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Court laughs when writer demands 500 year sentence
Maldives Culture report
10 July 2002

The publishers of the controversial Maldives political magazine Sandhaanu received life sentences at the criminal court in the capital island Male' on Sunday 7 July 2002.

Dhivehi language newspaper Miadhu introduced its 9 July report under the lengthy banner headline:
'Three people have been given life sentences for writing and distributing Sandhaanu newspaper to many recipients by e-mail; for publishing baseless stories that could create ill-will between the government and the people; and for calling upon the public to rise against the constitutionally established government of Maldives'

Ibrahim Moosa Luthfee, age 37, originally from Fenmuli house on Hithadhoo island, Seenu (Addu) atoll and residing at Park View house in Galolhu ward Male', Mohamed Zaki, age 50, from Ahmadheeabaadh house Maafannu ward Male', and Ahmed Ibrahim Didi, age 50, from Karishmaavilla house Maafannu ward Male', were each sentenced to 25 years imprisonment.

They also received 12 months banishment for attempting to assassinate the character of the President and similar charges.

Fathimath Nishreen, age 21, from Three Bird house Maafannu ward Male', received a 10 year gaol term for writing baseless articles against the government, for expressing her dissatisfaction towards the government and for e-mailing her expressed support to the Sandhaanu editors. Nishreen also received one year under house arrest for attempting to defame the character of the President and other high government officials.

No defence by the prisoners or lawyers was allowed at the trial on Sunday, and Luthfee appealed to the judge to increase his sentence from 25 to 500 years, stating that it was his desire to remain in gaol until President Gayyoom was out of office. Everyone inside the court burst out laughing.

Maldives' Aafathis newspaper on 9 July announced that the court made its ruling on two counts of allegations raised by the government prosecution. One was committing acts that were hostile to the government and the second was the offence of defamation. The report said the prisoners were sentenced on the first count under section 29 of the Maldives Penal Code.

'The prosecution raised claims in court against these people for using vile language to make accusations against the President, encouraging the public to change the legitimate government of Maldives, writing inaccurate material that would cause strife between the government and the public, and compiling a newsletter named Sandhaanu and distributing it on a large scale by means of email and in breach of the law,' the report said. The defamation case was raised with relevance to section 150 and section 152 of the Maldives Constitution. On the defamation count the prisoners were sentenced under section 163 of the Maldives Penal Code.

The Maldives government prosecution said the arrangement was for Luthfee to compile the newsletter in Male' and then send it to Zaki by e-mail; and sources quoted by Aafathis said the prisoners were arrested while they were in the process of preparing issue 9 of Sandhaanu.

Only Mohamed Zaki made any admissions, saying he distributed the newsletter by email from Malaysia to people in Maldives and overseas.

The detailed publication of the sentences by the state-controlled media indicates a direct warning to the Maldivian population from the President that political dissent will be harshly punished.

Note from Maldives Culture editors
Sections 150 and 152 of the Maldives constitution do not refer in any way to defamation of the President.
Section 150 refers to 'Inexpediencies at the time this Constitution comes into force', and section 152 is a short sentence regarding the 'Manner of ascertaining period and date'.

The only part of the constitution that could be related to the charges seems to be
Section 12 - High Treason:
12. (1) Any person who, by the threat or use of force or in violation of the Constitution, abrogates or attempts to abrogate the Constitution or attempts to undermine the Constitution or conspires to commit any of the said acts shall be guilty of high treason.
(2) Any person who aids and abets or is an accomplice in the commission of any act mentioned in clause (1) of this Article or any person who has knowledge of the commission of such act and has failed to report the same shall also be guilty of high treason.

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