The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has expressed “strong concerns about the hasty and apparently unfair trial” of former President Mohamed Nasheed and called on the Maldives to enable international jurists to observe an appeal.
In a statement today, Zeid said Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in jail on terrorism charges following “a rushed process that appears to contravene the Maldives’ own laws and practices and international fair trial standards in a number of respects.”
The Criminal Court on March 13 found Nasheed guilty of using the military to “forcefully abduct” the court’s Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.
The surprise trial began one day after Nasheed was arrested on February 22, and was completed after 11 hearings in 19 days.
“It is hard to see how such hasty proceedings, which are far from the norm in the Maldives, can be compatible with the authorities’ obligations under international law to conduct a fair trial,” the UN Human Rights chief said.
“Clearly no one should be above the law, and the trial of a former Head of State would be a major challenge for any government. But in a polarised context, and given the long-standing serious concerns about the independence and politicisation of the judiciary in the Maldives, this case should have been handled with much greater care and transparency.”
The UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers Gabriela Knaul in May 2013 described the Maldives judiciary as “a system in crisis,” and expressed shock at reports of political bias and concern over judges’ low qualifications.
Zeid today noted the Maldivian Constitution affords anyone accused of a crime the right to adequate time and facilities to mount a defence.
But Nasheed was without legal counsel at a February 23 remand hearing in which the Criminal Court ordered the former president be kept in detention until the trial ended.
Moreover, when Nasheed’s lawyers quit in protest of the Criminal Court’s refusal to provide additional time, the three-judge panel did not wait until he had new counsel before proceeding with the trial, Zeid noted.
“The government argues the new case against Nasheed was based in the same materials previously available to his legal team, but he should have been given time to instruct his counsel and prepare a new defence,” he said.
The Criminal Court’s decision not to call defence witnesses was also “contrary to international fair trial standards,” he said.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights also raised serious questions about conflict of interest over the judges and Prosecutor General having been witnesses during the 2012 investigation into Judge Abdulla’s arrest.
PG Muhthaz Muhsin and Judges Abdul Bari Yoosuf and Abdulla Didi were present at the Chief Judge’s home at the time of his arrest, but the two judges refused to step down from the bench claiming there was no conflict of interest.
Zeid also noted the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, and domestic as well as international observers were barred from monitoring the trial proceedings.
He urged Nasheed be given adequate time to prepare and present his defence during the appeal process.
“The Nasheed case places the Maldives judicial processes in a sharp spotlight. The flagrant irregularities in this case can still be rectified in the appeal process, and I urge the authorities to restore domestic and international confidence in the legal system by enabling international jurists to observe the appeal process,” he said.
The Supreme Court introduced new appeal procedures in January reducing the time allowed to lodge an appeal from 90 working days to just ten.
On Monday, Nasheed’s lawyers accused the Criminal Court of deliberately refusing to release court proceedings “in order to frustrate attempts at launching an appeal.”
Although lawyers must file an appeal with ten days, the Criminal Court said it will take up to 14 days to provide a signed copy of court proceedings.
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