After heated exchanges, the Supreme Court concluded Monday hearings in the appeal of Adhaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla’s terrorism conviction.
The widely condemned verdict marked the first terrorism sentence passed in the Maldives over a speech made at a political gathering.
His appointment as home minister last Saturday sparked debate as a criminal conviction bars appointment to the cabinet.
At the hearing, Imran’s defence attorney Noorul Salam presented more than a dozen arguments. The act of “speaking in a manner that encourage terrorism” cannot be considered a crime under the 1990 Anti-Terrorism Act, he argued.
The state also failed to specify how Imran committed the alleged crime, he continued, as prosecutors needed to prove the intention of inciting violence and show that protesters committed acts of terror as a direct result of the speech.
Imran was further denied the opportunity to call witnesses, cross-examine prosecution witnesses, and the criminal court judge was prejudiced, the lawyer contended.
Noorul Salaam quoted a Quranic verse that says no one must bear responsibility for crimes committed by others.
The conviction also violated Imran’s constitutional rights to free expression and freedom of assembly, he said.
Sheikh Imran cannot be held criminally liable for the actions of a group of people who acted after the protest ended, Noorul Salaam insisted.
Responding to the arguments, prosecutor Safa Ibrahim argued Imran’s speech constituted “encouraging terrorism.”
It was shown beyond doubt that he incited violence based on transcripts of his speech and video footage of protesters assaulting a policeman, which were submitted as evidence during the trial, she added.
Asked by the defence to highlight a statement that incited violence as an example, the prosecutor read out parts of Imran’s fiery speech.
“He was waving documents and saying there is evidence that colonel [Mohamed] Nazim was framed, that [former vice president Ahmed] Adeeb and [former police chief] Hussain Waheed was behind it and ‘we should end this today.’”
Imran also claimed that police knew the truth behind journalist Ahmed Rilwan’s abduction and lawmaker Dr Afrasheem Ali’s murder, she noted.
“He said, ‘If we let it go today, this country will never be saved,’” she noted. “He was creating hatred towards the police and was urging people to illegally overthrow the government that day. At one point, he said ‘At dusk, I will lead a prayer. After that, all of you must rise up in a different way.’”
Noorul Salaam dismissed the arguments as conjecture. It neither proves Imran asked people to create violence nor that protesters acted violently because of him, he said.
Queried by the judge, the prosecutor said the acts of terrorism on May Day 2015 included a pickup barging through police lines.
But Noorul Salaam pointed out that the criminal court has yet to convict the pickup driver. The state must show the pickup driver heard Imran’s speech and was inspired by his words, he insisted.
He also questioned why Imran alone was charged while several other politicians spoke at the rally.
In response, the prosecutor noted that charges were raised against other suspects but trials could not proceed after they fled the country.
Noorul Salaam accused the Prosecutor General’s office for using the terrorism law to raise politically motivated charges.
“This trial opened the door for the state to pick apart small things and press terror charges,” he told the court.
Sheikh Imran spoke his mind at a political rally and his words have since been proven to be true, Noorul Salaam said, referring to his remarks about former defence minister Nazim’s framing and police negligence in the investigation of Rilwan’s abduction.
The three-judge bench concluded the review after announcing that a verdict will be issued at the next hearing unless the justices needed to clarify further matters.