In leaked audio, defence minister vows to seek charges against lawmakers

In leaked audio, defence minister vows to seek charges against lawmakers
August 02 22:21 2017

A secret recording of Defence Minister Adam Shareef Umar vowing to seek charges against opposition lawmakers during a meeting with soldiers was leaked online Wednesday morning.

The meeting appears to have taken place after the military security personnel clashed with protesting MPs and shielded the embattled speaker during Monday’s brief and raucous sitting of parliament.

“The [Maldives National Defence Force] leadership discussed among ourselves today and decided to submit to the Maldives Police Service and treat it as a crime. I am sure that this case will be registered with the police by tomorrow morning,” Shareef is heard telling soldiers from the elite Special Protection Group.

The defence minister said he consulted with the Attorney General and Prosecutor General’s offices and was told that “the best way forward would be to investigate it through the police and press criminal charges.”

Legal consultants also advised that MPs are only exempt from criminal inquiries over their statements and votes in the Majlis. “Any other action whether it is damaging the property of Majlis, or whether it is assault, is subject to prosecution like anyone else,” he said. 

Opposition MPs Ahmed Mahloof and Hussain Areef have since been banned from travelling overseas and placed under investigation on charges of obstructing and assaulting soldiers. Judge Ali Adam imposed the one-month travel bans after the police claimed based on secret intelligence that the lawmakers were planning to flee to Sri Lanka.

Shareef said he has asked both the police chief and home minister to expedite the cases.

“You are the final line of defence to react to ensure peace and stability in this country. So, I want to assure you that we do believe that we have to take legal steps to ensure your safety,” he said.

Shareef also sought to address criticism in the wake of the unprecedented expulsion of opposition lawmakers from parliament last week.

MPs Mohamed Waheed Ibrahim, Mohamed Ameeth and Saud Hussain were arrested last week for entering the parliament building after the Majlis had declared that they were no longer members of parliament.

Nine other opposition lawmakers have been summoned for questioning on charges of breaking through police lines on July 24. They are accused of criminal trespassing, obstructing or restricting police officers, disorderly conduct, and obstruction of the administration of law or other government functions.

In the leaked audio, Shareef claimed that the MNDF was forced to limit access due to a terror threat.

“We got reports from a responsible person in the Majlis that there was a possibility for violence or actions that would lead to terrorism. So we asked the Majlis administration to document this. They did and informed the ministry that it was possible,” he explained.

He insisted that the military did not obstruct the functioning of parliament.

“The Majlis administration informed us through a letter that there was no sitting or committee [meeting] between 24th and 31st,” he said.

“For another thing, the people who obstructed are the people who went into Majlis that day while you were doing your duty,” he said.  

“You may be called as witnesses for that investigation. The MNDF leadership has decided that when officers are taken to police, a military police officer will escort you there for your safety. “

An alleged list of witnesses from the SPG has also been leaked online.

Shareef dismissed threats from the opposition that individual soldiers could face legal action in the future as attempts to “psychologically weaken you” and assured that superior officers would not issue unconstitutional or unlawful orders.

“In any circumstance, if I am giving out an order I usually consult with the AG, sometimes I consult with [president’s office legal affairs minister] Azima Shukoor, and many times with the PG as well. That’s because, to put it bluntly, we don’t want to face any negative consequence as a result of a decision we make,” he said.

Soldiers were allowed to pose questions after Shareef’s remarks.

Asked about assurances for legal protection, Shareef said: “In what you are doing, if you continue on with the leadership, I am sure the leadership will not do anything against your interests. I am sure the tolerance of these leaders is higher than mine. If it was me there, I would have broken [an MP’s] jaw by now.”

He advised soldiers to exercise restraint.

“When they touch, if a soldier reacts it would be much worse. I hear they want to find [a photo of themselves] pinned against the wall. I don’t know, you’d know better. That wouldn’t be a good thing for soldiers to do in the Majlis chamber. So our stand is that we will submit to police and investigate all such things separately as criminal offenses,” he said.

“All I ask of you is to keep your discipline as it is now, raise your tolerance and not make it a fight.”

Following the audio leak, former President Mohamed Nasheed alleged that SPG officers have been detained at barracks and their phones seized by the police, which has since been denied by the military.

Shareef also revealed that the government is seeking a “procedural solution” to stop the media from broadcasting video footage filmed by lawmakers inside the chamber.

Journalists were barred from observing Monday’s sitting but MPs live-streamed the chaotic scenes on Facebook.

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