GENEVA (18 March 2015) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Wednesday expressed strong concerns 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.
The UN Human Rights chief said Nasheed was sentenced following “a rushed process that appears to contravene the Maldives’ own laws and practices and international fair trial standards in a number of respects.”
The trial began one day after Nasheed’s arrest on new charges under the Anti-Terrorism Act, after the Prosecutor-General had withdrawn the original charges against him for the same action, namely the unlawful detention of Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed in 2012 when Nasheed was the country’s President.
The Maldivian Constitution states that anyone accused of a crime shall have the right to adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence. “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,” Zeid said.
“Former President Nasheed was without counsel at his remand hearing. His legal team later recused itself after the sixth hearing but the court did not wait until he had new counsel before proceeding with the trial.”
Nasheed’s defence was also constrained from calling witnesses, contrary to international fair trial standards.
“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,” Zeid said.
“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.”
“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,” the High Commissioner said. “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.”
Instead, he noted, the courts refused requests by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives and domestic as well as international observers to monitor the trial proceedings.
Zeid noted that Nasheed would now be able to appeal to the High Court, but added “he must be given adequate time and the possibility to prepare and present his defence.” New appeal procedures were introduced six weeks ago reducing the time allowed to lodge an appeal from 90 working days to just ten. However, the written justification for the Criminal Court conviction may not be available for several days.
“The Nasheed case places the Maldives’ judicial processes in a sharp spotlight,” Zeid said. “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.”
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