MP Ahmed Mahloof was made to apologise Thursday for a request to change the judge presiding in his trial over a “false reporting” tweet.
Denying any prejudice or conflict of interest, Judge Ali Adam reprimanded the opposition spokesman for sharing his request letter with the press. The irate judge said that spreading false and misleading information amounts to contempt of court and undue influence, local media reported.
The case was assigned in line with court procedures and he would hand it over immediately if the chief judge grants Mahloof’s request, Judge Ali Adam said.
In response, Mahloof apologised for sharing his letter with the media but added that he was within his rights to submit the request.
Thursday’s hearing was adjourned to allow the lawmaker more time to obtain case documents from his counsel, who was suspended over a tweet decrying the court’s decision to proceed to trial in late April.
The next trial date was set for May 30.
At the previous hearing, Mahloof told the judge that he will represent himself if the court refuses to lift the suspension of his lawyer Nazim Sattar.
The MP for Galolhu South is accused of “false reporting to law enforcement” over a tweet alleging culpability over custodial deaths. The charge carries a sentence of four months and 24 days.
He has since been declared an Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, with the human rights group condemning “trumped-up and politically motivated charges”.
Mahloof is also facing trial in three other cases, including another false reporting charge over a tweet, a terrorism charge over a demonstration outside Maafushi prison, and obstruction of justice for distributing masks at an opposition protest.
The terrorism charge carries a jail sentence of between 17 to 20 years. A preliminary hearing of the terrorism trial took place last week.
Mahloof also served a prison sentence for police obstruction last year.
The criminal court has previously convicted several opposition politicians after rushed trials that were widely criticised for due process violations.
The ranks of high-profile figures jailed or exiled since President Abdulla Yameen took office now include two former presidents, two Supreme Court justices, two vice presidents, two defence ministers, leaders of opposition parties, lawmakers, and the country’s chief prosecutor.
But the government insists there are no political prisoners in the country.
Mahloof was transferred to house arrest in early April after more than a month in police custody. He was arrested while leading an opposition protest in the capital on February 22 amid a 45-day state of emergency.