The U.N. Human Rights Office called the trial of the former president of the Maldives, Mohammad Nasheed, vastly unfair.
A U.N. delegation, which has just returned from a mission to the Maldives, finds the conviction of the former president to be arbitrary and disproportionate to the alleged crime.
In March, a three-judge panel found Nasheed guilty of ordering the arrest of a chief judge in January 2012 and sentenced him to 13 years in prison.
Mona Rishmawi, chief of the U.N. Human Rights rule of law branch, headed the mission to the Maldives. She said Nasheed’s trial appears to have been politically biased, inadequate and subject to external influence.
“One thing that was extremely striking there was his inability to submit any defense of any form,” Rishmawi said. “So, basically, from our point of view, he was totally presumed guilty. The trial was rushed extremely quickly in three weeks, all night sessions. A lot of the sessions were without his lawyers.”
Rishmawi said the judges refused to allow Nasheed’s lawyers to defend their client, saying they were convinced beyond a reasonable doubt that he had committed the offense with which he was charged. Therefore, they argued it was pointless for him to present any defense.
Cleared of charges, recharged
In February, Nasheed was cleared of ordering the arrest of the chief judge, charges that carried a maximum penalty of three years imprisonment. But, a few days later, the prosecutor general upped the ante. He had Nasheed recharged and arrested under the country’s anti-terrorism laws, which carry a sentence of up to 15 years in prison.
Rishmawi told VOA the Maldives does not have a proper criminal code. She said the judges have incredible discretionary power so they can do whatever they want.
“The main issue for us is the principle of fair trial. If somebody is presented before a court, especially a high level official like that, the fair trial is the most important issue. And, what we saw is that the rules have been really changed to accommodate a certain result, to lead to a certain result,” she noted.
Rishmawi said the judges have reduced the time in which Nasheed can appeal his case from 90 days to 10 days. She said it is not likely his lawyers will have enough time to gather all the documents and evidence in time, virtually stripping the former president of his right to appeal.
The U.N. delegation interviewed Nasheed in a temporary holding center. After he was sentenced, she said he was quickly removed to a maximum-security prison. She said Nasheed is greatly worried for his safety because he will be exposed to dangers from members of criminal gangs, some of whom are his enemies.
She said the delegation told the government it is responsible for Nasheed’s safety and that the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights will be watching.