Public hearings will be held in Yameen Rasheed’s murder trial, the Prosecutor General’s office has told the Maldives Independent, amid mounting criticism of the closed-door sessions.
Following a statement from 20 regional rights groups, the PG office’s spokesman Ahmed Thaufeeg said all criminal cases were carried out according to the criminal procedure code.
“All the hearings in the case will not be closed, so there will be open hearings as well. I am not at liberty to discuss proceedings of closed hearings. However, if preliminary hearings are being closed it is usually because it involves evidence,” he said.
He declined to comment on when the next hearing in the case would be. However, hearings are normally at least ten days apart.
Thaufeeg had 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”.
The NGOs noted that Article 42 of the constitution requires that all hearings and trials be conducted in an open and transparent manner.
“While this is the first time hearings have been held behind closed doors in a murder case, there has been a worrying trend in the Maldives where other high profile cases have seen the same happen,” they said.
Exceptions include threat to national security, involvement of children or circumstance that obstructs justice could arise in an open hearing.
Yameen, a prominent blogger and Internet activist, was stabbed to death in April.
Prior to his murder, the 29-year-old had reported receiving multiple death threats to the police. He posted screenshots of the threats he received via text messages and on the Internet on Twitter and Facebook.
The first two trial hearings were both closed.
“These days we have been accustomed to see closed sessions on a number of cases which either dictate a great public interest or politically motivated charges conducted on a whim by the order of a judge or request from Prosecutor General’s Office who do not strictly adhere to circumstances prescribed in the Constitution and overreach their powers,” former solicitor general Ibrahim Riffath told the Maldives Independent.
Former attorney general Husnu Suood told the Maldives Independent that concerns about closed hearings had been raised multiple times, including in a judicial reform petition that led to the subsequent suspension of 54 lawyers.
“It appears the court is just closing hearings whenever the PG would like them to be without referring to the constitution and most of these case such as Yameen’s are of great public interest and important for the public to be informed on, ” he said.