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.