Jumhoree Party MP Abdulla Riyaz has pleaded not guilty to an obstruction charge raised over his refusal to help police unlock his confiscate mobile phone.
At a preliminary hearing Thursday morning, Judge Ahmed Shakeel rejected the state prosecutor’s request to detain Riyaz until the end of the trial, dismissing the prosecution’s argument that he could attempt to influence the investigation and evidence of a separate case.
The charge of obstructing a law enforcement officer is a class one misdemeanour that carries a jail term of four months and 24 days.
State Prosecutor Ali Akbar informed Riyaz that the sentence will be reduced to three months and 18 days if he pleads guilty. But Riyaz’s lawyer Ali Zahir told the court that his client wishes to contest the charge.
The judge asked Riyaz to prepare his defence for the next hearing on April 23.
The trial comes amidst an intensified crackdown after a newly formed opposition alliance sought to challenge President Abdulla Yameen’s parliamentary majority.
The government, however, insists that the police and courts are independent, dismissing allegations of harassing and intimidating opposition leaders.
Riyaz, the JP’s deputy leader and a former police commissioner, was briefly detained in late March hours after the opposition coalition sought unsuccessfully to impeach the speaker of parliament.
On March 27, the police confiscated Riyaz’s phone and interrogated him on charges of spreading false rumours and attempting to influence the police force.
He was summoned for questioning again on April 2 and asked to unlock his mobile phone. Riyaz told reporters at the time that three attempts to unlock his iPhone were unsuccessful as his previous passcode did not work.
The police then asked him to unlock the phone with his fingerprint, but Riyaz said he refused as he was not obliged to do so by the court warrant that authorised the seizure of the phone.
“I asked them to get a warrant that says I have to unlock it with my fingerprint and they agreed. Later they called and said that they were unable to get a warrant. They said that the previous warrant required me to give all the information,” he said.
Hisaan Hussain and Ahmed Shafeeq from the lawmaker’s legal team were meanwhile barred from representing him by the criminal court this morning.
The court informed Hisaan that it has decided to look into her remarks on Wednesday that brought the court into disrepute.
Hisaan had predicted at a press conference that the court would order the police to hold JP leader Gasim Ibrahim in custody until the end of his trial.
But she was later allowed to participate in Gasim’s hearing after apologising for the remarks.
Speaking to the Maldives Independent after his first police summons, Riyaz had contended that he was targeted because of the government’s “failure to digest” the grand coalition formed between opposition parties and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s faction of the divided ruling party.
“And since I am working on behalf of JP, they did this to stop what we are doing in parliament, to intimidate us because of the work we are doing politically,” he said.
“They claimed I was spreading false rumours and trying to influence the police force. The false rumours they are alleging is a statement I made at a press conference last week in which I said the country cannot be handed over to a mafia gang.”
He added: “I do not believe the police can summon and question politicians over what they say.”
Riyaz has been a vocal critic of President Yameen since the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives severed its coalition agreement with the JP in 2014.
Riyaz was police chief from February 2012 until his resignation in November 2013, shortly after Yameen assumed office.
In May 2015, Riyaz was interrogated by the police over comments he had made about the murder of MP Dr Afrasheem Ali and the torching of the Raajje TV studios, both of which occurred while was the commissioner of police.
Appearing on Raajje TV in April 2015, Riyaz had said that he would reveal information on Dr Afrasheem’s murder “when the time comes” and that police had been negligent in the arson attack in October 2013 that had destroyed the opposition-aligned private broadcaster’s offices.