The criminal court Thursday concluded preliminary hearings in blogger Yameen Rasheed’s murder trial.
Judge Ibrahim Ali granted the prosecution’s request to seal evidence. The court is due to hear anonymised testimony from witnesses when the trial begins next week.
The judge rejected pre-trial motions from defendant Ismail Rasheed, including requests to restart preliminary hearings and to delay the trial.
The prosecution objected to any delays as defence lawyers protested the decision to seal evidence.
“It’s hard to imagine what the state wants to hide. It’s been 1.5 years or 18 months since the murder,” said one of the defence lawyers.
“How can the accused destroy or influence evidence? The state shouldn’t hide the evidence, society needs to see this. This is not a joke, and it is not terrorism but is a very serious case. We harshly reject sealing evidence.”
Defence lawyers previously denied delaying tactics.
All nine members of the public who registered to observe Thursday’s hearing were allowed to attend, including two members from Yameen Rasheed’s family.
Preliminary hearings have been ongoing since September 2017, mostly behind closed doors. Yameen’s family was not allowed into the courtroom when the first open hearing took place in late July after a series of cancellations.
Family members attended a hearing for the first time last week.
The next hearing has been scheduled for 1pm on October 23. The prosecution is expected to present evidence.
The six defendants – Ismail Haisham Rasheed, Ahmed Zihan Ismail, Ismail Rasheed, Mohamed Dhifran, Hassan Shifaz, and Hussain Ziyad – deny the felony murder charges.
According to the prosecution, two of the suspects stabbed Yameen to death in the stairwell of his apartment on April 23 last year. The other suspects are accused of following Yameen and keeping watch outside.
A seventh suspect, Mohamed Yashfau Rasheed, was previously charged with aiding and abetting murder and transferred to house arrest.
The Prosecutor General’s office declined to press charges against an eighth suspect.
According to police, the group of radicalised young men believed the 29-year-old satirist and human rights defender was guilty of insulting Islam.
Police claimed to have found no evidence to suggest the attack was funded or organised by an outside group. But there was information “about people who fed them these ideas, or supported them in some form.”
Yameen’s family previously questioned the ability of the police to conduct an impartial and credible investigation due to the failure to convict or arrest suspects in the abduction of Maldives Independent journalist Ahmed Rilwan and the near-fatal attack on blogger Hilath Rasheed.
Like Yameen, both Rilwan and Hilath were prominent liberal voices against radicalisation.
Key pre-trial motions by defendant Ismail Rasheed:
- Request to restart preliminary hearings
- To cancel the charges against Ismail Rasheed, citing issues with charge form and with the investigation
- To file new charges against Ismail Rasheed separately
- Ismail Rasheed’s detention was unlawful because he was shifted between different jails and allegedly tortured
- Ismail Rasheed is being treated unfairly, because Mohamed Yashfau Rasheed has more evidence against him but he is not being charged alongside Rasheed
- If evidence is secret, he should be given time to get more defence witnesses
- To delay hearings until Ismail Rasheed has time to defend himself properly, citing difficulties in access to lawyers in prison