Social media activist released after one year in custody

Social media activist released after one year in custody
March 05 22:31 2017

The criminal court ordered the police on Wednesday to move Ahmed Ashraf, known as Shumba Gong on social media, to house arrest after more than a year in custody.

The 19-year-old was arrested on suspicion of links to the September 2015 blast on the president’s speedboat but was later charged with sending threatening text messages to a senior ruling party member.

His trial resumed on Wednesday after more than one year. The first hearing was held in February 2016. Ashraf has denied the charge of issuing threats, which carries a maximum jail sentence of one year, a period shorter than the teenager’s detention.

Two anonymised state witnesses meanwhile testified at last week’s hearing to seeing Ashraf’s threats to Zahid Rameez on the instant messaging platform Viber. Rameez is a member of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives’ governing council.

Two further prosecution witnesses are due to testify later this week. The defence is also planning to call two witnesses.

Ashraf was first arrested in Sri Lanka on November 1 and extradited to the Maldives. He was among eight associates of former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb wanted in connection with the speedboat blast.

Adeeb has since been convicted on multiple counts of terrorism and corruption and sentenced to 33 years in prison.

The Sri Lankan foreign ministry had criticised the Maldives for presenting inaccurate information for Ashraf’s arrest. The Maldivian authorities had claimed that Ashraf lacked the proper travel documents.

Ashraf had become increasingly critical of President Abdulla Yameen’s administration after Adeeb’s arrest over the alleged assassination plot on October 24, 2015.

Before supporting Adeeb, Ashraf was a vocal supporter of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party.

In April last year, Ashraf’s lawyer claimed that his client was forced to sit on the floor, in handcuffs, while Maldives Correctional Services officers alternately poured hot and ice-cold water on him.

The incident took place after prison officers alleged Ashraf had vandalised a camera in his cell, said Moosa Siraj, suggesting the treatment may have come as retaliation.

The MCS spokesman denied the allegations at the time. “No detainee will be treated inhumanely,” he insisted.