The presiding judge in the murder trial of liberal blogger Yameen Rasheed expressed concern on Monday over delays caused by forced cancellations.
Monday’s hearing was called off after defence lawyer Ahmed Yameen took a sick leave and informed the court.
The court was due to hear testimony from two prosecution witnesses.
Judge Ali Rasheed Hussain expressed concern over multiple delays and reprimanded defence lawyers. The team representing the six defendants should not request postponements when only one member was unavailable, he said.
Rasheed also warned against further delays and vowed to submit a complaint to the newly-instituted Bar Council if he was forced to postpone another hearing without reasonable justification.
The trial will resume on Monday next week, the judge announced.
Yameen Rasheed, a satirist and IT professional, was stabbed to death on April 23, 2017. The 29-year-old’s killing attracted international media attention and drew widespread condemnation. Suspects were arrested within a week but Yameen’s grieving family despaired as police refused to accept a petition, blocked marches calling for answers, and the criminal court held hearings in secret.
The six defendants – Ismail Haisham Rasheed, Ahmed Zihan Ismail, Ismail Rasheed, Mohamed Dhifran, Hassan Shifaz, and Hussain Ziyad – pleaded not guilty to the felony murder charges.
According to police, the group of radicalised young men believed Yameen was guilty of insulting Islam.
At the previous hearing on July 15, the court reportedly heard testimony from two police officers who took Yameen’s body to hospital.
The prosecution also wanted to call the two policemen who first attended the crime scene. But neither could be summoned as both were posted outside the capital. The judge said he would try to arrange for them to testify via video conference.
Pre-trial proceedings in the case were concluded in October after a series of closed-door hearings. Yameen’s family was not allowed into the courtroom when the first open hearing took place in late July last year after a series of cancellations.
Family members attended a hearing for the first time in early October.
In March, Husnu Suood, chair of a presidential commission formed to investigate unresolved murders, confirmed long-held suspicions about religious motives and the involvement of radicalised gangs.
He told a CPJ researcher that the attempted murder of blogger Ismail Khilath Rasheed in June 2012, the assassination of moderate religious scholar MP Afrasheem Ali in October 2012, the abduction of Maldives Independent journalist Ahmed Rilwan in August 2014, and Yameen’s murder were carried out by the same extremist group.
All four were accused of being laadheenee (secular or anti-Islamic).