Maldives' 1st elected president on trial

2012-10-01 14:04

Male - The Maldives' first elected president said he did not expect a fair hearing as he went on trial on Monday in a case that could see him banished to a remote island and disqualified from future elections.

Nearly eight months after he was toppled as leader of the Indian Ocean archipelago, Mohamed Nasheed is due to appear in the dock over accusations that he abused his power by ordering the arrest of a senior judge during his tenure.

The arrest fuelled already simmering anti-government protests which culminated in a police mutiny in February and led to Nasheed's deputy being installed as president.

The climate change campaigner, who was tortured during previous stints in jail for his political activism, insists that he was threatened by armed rebel officers and forced to announce his resignation on television.

"The judiciary in the Maldives is so deeply politicised, there is no chance of a fair trial, particularly in a case as political as this," Nasheed said by e-mail over the weekend.

The 45-year-old became leader after the Maldives held their first democratic elections in 2008 following three decades of autocratic rule by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Facing jail or banishment

The country is made up of 1 192 tiny coral islands scattered across the equator and is better known as a honeymoon hotspot rather than a hotbed of political activism.

A conviction could see Nasheed handed a jail term of up to three years in prison or banishment to an small islet, a move that would disqualify him from running for office.

The case centres around Nasheed's decision in January to send the military to arrest the head of the country's criminal court Abdullah Mohamed on charges of corruption, misconduct and favouring then-opposition figures.

Nasheed justified the arrest saying that the judicial service commission had failed to take action against the judge, who had a string of allegations against him.

Apart from the criminal case, Nasheed now faces two defamation suits filed against him by Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz and by Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim.

A judge indefinitely postponed the first case on Sunday at the request of Riyaz, while the second case is due to be called on Tuesday.

Claims rebuffed

Nasheed said that he had failed during his three and a half years in office to reform the judiciary which he said still owed its allegiance to Gayoom who remains a powerful political player.

"It was still made up of the same old judges hand-picked by Gayoom many years ago. The judges were grossly under qualified - many had only completed primary schooling," he said.

"Many had criminal records, many were corrupt and nearly all remain loyal to Gayoom. These same judges are still, for the most part, in place today and there is precious little we could do to change that situation."

Nasheed was replaced by his deputy Mohamed Waheed who has rebuffed any suggestion that his predecessor was forced into resigning and that the trial is politically motivated.

"The government of Maldives refutes any allegations that this trial is politically motivated," presidential spokesperson Abbas Riza said.

"On the contrary, the former president has been found in breach of the powers vested in his office of the presidency on several occasions."

Never formally arrested

Riza said the authorities were taking all measures to ensure that there were no violent protests by Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) during or after the trial.

The new government secured a warrant for Nasheed's arrest shortly after his downfall, but it was not executed due to intense international pressure.

The authorities filed charges against him in July.

Nasheed was never formally arrested, but last week a court ordered him to remain in the 2.6m² capital island Male until the case against him is concluded.