Independent MP Ahmed Mahloof has petitioned a specialised UN agency to declare as illegal and arbitrary his imprisonment on two counts of obstructing police duty.
The petition is the fourth from a high-profile Maldivian politician to come before the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention since 2015.
The cases of former Defence Mohamed Nazim and Adhaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla have also been submitted after the UNWGAD ruled in September that former President Mohamed Nasheed’s conviction on a terrorism charge was politically motivated.
The panel, comprised of five independent experts, is yet to issue rulings in Nazim and Imran’s cases.
Mahloof’s family, lawyer and local human rights NGO Maldivian Democracy Network filed the case on his behalf, challenging the legality of his conviction on the grounds of multiple due process violations.
The MP for Galolhu South, also the spokesperson of the opposition coalition, was handed jail sentences of a combined 10 months and 24 days in July following numerous arrests from opposition protests.
He was found guilty of scaling barricades and trying to enter the restricted Republic Square during an opposition protest on the night of March 25, 2015, and then of trying to “flee” from the police after a remand hearing at the criminal court on April 3.
Despite the jail term, Mahloof retains his seat as a sitting MP is only disqualified if he is sentenced to more than one year in prison. However, he cannot attend parliamentary sittings or committee meetings.
Alleged due process violations listed in Mahloof’s submission include the judge’s refusal to hear defence witnesses.
Judge Abdul Bari Yousuf, the chief judge of the criminal court who also sentenced Nasheed, Nazim, and Imran, claimed Mahloof’s witnesses could not negate the testimony of the prosecution’s witnesses.
The submission also noted that the conviction on one count of obstruction was based on the testimony of one police officer who claimed to have seen him crossing a barricade.
Other officers told the court that they only heard of it on their radio transceivers.
“Two of the witness testimonies of his second trial was hearsay, which is a violation of international standards of due process,” the submission noted, quoting the Quran and Prophet Mohamed’s teachings on the standards of proof.
It also noted that Mahloof was denied legal representation at the final hearing on July 25.
Hours before the sentencing, the judge suspended Mahloof’s lawyer Nazim Sattar from representing him in the case.
Nazim was accused of trying to influence the case through the media and “creating a negative impression among the public.”
The lawyer had told the press of his intention to file Mahloof’s case at the UN rights panel.
“The Maldivian court’s determination of guilt can only be characterized as a miscarriage of justice, unfair and utterly prejudiced against Mahloof under International, Maldivian and Shari’ah Law,” reads the submission.
Mahloof’s lawyers had also urged the judge to impose a fine in lieu of a jail sentence as it was the defendant’s first offence.
The charge of obstructing police duty carries either a fine of no more than MVR12,000 (US$778) or a jail sentence of no more than six months.
Opposition MP Ali Azim was also fined MVR3,000 (US$195) in February after being found guilty of refusing to obey a police officer’s order to leave a protest area.
But the prosecutors had asked for the maximum jail sentence in Mahloof’s cases.
Following Mahloof’s jailing, the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party accused the government of “sending a message that dissent of any kind will not be tolerated, even by elected officials.”
Since his expulsion from the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives for “defaming” President Abdulla Yameen in February 2015, the MP had been at the forefront of opposition protests against the current administration’s “tyranny” and corruption.
Mahloof has “been singularly hounded and persecuted by this regime,” the MDP said, adding that the verdict was “the latest in a series of such sentences undertaken against opposition political figures, and is yet another example of the judicial perpetuation of the government’s policy of oppression.”