Lawyers representing former President Mohamed Nasheed have lodged an appeal at the Supreme Court, requesting judges to overturn his 13-year jail sentence on a terrorism charge.
Nasheed argues that the offence he was prosecuted for – the military detention of a judge during his tenure – does not constitute terrorism.
“The state did not submit any evidence to the prove that President Mohamed Nasheed committed any offence that can be considered as terrorism. We do not believe he can be charged under the 1990 Anti-Terror Act, therefore the subsequent trial and conviction is invalid,” lawyer Ibrahim Riffath said.
Nasheed’s decision to file an appeal at the apex court is a u-turn from his earlier demand for a “political solution.” He had argued President Abdulla Yameen must issue a pardon, but the president has remained defiant, insisting that Nasheed must exhaust all appeal processes before he is eligible for clemency.
It is not clear when the Supreme Court will begin hearings. It had cancelled its annual recess earlier this month.
Nasheed was first charged in 2012 with ordering the arrest of an “innocent public servant” under Article 81 of the 1968 Penal Code. The offence carries a maximum jail term or banishment of three years or a maximum fine of MVR2000 (US$130).
In February, then- Prosecutor General Muhthaz Muhsin withdrew the charge, but Nasheed was arrested and brought to a surprise trial without legal counsel and new charges of terrorism were read out.
Prosecutors argued the 22-day military detention of Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012 amounted to an “abduction,” and claimed Nasheed had ordered the “abduction.”
The opposition leader was subsequently sentenced to 13 years in jail.
Nasheed’s lawyers are also requesting the Supreme Court to order the PG, if judges deem it necessary and feel Nasheed should be prosecuted for his actions or lack of actions during Judge Abdulla’s detention, to press new charges.
If new charges are filed, Nasheed must be given “all benefits and rights of the newly enacted penal code,” Riffath added.
The new penal code, which came into force in July, has been hailed as a more progressive law.
Nasheed’s arrest and trial has plunged the Maldives into a prolonged crisis.
World leaders including UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, UK Prime Minister David Cameron and the European Union’s parliament have called for his immediate release.
In September, a UN human rights panel, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, found Nasheed’s imprisonment illegal and arbitrary. The trial was politically motivated, the five-member panel said.
The WGAD opinion read: “[T]he Government has not explained how the arrest of Judge Abdulla, which was carried out by the MNDF (Maldives National Defence Forces) under an order given by a third party, could constitute terrorism.”
The government has rejected the WGAD’s ruling, but said the Supreme Court should consider its opinion during the appeal.
The PG has also lodged a separate appeal at the apex court. The PG took the dispute to the apex court after the High Court threw out the case in September, saying it was inadmissible because it had been filed by the state and not the former president.
The long battle for Nasheed’s freedom has seen historic demonstrations followed by authoritarian crackdowns including the arrest and jailing of key opposition figures. Some were forced into exile.
In July, Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party helped the government amend the Constitution twice and impeach then-Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel in exchange for his release.
At the time, Nasheed had been transferred to house arrest and official talks had commenced between the government and MDP. But talks broke down after the government returned Nasheed to jail in August, a move lawyers maintain is illegal because the government had commuted his jail sentence to house-imprisonment during the talks.
Lawyers have also expressed concern over Nasheed’s deteriorating health. He requires a surgery to correct slipped discs in his backbone. While Nasheed’s family have asked permission to travel abroad for the surgery, Home Minister Umar Naseer insists the surgery can be done in the Maldives.