Former Defence Minister Ameen Faisal pleaded not guilty Tuesday to terrorism charges over the military’s “protective custody” of then-MP Abdulla Yameen at the presidential retreat island in July 2010.
Ameen, who served as former President Mohamed Nasheed’s defence minister and then national security advisor, was charged with abduction under the now-defunct 1990 Anti-Terrorism Act. He faces up to 15 years in jail if found guilty.
At the second hearing of the trial, the judge granted Ameen 15 days to prepare his defence after his lawyer said the case documents were shared on the day of the hearing. Witnesses will be called at the next trial date, the judge said.
The prosecution’s case documents reportedly included a transcript of a press conference by Nasheed as well as statements given to the police by former Chief of Defence Forces Moosa Ali Jaleel, former Prosecutor General Ahmed Muiz, and President Yameen.
According to local media, Yameen told the police on September 19 last year that he was kept in Aarah “under military protection” against his wishes for nine days, during which he was denied freedom of movement.
Yameen expressed his wish to seek charges over the “unlawful arrest”.
He told the police that Jaleel called him on the night of July 14, 2010, and offered him protection at the military headquarters because protesters were throwing rocks and bottles at his home in Malé.
Leaked recordings of phone calls between Yameen and other lawmakers implicating them in apparent bribery had triggered unrest in the capital and violent clashes erupted between pro-government and opposition supporters outside his home.
Yameen, who was at the home of fellow People’s Alliance MP Ahmed Nazim at the time, asked Jaleel to provide security for his wife and children, according to the statement.
He also asked Jaleel to arrange for a short stay at a nearby resort, but the army chief denied the request and told him that soldiers would have to break down Nazim’s door and take him into custody if he did not comply.
He was then taken to the military headquarters and moved to the presidential retreat Aarah near Malé the next day, where he was housed in a bungalow and asked not to move more than 100 feet away.
Yameen was able to communicate freely with diplomats, ambassadors, and the media from his phone.
On his sixth day in Aarah, following the visit of US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake to the Maldives, Yameen was allowed to meet with his family for an hour or two every day. He also met lawyers for 45 minutes a day.
Ameen was meanwhile questioned by the police last September and barred from leaving the country.
During Tuesday’s hearing, his lawyer Abdulla Haseen repeated a request to allow Ameen to seek medical treatment overseas.
“We asked the court to release Ameen’s passport as he needed to get some tests done abroad,” Haseen told the Maldives Independent.
“Both ADK Hospital and [the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital] are unable to carry out those tests that Ameen needs for cardiac issues.”
After assessing a complaint, Haseen said the Human Rights Commission of Maldives has also recommended that the court lifts Ameen travel ban.
“The prosecution said they had not seen the HRCM recommendation, which they said had only been submitted to the court and not to the state,” he said.
The judge said he will share the human rights watchdog’s recommendation with the prosecution and deferred a decision till the next hearing.
Yameen’s “protective custody” in July 2010 came two weeks after he was arrested on charges of conspiring to topple the government. Along with Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim, he was accused of offering bribes to six ruling party lawmakers to vote in favour of impeaching Nasheed.
The arrests came on the same day that Nasheed’s entire cabinet resigned in protest over what it called the “scorched earth tactics” of the opposition-dominated parliament, which had passed several laws curtailing the executive’s powers.
After Yameen was taken to Aarah, the military refused to comply with orders to present him before the criminal court, drawing international concern and leading to the suspension of parliamentary proceedings.
Last month, the police also sought charges against Nasheed over Yameen’s detention. The opposition leader was granted asylum in the UK last year after he was granted medical leave from prison.
Nasheed was serving a 13-year jail sentence on a terrorism charge related to the military’s detention of a judge that he accused of shielding then-opposition figures from arrest.