Independent MP Ahmed Mahloof pleaded not guilty today to a charge of obstructing police officers during a protest in March last year, denouncing the trial as “politically motivated.”
Responding to the charge at a hearing today, Mahloof said he is being unfairly targeted by the state with unfounded charges, which has forced him to spend large sums of money on lawyers.
The MP for Galolhu South told the court that he wished to proceed without legal counsel.
The charges stem from his arrest from an opposition protest on the night of March 25, 2015. He was accused of scaling barricades set up near the local market and attempting to enter the restricted Republic Square.
At today’s hearing, prosecutors presented two police witnesses against Mahloof. The judge said Mahloof will have the opportunity to present defence witnesses tomorrow.
The charge of obstructing police duty carries either a fine of no more than MVR12,000 (US$778) or a jail sentence of six months, under the old penal code. It is unclear if provisions in the new penal code would be applied to Mahloof’s case.
If convicted and sentenced to jail, the MP would not be disqualified as a sitting MP would only be stripped of his seat if sentenced to more than one year in prison.
Mahloof is also standing trial for what the police describe as an attempt to “flee” after walking out of a remand hearing at the criminal court on April 3 last year.
He has denied the charges claiming that he was trying to prevent police officers from manhandling his wife. The judge has heard witnesses from both the prosecution and defence in the other trial.
Earlier this month, the Prosecutor General’s office, citing insufficient evidence, declined to prosecute Mahloof on a charge of assaulting a police officer during a protest on March 11 this year.
Mahloof has been an outspoken critic of President Abdulla Yameen since his expulsion from the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives in February last year. He has been arrested multiple times from opposition protests against the imprisonment of opposition leaders, including former President Mohamed Nasheed.
Mahloof was also questioned at the police headquarters in early February after claiming that there are millions of dollars in the first couple’s private bank accounts.
In late February, MP Ali Azim of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party was fined MVR3000 (US$195) after being found guilty of refusing to obey a police officer who had ordered the MP to leave the protest area.
State prosecutors had asked for a sentence of four months in prison.
Ruling party MP Ahmed Nazim was also stripped of his seat in April last year after the Supreme Court handed him a life sentence on a corruption charge.