Maldives court puts off chief justice trial until end of SOE

Criminal Court on Sunday put off the trial of suspended chief justice Abdulla Saeed until after the ongoing state of emergency following question marks over the criminal procedure code.

The chief justice who remains in custody under the state of emergency has been charged with blocking the functioning of the state.

The island nation has been embroiled in fresh political turmoil after the Supreme Court on February 1 ordered the immediate release of jailed political leaders including self-exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed.

President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom on February 5 had declared a 15 day state of emergency after his last ditch attempt to convince the top court to revoke the order failed, purged the Supreme Court by arresting two judges and the remaining political leaders and ultimately had the order revoked.

As the state of emergency expired, president Yameen had got the parliament contentiously extend it by another 30 days.

The chief justice was charged after he allegedly blocked the receipt of three letters sent by president Yameen shortly after the top court ruling on February 1.

During the preliminary hearing of the case, the defense had cried foul describing it as an arbitrary trial in violation of the constitutional right to a fair trial.

The judge presiding over the case had initially stressed that the trial would proceed despite the rights guaranteed under the criminal procedure code remain withheld due to the state of emergency.

However, when the defense again objected, the judge had given five days for the chief justice to respond to the charges. The state of emergency would expire on Thursday while the government had insisted that it had no intention of re-extending.

President Yameen is facing mounting pressure even within the security forces after exploiting the rights suspended under emergency state to crackdown hard on the opposition as police have made a series of high profile arrests including former president Gayoom, three lawmakers, chief justice Abdulla Saeed, top court judge Ali Hameed and the chief judicial administrator.

Less than a day after the arrest of the two judges, the remaining three judges rescinded its ruling to release the political leaders referring to the concerns raised by president Yameen in the letters he had sent to the chief justice hours before state of emergency was declared.

The accusations against Gayoom included bribing lawmakers and judges to influence their authority while the deposed ruling party leader has also been accused of creating discord within the security forces to back the overthrow of his half-brother's government.

The two top court judges are accused of accepting bribes to influence Supreme Court rulings, abuse of power and blocking the functioning of the entire justice system.

In addition to Nasheed, the other top political leaders named in the now rescinded order included Jumhoory Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim, religiously conservative Adhaalath Party (AP) leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla, former defence minister Mohamed Nazim, former vice president Ahmed Adheeb Abdul Ghafoor and Gayoom's lawmaker son Faris Maumoon.

Former prosecutor general Muhthaz Muhsin, magistrate Ahmed Nihan and Adheeb's uncle Hamid Ismail make up the rest of the list.