The criminal court fined an opposition MP today on a charge of obstructing police officers during a protest staged over the arrest of former President Mohamed Nasheed a year ago.
MP Ali Azim of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party was handed a fine of MVR3000 (US$195) instead of a six-month jail term as widely feared.
He was 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.
Obstructing police duty is an offence under the Police Act and carried a fine of no more than MVR12,000 (US$778) or a jail sentence of up to six months under the now-defunct penal code. Hundreds of opposition activists have been prosecuted and jailed on the charge in the past.
Azim’s lawyers had contended that the MP for Malé must be offered leniency as the new penal code sets a lesser jail term for the offence. They also noted the MP does not have a previous crime record.
Judge Abdulla Nasheed told Azim to pay the fine within a month.
Speaking to the press afterwards, Azim said he would contest the verdict at the High Court.
“Firstly, I don’t accept this verdict, so I will appeal the decision at High Court. Second, this verdict is aimed at threatening me, and is to show the international community that our judiciary is improving, that they had the chance to issue a six-month jail sentence, but chose not to.”
But the sentence was intended to “end street protests and stop the voices of dissent against the government,” he added.
“I will raise my voice louder and come forward even more. Even if I get jailed or a higher sentence, I would do everything I can to reform our judiciary. I do not believe our judiciary is right.”
Even if Azim had been sentenced to jail, he would not have lost his parliament seat. The constitution states that a sitting MP would only be stripped of his seat if sentenced to more than a year in prison.
Azim had been stripped of his seat during the 2013 presidential polls by the Supreme Court over a controversial case of decreed debt.
Ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives MP Ahmed Nazim was also stripped of his seat last year. The Supreme Court had handed him a life sentence on a corruption charge.
Independent MP Ahmed Mahloof, who defected from the ruling party last year, is also standing trial on a charge of obstructing police duty. He is accused of “trying to flee from the police following a remand hearing.”
Mahloof, who had been detained when he refused a criminal court condition on avoiding protests, claims he was only trying to stop police officers from manhandling his wife.
The High Court later ruled the lower court’s condition unconstitutional.
Mahloof has presented the names of two journalists in his defence. They are Raajje TV journalist Mohamed Wisam and VTV journalist Ahmed Hameed Adam.
State prosecutors have presented six police officers as witnesses.