Maldives: grossly unfair Nasheed conviction highlights judicial politicization

The conviction of the Maldives’ former president, Mohamed Nasheed, on terrorism charges after a grossly unfair trial marks a significant deterioration of the independence and impartiality of the country’s judiciary, said the ICJ.

On 13 March, Mr. Nasheed (photo) was sentenced to 13 years in prison for the dismissal and alleged unlawful detention of the Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, Mr. Abdullah Mohamed, in 2012, when Mr. Nasheed was president.

He was convicted of an “act…of kidnapping or abduction of person(s) or of taking hostage(s)” under Section 2(b) of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 1990.

“The Maldivian judiciary’s independence has been compromised for years by serious pressure from the government, and this grossly unfair conviction highlights the numerous problems with the politicization of the judiciary in the country,” said Sam Zarifi, the ICJ’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific. “It is crucial for Maldivian authorities to allow Mr. Nasheed to appeal his case effectively, with transparency and monitoring by Maldivian and international observers.”

The case’s pre-trial phase and trial were marked by gross violations of international standards of fair trial, including Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the Maldives acceded in 2006.

Two of the judges on the three-judge bench testified as witnesses against Mr. Nasheed in the 2012 investigation; these statements were submitted as evidence in the present trial.

Mr. Nasheed’s defense team was not allowed to be present on his behalf during the first proceeding, nor was he given the opportunity to seek bail.

The defense team was repeatedly denied full access to prosecution evidence and witnesses or to regularly consult with Mr. Nasheed during the course of the trial.

When Mr. Nasheed’s defense team recused itself in protest of the lack of fairness, the court proceeded with the trial without legal representation present for Mr. Nasheed rather than granting him the opportunity to obtain new counsel. The defense was also denied the opportunity to call its own witnesses.

Mr. Nasheed now has the right to appeal the conviction, but his right to appeal has been infringed by the unprecedented amendment of the statutory period for appeal from 90 days to 10 days, via Supreme Court circular six weeks prior to the trial.

In addition, the court has still not released to Mr. Nasheed’s defense team the full court record required to prepare and present an effective appeal within this accelerated timeframe.

The ICJ has previously documented the politicization of the judiciary and the polarized political climate in the Maldives, calling attention to a justice system characterized by vested interests and political allegiances rooted in the country’s authoritarian past (See Maldives: Securing an Independent Judiciary in a Time of Transition (February 2011)).

“Recent events reflect a justice system that still remains deeply politicized along the same lines of entrenched political loyalties that pre-date the transition period,” Zarifi said. “The Maldivian judiciary must allow a proper appeal in this case if it is to establish itself as a separate and equal branch of the government dedicated to supporting the rule of law.”

The ICJ urged Maldivian authorities to ensure Mr. Nasheed’s defense team full access and adequate opportunity to prepare an effective appeal, and to ensure that the appeal proceeding is conducted fairly and transparently, with full access to media and domestic and international observers, in compliance with fair trial and due process standards under both Maldivian and international law.

The Maldives must also take effective measures to ensure that such violations do not reoccur in this or future cases.

Background information can be downloaded here:

Maldives-Background Brief Nasheed Trial-Advocacy-Anylysis brief-2015-ENG (full text in PDF)

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