After nearly four months under house arrest, Adhaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla was abruptly transferred to prison last night until the conclusion of his ongoing terrorism trial.
Shortly before midnight, the criminal court voided its previous order to keep Imran under house arrest and ordered the home ministry to take him back to custody.
Imran’s lawyer Husnu Suood told The Maldives Independent that his client was taken to the police detention centre on Dhoonidhoo island around 1:00am.
Suood said Judge Abdul Bari Yousuf issued the court order.
Imran had asked the Supreme Court to assign his case to a different judge, contending that Judge Bari was “prejudiced” against him.
Imran’s detention comes in the wake of a damning audit report on the embezzlement of nearly US$80 million from the government-owned tourism promotion company.
Hamid Ismail, an influential businessman on trial over the corruption scandal, was also taken back to jail on Thursday night after weeks under house arrest.
Suood, who also represents the former president of the Maldives chamber of commerce, said the police arrived at Hamid’s residence around 3:00am.
Imran is meanwhile accused of inciting violence at a mass anti-government protest on May 1 last year. At the last hearing of the trial, the state called an anonymous witness to support its argument that Imran’s speech at the 20,000-strong May Day rally resulted in clashes between protesters and riot police.
Last week, the court refused to hear testimony from defence witnesses.
According to trial observers, journalists, and Imran’s lawyer, Bari had declared that he has “already made a decision on this case” during a hearing on January 18.
Local human rights NGO, the Maldivian Democracy Network, has also described Bari’s behaviour as “prejudicial” towards Imran, and in breach of the code of conduct for judges.
MDN has filed a complaint against Bari at the watchdog Judicial Service Commission.
Imran’s trial began in June with a three-judge panel. Two of the three – Judge Abdulla Didi and Sujau Usman – were promoted to the High Court soon afterwards, stalling the trial for months.
The three-judge panel had sentenced both former President Mohamed Nasheed and former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim to prison last year after rushed trials widely condemned over apparent lack of due process.
When hearings resumed in Imran’s trial last month, Bari announced that the three-judge panel had been dissolved and said he alone would handle the case. The two hearings last week saw heated exchanges between Bari and defence lawyers.
Imran was initially arrested on the night of May 1 and released after 27 days. He was arrested for a second time on June 1 and charged with terrorism. He was held in jail for more than 160 days, before being transferred to house arrest.