The criminal court has barred all defence witnesses in the on-going trial of Sheikh Imran Abdulla who was charged with terrorism over a speech made at a historic anti-government protest on May Day.
Ali Zahir, who represents the Islamist Adhaalath Party president, told the Maldives Independent that the court claimed they could not no longer accept defence witnesses because lawyers did not declare intent to summon witnesses at the trial’s outset.
“All five of our witnesses were barred. When the trial began, we had no information on how the trial would proceed, we only knew the charge. We wanted to submit defence testimony when we heard the prosecution’s witnesses and when the judge himself said he would call a witness,” he said.
The state had called an anonymous witness during a hearing last week. He was summoned by the state to support its argument that Imran’s speech at the 20,000-strong demonstration had resulted in clashes.
Zahir also called for greater transparency, saying he would like to know why Judge Abdul Bari Yoosuf is calling a witness.
“It is allowed in certain cases when what is happening if some important details are missing. But both the prosecution and the defence should clearly informed on why he is testifying. In this case we don’t have any idea. So we cannot even prepare for questioning,” he said.
The last hearing in Imran’s case was cancelled due to a pending police audio analysis of Imran’s speech. He was summoned to the police headquarters last week for the analysis.
A date for the next hearing has not been set yet.
Imran has written to the Criminal Court and the Supreme Court requesting a change of judge after two hearings, claiming Bari was prejudiced against him.
According to trial observers, journalists, and Imran’s lawyer, Bari had declared that he has “already made a decision on this case” during a hearing on January 18.
The High Court has thrown out a request to stall hearings until a decision is made on the change of judge, claiming it does not have jurisdiction over the matter, Zahir said.
Local human rights NGO, the Maldivian Democracy Network, has also described Bari’s behaviour as “prejudicial” towards Imran, and in breach of the code of conduct for judges.
MDN has also filed a complaint against Bari at the watchdog Judicial Service Commission.
The trial began in June with a three-judge panel. Two of the three – Judge Abdulla Didi and Sujau Usman – were promoted to the High Court soon afterwards, stalling the trial for months.
The three had sentenced several politicians to jail last year including former President Mohamed Nasheed in trials criticised for due process violations.
When hearings resumed in Imran’s trial earlier this month, Bari announced that the three-judge panel had been dissolved and said he alone would handle the case. The two hearings last week saw heated exchanges between Bari and defence lawyers.
Imran was initially arrested on the night of May 1 and released after 27 days. He was arrested for a second time on June 1 and charged with terrorism. He was held in jail for more than 160 days, before being transferred to house arrest.