Chief of Defense Forces testifies in Nasheed, Tholhath terrorism trials

Former President Mohamed Nasheed and former Defense Minister Tholhath Ibrahim Kaleyfaanu must bear responsibility for the military detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed, the Chief of Defense Forces Major General Ahmed Shiyam has said.

Testifying in two separate hearings into terrorism charges against Nasheed and Tholhath on Thursday, Shiyam said the Maldives National Defense Forces could not carry out such an operation without the pair’s orders.

“As soldiers, we are obliged to follow their orders,” he told the court at Nasheed’s 9pm hearing.

Both Nasheed and Tholhath have denied ordering Judge Abdulla’s arrest. If convicted of terrorism, they face a jail term or banishment between 10 and 15 years.

Judge Abdulla’s arrest sparked 22 consecutive nights of violent anti-government demonstrations that culminated in a police and military mutiny on the morning of February 7, 2012, forcing Nasheed to resign in what he subsequently called a “coup d’etat.”

According to Shiyam, Nasheed and Tholhath had met with senior MNDF officers after the judge’s arrest, where now retired Brigadier General Ahmed Mohamed spoke out against the long term damage the MNDF might suffer due to the military’s role in the judge’s arrest.

Nasheed then assured officers the military would not have to bear responsibility for the judge’s detention, Shiyam said.

State prosecutors then asked if Nasheed had said he would bear responsibility for the arrest. Shiyam said yes.

Speaking to the press afterwards, Nasheed’s lawyers noted Shiyam had not said the former president had issued the order to arrest Judge Abdulla.

Meanwhile, at a separate 2pm hearing into charges against Tholhath, Shiyam said the former Defense Minister had at the same meeting declared he would bear responsibility for the arrest even if he were to be jailed for forty years.

The words still resound in his ears, Shiyam said.

Tholhath had also told an MNDF advisory council he believed Judge Abdulla must be arrested, a day before the operation—dubbed liberty shield—was carried out, Shiyam said.

Tholhath’s lawyer asked Shiyam if former President Nasheed had given the arrest order, but Shiyam said he did not remember Tholhath saying so.

At yesterday’s hearing, Lieutenant Ali Ihusan, who served as Tholhath’s personal assistant, told the court that he heard the former minister saying he would not release Judge Abdulla even if he faced 30 years in jail as a consequence.

At the second hearing of his trial, Tholhath claimed the operation to arrest Judge Abdulla was initiated by Nasheed and carried out by then-Malé Area Commander Brigadier General Ibrahim Mohamed Didi, currently opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP for mid-Hithadhoo constituency.

Commander of MNDF’s Medical Services Dr Ali Shahid also testified at Nasheed and Tholhath’s hearings. Shahid had been assigned as Judge Abdulla’s doctor during his 21 days of detention on the military training island Girifushi.

Shahid said he had met with the Judge several times a day, and observed he was under military watch.

Tholhath, Didi and now retired Colonel Mohamed Ziyad called Shahid regularly to monitor Judge Abdulla’s well-being, he said.

At the 2pm hearing, Shahid also said Tholhath had assigned psychologist Aishath Zeena to Judge Abdulla after receiving reports he was not eating at all.

In a statement following tonight’s hearing, the office of former President Mohamed Nasheed said summoning the Chief of Defense Forces to the Criminal Court undermined his dignity and honor.

Nasheed had appealed to the presiding Judges Abdulla Didi, Abdul Bari Yoosuf and Sujau Usman to refrain from asking the Chief of Defense Forces to testify if at all possible.

The judges ignored the plea.

When given the opportunity to cross examine Shiyam, Nasheed declined, saying he had no questions for the Chief of Defense Forces.

Nasheed had previously contested the credibility of police and military officers as state witnesses, contended the role of the police and military officers in his February 2012 ouster and Judge Abdulla’s arrest raised questions over their trustworthiness.

The state has also named Tholhath as a witness against Nasheed.

Nasheed’s next hearing is scheduled for Saturday.

Ziyad and Didi are also standing trial over Judge Abdulla’s arrest.

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