The criminal court has postponed the sentencing of 15 opposition supporters accused of protesting at the main international airport to August 6.
A sentence was expected on June 14, but the court delayed the hearing after presiding judge Sujau Usman was promoted to the High Court last week.
If the sitting judge in a case leaves the court, the case is immediately referred to the Chief Judge, who then has to allocate another judge to oversee the case.
“We still don’t know if a new judge has been allocated to the case. Even then, the new judge cannot immediately issue the sentence. He has to hear the case again,” said lawyer Nazim Sattar.
Some 14 women and one man are being charged with disobedience to order, after they were arrested carrying posters of imprisoned ex-president Mohamed Nasheed at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport in March.
The 15 belong to the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).
The Freedom of Assembly Act prohibits protests at airports and carries a MVR150 (US$10) fine, or six months in jail, house arrest or banishment.
Nazim contends the group’s actions do not constitute a protest.
“State witnesses include testimonies from the police officers who arrested the individuals. How can that be used to prove they were protesting?” Nazim questioned.
Malé City deputy mayor Shifa Mohamed and MDP women’s wing vice president Shaneez “Thanie” Saeed are among the defendants.
The criminal court had previously conditioned the group’s release from remand detention on avoiding protests. The High Court later said the court’s conditions are unconstitutional.
Shifa has previously accused the criminal court of misconduct and bias in the treatment of those arrested at protests, and said that the individuals are being punished for the same crime twice with the 60 day protest ban.
Judge Usman sat on the three-judge panel that sentenced ex-president Nasheed to 13 years in jail on terrorism charges. The trial was widely criticised for apparent lack of due process.