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UN rights chief raises serious concerns about ‘rushed’ trial of former Maldives President

Former President of Maldives Mohamed Nasheed.
UN Photo/Devra Berkowitz (file)
Former President of Maldives Mohamed Nasheed.

UN rights chief raises serious concerns about ‘rushed’ trial of former Maldives President

The United Nations human rights chief expressed strong concerns today about the hasty and apparently unfair trial of the former President of the Maldives, Mohammed Nasheed, who received a 13-year jail sentence for the unlawful detention of a criminal court judge in 2012.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein described Mr. Nasheed’s trial as “a rushed process that appears to contravene the Maldives’ own laws and practices and international fair trial standards in a number of respects.”

According to a news release issued by the High Commissioner’s office (OHCHR), the trial began one day after Mr. Nasheed’s arrest, which was made on the charge that Mr. Nasheed authorised the unlawful detention of Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed in 2012 when he was the country’s President. Having previously faced charges for the same complaint, which were withdrawn by the Prosecutor-General, Mr. Nasheed was arrested again under the Anti-Terrorism Act.

OHCHR noted that the trial did not follow stipulations in the Maldives’ Constitution, which states that anyone accused of a crime shall have the right to adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence, and did not follow international fair trial standards.

“The Government argues the new case against Nasheed was based on the same materials previously available to his legal team, but he should still have been given time to instruct his counsel and prepare a new defence,” the High Commissioner said, noting that Mr. Nasheed’s legal team recused itself after the sixth hearing, with the court failing to wait until he had new counsel before proceeding with the trial.

“The fact that judges in the case, as well as the Prosecutor-General, have also been witnesses in the investigation must raise serious questions about conflicts of interest,” he continued, pointing out also that Nasheed’s defence was prevented from calling witnesses.

“This trial began one day after the former President’s arrest and was completed after 11 hearings in 19 days. It is hard to see how such hasty proceedings, which are far from the norm in the Maldives, can be compatible with the authorities’ obligations under international law to conduct a fair trial.”

The High Commissioner noted that the courts refused requests by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives and domestic as well as international observers to monitor the trial proceedings, saying Mr. Nasheed’s case was too important to have proceeded with so little attention to correct methods.

“Clearly no one should be above the law, and the trial of a former Head of State would be a major challenge for any government,” he stated. “But in a polarized context, and given the long-standing serious concerns about the independence and politicization of the judiciary in the Maldives, this case should have been handled with much greater care and transparency.”

He added that Mr. Nasheed would now be able to appeal to the High Court, but the statement also pointed out that new appeal procedures were introduced six weeks ago reducing the time allowed to lodge an appeal from 90 working days to just ten. On top of that, the court’s written justification for the conviction may take several days to become available.

“He must be given adequate time and the possibility to prepare and present his defence,” said the High Commissioner, adding that a “sharp spotlight” was now shining on the Maldives’ judicial processes. “The flagrant irregularities in this case can still be rectified in the appeal process, and I urge the authorities to restore domestic and international confidence in the legal system by enabling international jurists to observe the appeal process.”