Home Minister Umar Naseer is not a fugitive from justice, the Home Ministry has said in response to local media reports of an arrest warrant to present Naseer at court.
Local media have claimed the Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant ordering the police to present the Naseer at court, but the Home Ministry and the Maldives Police Services declined to confirm if a warrant was issued.
Instead, Home Ministry’s Media Coordinator Thazmeel Abdul Samad said Naseer is not hiding from the courts and will attend hearings willingly once he returns from the Netherlands on June 16.
Naseer is accused of calling for 2,000 volunteers on January 23, 2012 to storm the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) headquarters with 50 ladders during the two weeks of protests sparked by the military’s controversial detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed.
During a first hearing into the case on April 27, Naseer denied charges. At a second hearing on May 22, he asked the court to strike down the clause he is being prosecuted under.
The Prosecutor General’s Office is pressing disobedience to order charges under Article 88 of the Penal Code with reference to Article 8 (a) of the General Laws.
The General Laws was passed in 1968 and the clause in question prohibits writing or speech against any tenet of Islam.
The Criminal Court scheduled a hearing on May 25, but Naseer left the country on an official trip and asked Judge Abdulla Didi to delay the trial.
A hearing was scheduled again for June 10, but the minister left the country on June 9 to source sniffer dogs and body scanners from the Netherlands.
The Home Ministry had sent a letter to the Criminal Court informing Judge Didi of Naseer’s absence on June 10, but Didi decided to go ahead with the hearing.
He argued the minister’s absence was unacceptable given his previous absence on May 25, and warned Naseer’s lawyer Adam Asif that action would be taken if the minister fails to attend the next hearing scheduled for June 12.
“I sincerely appeal to you not to force us to have the minister placed under detention and presented to court,” Didi said.
If convicted, Naseer faces banishment, imprisonment or house arrest not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding MVR150 (US$ 10) under article 88(a) of the penal code.
Naseer was appointed as Home Minister on a cabinet slot allocated for the Jumhooree Party (JP) on a now defunct coalition agreement with ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM).
Two other ministers appointed on JP slots have switched to the PPM and its ally Maldivian Development Alliance (MDA) following the dissolution of the coalition.
On January 23, 2012, Naseer told anti-government demonstrators in front of the Maldives Monetary Authority building that they should use tactics to tire out the soldiers on duty before climbing into the military barracks, at which point “the people inside will be with us.”
“From today onward, we will turn this protest into one that achieves results,” Naseer had said.
“We know how people overthrow governments. Everything needed to topple the government of this country is now complete.”
After he was questioned by the police in September 2012, Naseer told the press that “there will be no evidence” to prove he committed a criminal offence.
“In my statement I did not mention where to place the ladders or where to climb in using the ladders.” Naseer had said.