Supreme Court orders against online hearings in Ali Waheed trial

Former Tourism Minister Ali Waheed arrives at Criminal Court on January 24, 2021. (Sun Photo/Fayaz Moosa)

The Supreme Court, on Monday, ordered the lower court against allowing former Tourism Minister Ali Waheed to attend his hearings remotely from outside Maldives, as he stands trial on multiple charges of sexual violence.

The decision by Criminal Court judge Hassan Saeed to allow Ali Waheed to attend his hearings remotely from the United Kingdom was contested by the Prosecutor General’s Office with the High Court. However, the court dismissed the appeal in July, citing lack of judicial and legal basis to hear the appeal.

The Prosecutor General’s Office filed a subsequent appeal with the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court issued an interim order in the case on Monday morning, ordering the Criminal Court not to hold any remote hearings in the case while Ali Waheed remains overseas, until the court makes a decision.

“And we also instruct your court not to hold any hearings via audio or video conferencing while defendants are outside the jurisdiction of Maldives in any other case under your purview,” reads the order, signed by the three-member bench overseeing the appeal; Justice Husnu Al Suood, Justice Ali Rasheed and Justice Mohamed Ibrahim.

Ali Waheed was dismissed as Tourism Minister on July 9, 2020, after allegations that he sexually assaulted and harassed multiple female employees at the Tourism Ministry was brought to the attention of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih. He was initially asked to voluntarily resign, but was dismissed after he refused.

He has been pressed with seven charges; attempted rape, inflicting a sexual, indecent exposure, sexual assault, attempt to cause sexual assault, and two counts of unlawful sexual contact.

He initially had a travel ban order against him, but the Criminal Court temporarily released his passport and allowed him to travel overseas for medical treatment on February 9, despite requests by the Prosecutor General's Office not to release his passport and grant him temporary travel papers instead.  He promptly left for the UK.

Once in the UK, Ali Waheed filed a motion asking the Criminal Court to allow him to attend his hearings remotely. The motion was allowed by the court despite the objections of the Prosecutor General’s Office, which argued that holding a hearing via video conferencing in a criminal trial with the defendant in a location outside of Maldives’ jurisdiction is in violation of Criminal Procedure Code, and that the court will not have the jurisdiction to penalize the defendant, even if he acts in contempt of the court. 

The Supreme Court sentenced Ali Waheed to two months and 12 days in prison for contempt of court on August 11, after he failed to appear at the appeal hearing.