The trial of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ibrahim Rasheed ‘Bonda’, charged with assaulting a police officer, commenced at the Criminal Court on Wednesday.
According to local media reports, the prosecution claimed that MP Rasheed obstructed police duty during an MDP protest on July 30, 2012 when police officers stopped a group of activists on motorbikes.
The MP for Maafanu South allegedly attempted to push the police back and struck an officer on the chest.
Three police officers at the scene witnessed the assault, the prosecuting attorney said.
At yesterday’s hearing, MP Rasheed pleaded not guilty and contended that the charge was politically motivated.
The MP also criticised the criminal justice system as flawed and requested permission to hire a foreign lawyer.
The judge reportedly assented and informed Rasheed to be present at the next trial date in three days with his lawyer.
Following the incident on July 30, MP Rasheed was arrested and placed under house arrest for five days in early August.
According to a statement by the MDP at the time, MP Rasheed was taken into custody at 12.30am from a popular cafe in the capital Male’ by “20 militarised police.”
“MP Ibrahim Rasheed was arrested under a warrant obtained by the police relating to an incident two days back on 30 July when it was reported that the MP was ‘bitten’ on his back by a policeman in the process of being arrested while participating in a protest rally,” the statement explained.
“The MP was released within a few hours on that day with two other MPs who were also ‘picked up’ with Hon Rasheed.”
Video footage meanwhile emerged on social media showing MP Rasheed’s arrest. A riot police officer appears to bite the MP behind his shoulders during the arrest.
Police however released a statement on July 31 denying that any injuries were caused during the arrest of the three MPs.
The police statement insisted that MP Rasheed’s claim to MDP-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV that he was bitten by a police officer was “a false allegation.”
Police further claimed that the three MDP MPs resisted arrest, used obscene language and caused varying degrees of injury to police officers. Aside from MP Rasheed, MDP MPs Ahmed Easa and Mohamed Gasam were also taken into custody on July 30.
The statement also accused MP Rasheed of attempting to mislead the public regarding his arrest to bring the Maldives Police Service into disrepute, condemning the MDP MP’s remarks to the media.
The MDP statement meanwhile noted that MP Rasheed was severely beaten by riot police officers on February 8 during a violent crackdown on an MDP march across Male’.
“Hon Rasheed is among 10 MPs who have been the subject of police brutality that have gone unaddressed for the last six months in spite of repeated appeals by the Inter Parliamentary Union to investigate the matter,” the MDP statement added.
While no charges have been brought against the Special Operations (SO) officers caught on camera beating MP Rasheed on February 8, the People’s Majlis secretariat sent a letter to the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) requesting the police watchdog body to “speed up its investigation into the cases of violence against MPs on 8 February 2012.”
Last week, former chair of the PIC, Shahinda Ismail, resigned from the commission citing failure to hold the police accountable for acts of brutality.
Shahindha’s resignation followed the release of the second of three reports looking into incidents of police misconduct that surrounded February’s transfer of presidential power.