The Criminal Court on Tuesday convicted Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed of obstructing state functioning, after it found him guilty of ordering to shut down the Supreme Court's Government E-letter Management System (GEMS) in early February.
Judge Ibrahim Ali presiding over the hearing sentenced Saeed to four months and 24 days in jail.
This marks the first time a chief justice was convicted of a criminal offence in the history of the Maldives.
Saeed was found guilty of shutting down GEMS in the wake of the Supreme Court's landmark ruling on February 1, which ordered the release of nine political prisoners and to reinstate unseated legislators. After the initial verdict, the government had sent letters to the apex court, requesting the justices to review the unprecedented ruling.
However the top court had not accepted any of the letters, according to the government. The state accused that the court's GEMS had been deliberately shut down on February 4 and 5, on Saeed's instructions, in order to reject the letters. Moreover the government alleged that Saeed had instructed to bring GEMS back on line to send an urgent document to the government, before ordering to shut the system down again.
Saeed had denied the charge against him in an earlier hearing, claiming that he had not been aware of GEMS being shut down.
Speaking at the penultimate hearing on Monday, Prosecutor Shamra Shameem declared that the testimonies provided by the state's witnesses proved that Saeed had ordered to shut down GEMS. One of the secret witnesses was a senior official of the Supreme Court, who testified that the chief justice had instructed him to shut down GEMS, and thus he had ordered a court employee to do so. Another witness elaborated that he had been instructed by a higher up to shut down GEMS, and had "unplugged the wire".
However, Saeed's defence witness, the Supreme Court's Director General Ibrahim Waheed, testified that his division had not been informed that GEMS was shut down. He said that he found out only via media reports.
At the verdict hearing on Tuesday morning, Judge Ibrahim Ali stated that the evidences proposed against Saeed proved beyond doubt that he had ordered to shut down GEMS on multiple accounts. Hence he ruled to sentence Saeed to four months and 24 days as per the Penal Code, which is the minimum sentence for the offence.
Saeed's lawyer Noor al-Salaam Abubakr had countered that ordering to take GEMS offline was not defined as a criminal offence under any law. Further noting that there were other methods in lieu of GEMS that could be used to submit letters and documents to the apex court, the lawyer requested to change the verdict to a penalty fee or house arrest.
However Judge Ibrahim Ali stated that as this was the chief justice's first conviction, there was no plausible reason to increase or decrease the leniency of his sentence.
Despite the verdict, Saeed maintained that he was innocent, and proclaimed that he had achieved "martyr status" adding that he was, "not dead yet".
After the hearing, Saeed's defence team declared that they would appeal the case at the High Court.
Saeed would receive a period of 10 days to appeal the Criminal Court's verdict, while the High Court would have to conclude the appeal process within 30 days. Should the High Court uphold the lower court's ruling, Saeed would be automatically terminated as chief justice, according to the recently passed amendment to the Judicature Act.
The amendment, which was passed in the middle of Saeed's trial, had been contentious as the Constitution stated that two-thirds of the parliament's votes are required to remove a justice from post. However, the Supreme Court had issued a ruling declaring that the amendment was legitimate.
In addition to Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed, Judge Ali Hameed of the top court had also been arrested in connection to the ruling of February 1.
Saeed is also undergoing four other trials at the Criminal Court, for charges of terrorism, obstructing of justice, accepting bribes, and influencing official duties.