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Gasim sentenced in absentia to three years, stripped of seat

Judge Adam Arif delivered the verdict in absentia while the 67-year-old opposition lawmaker remained hospitalised after collapsing inside the courtroom Thursday afternoon.



Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim has been found guilty of attempted bribery and sentenced to three years, two months and 12 days in prison in a verdict delivered at 1:30 am on Friday.

Judge Adam Arif delivered the verdict in absentia while the 67-year-old opposition lawmaker remained hospitalised after collapsing inside the courthouse Thursday afternoon.

Gasim was prosecuted for offering to grant tickets from the allied opposition parties and help with the re-election campaigns of MPs who vote to impeach the speaker of parliament. The purported bribery offer was made in a speech ahead of the opposition’s failed bid to remove the speaker on March 27.

The MP for Maamigili loses his seat with the bribery conviction as the constitution states that MPs who are jailed for more than one year will be disqualified. However, Gasim could retain his seat if the conviction is overturned upon appeal.

The midnight verdict came after the criminal court scheduled back-to-back hearings Thursday to hear defence witnesses and closing arguments despite previously informing lawyers that the trial will resume next week.

After Gasim was hospitalised, his lawyers submitted a letter from the head of the national cardiac centre at the government-run Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital advising that he should be urgently flown overseas for testing unavailable in the Maldives.

“Further delay may result in life-threatening arrhythmia,” the doctor warned.

According to Gasim’s legal team, the judge tried to continue with the final hearing after Gasim was rushed to the hospital. But the lawyers refused to enter the courtroom in their client’s absence.

The lawyers said they were only allowed to leave the courthouse around 4:40 pm, more than two hours after Gasim was taken out on a stretcher.

Then at 10:35 pm Thursday night, the court summoned Gasim for a sentencing hearing scheduled for 11 pm. The defence lawyers refused to attend on such short notice but the judge proceeded to sentence the lawmaker in absentia.

Citing the doctor’s letter in the verdict, Judge Adam Arif ordered the authorities to arrange for Gasim to receive medical treatment overseas. He also dismissed the separate charges of influencing the official conduct of a public official and intimidating and improperly influencing a voter.

Officers from the Maldives Correctional Services meanwhile went to IGMH Friday afternoon to take custody of Gasim. According to lawyers, the criminal court has now lifted Gasim’s travel ban and the prisons authority has assured that arrangements will be made for his departure.

The four-party opposition coalition has condemned Gasim’s jailing as “part of a relentless campaign of persecution” after the opposition secured a majority of parliament with defections from the ruling party last month.

“The politically motivated charges and sentence were brazenly framed and fixed to strip MP Gasim Ibrahim of his Parliamentary seat,” the alliance said in a joint statement Friday.

The opposition also highlighted “irregularities” noted by Gasim’s legal team, including the judge closing hearings to the media and the public, resuming the trial without preliminary hearings after the charges were resubmitted by the Prosecutor General’s office, and refusing to grant adequate time to prepare.

The lawyers also noted that the prosecution only submitted excerpts from Gasim’s speech as evidence and failed to produce any witnesses to testify.

“The sentencing of MP Gasim Ibrahim once again confirms the lack of transparency and independence of Maldives’ judiciary, and the breakdown of the entire criminal justice system,” reads the statement.

“Like all other leaders of the opposition now sentenced to jail, the Jumhooree Party leader has been punished for challenging President [Abdulla] Yameen’s tyranny. This sentence is a deliberate attempt to undermine the struggle to restore democracy in the Maldives. We reiterate our call on all state authorities to uphold the Constitution, our laws and stand up now to bring an immediate end to President Yameen’s unchecked abuse of power.”

With the midnight verdict, both of Yameen’s opponents in the 2013 presidential election have been now been disqualified from challenging him in next year’s race.

Gasim joins the ranks of high-profile politicians and state officials jailed after the current administration came to power, which includes former President Mohamed Nasheed, two former defence ministers, a ruling party lawmaker, a former prosecutor general, a former vice president, a senior military officer, and a magistrate.

In a widely condemned verdict in February last year, Adhaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla was sentenced to 12 years in prison for allegedly inciting violence in a speech at a 20,000-strong protest march in May 2015.

As with the previous imprisonment of opposition leaders, Gasim’s jailing has prompted concern from the ambassador of the United States and the United Kingdom.

Aside from Gasim, 13 other opposition lawmakers have also been put on trial after the opposition secured the backing of a majority of MPs to impeach Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed.