The Criminal Court has accused opposition-aligned Raajje TV of threatening Judge Abdul Bari Yoosuf and has barred the station’s journalists from attending court hearings.
A Raajje TV journalist and cameraman were briefly detained last night around midnight after they videotaped an alleged meeting between Judge Bari and Prosecutor General Muhthaz Muhsin at Café Layaali in Malé.
“Raaje TV has been barred from attending hearings because they are spreading lies about judges, meddling in judges personal affairs and engaging in actions that may harm judges,” a Criminal Court official told local newspaper Haveeru today.
Judge Yoosuf sits on a three-judge panel overseeing a series of high profile cases, including terrorism trials against former President Mohamed Nasheed and former Defence Minister Tholhath Ibrahim Kaleyfaanu, and an illegal weapons trial against former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim.
Raajje TV has declined to comment on the matter, stating they have not yet received official communication of the Criminal Court’s decision.
Nasheed’s lawyers had previously asked Judge Bari and Muhsin, also a former Criminal Court judge, to excuse themselves from the case, arguing the pair had a conflict of interest as they had provided witness statements during a 2012 investigation into their colleague’s arrest.
Judge Abdulla had called Judge Bari on receiving news of his impending arrest, while Muhsin had been at Judge Abdulla’s home during the arrest, witness statements reveal.
The defence team has now called Muhsin to the witness stand. Meanwhile, Judge Bari has refused to step down from the bench, claiming judges could choose between adjudicating or testifying.
According to a Raajje TV editorial staff who wished to remain anonymous, Muhsin and Yoosuf were sitting at the same table smoking shisha last night. The alleged meeting took place hours after the seventh hearing of Nasheed’s terrorism trial.
“Our staff only videotaped the meeting. Muhsin walked away the second they started asking questions,” he said.
Mushin, however, has denied meeting Bari, and said he would resign from the prosecutor general’s post if the meeting could be proven. He said the judge was already at the café when he went there for a private meal with his family members.
“Most of the cafés are crowded with politicians these days. Layaali is one of the few places you could go and enjoy a cup of coffee in peace. That’s why I went there, but I wasn’t with Bari,” Muhsin told Minivan News today.
The TV crew had not even recognised him as they were solely focused on videotaping Judge Bari, the PG added.
“The crew were right next to me. But I don’t even think they recognised me. Because they didn’t videotape me, they were taping Bari who was sitting at another table. I don’t know why they would accuse me of such a thing. Anyone there would clearly see that I was sitting with a separate group of people and Judge Bari was sitting at another table,” he said.
According to the Raajje TV staff, when Muhsin left the café, Bari demanded to know who the crew members were. Café staff then ordered the crew to erase footage.
“Bari also ordered the crew to confiscate the camera but our crew resisted,” he said.
Ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Assad arrived at the café shortly afterwards with a group of young men and forced the cameramen to delete the footage, he said.
The crew “got away unharmed” because of their security guards, he said. Specialist Operations (SO) police officers then arrested the crew escorted them to the police HQ.
The police conducted body searches and took statements from the crew. They were released afterwards.
A police spokesperson insisted Raajje TV crew members had not been arrested, but detained briefly for videotaping in Café Layaali without the owner’s permission.
In 2013, the watchdog Judicial Service Commission suspended Judge Bari for over a year pending the outcome of a complaint lodged against him for alleged misconduct.
Although the commission did not reveal any details of the complaint, local media reported that a female attorney from the Prosecutor General’s Office had alleged that Bari had sexually assaulted her.
Bari was cleared of the allegations and resumed duty at Criminal Court on July 24, 2014.
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