Crime Legal Opinion

The Maldives: Ensure justice for Yameen by opening the doors of the Courts

Yameen Rasheed, 29-year-old, popular blogger and human rights defender from the Maldives, was brutally murdered on 23 April 2017.

While the horrific attack was widely condemned both within and outside the country, so far belief in justice for Yameen has been hampered by serious questions related to the integrity of the investigation. The decision to hold the second hearing of the individuals who have been charged with his murder behind closed doors on Wednesday 4 October 2017, has further confirmed those concerns.

Yameen was one of the most well-known bloggers and social media commentators in the country. He was a vocal critic of militant Islamic extremism, pervasive injustice, human rights abuses and Government corruption in the Maldives. He was the leading advocate of justice for his close friend and disappeared journalist, Ahmad Rilwan Abdulla, who has been missing since 8 August 2014.

Yameen had received numerous death threats as a result of his writing, which had been reported repeatedly to the Maldives Police Services. According to his social media posts, he received no response from the police. He was stabbed to death in the early hours of Sunday, 23 April. His wounded body was reportedly discovered with multiple stab wounds near the stairwell of the apartment building, where he lived. He was taken to hospital, but was pronounced dead soon after.

The conduct of the police has raised questions around the integrity of the investigation from the beginning. There were reports that the crime scene was tampered with, compromising crucial evidence. Yameen’s family, who have spoken out several times to call for justice for their son, were harassed by local police.

The first hearing of the seven individuals, who have been charged for the murder, was held behind closed doors on 10 September 2017. At the time, the PG assured through the media that ‘not all hearings will be closed’.

Unfortunately, the second hearing, which was held on Wednesday 4 October saw the same happening. No one from the media, civil society or the general public was allowed to attend.

Article 42 (b) of the Constitution states that all hearings and trials must be conducted in an open and transparent manner. The Court stated that the hearings were closed upon request of the Prosecutor General. However, none of the three exceptions provided under the Constitution for closed hearings was referred to in the decision. While this is the first time hearings have been held behind closed doors in a murder case, there has been a worrying trend in the Maldives where other high profile cases have seen the same happen.

The Maldives is presently seeing a severe spike in street crime and murders. It is imperative that criminal justice processes are transparent to assure public trust and oversight of the system. As such, the way the case of Yameen is treated becomes a case of public interest. Victims of heinous crimes, their loved ones and the general public have the right to be assured of the efficacy of the criminal justice system, without which a state of fear and panic may give rise to other, additional problems.

We call on the Criminal Court of the Maldives to respect the Constitution and hold the next hearings publicly. Not only would this be in accordance with Article 42 of the Constitution, but it would be the interest of Yameen, his family and justice in the Maldives.

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