The High Court concluded today a preliminary hearing to determine whether to proceed with the state’s appeal of former President Mohamed Nasheed’s terrorism conviction.
The Prosecutor General’s (PG) office presented several appeal points on Nasheed’s behalf, but refused to acknowledge lapses in due process at the criminal court trial in March.
Nasheed’s lawyers argued the state must concede flaws in the trial in its appeal. The prosecutor, however, said that the PG office had only appealed Nasheed’s conviction at his request and because the case involved “national interest.”
The three-judge panel concluded the hearing saying that it will inform lawyers of its decision at a later date.
Nasheed was found guilty of terrorism over the military’s detention of criminal court chief judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012. The 19-day trial at the criminal court was widely criticised over its apparent lack of due process.
The former president was brought to the court under heavy guard. His supporters were gathered behind police barricades near the High Court. One man was reportedly arrested from the area.
Nasheed’s international lawyer Amal Clooney also attended the hearing.
Separate appeal points
State prosecutor Ahmed Hisham Wajeeh said Nasheed had claimed he was unable to file an appeal due to the criminal court’s refusal to hand over transcripts before a shortened 10-day appeal period expired.
Hisham said the PG office is seeking a review of the proceedings at the lower court to ensure that Nasheed’s constitutional rights to legal counsel and a free and fair trial were not violated .
The appeal comprised of five points raised by Nasheed’s lawyers – included in quotation marks – and four points by the PG’s office.
However, Nasheed’s lawyer Hisaan Hussain contended that such a distinction could not be made in an appeal of a conviction. The PG office cannot submit an appeal for a review of a case without conceding that the criminal court trial was flawed, she said.
If the procedural points are included in the appeal, she continued, the PG office must show that due process was violated.
In response, Hisham said the points were included because the state is seeking a High Court ruling on the issues.
He also noted that Nasheed has filed a petition at the UN working group on arbitrary detention. The purpose of the PG’s appeal is to address domestic and international criticism of the trial, uphold the credibility of the Maldivian judiciary, and ensure the independence of the courts, he said.
Hisham said the procedural points raised by Nasheed includes arguments concerning the legality of the initial arrest warrant issued by the criminal court on February 22 and the validity of the terrorism charges.
Before pressing terrorism charges, the PG office had withdrawn the lesser charges of unlawful detention filed in 2013, which carries a jail term of up to three years.
The other points raised “on behalf of Nasheed” noted that the police did not investigate the former president on terrorism charges and contested whether the chief judge’s detention constituted an “enforced disappearance.” In addition, the state was unable conclusively prove that Nasheed ordered the military to arrest the judge.
The PG office had announced its intent to appeal the 13-year jail sentence on July 23 amid negotiations between the government and Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party.
The main opposition party has since withdrawn from the talks following Nasheed’s transfer back to jail on August 23, citing the government’s refusal to honour its commitment to release Nasheed and other jailed opposition politicians.
In addition to Clooney, Toby Cadman, a lawyer from UK-based Omnia Strategy attended today’s hearing.
The government employed the international law firm – chaired by Cherie Blair, the wife of former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair – for an undisclosed fee to prepare the government’s response to a petition filed by Nasheed’s international lawyers at the UN working group on arbitrary detention.
A ruling is expected later next month.
Cadman was escorted to the High Court in a police vehicle. He was accompanied at the viewing gallery by assistant attorney general Ismail Wisham. Journalists from The New York Times, The Daily Telegraph and Reuters also attended the hearing.
Reporting by Mohamed Saif Fathih.