Suspect accused of stuffing murdered girlfriend into suitcase acquitted

The criminal court has acquitted the chief suspect in the murder of Mariyam Sheereen in January 2010, citing insufficient evidence.

Mohamed Najah was accused of killing his girlfriend, stuffing her body into a suitcase, and dumping it at a construction site in Malé.

Almost five years after the murder trial began, chief judge Abdulla Mohamed said in the verdict delivered today that in addition Najah denying the charges, the state had failed to submit conclusive evidence.

The three doctors who examined Sheereen’s body had not been able to determine the cause of death, he noted, and said there was no written evidence of the doctors’ suggestion to conduct a postmortem.

None of the prosecution’s witnesses had testified to Najah committing any act to murder Sheereen, the verdict stated.

The 30-year-old woman’s body was found hidden under a pile of sandbags in a construction site on January 3, 2010 by a Bangladeshi worker.

Police said the body was found 36 hours after her death. Najah was accused of taking the suitcase to the vacant building in a taxi.

The driver of the taxi that Najah took also testified at the trial.

Police showed CCTV footage from January 2 of Najah dragging the suitcase and testified that DNA samples from the bag matched Sheereen’s.

The couple were living together in an apartment in Maafanu Kurahaage.

Witnesses also testified to hearing Najah threatening to kill Sheereen and told the court that she was last seen entering the apartment on the night she went missing.

Prosecutors told the court that Najah had come out several times, locking the door each time, and was later seen leaving with a suitcase.

Judge Abdulla said that the taxi driver had only said that he transported Najah with a heavy suitcase and that he smelled a foul scent only after Najah had left the cab.

The chief judge has been accused by the opposition of corruption and bribery. Former president Mohamed Nasheed – who was found guilty of terrorism charges over the military’s detention of judge Abdulla in January 2012 – had said the judge was suspected of involvement in a “contract killing.”

If he had been found guilty, Najah would have faced the death penalty.

Sheereen’s heirs had told the court that they no objection to Najah’s execution if he was found guilty.

Najah has been previously sentenced to 10 years imprisonment on drug abuse charges in January 2009.

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Ex-defence minister jailed for 10 years on terrorism charges

Former defence minister Tholhath Ibrahim Kaleyfaanu was found guilty of terrorism and sentenced to 10 years in jail last night over the military detention of a judge while ex-president Mohamed Nasheed was in office.

Nasheed is currently serving a 13-year jail sentence over the same incident, in which criminal court chief judge Abdulla Mohamed was held for three weeks in January 2012.

Ex-colonel Mohamed Ziyad, one of the five accused in the case, was meanwhile acquitted last night.

The court said the prosecution’s evidence, witness testimony and Tholhath’s statements in court were sufficient to prove the former minister’s involvement.

However, the three-judge panel presiding over both cases ruled that Ziyad followed orders from his superiors, did not have any intention of unlawfully arresting the judge, and was not in a position to issue commands.

Several senior military officers had meanwhile said Tholhath had vowed to take responsibility for the judge’s 22-day detention on Girifushi island even if he were to be jailed for 40 years.

The judges also noted that Tholhath defied court orders demanding Judge Abdulla’s immediate release.

The verdicts were delivered last night following repeated cancellations after the hearings were concluded last month.

At a previous hearing, Tholhath said Nasheed had ordered the arrest of the judge.

The operation ‘Liberty Shield’ was initiated by Nasheed and carried out by then-Malé Area Commander Brigadier General Ibrahim Mohamed Didi, currently an opposition Maldivian Democratic Party MP for mid-Hithadhoo constituency, he said.

During the trial, state prosecutors said soldiers involved in the operation were not being charged as accomplices because senior officers of the military “used the institution as a veil to commit this atrocity”.

On Wednesday night, the criminal court acquitted Defence Minister Moosa Ali Jaleel of terrorism charges related to the judge’s arrest. The retired major general was chief of defence forces at the time, but maintained he had no role in the operation.

Of the five defendants charged with the “abduction” or “enforced disappearance” of the judge, only MP Didi’s verdict is still pending.

Didi’s trial did not progress beyond a few hearings as he had to be flown abroad for medical treatment half-way through the trial. He is yet to return to the country.

Judge Abdulla’s arrest sparked 22 nights of violent anti-government protests, culminating in a police and army mutiny on February 7, 2012. Nasheed resigned on the same day, but later said it was in order to avoid bloodshed and was in effect a forced resignation.

In January 2013, Tholhath told parliament’s government oversight committee that the events of February 7 was not a coup d’etat, after previously claiming Nasheed’s life was in danger and that the former president had no choice but to resign.

During the 2013 presidential campaign, Tholhath campaigned for Jumhooree Party Leader Gasim Ibrahim and later backed eventual winner Abdulla Yameen.

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Nasheed ordered Judge Abdulla’s arrest, says Tholhath

Former President Mohamed Nasheed ordered the military to detain Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012, former Defence Minister Tholhath Ibrahim Kaleyfaanu told the Criminal Court last night.

At last night’s hearing of his trial on terrorism charges, Tholhath said the operation to arrest Judge Abdulla – dubbed ‘Liberty Shield’ – was initiated by Nasheed and carried out by then-Malé Area Commander Brigadier General Ibrahim Mohamed Didi, currently an opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP for mid-Hithadhoo constituency.

According to trial observers from the Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN), state prosecutors noted that Tholhath had confessed to initiating Operation Liberty Shield during a previous trial at the Hulhumalé Magistrate Court.

Asked whether Nasheed directly gave the order to Didi – bypassing the defence minister – Tholhath’s lawyer said details of the orders would be explained after the state presents its witnesses.

Tholhath insisted that Nasheed had ordered the judge’s detention on Girifushi Island.

Judge Abdulla’s arrest triggered a police and military mutiny forcing Nasheed’s resignation on February 7, 2012.

In January 2013, Tholhath told parliament’s Government Oversight Committee that Nasheed had not resigned “under duress” in a a coup d’etat. However, Tholhath had previously claimed that Nasheed’s life was in danger on February 7, 2012 and that the former president had no choice but to resign.

During the 2013 presidential campaign, Tholhath campaigned for Jumhooree Party Leader Gasim Ibrahim and later backed eventual winner Abdulla Yameen.

Terrorism trials

At last night’s hearing, Tholhath’s lawyer asked state prosecutors to clarify which offence the former minister was being charged with under Article 2 of the anti-terrorism law.

When the prosecutor explained that the offence was “enforced disappearance,” the lawyer asked whether the state has decided that the highest authority of the military gave orders that amounted to terrorism, and whether the state was suggesting the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) was a “terrorist organisation” if soldiers enforce their commanders’ orders.

The lawyer also asked why soldiers involved in the operation were not being charged as accomplices.

In reply, State Prosecutor Abdulla Rabiu said senior officers of the military “used the institution as a veil to commit this atrocity,” noting that senior officials would have had the opportunity to seek legal advice.

The defence lawyer said then-Home Minister Hassan Afeef informed Tholhath that the chief judge was a threat to national security as he was blocking corruption investigations, releasing dangerous criminals, and undermining the criminal justice system.

The lawyer also contended that the Human Rights Commission of Maldives’ (HRCM) investigation could not be admissible as the commission was not legally authorised to investigate acts of terrorism.

However, the prosecutor insisted that the HRCM Act confers powers on the commission to investigate terrorism.

After the judges ruled that the procedural issues were not an impediment to continuing the trial, both the prosecution and defence then submitted a list of evidentiary documents and witnesses, including senior officers of the police and military.

Adjourning the hearing, Judge Abdulla Didi said testimony from state witnesses would be heard at the next trial date.

At last night’s hearing of Nasheed’s trial, Judge Didi and Judge Abdul Bari Yoosuf ruled that there was no conflict of interest for the pair to preside over the trial, despite having testified as witnesses in the case’s investigation.

Along with Nasheed, Tholhath, and Didi, former Chief of Defence Forces Major General (Retired) Moosa Ali Jaleel and Colonel (Retired) Mohamed Ziyad are also on trial on terrorism charges over the chief judge’s arrest.

All five defendants have pleaded not guilty to the terrorism charges. The charges were filed under Article 2(b) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1990, which criminalizes kidnappings, forced disappearances and abductions and carries a jail term of between 10 to 15 years.

At a hearing earlier this week, Jaleel denied any involvement in the judge’s arrest, claiming he neither received nor given any orders to take the chief judge into military custody.

Didi was meanwhile hospitalised on Sunday night after complaining of chest pains. His family told Minivan News today that the retired general would be flown overseas as soon as doctor’s give approval.


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MP Ibrahim Didi pleads not guilty to terrorism charges

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ibrahim Mohamed Didi, a retired brigadier general, pleaded not guilty to terrorism charges at the first hearing of his trial at the Criminal Court yesterday.

The MP for mid-Hithadhoo constituency is facing terrorism charges along with former President Mohamed Nasheed, former Defence Minister Tholhath Ibrahim, former Chief of Defence Forces Major General Moosa Ali Jaleel (current defence minister) and retired Colonel Mohamed Ziyad over the military’s controversial detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.

At the first hearings of the trials – conducted separately – Judge Abdulla Didi gave all five defendants three days to appoint lawyers and answer the charges. MP Didi and Ziyad appeared for the first hearing of their trials yesterday (February 24).

After pleading not guilty, MP Didi – who was Malé Area Commander at the time of the judge’s detention – reportedly posed questions to the state prosecutors.

Describing the charges as “politically motivated,” Didi asked the prosecutors whether the state believed the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) and its senior officials carried out terrorist activities.

The decorated veteran also asked whether his trial was being conducted in accordance with Islamic Shariah, and if so, under which school of the Sunni sect.

Asked to respond, the state prosecutor told the judge she would answer at the next hearing.

Didi also questioned whether the terrorism trial was his reward for risking his life in defence of the nation during the November 3, 1988 failed coup attempt by a group of Maldivians and Tamil mercenaries.

Didi – a corporal and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s bodyguard at the time – played a pivotal role on November 3 by carrying the keys of the armoury from Machangoalhi Kinbigasdhoshuge to the besieged military headquarters before soldiers ran out of ammunition.

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MDA Leader Siyam acquitted of alcohol smuggling charges

Government-aligned Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) Leader Ahmed ‘Sun’ Siyam Mohamed was acquitted of alcohol possession and smuggling charges by the Criminal Court on Thursday (December 4).

Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed found the resort tycoon not guilty on the grounds that due process was not followed in accordance with the Maldives Customs Act.

The MP for Dhaalu Meedhoo was charged with smuggling and possession of alcohol in November 2013 after a ‘Johnny Walker Black’ bottle was found in his luggage at the airport upon returning from Sri Lanka in March 2012.

In June, two witnesses for the prosecution testified to finding a bottle of alcohol in Siyam’s luggage.

While the customs officers testified that they discovered the bottle when Siyam’s bag was screened, a Maldives Airports Company Ltd (MACL) staff member who handled the luggage said they were unaware of its contents prior to screening.

However, Siyam’s lawyer argued that the MP was being framed, noting that according to the prosecution’s witnesses the luggage was not searched in his presence.

Following multiple delays and cancellations of hearings, Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed took over the case from Judge Ahmed Sameer Abdul Aziz in May after Siyam claimed the latter’s “hand gestures and facial expressions” indicated a personal grudge against him which could lead to an unfair trial.

Siyam wrote to both the chief judge and the Supreme Court requesting the removal of Judge Sameer from his case.

Responding to criticism of the court for providing preferential treatment to the coalition leader, Judge Abdulla declared at a ceremony in September that the court would provide VIP treatment and escort persons facing trial in and out through the back door in circumstances where it sees fit.

Siyam was reportedly escorted in and out of the backdoor when he arrived at the court for a trial date and was also seated in a separate area.

The penalty for alcohol possession in the penal code is either a fine of between MVR1,000 to MVR3,000 or imprisonment, banishment or house arrest for up to three years.

Under Article 73 of the constitution, an MP convicted of a criminal offence and sentenced to more than one year in prison will lose his or her seat in parliament.

Siyam’s MDA formed an alliance with the now-ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) in August to back PPM presidential candidate Abdulla Yameen.

In March 2012, an audio clip of a conversation between Siyam and Yameen was leaked on social media, in which the pair aired grievances against PPM leader and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.



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PG to appeal Criminal Court’s dismissal of terrorism cases

The Prosecutor General (PG) Office will appeal the Criminal Court’s dismissal of terrorism charges against 89 defendants from the island of Thinadhoo in Gaaf Dhaalu atoll, PG Muthaz Muhsin has told local media.

On Saturday (November 22), Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed dismissed the cases after state prosecutors failed to attend a hearing scheduled for 10:00am.

Muhsin said the PG’s Office was informed of the hearing after 2:30pm on Thursday via a fax and were unable to make arrangements, though lawyers working on the case have told Minivan News that the hearings had been scheduled in advance for 10am every day – including Saturdays – for the duration of the trial.

In addition to appealing the dismissal, Muhsin said the cases would be resubmitted to the Criminal Court today.

Last week, the chief judge ordered 55 defendants be held in detention pending the outcome of the trials, claiming the accused were intimidating witnesses. All have subsequently been released.

The court had earlier ordered the detention of 17 of the 89 defendants, all of whom were released following the dismissal of the cases on Saturday.

Defence lawyers described the judge’s decision to hold the accused in custody as “most usual” as the identities of state witnesses were not disclosed and had their voices disguised in order to protect their identity.

The 89 defendants faced terrorism charges for allegedly setting fire to the island’s police station, court building, and several police vehicles during nationwide unrest on February 8, 2012 in the wake of former President Mohamed Nasheed’s controversial resignation the previous day.

Acts of arson are considered terrorism under the Terrorism Prevention Act enacted by the administration of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. The offence carries a jail term of between 10 to 15 years.

Around 80 people from Addu City are also currently facing terrorism charges in relation to unrest in the southernmost atoll on February 8.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party has accused the government of selectively prosecuting dozens of the party’s members and supporters in Addu City and Thinadhoo.

The party has also criticised the use of a single judge – Abdulla Mohamed – in all the cases related to the February 8 unrest, calling the entire process “highly politically motivated”, noting that police officers who committed crimes on February 6, 7, and 8 were not being prosecuted.

On February 8, 2012, riots spread across the country following a brutal crackdown on an MDP march in the capital.

Thousands of MDP supporters took to the streets of Malé in a protest march after Nasheed declared his resignation the previous day had come “under duress” in a “coup d’etat” instigated by mutinying police officers of the Special Operations (SO).

Following an investigation, the Human Rights Commission of Maldives concluded that the heavy-handed police crackdown on the MDP walk was “brutal” and “without warning” while the “disproportionate” use of force left dozens of demonstrators injured and hospitalised.



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Police officers testify against February 8 arson suspects

Eight police officers testified at the Criminal Court today against several defendants accused of setting fire to a police station in Addu City on February 8, 2012.

At today’s hearing, the police officers reportedly identified the accused and testified that they had thrown stones at police officers blocking the causeway between Feydhoo and Gan and had broken through police lines before entering Gan police station.

The officers also claimed some of the defendants had bragged about setting the station on fire.

More than 80 people from Addu City are currently on trial – charged with terrorism – for acts of arson on February 8, 2012, which saw police vehicles, courts and police stations torched in the southernmost atoll.

Some 89 individuals from the island of Thinadhoo in Gaaf Dhaal atoll are also facing terrorism charges. The atoll council office, court building, police station and several police vehicles were set on fire in Thinadhoo on February 8.

The Criminal Court yesterday issued a warrant ordering police to hold 12 defendants from Thinadhoo and one from Gahdhoo – including Thinadhoo island council member Abdulla Saneef – in detention pending the outcome of the trial after they failed to attend a previous hearing.

The accused were presented to court under police custody yesterday.

Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed reportedly asked the accused to submit their justifications in writing for the court to reconsider the decision.

Following its investigation into the nationwide unrest and violence on February 8, the police forwarded over 100 cases to the Prosecutor General’s office, requesting that 108 individuals be charged with terrorism.

Acts of arson are considered terrorism under the Terrorism Prevention Act enacted by the administration of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. The offence carries a jail term of between 10 to 15 years.

Meanwhile, Police Commissioner Hussain Waheed and Chief Inspector of Upper South Division Mohamed Basheer were summoned to the court last night to explain why police failed to execute an earlier order by the court to bring suspects to face trial.

The court has previously said it was facing difficulties summoning defendants from the southern atolls as well as housing and feeding the accused. Under the Judicature Act, terrorism trials must be conducted at the Criminal Court in Malé.

Speaking at parliament today, Progressive Party of Maldives MP for Thinadhoo North Saudhulla Hilmy accused opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV of inflaming passions and inciting violence by falsely reporting on February 8 that MDP MPs had been killed by the security forces.

Raajje TV has since denied the allegations.

February 8

In a press release issued on September 18 after the hearings were scheduled – following a hiatus of over a year – the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) contended that the trials against dozens of the party’s members and supporters were politically-motivated acts of intimidation.

The party also accused the government of threatening to prosecute persons who participate in MDP activities.

The press statement also noted that police officers who committed crimes on February 6, 7, and 8 were not being prosecuted.

On February 8, 2012, riots spread across the country following a brutal crackdown on an MDP march in the capital.

Thousands of MDP supporters took to the streets of Malé in a protest march after former President Mohamed Nasheed declared his resignation the previous day had come “under duress” in a “coup d’etat”instigated by mutinying police officers of the Special Operations (SO).

Following an investigation, the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) concluded that the heavy-handed police crackdown on the MDP walk was “brutal” and “without warning” while the “disproportionate” use of force left dozens of demonstrators injured and hospitalised.

Al Jazeera filmed parts of the crackdown, reporting that “police and military charged, beating demonstrators as they ran – women, the elderly, [with] dozens left nursing their wounds”. The BBC meanwhile reported “a baton charge by police on crowds gathered outside one of the main hospitals.”

Amnesty International warned that failure to prosecute police officers accused of human rights abuses and “serious failings in the justice system entrenched impunity”.

Moreover, former PIC Chair Shahinda Ismail told Minivan News in September 2012 that a staff sergeant caught on tape kicking a fallen demonstrator “was promoted after this incident.”

In February this year, Shahinda told Minivan News that detainees arrested in Addu City on February 9 were “forced to walk on smoldering coals”.

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Supreme Court enacts new regulations on flogging

The Supreme Court has enacted new regulations on the enforcement of flogging sentences, specifying conditions and criteria for meting out the Islamic Sharia punishment.

The regulations (Dhivehi) made public yesterday state that the offender must be of sound mind, must not be pregnant, and must not have an illness that could endanger his or her life due to flogging.

Moreover, a sentence for flogging must be implemented after the convict has either exhausted the appeal process or declined to appeal the verdict in the specified period.

Speaking at a ceremony held last month to mark the anniversary of the Criminal Court, Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed revealed that 37 flogging sentences remained unenforced due to alleged lack of cooperation from the relevant authorities.

If the offender is a deaf mute or does not speak Dhivehi, the regulations state that the court should seek a statement through a translator.

The court must also appoint a competent “special employee” to implement flogging sentences.

If the offender is under age when the verdict is delivered, the regulations state that the sentence must be imposed when the offender turns 18 years of age.

Section 222 of the regulations on conducting trials would be abolished once the new regulations come into force.

According to statistics from the Department of Judicial Administration, almost 90 percent of those convicted of fornication or pre-marital sex in 2011 were female.

Of 129 fornication cases in 2011, 104 people were sentenced, out of which 93 were female. This included 10 underage girls, 79 women aged 18-40, and four women above 40 years.

In response to a Minivan News report in 2009 of an 18 year-old woman fainting after a 100 lashes, Amnesty International called for a moratorium on the “inhumane and degrading punishment.”

Of the 184 people sentenced to public flogging in 2006, 146 were female, making it nine times more likely for women to be punished.

In November 2011, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay urged the authorities to impose a moratorium on flogging and to foster national dialogue and debate “on this issue of major concern.”

“This practice constitutes one of the most inhumane and degrading forms of violence against women, and should have no place in the legal framework of a democratic country,” the UN human rights chief told MPs during a maiden visit to the Maldives.

Her remarks sparked protests by Islamic groups outside the UN building and drew condemnation from the Islamic Ministry, NGOs and political parties.

In August 2013, a flogging sentence of a 15-year-old girl rape victim convicted of fornication was overturned following an international campaign.

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Court will provide VIP treatment when it sees fit, insists Chief Judge Abdulla

The Criminal Court will provide VIP treatment and escort persons facing trial in and out through the back door in circumstances where it sees fit, Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed has said.

Speaking at a function held on Saturday night (September 13) to celebrate the court’s anniversary, Judge Abdulla reportedly said that the court would allow accused parties to enter through the back door for safety reasons.

“If a court employee has to go an receive such a person, that would be done, too. That is done through the court’s administrative arrangements,” he was quoted as saying in local media.

The remarks followed criticism of the court for providing preferential treatment to MP Ahmed Siyam Mohamed in his alcohol possession case.

The leader of the government-aligned Maldives Development Alliance was escorted in and out of the backdoor when he arrived at the court for a trial date and was also seated in a separate area.

Moreover, the chief judge had taken over Siyam’s case in May after the business tycoon requested a change of judge.

Judge Abdulla also criticised the police and state prosecutors for failure to secure convictions as a result of poor planning, insufficient evidence, and glaring inconsistencies between statements submitted by police and witness testimony heard at trial.

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