The Maldives’ ever-so-controversial political arena saw an exceptionally ‘dramatic’ two days this past weekend.
Thursday evening, opposition Jumhoory Party (JP) leader and former Maamigili MP Qasim Ibrahim collapsed in the courtroom in the middle of his hearing, and in the early hours of Friday morning, the Criminal Court sentenced the opposition leader to three years and two months of imprisonment, in his absentia, which resulted in him losing his parliament seat.
Opposition Galolhu South MP Ahmed Mahloof was arrested on Thursday night, for “disobeying a law enforcement officer” after he allegedly initiated a protest in front of the Criminal Court whilst the unseated MP’s trial was being carried out that night. He was released hours later, but the MP was slapped with a summon from the police regarding that night’s predicaments.
And on Friday night, at around 12:15 a.m. pictures of Attorney General Mohamed Anil coming out of the Supreme Court was publicised on social media. He was allegedly accompanied by Minister of Defence and National Security Adam Shareef. Opposition supporters had theorized what the Attorney General could have been doing at the apex court at a suspicious time and, admittedly, it looked rather dubious.
Responses to Qasim’s sentence
With the business tycoon’s prison sentence came an outpour of criticisms from opposition leaders and lawyers, as well as some international criticism.
Former President Mohamed Nasheed tweeted saying he “strongly condemn the politically motivated sentencing of Hon. Qasim Ibrahim in absentia,” and urged President Abdulla Yameen to allow him medical treatment.
This call was echoed by Nasheed’s predecessor, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom – who has now aligned with the opposition. He also took to Twitter to say: “Concerned by the denial of Qasim Ibrahim’s constitutional rights. Every defendant has the right to be tried in his presence in open court. These are fundamental rights guaranteed for every individual in sections 42 and 51 of our Constitution.”
Besides having incumbent president’s half-brother Maumoon Adbul Gayoom condemn the Criminal Court’s ruling, main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s parliamentary group leader and Hinnavaru MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih also expressed his grievances and said that the ruling government should not expect the opposition to “run out of leaders”.
MP Solih also claimed that Qasim’s case was politically motivated in order to repel him from political activities in the country.
“President Yameen should not think that we will run out of leaders. If he thinks that – he is very wrong. There will always be people,” MP Solih said, pointing at the leaders of the opposition coalition gathered at their main party hub, ‘Kunooz’.
He also assured the supporters that they will not back down and that they will remain steadfast in their work to maintain public order and bring back justice to the country.
Prominent lawyer and former Attorney General, Husnu al-Suood had also given his two-cents regarding Qasim’s verdict.
He said that the sentence appeared to be an exile sentence and described the whole procedure of how his sentencing was carried out to be medieval and out-dated.
“’We’ve sentenced you – now you can leave the country.’ The last time someone was sentenced like this was probably during the Roman times. ‘You have committed a crime, now you can leave the country,’” Suood elaborated.
Furthermore, Suood said that the whole trial was carried out unconstitutionally and against the Criminal Procedure Code – a sentiment that was also shared by Qasim’s lawyers.
Qasim's lawyer Hisaan Hussain said that proceeding with a criminal trial in absentia has not been done since the Maldivian Constitution came into effect nine years ago. She further said that Qasim’s trial proceedings may have negative repercussions on the Criminal Justice System, adding that criminal trials held in absentia are extremely worrying from the perspective of a lawyer.
Qasim Ibrahim’s sentence
The local tycoon was convicted of bribery over his comments during an opposition rally last March 26. Qasim had promised allowances and “all that can be done” to elect the lawmakers, who vote in favour of the opposition-lobbied censure motion against the parliament speaker, for another term in parliament. Promising electoral tickets to such MPs, Qasim had declared that the four united political parties of the joint opposition would aid the lawmakers for their votes.
Following Qasim’s statements, Police launched the investigation into his bribery case on the night of March 30.
However, Qasim is suffering from a heart disease and his heart condition has been growing worse over the months. His hospitalization on Thursday afternoon after he fainted in court is the third time for the lawmaker to be admitted during his trial, and his doctors have released official documents warning that Qasim is in urgent need of a surgery that is unavailable in the Maldives. In the latest document signed by his doctor on Thursday, the lawmaker was urgently referred to be sent abroad for treatment, warning that further delays may exacerbate his condition to the point of life-threatening.
While Qasim’s family and lawyers have on multiple counts requested permission from authorities to travel abroad to treat his ailment, the state has refused due to his trial. The judiciary had also imposed a travel ban on Qasim on July 16, seizing his passport.
However, with the Criminal Court’s verdict ordering authorities to make arrangements for Qasim to receive treatment abroad, the travel ban has been overturned.
Officers of Maldives Correctional Service took charge of Qasim on Friday afternoon. However, Correctional Service assured that the officers will be looking over Qasim in Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) where he is admitted, as the lawmaker is in no condition to be taken to jail. They added that other decisions will be taken only after the hospital discharges him.