The Criminal Court has delayed for the second time a verdict against some 15 opposition supporters of charged with protesting in March at the restricted Malé international airport.
A verdict was first expected on June 14, but was rescheduled for today, August 6. The accused were summoned to the Criminal Court yesterday and told the verdict will be issued on September 7.
Lawyer Nazim Sattar said the court had not provided a reason for the delay.
A source familiar with the case told Maldives Independent that judges may be taking time to consider if the new penal code that came into effect on July 16 provides for leniency in issuing a sentence.
“It is a very likely possibility that the judges are taking the time to check whether the sentence will be more lenient under the new penal code. Even though the trial began before the new penal code came in to effect, judges must consider mitigating factors,” the source said.
The Freedom of Assembly Act prohibits protests at airports.
Some 14 women of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) women’s wing and one man are being charged with disobedience to order for carrying posters at the airport urging the government to free former President Mohamed Nasheed.
The offence carries a MVR150 (US$10) fine, or six months in jail, house arrest or banishment. Disobedience to order is no longer an offence under the new penal code. However, the new law says any act committed before its enactment will still be prosecuted under the previous law.
The new penal code only applies to events that occur on or after July 16, but in unfinished cases, judges are to consider new sentencing guidelines outlined in the new law.
Malé City deputy mayor Shifa Mohamed and MDP women’s wing vice president Shaneez “Thanie” Saeed are among the 15 defendants. The passports of all 15 have been withheld.
A verdict was delayed on June 14 after the judge presiding over the case, Sujau Usman, was promoted to the High Court. Usman sat on the three judge panel that sentenced Nasheed to 13 years in jail. The Criminal Court must now refer the case to another judge.
Shifa said the withholding of passports and the delay in sentening is presenting several challenges: “One of the women asked the authorities to let her leave the country for chemotherapy for her child. She presented a doctor’s letter, but her request was refused. Another woman lives in Sri Lanka. She flew in for the verdict, but her passport has been withheld now. She has to stay away from her family.”
The Criminal Court had previously conditioned the release of the 15 from remand detention on staying away from further protests. But the High Court ruled the condition was unconstitutional.
Withdrawing charges against protesters was a key demand in the negotiations between MDP and the government. Talks have come to a halt since July 23 after a rumored presidential pardon for Nasheed failed to materialize.
His 13 year jail term has however been commuted to house arrest. The state has also decided to appeal the Criminal Court’s guilty verdict, citing widespread concerns over lack of due process.
The MDP claims more than 1,400 people have been charged with criminal offences for political activities.