Nasheed’s legal team files High Court case to defer trial until after elections

Former President Mohamed Nasheed’s legal team filed a case with the High Court today (March 24) regarding the deferment of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court criminal case until after the September presidential election.

Nasheed is facing criminal charges over the controversial detention of Chief Judge of Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed during the last days of his presidency.

Nasheed’s legal team previously requested the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court delay the trial until the end of the scheduled presidential elections in 2013, and in a separate request, asked the Hulhumale’ court for a delay in proceedings by four weeks, during the March 7 Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court hearing.

At the same hearing, state prosecutors said they did not object to delaying the trial until presidential elections scheduled for September this year are over.

The Hulhumale’ court dismissed the request to delay the trial until the end of the elections, but agreed to withhold it for four weeks, stating that the panel of judges by majority “had decided to proceed with the trial”.

Nasheed’s lawyers subsequently contested the decision, claiming that continuing the trial could compromise the rights of many people, arguing that Nasheed was the presidential candidate of the largest political party in the country, the MDP.

However, the court stated that Nasheed’s claim he was the presidential candidate of a political party lacked legal grounds to support it, as presidential candidates were decided by the Elections Commission after it opened the opportunity to file presidential candidates.

Filing of presidential candidates is expected to take place in July.

High Court case submission

Nasheed’s legal team submitted a case to the High Court at approximately 10:20 this morning (March 24) to defer the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court criminal case until after the September presidential election, MDP Spokesperson Imthiyaz ‘Inthi’ Fahmy told Minivan News.

“Now the court has to formally accept the case, which will happen at a later date,” stated Fahmy.

“We expect that prior to the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court hearing, the High Court should have a decision and will ask the lower court to halt the case,” he added.

Nasheed’s legal team confirmed with Minivan News that the case has been submitted to the High Court.

“This is not an appeal. We submitted a case to the High Court for the deferment of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court case until the election is over,” said one of Nasheed’s lawyers, Hifaan Hussain.

“The court accepted the documents, but we are waiting for the court to accept and register the case,” she explained.

Hussain explained a reply from the High Court will likely be issued within three days and once the case is accepted it should take about a month to complete.

She expects the High Court to grant the deferment of lower court’s case against Nasheed until the presidential election is over.

President Nasheed’s Spokesperson MP Mariya Didi is also confident the High Court will grant the deferment.

“The prosecution has said they have no objection to deferment of the trial until after the elections,” Didi stated.

“I don’t see any reason why the court should not grant deferment when the prosecutor has no objection to it,” she added.

Politicising  justice

The MDP maintain that the charges are a politically-motivated attempt to prevent Nasheed from contesting elections in September, and have condemned the former President’s repeated arrest on the court’s order by squads of masked special operations police.

Speaking during a party rally held earlier in March, President Nasheed stated that the four-week break granted by the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court until the next hearing was an opportunity for state institutions to decide on the matter.

“Delaying trial for just four weeks has no meaning. There is no reason for it nor does it help anyone. We want the trial to be delayed till the elections are over. [The prosecution] gave one month and said that they did not object to further delays,” Nasheed told his supporters.

Nasheed said that it was very clear that charge of arresting the judge was not a charge against him alone, but several others as well.

He also warned that if the magistrate court issued a verdict that would bar him from contesting the elections, a lot of people would rise up against the decision and trigger a “very dangerous political insurgency”.

Didi also highlighted the large number of Maldivians continuing to support Nasheed, speaking with Minivan News today.

“It is clear that 46,000 Maldivians have decided President Nasheed is their presidential candidate. Our campaigns show that President Nasheed will win the elections with a clear majority.

“The coup has set us back not only with regard to democracy and human rights, but in regard to investor confidence and development.

“Our international development partners have also urged the government to take account of the wishes of the people and to hold an inclusive election with – as the European Union put it – the chosen candidate of MDP Mohamed Nasheed being able to contest the elections.

“We cannot waste another five years with a government that lacks a democratic mandate,” Didi declared.

Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court legitimacy questioned

During the early-March MDP rally, Nasheed also criticised the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) stating that the problem with Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court was not just the panel of judges. He alleged that the JSC had formulated the bench and have now been forcing administrative staff of the court to do specific things to impact the trial.

Parliament’s Independent Commissions Oversight Committee has been investigating the legitimacy of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court, specifically the appointment of judges by the JSC.

Deputy Speaker of Parliament Ahmed Nazim told local media on Friday (March 22) that a notice had been sent to Gasim Ibrahim – who is a Majlis-appointed JSC member and also the presidential candidate for Jumhoree Party (JP) – regarding a case to remove him from his JSC post.

The parliamentary committee summoned all members of the JSC to attend the committee on Wednesday (March 20) to face questions regarding the manner in which judges were appointed to the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court bench.

Another committee meeting is scheduled to take place tonight (March 24).

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, also raised concerns over the politicisation of the JSC during her investigative visit to the Maldives this February.

As part of a wider review of the Maldives justice system, Knaul claimed that the JSC – mandated with the appointment, transfer and removal of judges – was unable to perform its constitutional duty adequately in its current form.

As well as recommendations to address what she said were minimal levels of public “trust” in the nation’s judicial system, Knaul also addressed matters such as the trial of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

Nasheed is currently facing trial for his detention of Chief Judge of Criminal Court last year, charges he claims are politically motivated to prevent him from contesting presidential elections later this year.

Knaul maintained that the former president, like every other Maldivian citizen, should be guaranteed a free and independent trial.