The criminal court heard today anonymised witness testimony that claimed Sheikh Imran Abdulla’s absence from a historic anti-government rally on May Day had led to violent clashes between protesters and police officers.
Imran, the president of the Adhaalath Party, is standing trial on a charge of terrorism.
The anonymous Maldivian man is the first witness to testify against Imran. He was summoned by the state to support its argument that Imran’s speech at the 20,000-strong demonstration had resulted in clashes.
It is not clear why the court was accepting anonymous testimony.
The witness, speaking via audio conference, told the court that he had seen protesters assaulting a policeman on Chandhanee Magu. Identifying the reasons for the clashes, he said: “I believe that the violence occurred because the organisers of the rally had left the protest.”
When asked if he had heard Imran instructing anyone to commit any violent acts, he replied: “No, not directly.”
He, however, insisted said that he “believed” Imran’s words had encouraged protesters to commit violence, and said Imran’s waving of “Afrasheem documents” – said to relate to the murder of MP Afrasheem Ali – was an example of inflammatory language.
At the time, Imran had suggested that President Abdulla Yameen would know the truth behind the brutal murder.
Lawyers also asked if the witness himself was convinced to commit an act of violence after listening to Imran and whether he had participated in any of the violence that occurred, to which he denied any involvement in violent clashes or having been affected by the speech.
The witness said he did not participate in the protest, but had observed it from the beginning as he was “curious to witness what was going on as such a large crowd had assembled.”
Imran’s lawyers have previously stressed that the fiery opposition leader had appealed to protesters to remain calm and not to engage in any form of violence.
Husnu Suood, a former attorney general who represents Imran, asked the witness if he was a member of a political party, to which he replied no. Judge Abdul Bari Yoosuf did not allow the witness to answer whether he works in the private sector or was employed by the state.
The state’s witness was also unable to recall the colour of the shirt Imran was wearing that day, despite having testified that he saw Imran addressing the crowd from a distance of approximately 50 feet.
Defence lawyers also asked if the witness was testifying by looking at a pre-written document, as his tone and particular phrases gave such an impression. The witness said he was only referring to his memory.
Judge Bari ended today’s 30-minute hearing, the fifth of the ongoing trial, by instructing the prosecutors to submit video analysis of Imran’s speech. A date has not been set for the next hearing.
Last week, Imran asked the Supreme Court to change the presiding judge in his trial, claiming that Bari is prejudiced against him.
The trial began in June with a three-judge panel, but two of the three – Judge Abdulla Didi and Sujau Usman – were promoted to the High Court soon afterwards, stalling the trial for five months.
When hearings resumed earlier this month, Bari announced that the three-judge panel had been dissolved and said he alone would handle the case.
The May Day rally saw a record turnout with protesters calling on the government to release former President Mohamed Nasheed and ex-Defence Minister Nazim.
Scores of protesters and some police officers were injured during violent clashes.
Imran, who was first arrested on the night of May 1, had been held at a police remand facility and a high-security prison for some 160 days. He was transferred to house-arrest in mid-October.
The three opposition figures who were arrested with him have now fled the country.
Imran was charged under article two of the 1990 Anti-Terrorism Act, which states that promoting fear amongst the public or causing destruction of property are acts of terrorism.