The fourth hearing in President Nasheed’s surprise trial for alleged ‘terrorism’ will commence at 10 pm Wednesday 4 March at the Criminal Court in Male’, as his lawyer expressed concerns that have been given insufficient time to prepare their case.
The former President’s legal team have frequently asked the bench for more time to mount a credible defence. But the three presiding judges – two of whom are doubling as prosecution witnesses – have repeatedly denied the lawyers adequate preparation time.
President Nasheed was arrested on 22 February; his trial under new charges of ‘terrorism’ began the very next day.
During his first hearing, his legal team were barred from court and President Nasheed was forced to represent himself.
In the second and third hearings, held on 26 February and 2 March respectively, President Nasheed’s legal team appealed for adequate time to prepare their case. But the judges have so far refused.
In the 2 March hearing, the legal team requested that they be given 30 days to mount a credible defence. The presiding judges gave them one day, scheduling the next hearing for 4 March.
President Nasheed’s trial has been plagued by irregularities since it began.
He has repeatedly been denied the right to legal counsel, denied the right to appeal, and denied medical attention when he was dragged into court, and injured in the process, by police.
On 2 March, the presiding bench waved away the concerns of President Nasheed’s lawyers, who objected that two of the presiding judges, and the Prosecutor General, are also acting as prosecution witnesses.
The judges also warned President Nasheed’s legal team not to speak to journalists in a “manner that might defame the judiciary.”
Commenting on the ongoing trial, Maldivian Democratic Party spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said:
“Nobody believes this trial is fair. The court is completely and blatantly politicised.
“This sham trial is nothing more than a mechanism for President Yameen to harass his political opponents.”
President Nasheed is the Maldives’ first democratically-elected president. He was elected into office in 2008, bringing to an end the 30-year dictatorship of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
In February 2012, President Nasheed was ousted in a coup, after mutinying police and army personnel overrun the institutions of state.
In the first round of presidential elections in 2013, President Nasheed received 45% of the vote to Yameen’s 25%. But the Supreme Court constantly meddled in the election – repeatedly annulling, cancelling and postponing the ballot in order to favour the candidacy of Yameen, Gayoom’s half-brother, who went on to assume the presidency.
On January 24 2015, Gasim Ibrahim, who polled third in the first round of the 2013 elections with 24% of the vote, and his party the JP, quit Yameen’s coalition government and sided with President Nasheed and his party, the MDP.
In quitting the governing coalition, Gasim cited President Yameen’s continued attempts to undermine the rule of law and institutions of democracy, including the sacking and harassment of members of the Elections Commission.
In recent weeks, President Yameen’s allies in parliament announced plans to put an upper age limit for those running for President, which would bar Gasim from competing in the 2018 presidential elections.
On February 10 2015, Yameen’s Defense Minister, Colonel (Ret.) Mohamed Nazim, was arrested following a power struggle within government. He has been taken to Dhoonidhoo Detention Centre and faces charges of treason.