Imran petitions UN rights panel over terror conviction
A local human rights NGO has petitioned the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on Sheikh Imran Abdulla’s behalf, requesting a judgment declaring the Adhaalath Party president’s terror conviction illegal.
Imran was found guilty of inciting violence in his speech at a 20,000-strong protest march in May last year and sentenced to 12 years in prison on February 16. His widely condemned conviction marked the first terrorism sentence passed in the Maldives over a speech made at a political gathering.
The High Court has wrapped up appeal hearings in Imran’s case, but a date for a verdict has not been set.
Former President Mohamed Nasheed and former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim, who were both handed lengthy jail terms last year, have previously petitioned the UN WGAD, a specialised agency comprised of five independent experts.
The group had ruled in September last year that former Nasheed’s imprisonment on a terrorism charge was illegal and politically motivated.
The government, however, rejected the non-binding opinion as “flawed and premature,” but later said the Supreme Court will consider the judgment when it hears the state’s appeal of Nasheed’s conviction.
In February this year, Amnesty International submitted Nazim’s case to the UNWGAD as well.
Nasheed and Nazim’s imprisonment triggered a year-long political crisis in the Maldives with daily street protests and four mass anti-government demonstrations.
The MDN had meanwhile previously criticised the conduct of the presiding judge in Imran’s case, describing his behaviour as “prejudicial” towards the accused as well as in breach of the code of conduct for judges.
The judge “spoke in a manner that gave the impression that he was talking on behalf of the prosecutor or that he was leaning favourably towards their arguments,” the NGO said.
Imran had also asked the Supreme Court to assign the case to a different judge.
Judge Abdul Bari Yousuf had refused to hear testimony from defence witnesses during the trial.
Bari – now acting chief judge of the criminal court – was also part of a three-judge panel that sentenced Nasheed and Nazim after rushed trial that drew widespread condemnation over due process violations.
During his terrorism trial, Imran’s lawyers had questioned the legal basis of the terrorism charge, contending that the prosecution was unable to prove that Imran instructed protesters to enter the “green zone” area.
Lawyer Ali Zahir had noted that a police forensic analysis of an audio clip submitted as evidence had not conclusively identified Imran’s voice in the recording.
But the state prosecutor insisted that Imran must bear responsibility for the violent clashes between protesters and riot police.
Imran’s lawyers have previously stressed that the fiery speaker had appealed to protesters to remain calm and not to engage in any form of violence.
In an unlikely alliance with the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party last year, Imran had spearheaded the opposition’s “Maldivians against tyranny” campaign ahead of the historic May Day rally.
Imran had said in his speech that President Abdulla Yameen must come to the “peace table” to negotiate with the opposition if he wants to remain in power.
Scores of protesters and two police officers were injured during violent clashes on the night of May 1. Nearly 200 people were arrested.
Imran was initially arrested on the night of May 1 and released after 27 days. He was arrested for a second time on June 1 and charged with terrorism. He was held in jail for more than 160 days, before being transferred to house arrest.
He was abruptly transferred to jail less than two weeks before the sentencing.
Ahead of an upcoming review by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group on the Maldives’ progress on resolving the crisis sparked by the jailing of opposition leaders, the government transferred Imran and ex-Defence Minister Tholhath Ibrahim to house arrest on April 4.
The opposition contended that the move was aimed at appeasing the CMAG, but Home Minister Umar Naseer said he instructed the Maldives Correctional Services to transfer the high-profile prisoners to Malé while their special protection unit in ‘Asseyri’ jail undergoes maintenance.
The foreign ministry had also tweeted about the pair’s transfer to house arrest but made no mention of the maintenance work.