Criminal Court delays religious scholar Sheikh Fareed’s trial

The Criminal Court has decided to delay the trial of controversial religious scholar Sheikh Ibrahim Fareed after the state lawyers told the court they wanted to withdraw the case.

According to local media, state lawyers told the Prosecutor Genral’s (PG) Office  had decided to withdraw the case because too much time has passed since Fareed had committed the offense.

Sheikh Fareed was charged for conducting religious sermons in some islands of Haa Dhaalu Atoll after the government cancelled his permission to preach in 2007. The last hearing in to the case was held on 30 January 2011.

Lawyers told the Criminal Court that the PG Office had sent letters to the court informing of the decision to withdraw charges, but the court had refused to accept the letters. Instead, the letters were handed to the judge during today’s hearing.

The judge told the state prosecutor there were many charges the PG Office should withdraw if charges against Fareed are to be dismissed, and said the PG Office should treat everyone equally when dealing with such matters.

The judge also said that the PG Office cannot decide to withdraw cases filed at the court with the ongoing leadership vacuum at the PG office.

The Criminal Court will only accept the withdrawal if the new PG wished to withdraw charges, the judge said. A next hearing will be held after a new PG is appointed by the new parliament, he added.

When charges were first filed against Sheikh Fareed, the President of Islamic Foundation of Maldives (IFM) Ibrahim Fauzy told Minivan News that Fareed was arrested alongside many MDP delegates while he was aboard a boat traveling from Thinadhoo in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll in the year 2007.

”The former Religious Unity Act is contradictory to the new constitution, it is not acceptable to charge Sheikh Fareed over this issue,” said Fauzy. ”It is all related to politics. The former government confiscated his permission to preach, and later he only spoke at political rallies when he was in the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).”

Sheikh Fareed was arrested several times during the former regime for his participation in anti-governmental protests. According to the local media, he was also once charged with terrorism but acquitted.

In 2007 he was the vice president of MDP religious council but resigned after alleging that the party was against Islam.


Criminal cases in PG leadership absence unconstitutional, says Drug Court judge

Any trials of criminal cases in the absence of a prosecutor general (PG) and a deputy PG violates the constitution, Drug Court Judge Mahaz Ali has said.

Writing on his personal blog, Mahaz disagreed with the attorney general’s (AG) recent suggestion that the official in the senior most position at the PG office must take over the PG’s responsibilities.

AG Mohamed Anil claimed the country was in the midst of a “state of necessity” in the aftermath of acting PG Hussain Shameem’s resignation earlier this week.

The doctrine of necessity is the basis on which extra-legal actions by state actors, designed to restore order, are deemed constitutional.

Both the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and the Maldives Bar Association have also spoken out against the government’s stance on the matter.

State of necessity

Mahaz wrote that the state of necessity argument was valid only if there was no legal solution, suggesting that there was no reason President Abdulla Yameen could not propose a name for approval by the People’s Majlis.

“A state of necessity is faced only when all legal avenues have been exhausted. In the current situation, the solution is to appoint a new prosecutor general. The current People’s Majlis is not in a situation where it cannot carry out its duties,” wrote the judge.

“The authority that must nominate a candidate [the President] is able to do so. Unless these two parties are in a state in which they cannot carry out their constitutional duties, a state of necessity will not be faced in the prosecutor general’s case.”

Although Shameem has called on the executive and People’s Majlis to approve a PG immediately, President Yameen said he will only submit a new nominee to the newly elected house – set to convene on May 28.

After a drawn out nomination process, Yameen’s previous choice for the role – his nephew, Maumoon Hameed – failed to gain the required number of votes in parliament last month. In contrast to the previous session, pro-government parties will enjoy a healthy majority in the 18th Majlis.

Judge Mahaz argued that the Supreme Court order on 6 February – which ordered criminal courts to accept cases filed by the PG’s Office – did not provide a solution, only mentioning how to act in absence of a PG. The Supreme Court order was prompted by the Criminal Court’s January decision to refuse new cases until a new appointment was made.

Mahaz also referred to previous case law regarding the Attorney General’s Office, noting that no superior court had deemed similar instances to be ‘situations of necessity’ requiring the next in line to take charge of the office.

In July 2010, the eight Civil Court judges unanimously decided they would not proceed with civil cases in the absence of an AG following then-AG Husnu Suood’s resignation.

Violation of independence

The Bar Association of the Maldives has also joined the debate, arguing that the AG’s advise was inconsistent with the Prosecutor General Act, and that Shameem’s resignation had created a leadership vacuum.

The resignation of the deputy PG while the position of PG was vacant had left the office with no official who could now assume its legal responsibilities, the association said, arguing state prosecutors cannot represent the PG in the courts in the current situation.

“Given that the prosecutor general’s position is an independent and impartial position, this office believes the government’s exertion of influence by ordering state prosecutors to attend courts is a violation of the office’s independence,” the association said in a statement.

Despite the Prosecutor General’s Act requiring the appointment of a new PG within 30 days of the position’s vacancy, Shameem has headed the office for over five month’s following the resignation of his predecessor Ahmed Muiz in November.

The Criminal Court was forced to cancel more than 100 cases last week as state prosecutors refused to attend hearings, doubting their current legal capacity to represent the PG’s Office.

The Hithadhoo Court in Addu City is conducting criminal trials, however, and is issuing verdicts in the absence of a state prosecutor. Court officials told local media on Thursday that they did not accept the justification of absence put forth by lawyers from the PG’s Office.

In his resignation statement, Deputy PG Shameem had said he was unable to fulfill his duties due to the Criminal Court’s failure to prosecute foreigners involved in drug trafficking, delays in issuing rulings on drug related offenses, and “unreasonable obstacles” in filing cases at the court.

The President’s Office put out a third call for names this week, claiming the previous number of applicants had been low during the second call. Shameem had expressed interest in the position both times, while local media has speculated that a third call will allow Hameed to resubmit his application.

The MDP has also commented on the current situation, accusing President Yameen of nepotism:

“In contravention to principles of good governance in democratic countries, it is evident is more for the president in this current state to appoint his nephew or other relatives to the position of Prosecutor General.”


New police policy to protect identity of suspects until prosection

The police have introduced a new policy which will protect the identity of persons taken into police custody until the Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) charges them in court.

Newspaper Haveeru has reported a police media official as saying that the police will no longer reveal the names of suspects arrested before they are officially charged in the court – though it was noted that this policy remains at the discretion of senior officers.

The paper noted that police had not revealed the names of suspects arrested in connection with the stabbing of former MP for Feydhoo constituency Alhan Fahmy.

Haveeru reported that the official told the paper that the new policy was made after an agreement signed between the police and PGO.


Police to charge MDP activist for planning civic disruption on March 19, 2012

Police have charged 43 year-old Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) activist Shiyan ‘Shiyalhey’ Shafeeq for disrupting public order, creating instability, planning arson attacks and assaulting security services during a city-wide protest on March 19, 2012.

Police alleged Shiyan not only planned the attacks but also was involved in committing these crimes. The case was forwarded to the Prosecutor General’s Office on July 14, police said.

Shiyalhey has been arrested several times previously on charges of disrupting public order and creating violence during political demonstrations.

The MDP held the March 19 protest to disrupt President Mohamed Waheed’ s attempt to give the opening address to parliament. Waheed had been sworn in just over a month earlier, following the controversial resignation of President Mohamed Nasheed

A group of 200 anti-government protesters replete with MDP and Maldivian national flags staged a sit down demonstration outside Majeediyya school near the parliament in protest over the President delivering his address, while inside the parliament chamber MDP MP’s barricaded the door to prevent the new president from entering.

The charges followed the high court’s recent upholding of a seven year prison term for eight men accused of throwing stones at the government-aligned VTV station on the day of the protests.

Appealing the sentence, Hameed argued that it was extraordinary practice for the court to impose the maximum possible sentence on a first time offender with no criminal record.

However the High Court, noting that the sentence was three to seven years, deferred to the discretion of the Criminal Court judge.

VTV is owned by MP Gasim Ibrahim, a resort tycoon, presidential candidate and member of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) tasked with disciplining the judiciary.