The country’s highest-ranking judge was Tuesday found guilty of obstruction of state function and sentenced to four months and 24 days in prison.
Abdulla Saeed, who became the first chief justice in Maldivian history to face criminal prosecution, was accused of ordering the suspension of the government’s e-letter management system (GEMS) to block the delivery of three letters.
“Judgment day is ahead,” said Saeed, his voice resonating through the silent courtroom as Judge Ibrahim Ali concluded the trial.
Saeed stood up and turned towards the reporters and members of the public at the back of the room. “I have attained the status of shaheed (martyr),” he said. With his right hand resting on his chest he smiled and added: “I am still alive.”
The hearing opened with Ali reading out the guilty verdict, distress flashing across Saeed’s face. It said that evidence and testimony proved Saeed had ordered the halt of GEMS on February 4 and 5.
Ali declared the defence was unable to present evidence and witnesses to rule out the charge. Out of the four defence witnesses, only one testified and another did not appear for the testimony hearing.
The court refused to summon the other two defence witnesses – Justice Ali Hameed and judicial administrator Hassan Saeed – who were present when Saeed was said to have made the order. They are also on trial in connection with an alleged coup plot.
Defence lawyers appealed for a lighter sentence as Saeed had no previous criminal convictions and had already been in custody for two months and and four days.
But state prosecutors said the sentence should only be decreased if Saeed had confessed in court and Ali ruled in favour of the state, handing down the maximum prison sentence for the charge.
Defence lawyer Hisaan Hussain said the verdict and sentence would be appealed at the High Court.
A recent amendment to the Judges Act requires an appeal to be filed within 10 days and compels the top courts to conclude appeals within 30 days.
If the High Court and Supreme Court uphold the conviction, Saeed will be removed from judgeship.
Before leaving the courtroom Saeed shook hands with his lawyers, smiled and lifted his hand to greet media and members of public.
— ‘Judgement Day’ —
There were mixed reactions to the verdict. Some criticised the court and judiciary, while others slammed Saeed for his comments at the trial.
“One contract out of the three which were asked to be finalised within 45 days is done. Can you stay in your coffins with that position and money?” asked opposition activist Aminath Nadhira.
“Only now he realises?,” lawyer Nazim Sattar tweeted along with an article titled “Chief Justice to the Judge: Judgement Day is ahead”.
“Allah commands you render trust to whom it is due and when you judge between people to judge with justice,” MP Mohamed Ameeth tweeted a verse of the Quran with its Dhivehi translation.
“Before we run out of time, we must realise that Judgement Day is waiting. Or else there will be no benefit,” Sheikh Mohamed Iyaz said in a tweet.
Earlier in the day, British Ambassador to the Maldives James Dauris had tweeted about the ongoing trials in the Maldives.
“Leaving Maldives having heard so many people’s concerns that the court rules and procedures are being ignored in the ongoing trials of senior judges and political leaders. Citizens in every country need the courts to act as independent and impartial checks on power.”
— ‘Fabricated’ charge —
Saeed was arrested hours after Yameen invoked emergency powers on February 5, citing a plot to remove him from office and a “constitutional crisis” triggered by the court’s shock ruling.
Several constitutional rights and legal provisions that protected judges from arrest were suspended before security forces stormed the Supreme Court.
His conviction will trigger automatic removal from the bench if the verdict is upheld by the appeal courts.
Controversial legal changes were pushed through in March to remove convicted judges without the parliamentary vote called for by the constitution, which requires a two-thirds majority to approve a finding of gross incompetence or misconduct by the judicial watchdog.
Saeed, who denied the “fabricated” obstruction charge, is also standing trial on other charges.
He is accused of terrorism over the alleged plot to topple the government, accepting bribes to issue the February 1 order and obstruction of justice for allegedly refusing to hand over his phone for a police investigation.
He denies the charges, calling the terror allegations baseless and expressing concern at the speed of the trials.
Saeed’s detention was widely condemned as politically motivated.
During closing arguments on Monday, a visibly upset Saeed contested the obstruction of state functions charge on the grounds that the Prosecutor General lacks the constitutional authority to challenge apex court decisions.
“Abdulla Saeed was there as the chief justice. I can’t be made a criminal. I didn’t enter the Supreme Court illegally,” he told the court.