A major criminal trial involving four men charged with terrorism over an alleged bomb at the statehouse Muleeaage will be held entirely in secret, the prosecutor general’s office has said.
The closed trial has prompted concern with human rights groups saying the move contravenes the right of the accused to a fair and public hearing.
The bomb plot, branded a second assassination attempt on President Abdulla Yameen, was among the reasons offered when an unprecedented state of emergency was declared in November.
A first hearing took place on Monday. Journalists were barred from the courtroom.
Ahmed Hisham Wajeeh, a state prosecutor, said his office had asked the court for a secret trial because the prosecution’s witnesses included soldiers. “Their testimony contains information that if revealed publicly may harm national security.”
While Article 42 of the constitution guarantees right to a public trial, it also gives judges the discretion to hold closed trials “in the interest of public order or national security.”
The four defendants have been identified by local media as Ahmed Mamdhooh, Mohamed Ubaid Ibrahim, Zihan Ahmed and Thal’ath Mohamed.
One of the four is accused of terrorism, while the other three are accused of being accomplice to terrorism. If convicted, they could face jail terms of up to 20 years.
The Maldives Independent was not able to reach lawyers of the accused at the time of going to press.
Shahindha Ismail, executive director at the Maldivian Democracy Network, said: “It is critical that this trial is open to the public. The bomb was handled very publicly. The courts and prosecutors must detail what the exact threat to national security is here.
“In the past year, we have seen major trials with due process violations, questionable witnesses and evidence and prejudice by judges. Without transparency, the trial itself appears to be a farce.”
The improvised device explosive, made out of stick dynamite and wrapped in a t-shirt, was discovered inside a vehicle parked near Muleeaage on November 2.
Yameen, who lives in his private residence, only uses Muleeaage for official meetings. The news of the bomb was met with disbelief by many members of the public.
It was found a few days after the arrest of former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb on suspicion of plotting to assassinate his boss by blowing up the presidential speedboat, a charge he denies.
Hussein Shameem, Adeeb’s lawyer, said of the Muleeage trial: “There is no compelling reason to hold closed hearings. Transparency is key to fighting corruption and abuse of process.”
The state of emergency was lifted just six days later.