The High Court Thursday overturned former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s conviction on a controversial obstruction of justice charge.
Following his arrest on separate charges of conspiring to overthrow the government, Gayoom was sentenced to 19 months in June for refusing to hand over a mobile phone to the police.
His jailing drew international condemnation.
The High Court bench with judges Ali Sameer, Hassan Ali and Abdulla Hameed ruled unanimously to overturn the conviction.
Delivering the judgment, Judge Sameer said the obstruction trial contravened criminal justice procedures.
The state was unable to prove beyond reasonable doubt that Gayoom obstructed justice, he said, as the refusal to hand over a mobile phone was insufficient to prove guilt.
While the prosecution claimed the mobile phone contained evidence of a plot to overthrow the government by bribing judges and lawmakers, Sameer noted the failure to provide reasons to suspect such evidence existed.
The burden of proving guilt lies with the state, he stressed.
The court questioned the integrity of an anonymous witness called by the state.
Anonymous testimony was only allowed in exceptional circumstances involving serious criminal offences, the judge observed.
The High Court also overturned an order by the lower court to revoke Gayoom’s licenses to practice law and give religious sermons.
It was not clear what the court was trying to achieve and the verdict did not specify whether it was a punishment for the crime, Judge Sameer said.
The judge also noted that Gayoom was not afforded the best chance for legal representation for crucial parts of the trial.
He was not afforded enough time to appoint new counsel after his lawyers recused themselves from the trial. They boycotted the trial in protest of due process violations.
His lawyers walked out of the trial citing “grave procedural defects.”
But the court scheduled a hearing for 1:30pm on May 30, a mere 14 hours after a hearing ended late in the evening the previous day, and ignored Gayoom’s request for more time to appoint new lawyers.
After seven months in prison, Gayoom was among several high-profile figures released from prison after President Abdulla Yameen’s election defeat on September 23.
The High Court released him on bail on September 30 and concluded stalled appeal hearings this week.
He was arrested on February 5 and accused of conspiring to remove his half-brother from office, hours after Yameen declared a state of emergency.