence if the court deems it necessary.
In addition to Muhsin, Nasheed’s witnesses include former head of police’s Drug Enforcement Department Mohamed Jinah, former Home Minister Hassan Afeef, and former Finance Secretary Ahmed Mausoom.
Nasheed’s lawyers requested 30 days to prepare his defence in light of new evidence that had not yet been provided, but judges said they would inform Nasheed of the date for a new hearing on Tuesday (March 3).
Judges also refused to revise an earlier decision to place Nasheed in custody until the trial concluded. The former president had been denied the right to legal counsel at the time.
Nasheed’s administration had justified Judge Abdulla’s military detention claiming he had had allowed “his judicial decisions to be determined by political and personal affiliations,” and repeatedly released then-opposition figures brought before the court on serious crimes.
Related to this story