The trial of six suspects charged with the murder of liberal blogger Yameen Rasheed began at the criminal court Sunday afternoon.
The preliminary hearings were closed to the public and the press at the request of the Prosecutor General’s office.
Responding to criticism of the move, the PG spokesman 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”.
But the PG office will not be asking the court to conduct the whole trial in secret, he added.
Six of the seven suspects – Ismail Haisham Rasheed, Ahmed Zihan Ismail, Ismail Rasheed, Mohamed Dhifran, Hassan Shifaz, and Hussain Ziyad – were charged with felony murder and remain in state custody. The offence carries the death penalty.
A seventh suspect, Mohamed Yashfau Rasheed, was 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 the police, the group of radicalised young men believed the 29-year-old satirist was guilty of insulting Islam. Haisham Rasheed, 21, and Ahmed Zihan, 22, stabbed Yameen to death in the stairwell of his apartment in the early hours of April 23, the police told the press in early August.
Ismail Rasheed, 25, kept watch outside and two of the suspects had followed Yameen from his office, Superintendent Ahmed Shameem said. The senior officer said the police found no evidence to suggest the attack was funded and organised by an outside group. However, he said the police “have information about people who fed them these ideas, or supported them in some form”.
Yameen’s family had previously questioned the ability of the police to conduct an impartial and credible investigation due to the failure to 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.
Shortly before the arrest of the first suspects in early May, Yameen’s family also sued the police over the failure to protect him despite numerous death threats reported since 2014.
The lawsuit remains stalled after the civil court judge asked the National Integrity Commission to look into alleged negligence by the police and informed the family that he will decide whether to proceed with the lawsuit based on the response from the police watchdog body.