Two more May Day detainees sentenced

Two more May Day detainees sentenced
August 08 12:00 2016

The criminal court has convicted two men charged with assaulting a police officer during a historic anti-government protest on May Day and handed them a seven-year prison sentence.

Ibrahim Ibadh was found guilty on Sunday of grabbing Sergeant Abdul Rahman Hussain’s baton and hitting him with it and Ibrahim Rasheed was found guilty of beating the officer with a cone and a helmet.

The pair were convicted of aiding and abetting assault using a dangerous weapon.

A third man, Ahmed Unais, was acquitted.

The three were among 15 protesters charged with assault on May Day. With Sunday’s sentences, only one of the May Day detainees now remain in pretrial detention.

Six others, including a mother of a two young children, were handed five-year jail terms in July, and two were acquitted. The court had sentenced one man in March and released two others earlier.

The opposition has criticised the sentences as unfair and disproportionate, noting that some were sentenced for tackling the officer and throwing an empty plastic bottle at him.

“The detainees were denied the lowest sentence as first-time offenders,” the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party said, describing the sentences “as an escalation in a sweeping assault on human rights defenders and political activists in the country.”

The verdicts come amid an opposition effort to rally supporters to once again remove President Abdulla Yameen from office.

The 20,000-strong May Day rally, held over the jailing of opposition leaders, was the largest anti-government demonstration in Maldivian history. Nearly 200 protesters, including leaders of three allied opposition parties, were arrested. Scores were injured in violent clashes.

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.

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.

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

Proceedings were 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.

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.

The watchdog issued a report in July saying it had investigated 65 cases of custodial abuse in the past year, but found no evidence to back claims of torture.

It is unclear if the May Day cases were among them.

An HRCM official 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 is yet to be convicted of brutality.

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.