Former President Mohamed Nasheed is being denied the constitutional right to appoint a lawyer as well as the right to appeal the Criminal Court’s “arbitrary” arrest warrant ahead of a surprise terrorism trial due to commence today, contends the opposition leader’s legal team.
At a press conference this afternoon, Nasheed’s legal team revealed that the Criminal Court informed the lawyers this morning that they had to register at the court two days in advance despite being unaware of the trial until the former president’s arrest less than 24 hours ago.
“How can we submit forms two days ahead for a trial we did not know would take place two days before? It is clear to any sane person, this is absolute nonsense,” said Hisaan Hussain.
Nasheed was arrested at 2:30pm from his residence Yagoothuge yesterday (February 22). The warrant issued by the Criminal Court stated that Nasheed was being arrested on suspicion that he may abscond from trial.
Prosecutor General (PG) Muhthaz Muhsin filed terrorism charges against the former president yesterday over the military’s controversial detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.
The court first informed Nasheed’s lawyers – Hisaan Hussain, Hassan Latheef and Ibrahim Riffath – that they could not advocate at the Criminal Court as neither were officially registered.
Hassan Latheef noted that the Criminal Court’s registrar also refused to meet the lawyers before 1:30pm.
Two other lawyers from the five-member legal team – Abdulla Shaairu and Ahmed Abdulla Afeef, prominent criminal defence lawyers who are both registered at the Criminal Court – were then told that they must register again to represent Nasheed.
However, the court subsequently informed the pair that according to court regulations they must submit registration forms two days in advance to be authorised to represent Nasheed at today’s trial.
“We only found out charges had been filed by the Prosecutor General yesterday. There is no way we could have submitted forms ahead of that two day period,” said Shaairu.
“The constitution clearly affords all citizens the right to legal counsel, from the moment they are first accused to the moment the suspicion is resolved. Here, we are speaking of a man who is a former president, a man who has the majority support of the public. If he is not treated justly, what hope is there for the ordinary man?”
Right to appeal
Under new regulations enacted by the Supreme Court this month outlining the appeal process, Nasheed’s lawyers explained that appeal forms must be sent through the trial court to the appellate court.
In order to appeal the arrest warrant, the lawyers explained, the appeal must be filed at the Criminal Court, which would then forward the case to the High Court within a seven day period.
However, the Criminal Court informed Nasheed’s lawyers this morning that the new appeal forms had not been provided to the court.
Hisaan noted that the Criminal Court was unlikely to expedite the process of appealing its own rulings, “especially in cases of unlawful arrest.”
The new regulations deny citizens the constitutional right to appeal court decisions, she asserted.
Ahmed Abdulla Afeef meanwhile suggested that the Criminal Court could use the sample form provided by the Supreme Court and copy the trial court’s letterhead, adding that the legal team was ready with all the paperwork to submit the appeal as soon as possible.
Nasheed’s lawyers also expressed concern over “several irregularities” in the warrant signed by Judge Abdul Bari Yoosuf at 12:30pm yesterday, noting the absence of key information such as place and time period of detention.
Despite the Criminal Court scheduling the first hearing of the terrorism trial for 4:00pm today, the warrant does not state that Nasheed must be brought to trial today.
Moreover, under normal procedure, police request arrest warrants to detain a suspect in an investigation.
However, in Nasheed’s case, PG Muhsin personally went to the Criminal Court yesterday and obtained the warrant, the lawyers revealed.
“We have always noted the state in prosecuting President Nasheed, has previously acted unlawfully. In this instance, we see the Prosecutor General so clearly and publicly flouting the law for political motives. We call on the PG to show independence and to act within the constitution,” said Hisaan.
The legal team also revealed that the Criminal Court has issued a new warrant ordering police to present Nasheed at for the terrorism trial due to begin at 4:00pm.
The lawyers noted the lack of continuity between the warrants, arguing that Nasheed must be released immediately if yesterday’s warrant is now outdated.
“I think police themselves are not clear what to do next. There is no time period in the warrant, so should he be brought before court in 24 hours? But that is done when an individual is arrested in an ongoing investigation, if there is no court order,” explained Hisaan.
“And if there is a court warrant, then the time period in the warrant expires. This case, however, is not an ongoing investigation.
It is not clear to anyone what they are trying to do. All we know is that there’s been serious and several violations of the constitutions, law and norms in issuing this warrant and in arresting the former president.”
“Abscond from trial”
Nasheed was arrested on the grounds that he had attempted to abscond trial during proceedings at the Hulhumalé Magistrate Court last year. A police intelligence report was also submitted as evidence to obtain the arrest warrant.
But the lawyers insist Nasheed cannot be held in detention because he “had never absconded from court, nor have taken the opportunity to flee or go into hiding, during numerous opportunities he had in the past few weeks to travel abroad, and that he had expressly informed the judiciary and Prosecutor General that he does not have any intention to abscond from Court or avoid charges being brought against him.”
PG Office Spokesperson Adam Arif told Minivan News that Nasheed’s arrest warrant was different from those issued in instances where an individual refuses to appear at court.
Nasheed had not previously been informed he would be prosecuted on terrorism charges.
Meanwhile, the PG office insisted in a statement yesterday that there was no legal “obstacle” to raising charges against former President Nasheed as a court had not ruled that the case submitted to the Hulhumalé Magistrate Court on September 1, 2012 could not be heard.
After withdrawing the case for further review on February 15, the Prosecutor General decided “the best way [forward] in this case is to change the charges raised against Mohamed Nasheed and the court in which it was filed”.
The PG pressed terrorism charges against the former president under authority granted by the constitution, the Prosecutor General’s Act, and High Court rulings, the statement added.
“Therefore, as the case against Mohamed Nasheed is in the court process, we note that it is not desirable for politicians, some members of the public, political parties, and some media to talk in a way that both creates anxiety among the public about verdicts issued by courts and causes loss of confidence in independent institutions created by the constitution,” reads the PG’s statement.