Hearings in the trial of six suspects accused of murdering liberal blogger Yameen Rasheed continue to be closed at the request of the Prosecutor General’s office.
PG office spokesman Ahmed Thaufeeg, who previously assured that public hearings will be held in the future, told the Maldives Independent that a hearing on Sunday afternoon was closed because it dealt with preliminary matters.
“The court is still holding pre-trial hearings, mostly to do with appointing lawyers and all,” he said.
The 29-year-old IT professional, satirist and Internet activist was stabbed to death on April 23 in the stairway of his apartment building in Malé.
Earlier this month, a group of 20 NGOs expressed concern with the secret proceedings, stressing that Article 42 of the constitution requires that all hearings and trials be conducted in an open and transparent manner.
But Thaufeeg previously told the Maldives Independent that the new criminal procedures law allows prosecutors to request secret proceedings “if they believe a circumstance that obstructs justice could arise in an open hearing”.
After Sunday’s hearing was also closed, Shahindha Ismail, executive director of the Maldivian Democracy Network, accused the PG office of abusing its discretion.
“This has not been done in murder cases before. As an innocent who received many threats was brutally murdered, the case is of great public interest, especially because he is not the only one who receives such threats,” she said.
“The constitution’s Article 42 deeply stresses the importance of open hearings and transparency, unless very narrow three circumstances arise. While I see no reason the trial needs to be hidden from the public, it also goes against the spirit of the constitution as well.”
The court cannot make such decisions based solely on the prosecution’s requests, she added.
“Decisions on how the trial will proceed are to be made by the court. It is not understandable for the PG office to get to decide how the trial will be carried out every time,” she said.
According to the police, Yameen Rasheed’s murder was religiously motivated. The group of seven young men believed he deserved to be killed for blasphemy or insulting Islam, the police previously said.
But Superintendent Ahmed Shifan, the police spokesman, told News.inAsia last week that the problem of extremism in the Maldives was “grossly exaggerated.”
“Radicalisation is at the individual level. There is no Wahabi institution or group as such here. It is not a group or mass phenomenon,” he was quoted as saying.
“All mosques in the country are run by the government. There is no private mosque. And those who deliver sermons are government approved. So we know what is said. Besides there are no Wahhabi organizations in the Maldives.”
He blamed radicalisation on “teachers who have had their Islamic education in countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan.”
Shifan said the government is putting such teachers into re-orientation programmes. “We also educate the public through outreach programmes going to the remotest atolls,” he claimed.
Photo from Raajje TV