Lawyers representing three men detained on charges of assaulting a police officer on May Day last year have sued the Maldivian state over the criminal court’s six-month delay in issuing a verdict.
The court had completed hearings against Mohamed Laban, Abdulla Rasheed and Ibrahim Ibad in November, but a verdict is still pending.
The three were first arrested in the first week of May last year, and are among 15 people charged over the clashes. They are being held in police custody until the trial concludes.
Nazim Sattar, their lawyer, contended that the prolonged delay violates constitutional provisions that guarantee the right to fair trial.
“We are asking for a ruling ordering the criminal court to issue a verdict within one month,” he said.
He cited Article 42 and 43 of the Constitution which states: “Everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent court or tribunal established by law,” and “Everyone has the right to administrative action that is lawful, procedurally fair, and expeditious.”
Article 51, meanwhile, states that everyone charged with an offence has the right to be tried within a reasonable time frame.
Laban, the 20-year-old former goalkeeper of football club Eagles, was arrested three days after the mass rally when he arrived for practice at the Maafanu sports grounds in Malé. He is accused of tackling Sergeant Abdul Rahman Hussain, an SO officer, to the ground on Chandhanee Magu.
Ibad is accused of taking Hussain’s baton and hitting him, while Rasheed is accused of kicking the officer.
The trials began on July 8 last year, and the court heard closing arguments at a final hearing on November 30.
Nazim said letters asking for a speedy ruling have been ignored.
Of the 15 charged, verdicts have been issued in two cases and withdrawn in a third. Mohamed Iqbal, 50 years, was found guilty of assault in March and sentenced to seven years in prison. The criminal court acquitted one defendant, Usman Hussain, citing lack of evidence, and prosecutors withdrew charges against Mohamed Shinan.
The 12 who are still awaiting a verdict, excluding Laban, Ibad and Rasheed, are; Ahmed Unais, Ibrahim Rasheed, Ahmed Ibrahim, Ali Rasheed, Farhath Ali, Moosa Sharumeel, Umar Gahir, Nasira Ali and Laushan Ahmed Zahir.
Unais and Ali Rasheed were charged with assault, by beating the officer with a helmet and cone, respectively, while the rest were charged with aiding and abetting assault.
Nasira and Gahir are accused of throwing empty plastic bottles at the police officer, while Farhath was accused of attempting to take the officer’s helmet from him. The rest are accused of kicking the officer with their hands and feet.
“We will file charges on behalf of the remaining nine at a later date. We have not been able to obtain their national identity cards,” Nazim said.
One of the reasons stalling the trials is that the presiding judge, Abdulla Mohamed, was demoted to the family court in February. The cases were then reassigned to different judges.
Nearly 200 protesters, including leaders of three allied opposition parties, were arrested on May Day. The 20,000-strong rally was the largest anti-government demonstration in Maldivian history.
Eyewitnesses who saw the policeman being assaulted had told The Maldives Independent at the time that other protesters, including former MP Ahmed Easa, had shoved off violent protesters, helped the officer to his feet, and took him back behind police lines.
The police were meanwhile accused of beating protesters during and after their arrest. Lawyers and the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party alleged that the police tortured and threatened to kill suspects arrested in connection with assaulting the SO officer.
After complaints were lodged, the Human Rights Commission of Maldives launched investigations into three cases of apparent brutality and custodial abuse.
A single police officer has yet to be convicted of brutality.
Additional writing and reporting by Zaheena Rasheed