Detained former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb cannot be prosecuted on suspicion of carrying a weapon under the now-repealed 1990 anti-terrorism law, his lawyers have contended.
The terrorism trial began this week with a preliminary hearing on Sunday.
Adeeb, who was arrested in late October on suspicion of plotting to assassinate President Abdulla Yameen, is now accused of possessing a pistol when a historic anti-government mass rally took place in Malé on May 1 last year.
Adeeb’s lawyer Hussain Shameem, who has previously claimed the state does not have concrete proof that his client carried a weapon, argued that Adeeb must be tried under the new and progressive penal code instead of the draconian Anti Terrorism Act.
The penal code came into force in July and sets a jail term of four years for carrying a weapon while the old terror law sets a term of between 10 and 15 years.
Shameem cited Article 59 of the constitution, which states, “If the punishment for an offence has been reduced between the time of commission and the time of sentencing, the accused is entitled to the benefit of the lesser punishment.”
During Sunday’s first hearing, the three-judge panel granted Adeeb 15 days to appoint a lawyer. State prosecutors did not present detailed charges against the former vice president.
Adeeb said he was given “a summary of the case,” which “only states that two witnesses claimed that I was carrying a pistol on May Day.”
In reply, state prosecutors said they have asked the court to keep several case documents to be kept confidential, but said they have no “problem in providing the defendant with his own statement given during the investigation.”
In the absence of case documents or witness statements, Shameem said it is unclear which offence Adeeb is accused of. The 1990 law specifies 52 offences, he noted.
“For an example the article says that having a pistol in your possession, importing one, and giving one to someone is a criminal offence, however, it is unclear which offence my client is suspected of having committed.”
He accused the PG office of classifying the documents as confidential in contravention of regulations.
In a statement yesterday, Adeeb’s legal team argued that initiating criminal prosecution based on hearsay goes against established precedents, noting that the charges were based only on statements given to the police by two anonymous witnesses.
“Prosecuting a person based on such weak evidence cannot be done legally. The vice president believes that this is a warning from the government to politicians,” the statement read.
Shameem, a former deputy prosecutor general, also said that the PG office had previously decided not to file the terrorism charges.
But Hisham Wajeeh, PG office spokesperson, denied the claim. He declined to provide details, but said that the state will address the issue and “clarify it to the court.”
Asked about the confidential documents, the PG spokesperson said the court has the discretion to overrule the prosecution and disclose the documents.
Adeeb will have the opportunity to respond to the charges at the next hearing of the terrorism trial scheduled to take place on February 15.
The May Day protest took place amidst heightened political tension in the wake of the arrest of former President Mohamed Nasheed and ex-Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim. Then-Tourism Minister Adeeb was the most influential minister in the embattled administration at the time and went on to assume the vice presidency.
Adeeb is also awaiting trial on corruption charges over embezzled funds from more than 50 resort leases. The terrorism charge first surfaced hours before Adeeb’s impeachment in early November.
The state has yet to press charges against any suspects over the September 28 blast on the president’s speedboat, which the government insists was an assassination attempt plotted by Adeeb and his associates.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation found no conclusive evidence of an explosive device, but the government says Saudi Arabian forensic experts found traces of a powerful chemical explosive.
The 1990 anti-terrorism law was replaced by the new Anti-Terrorism Act in mid-October.