Some 14 opposition activists were given a suspended prison sentence over a protest at the Maldives’ international airport last March.
The 13 women and one man were sentenced to three months in jail, suspended for three years, on a charge of disobeying orders by protesting at a restricted zone.
The activists of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party had held posters calling for former President Mohamed Nasheed’s release at the Ibrahim International Airport on March 5. Nasheed’s arrest on a terror charge had triggered mass protests and a political crisis that continues unabated.
A fifteenth person, Shaneez ‘Thanie’ Saeed was also arrested from the airport, but was not sentenced today as she left the Maldives soon after being released from remand.
The airport protest was coordinated by the MDP women’s wing.
Malé City Deputy Mayor and President of MDP Women’s Wing Shifa Mohamed, who was among the those sentenced, said: “This is not a light sentence. Three months in jail is better than being at the mercy of the government.”
The criminal court had conditioned the group’s release from remand detention on avoiding protests. The High Court later said the conditions were unconstitutional.
The criminal court was due to deliver a verdict on June 14, but delayed issuing a ruling as the presiding judge was promoted to the High Court. The court delayed sentencing on three more occasions because of the enactment of a lenient and more progressive penal code.
The charge of disobeying orders carried a jail term of up to six months or a fine of MVR3000 (US$194) under the old law.
Former Deputy Prosecutor General Hussain Shameem, an expert on the new penal code, said suspended sentences are “outdated” under the new law.
— Hussain Shameem (@HuShameem) March 31, 2016
An opposition MP was handed a fine on the same charge earlier this week instead of a jail term.
Former President Mohamed Nasheed has condemned the airport verdict as “politically motivated,” while the MDP said the group had not staged a protest, but peacefully and silently made a stand against Nasheed’s trial.
The suspended jail sentence is disproportionate and demonstrates the government’s tyranny, the MDP said.
The verdict comes amidst continuing international concern over a crackdown on human rights in the Maldives.
An overwhelming majority of the European Union parliament in December passed a resolution calling for targeted sanctions against officials responsible for human rights abuses.
The Commonwealth has called for political dialogue and the release of political prisoners.