Criminal Court warns MP Ghafoor of trial in absentia

The Criminal Court has warned Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor that it will try him absentia if he fails to attend a court hearing scheduled for 1:30pm on Thursday.

Ghafoor took refuge inside the People’s Majlis on Thursday (October 24) following several police attempts to arrest him and present him at the Criminal Court. He is being tried for refusal to provide a urine sample – an offense that carries a one year jail sentence and could disqualify him from his parliamentary seat.

“The Criminal Court orders Hamid Abdul Gafoor of H. Shady Corner, Malé to attend court at 13:00 on 31 October 2013. If Hamid Abdul Gafoor is not present at the court at the specified date and time, we inform him we will continue with and conclude the above trial in absentia as per Article 30 (a) of the Regulations on court summons,” a statement issued by the Criminal Court today said.

Criminal Court Chief Justice Abdulla Mohamed is presiding over the case.

Ghafoor has accused the criminal court of a “politically motivated personal hunt” to influence the MDP and its ally Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party’s simple majority in parliament. Ghafoor is also being tried separately for possession of alcohol.

The MP has pleaded innocent at the two hearings that have taken place so far. A third hearing was scheduled for October 23 at 9:00 am. But Ghafoor’s lawyers told the Criminal Court a day in advance that the MP could not attend due to a parliamentary proceedings scheduled at the time.

Article 11 of the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act sates that an MP cannot be summoned to court during Majlis sittings or parliamentary committee hearings.

However, the Criminal Court did not respond to the letter. Instead, it scheduled a new hearing for 1:00pm on October 24 and issued a court warrant ordering police to arrest Ghafoor and present him at court. The MP took refuge inside the Majlis and has not left parliament premises since.

The Criminal Court scheduled a second hearing on Monday October 28 at 9:00am and issued new arrest warrant. The police wrote to Speaker Abdulla Shahid to turn Ghafoor over, but Shahid cited Article 11 of the Parliamentary Privileges and Powers Act and said Ghafoor could not be summoned to court during Majlis hours.

Speaker obliged to protect MPs, says Majlis

Ghafoor’s lawyer Hussein Shameem said his client would appeal the Criminal Court’s “unlawful” arrest warrants at the High Court, saying that the Criminal Court had not followed due process.

Shameem also argued the state had no grounds to prosecute Ghafoor as there was no legal evidence of the police having requested a urine sample. According to the Drug Act, the police are to ask for a urine sample in writing and obtain a signature from the accused if they refuse to provide a sample, he claimed.

Shameem has written to Prosecutor General (PG) Ahmed Muizz to review the case due to “procedural issues” and to carry out the PG’s duty to uphold the constitutional order and the law as per Article 223 of the constitution by taking action against the courts for issuing unlawful summons.

Ghafoor told Minivan News on Sunday that he was willing to stay inside the Majlis premises “until the judiciary is destroyed.”

“Now I know how helpless ordinary citizens are. I feel like I’m being hunted by a corrupt judiciary. You don’t feel good when you are being singled out. You feel like prey. You can never relax,” Ghafoor said.

The MDP has condemned the judiciary’s attempts to “purge” its MPs. On Thursday (October 24), the Supreme Court, in a controversial ruling, stripped MDP MP Ali Azim and DRP MP Mohamed Nashiz of their parliamentary seats over decreed debt.

Eight other MDP MPs are currently being investigated for contempt of court and disobedience to order. MP Abdulla Jabir is also being tried for refusal to provide a urine sample and possession of alcohol.

Meanwhile, former Attorney General Azima Shakoor has criticized Majlis Speaker Abdulla Shahid for allegedly helping MPs evade courts by harboring those who had committed criminal acts inside the Majlis building. Azima was voted out of office in a no confidence motion on Tuesday.

A Majlis secretariat statement has refuted the allegations, arguing that the speaker is constitutionally obliged to protect MPs.

“The People’s Majlis Speaker assures all the citizens he will uphold the rights and privileges enshrined in the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act for all Members of Parliament without any political bias,” it said.

The Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU) has expressed alarm over the prosecution of MPs and is to send an urgent IPU delegation to the Maldives.

“I propose that an IPU delegation returns urgently to the Maldives to discuss and agree with the relevant authorities and stakeholders effective steps to ensure that the parliament can fully discharge its legislative and oversight functions freely and independently and that its members can do their work unhindered, without fear of intimidation and harassment or attack on their physical integrity,” said the Secretary General Anders B. Johnsson.

MDP MP Ahmed Easa has submitted an amendment to the Drug Act to reduce the jail time for refusal to provide a urine sample from one year to 15 days. Easa said the specific article in the Drug Act was being used unfairly for politically motivated reasons.

Speaking to local media, the National Drug Agency’s CEO Ahmed Shahid spoke against the amendment, claiming that reducing the sentence for refusal to provide urine would obstruct identifying drug abusers and providing treatment for drug abuse.


MDP Spokesperson charged for refusing to give urine sample to police

The Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) has charged Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Spokesperson MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor for refusing to give a urine sample to police in a case last year in which a group of MDP politicians were arrested on an uninhabited island and charged with alcohol and drug possession.

The PGO’s lawyers told the Criminal Court that Ghafoor was arrested on November 16 last year in connection with a drugs case, and said he had refused to give a urine sample and had therefore violated the Drug Act.

Ghafoor’s lawyer told the court that she could only respond to the charges on behalf of her client after receiving the relevant documents. The presiding judge, Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed, told her these would be provided and scheduled the next hearing for October 9.

Ghafoor was arrested yesterday (September 30) in the afternoon ahead of his court hearing. He was released following the hearing.

Ghafoor is also accused in another case before the court concerning possession and consumption of alcohol and cannabis.

A total of 10 people were taken into police custody on 16 November 2012 after police raided and searched Hondaidhoo with a court warrant. Officers alleged they found large amounts of suspected drugs and alcohol upon searching the island.

On 22 August 2013, criminal court media official Ahmed Mohamed Manik confirmed the PG had charged MDP MP Abdulla Jabir, Ghafoor, and Jadhulla Jameel with smuggling alcohol into the country and consuming it, as well as possession of cannabis and objecting to urine testing.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair and his wife Mariyam Faiza were also charged for objecting to take urine tests, said Manik.

Two Sri Lankan nationals named Raj Mohan and Anoor Bandaranayk, as well as a Bangladeshi named Suhail Rana, were also taken into custody following the island raid. Their cases have not been filed at the Prosecutor General’s (PG) Office.

According to the Drug Act, Sections 123(a), 161(a), and 161(b), any person arrested on suspicion of having abused alcohol or narcotics has an obligation to comply with police requests for routine urine examination by promptly providing urine samples, and failure to comply is a criminal offence punishable by a one year jail sentence.

Additionally, the son of Nasheed’s former special envoy, Mohamed Hamdhoon Zaki,  has been charged for trafficking illegal drugs into the country – the penalty for which is 25 years and a fine of up to MVR 10 million (US$650,000).


“I told them to surrender; otherwise Nasheed might lose his life”, Umar Naseer tells PPM rally

The Deputy Leader of Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) Umar Naseer has claimed that he warned the close aides of Former President Mohamed Nasheed during the unrest of February 7 that Nasheed “might lose his life” if he did not comply with the calls for his resignation.

“I kept telling them to surrender or else you might even lose your life. I kept telling them repeatedly,” he said, adding that Nasheed had asked for security guarantees for his family.

There are also videos of the ex-colonel and former assistant police commissioners going into the MNDF headquarters, coming out and addressing the crowd, informing them that Nasheed has been told to “immediately and unconditionally resign” and then escorting him to the President’s Office under military guard.

Umar made the remarks while addressing nearly 1,000 supporters of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s PPM party, gathered at Artificial Beach on Sunday night, in its first rally since Nasheed was ousted from office and appointment of Gayoom’s hardline supporters into the new cabinet formed by President Dr. Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik.

According to Umar, he was at the “commanding center” and mediating with Nasheed’s close aides, while political unrest escalated on Male’ during the late hours of February 6, as rogue elements of police  and  military joined the opposition protesters culminating into what the MDP claims was a coup.

“While the operation [protest] was going on that night, I was at the commanding center. I was talking to Nasheed’s close aides. I told them to surrender; otherwise [he] might lose life. I told them that repeatedly. But, firstly, they responded arrogantly saying they do not have to surrender [because] such a circumstance has arrived,” Umar claimed.

But around 8:30 the next morning, Umar claimed that Nasheed called him saying that he wanted to resign. Nasheed said that he would not participate in any political activities hereafter, Umar added.

“Nasheed called and said that he is prepared to resign. He requested arrangements to be made for him and his family to leave for somewhere else. I told him that it will be arranged and to prepare for resignation,” Umar claimed.

Following media coverage of those remarks, Umar released a statement today pointing out that he did not imply that President Nasheed’s life was threatened by police and Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF).

During the unrest, Umar said that he spoke to Former Defence Minister Tholhath Ibrahim Kaleyfaanu and told that their lives were in danger because of the large number of protestors on Republic Square.

“I said his life could be in danger because of the large number of people gathered there [Republican Square] and it seemed that police, MNDF did not have the capacity to control the crowd – not even us,” Umar said.

Umar said that “we feared from our hearts” that if the civilians [protesters] had entered the MNDF headquarters by using any means, Nashed, Tholhath and MNDF and police inside the building [at the time] would have been at danger.”

Nasheed and his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) have however denounced the legitimacy of the new government, and accused Dr Waheed of participating in the coup.

Meanwhile last night, some MDP supporters also took to the streets near parliament, where some MPs were staging a sit-in calling for the release of MDP MP Mohamed Rasheed, who was among those arrested from Addu for vandalising and setting fire to police and public property on February 8.

“Six of our MPs were taken away last night, I was badly beaten myself,” said MP Mariya Didi last evening, describing the aggression done to her by police forces. “I’ve got bruises all over. I’ve still got a black eye.”

Didi referenced her colleague MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik, who was flown to Sri Lanka following a police attack on a peaceful march around Male’ last week. “We’ve all been beaten up for many days in a room” by police and security forces, Didi summarised.

Although charges are being issued they appear to have no base. Didi compared the allegations made against her to those made during Gayoom’s administration. “The same politicians, the same members, are doing the same thing all over again. They think they can charge us with terror charges. If this is the case then we will get huge sentences of 12 years or more,” she said.

MP Hamid Abdul Gafoor seconded Mariya’s statements, adding, “This is a coup, there is no doubt about it, and we [MDP MPs] are feeling the brunt of it.

Gafoor claimed that many MDP MPs are blacklisted and unable to leave the Maldives, although officials have denied the existence of such a list.

Protesters last night put down their signs reading “You cannot terrorise our MPs” around 9:00pm and took up the cry “Lari Lari! Yes Sir!”, mocking the police as corrupt servants of opposition party leaders.

The protests continued without turning violent until 1:00am.

Rasheed was moved to house arrest today, along with three Addu city council members detained by the police.