Six May Day protesters sentenced to five years in jail

Six May Day protesters sentenced to five years in jail
July 25 16:00 2016

Five men and one woman charged in connection with the assault of a police officer during a mass anti-government protest on May Day last year was sentenced today to five years in prison.

Nasira Ali, Ibrahim Laban Shareef, Farhath Ali, Abdulla Rasheed Mohamed, Umar Zahir, and Ahmed Ibrahim were convicted of aiding and abetting assault using a dangerous weapon.

The court said the prosecution’s evidence and witness testimony were sufficient to prove guilt. However, two co-defendants, Moosa Sharmeel and Ali Rasheed, were acquitted based on lack of evidence.

Today’s verdict comes nearly eight months after the court heard closing statements. The defendants have been in custody since early May last year.

Scores of protesters and two police officers were injured during violent clashes on May 1. The police at the time released video footage showing protesters kicking and hitting a fallen Specialist Operations officer over the head with his helmet and baton.

The court said Ibrahim Laban Shareef tackled Sergeant Abdul Rahman Hussain to the ground near the Iskandhar School on Chandhanee Magu.

According to the verdict, Abdulla Rasheed and Ahmed Ibrahim kicked the police officer.

Umar Zahir and Nasira Ali struck the officer with a water bottle and coca cola bottle, respectively, and Farhath Ali tried to remove the officer’s helmet.

The policeman had been flown to Sri Lanka for medical treatment after the assault. But lawyers representing the accused said the policeman only sustained minor bruising.

Some 15 suspects were arrested in connection with the assault in May 2015.

Four were charged with assault using a dangerous weapon, an offence that carries a seven-year jail term, and the rest were charged with aiding and abetting the crime, which carries a jail sentence of between three to five years.

Mohamed Iqbal, 50, was found guilty of assault last March and sentenced to seven years in prison whilst the criminal court acquitted one defendant, Usman Hussain, citing lack of evidence.

One of the six defendants convicted today, Ibrahim Laban Shareef, was the goalkeeper of football club Eagles. He was arrested three days after the mass rally when he arrived for practice at the Maafanu sports grounds in Malé.

His brother told The Maldives Independent last April that the family wrote numerous letters to state institutions and the courts over delays in reaching a verdict in Laban’s case.

The trials began on July 8 last year, and the court heard closing arguments at a final hearing on November 30.

Proceedings were also stalled after the presiding judge, Abdulla Mohamed, was demoted to the family court in February. The cases were then reassigned to different judges.

During the trial last year, the former chief judge of the criminal court had criticised the Prosecutor General’s decision to raise charges under a 2010 law banning the possession of dangerous weapons and sharp objects.

He observed that video footage shows protesters beating the fallen policeman with their hands and feet.

Amendments brought to the law by the ruling party-dominated parliament in late 2014 had meanwhile granted judges discretion to hold defendants in custody until the conclusion of a trial.

Nearly 200 protesters, including leaders of three allied opposition parties, were arrested on May Day.

The 25,000-strong rally was the largest anti-government demonstration in Maldivian history.

Eyewitnesses who saw the policeman being assaulted told The Maldives Independent at the time that other protesters, including former MP Ahmed Easa, had shoved off violent protesters, helped the officer to his feet, and took him back behind police lines.

The police were meanwhile accused of beating protesters during and after their arrest. Lawyers and the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party alleged that the police tortured and threatened to kill suspects arrested in connection with assaulting the SO officer.

After complaints were lodged, the Human Rights Commission of Maldives launched investigations into three cases of apparent brutality and custodial abuse.

An official from the human rights watchdog told The Maldives Independent in April that the commission had replied to the complainants but declined to say whether it recommended charges against police officers.

A single police officer has yet to be convicted of brutality.

In September, the criminal court acquitted a police officer charged with assaulting a protester during a crackdown on a protest march in February 2012, despite video evidence of the incident.

In February, Adhaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla was controversially found guilty of terrorism over a speech he gave at the May Day rally and sentenced to 12 years in prison.

Imran was accused of inciting violence with inflammatory allegations against President Abdulla Yameen and then-Tourism Ahmed Adeeb. The prosecution argued that the president of the religious conservative party must bear responsibility for the violent clashes.