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Gayoom and top judges found guilty of obstructing justice

The former president and two top judges were sentenced to 19 months in prison.

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A court Wednesday sentenced the Maldives former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to 19 months in prison after he was found guilty of obstructing justice.

Gayoom, Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and Justice Ali Hameed were charged for allegedly refusing to hand over their mobile phones for a police investigation. They denied the charge.

They were handed a prison term of one year, seven months and six days.

The trio were arrested on charges of plotting a coup, shortly after a state of emergency was declared on February 5 and following a Supreme Court order to release nine political prisoners.

They face numerous charges, which they have denied.

Condemnation of the trial, which went ahead despite a boycott from defence lawyers, was swift.

Amnesty International slammed the conviction as “politically motivated” and said the trial did not meet international standards, while MP Eva Abdulla urged people to use their vote in September’s presidential elections to “end injustice.”

The US ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives Atul Keshap also criticised the trial and its outcome, saying an unfair trial would always result in an unfair sentence, and former president Nasheed said Gayoom had been unjustly sentenced.

“The first president of Maldives was sentenced while (he was injured and) on a makeshift bed behind the army headquarters,” he tweeted.

“The second president had to spend the remainder of his life in exile. The third president was kept in jail for three months before he was unjustly sentenced today. We have to change the Maldives.”

– ‘Grave defects’ –

Prosecutor Aishath Muna Shameem told the court during closing arguments that the testimony and evidence submitted established beyond a doubt that all three were guilty of obstructing justice.

Saeed and Hameed refused the opportunity to give a closing argument, saying the trial was being conducted without legal representation for the three defendants. All defence lawyers had walked out of the trial over its “grave procedural defects.”

Judge Hassan Najeeb pressed ahead with the trial despite the walk-out and appeals by defendants to be given time to appoint new lawyers.

Key stages of the trial, including witness testimony for the prosecution, were conducted without defence lawyers.

Najeeb declared he saw no reason to call defence witnesses.

Gayoom categorically denied all the charges levelled against him. He said the trial breached established laws and legal procedures and that his right to appoint a lawyer was being restrained by the court.

He also said that anonymous testimony was not something Islamic law allowed for. Four of the state’s eight witnesses testified anonymously. The remaining four were policemen.

One of the anonymous witnesses had previously testified against Saeed and Hameed in a separate trial on a different charge. The justices objected to the testimony, saying it had already been used to convict them for another crime.

But Najeeb allowed the testimony.

Another claimed to have acted as an intermediary between Gayoom and Hameed, saying documents had been exchanged and that the pair had spoken to each other on numerous occasions.

The policemen who gave evidence said the defendants denied having their mobile phones. They also told the court no mobile phones were found on the three defendants or at their homes when they were arrested.

– Five-minute recess –

Najeeb declared the trio guilty after closing arguments and a five-minute recess.

He said it was clear from the anonymous testimonies that the defendants had mobile phones and that their refusal to comply with a police investigation and requests to hand over devices – whether they were evidence or not – was an obstruction of justice.

The prosecution pressed for a sentence of 18 months as allowed for in the penal code, saying there was no reason to lengthen the term beyond it.

Najeeb justified the trial’s conduct, saying the defendants were given all the rights as prescribed in law including the right to lawyers and enough time to prepare for trial.

The court proactively decided to void all law-practicing licences and religious sermon licences held by the three as part of the sentence.

Saeed and Hameed have been convicted on a number of different charges. Wednesday’s conviction was Gayoom’s first since his arrest.

This article has been updated.

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