The Criminal Court has given Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Mohamed Rasheed ‘Matrix Mode’ the opportunity to appoint an attorney to defend himself from charges of terrorism.
The MP for mid-Hithadhoo constituency, along with 43 other protesters including a city councillor from Addu City, are facing terrorism charges for their involvement in the events that took place on February 8, a day after controversial transfer of power in the Maldives.
Following the controversial transfer of power on February 7, thousands of MDP supporters, led by ousted president Mohamed Nasheed, took to the streets opposing the newly installed regime, claiming that it was an illegitimate government installed during a police and military mutiny.
The protesters were met with a violent police crackdown that saw numerous protesters injured and detained, including ousted President Nasheed himself.
Retaliatory protests spread across the country including the southern MDP stronghold of Addu, where Mayor Abdulla Sodig was beaten by protesters and taken to the Addu regional hospital. Several government buildings including police stations and courts were set ablaze during the chaos.
Out of the 43 people now facing criminal charges, hearings for 36 protesters have been previously carried out. None have yet been sentenced.
During Sunday’s hearing, Rasheed and another participant of the events of February 8 were given three days to appoint an attorney to represent them in court.
The state attorney did not read the charges in the hearing, but the Prosecutor General (PG) earlier told local media that Rasheed was charged for allegedly threatening police on the Seenu Gan course way.
He is also charged with inciting violence and calling upon protesters to attack Seenu Gan Police Station and the officers there, and calling for people to attack the Feydhoo Magistrate Court and Hithadhoo Police Station, the PG said.
The PG also said that the MDP MP was charged under article 2(f) and 2(g) of the Anti-terrorism Act, and also article 6 of the same act.
If Rasheed is found guilty of the charges, he will face a sentence of 10 to 15 years imprisonment or banishment, which will cost him his seat in the parliament.
After the hearing, in a brief statement given to media, Rasheed rebutted the charges stating that he “was not someone who would attack on public property”.
“I am one of those people who worked very hard to bring developments to Addu City during the tenure of [former] President Mohamed Nasheed. Why would I call upon the people to do something to destroy that? I do not believe this,” he said.
He further stated that the supporters of the current government and the media outlets that are politically aligned to government had continuously accused him of being a terrorist, but said the case itself revealed that he was not a terrorist.
“It is only today I have come to know of the charges. Government aligned newspapers, police and senior officials of this government including ministers and the Presidents’ office spokesperson are accusing me of setting ablaze public property and carrying out terrorist attacks,” he said.
“But according to the charges levied up against me, it is not true. The criminal charges do not mention that I did such things, instead the case is built on what I said,” he added.
Last August the PG pressed terrorism charges against more than 40 individuals accused of setting the Seenu Gan police station on fire on February 8, including many MDP activists and elected officials.
The former ruling MDP condemned the “false charges” pressed against “elected representatives of the people of Addu City” and a number of citizens as “politically motivated”.
In a statement, the party said that it believed the charges represented “a deliberate attempt by the regime to destabilise the country”.
“Aside from politically motivated legal action, senior members of Dr Waheed’s regime, including Home Minister Mohamed Jameel, have publicly stated that the regime will arrest President Nasheed and ensure he spends the rest of his life in jail. These statements have been made despite the fact that a trial has not taken place, and while the Minister himself has stated that the ‘judiciary seems to be operating wantonly… and needs to increase public confidence,’” the statement read.
The government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan has promised that action would be taken against the “terrorist acts” of the protesters and will be brought to justice.
No action has been taken against the police accused of brutality in the February 8 crackdown, however one officer indicted by the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) has since received two promotions.