Additional reporting by Neil Merrett.
Former President Mohamed Nasheed’s trial hearing scheduled for 4:00pm today (February 20) was cancelled by the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court after police were unable to present him to judicial authorities due to his presence in the Indian High Commission.
The High Court meanwhile threw out an appeal hearing into the first warrant issued on February 13, after Nasheed failed to appear at a hearing scheduled for 1:00pm this afternoon.
On Monday (February 18), the magistrate court issued a second arrest warrant requesting police present Nasheed on charges of illegally detaining Chief Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed during his final days in office.
An official from the Judiciary Media Unit confirmed Nasheed’s hearing was cancelled after police said the former president could not be arrested while still inside the Indian High Commission.
“Police have said they won’t be able to bring Nasheed to Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court and so the hearing has been cancelled. A new hearing is yet to be scheduled by the court,” the official said.
The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) have said Nasheed will remain inside the High Commission until an interim government is established ahead of the presidential elections in September.
Police have cordoned off the street outside the High Commission, but have so far taken a hands off approach towards the few hundred Nasheed supporters protesting at the barricades.
Police Spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.
Nasheed and the MDP have maintained that the charges against him are a politically-motivated attempt to prevent the former president from contesting in presidential elections scheduled for later this year.
Nasheed’s lawyer Hassan Latheef said the former president’s team of lawyers were having to rely on the media to receive updates regarding the latest news from Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court, and were not being officially informed of any decisions it was making.
“It is very unfortunate that we are not directly informed by the court regarding the developments in this case. Instead, we are having to contact the court for information,” he said.
“We are relying on the media for updates. Now that the court hearing has been cancelled, we have no idea what will happen,” Latheef said.
Asked whether about the possibility of the trial being conducted in absentia, Latheef added: “The constitution states clearly that no trial can be held with the defendant being absent.”
“However, knowing this particular court and the knowing the magistrates on the case, as well as the police and government, I do not doubt it could happen,” Latheef said.
Earlier today, MDP Spokesperson MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said that the Foreign Ministry had already been in touch with the Indian High Commission to try get them to hand Nasheed over to police.
“I wouldn’t put it past the government to raid the Indian High Commission, partly because nobody expects them to do it,” Ghafoor said.
India’s Special Envoy arrives
India’s Special Envoy Harsh Vardhan Shringla visited Male’ today to try and resolve the stalemate, which has attracted widespread international media coverage, and extensive attention from the Indian media. No headway or details of meetings had been reported at time of press.
Meanwhile, a small police presence manned barricades around the the Indian High Commission building ahead of the scheduled trial.
Minivan News also observed a large UN contingent sitting in Traders Hotel opposite the High Commission. UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, is currently in the country for a scheduled visit until February 24.
A large number of tourists were passing through the barricades and having their photos taken with police officers controlling traffic outside the high commission. A row of 30 bouquets of flowers had been placed against the wall of the commission earlier in the day by a group of female Nasheed supporters. One had a card the read: “We will always be with our President (Anni) XX”.
As the time of the hearing neared, around 200 MDP supporters gathered outside the party office on Sosun Magu before moving to the Prosecutor General (PG)’s Office demanding the PG withdraw the charges against former President Nasheed.
As the 4:00pm deadline passed, a few hundered supporters and onlookers once again gathered on Sosun Magu, where they have been holding successive daily demonstrations since Friday (February 15).
Around 20 riot officers were deployed to control the crowd, remaining a few hundred yards away from the protesters. The atmosphere was tense as supporters continued to heckle authorities, however at time of press police had taken no action to disperse the demonstration.
However police subsequently seized a yellow-painted pick-up truck equipped with a loudspeaker that was playing the party’s protest songs, claiming that it was disturbing nearby schoolchildren.