Government defends imprisonment of ‘extremist’ Sheikh Imran

Government defends imprisonment of ‘extremist’ Sheikh Imran
February 18 15:24 2016

The government has defended the imprisonment of Sheikh Imran Abdulla on a terrorism charge, linking the Adhaalath Party leader’s speech at a mass anti-government rally on May 1 last year to extremism.

Imran was found guilty of inciting violence in his speech at the 20,000-strong protest march and sentenced to 12 years in prison Tuesday night.

“The world faces an existential threat from extremist ideologies and the Maldives is committed to ensuring that such ideologies are not allowed to prosper within these islands,” the foreign ministry said in a statement yesterday.

“Extremism does not necessarily take the form of religious extremism; a call by an individual to commit violence in the name of a political ideology is as dangerous, and must be dealt with in the same way.”

Imran’s sentencing has drawn widespread condemnation from foreign governments, local NGOs, lawyers, and religious scholars. His conviction marked the first terrorism sentence passed in the Maldives over a speech made at a political gathering.

But the foreign ministry said Imran “acted outside of the law, and this cannot be tolerated else chaos will reign.”

Imran’s speech at the May Day rally was “seized and acted upon by numerous individuals who went on to vandalise public property, and thereafter individuals attacked law enforcement officials”.

But Imran’s lawyers contend that the prosecution was unable to prove the fiery speaker encouraged violence in his speech.

The foreign ministry statement added: “Such actions will not be tolerated in the Maldives, and any individual shown to have committed such offences will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, regardless of their position.”

It also noted that the Adhaalath Party was part of the ruling coalition until days before the May Day rally, “and the party’s senior figures were at high-ranking positions in the government.”

While it is essential to uphold fundamental rights and freedoms in a developing democracy, “such freedoms do not grant an individual carte blanche to act in any manner that they see fit, especially when those actions are at the detriment of the safety of others and society as a whole.”

The foreign ministry insisted that the constitutional rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression are encouraged in the Maldives.

“However, such rights must only be exercised within the confines of the law,” it added.

“The government of the Maldives is steadfast in its campaign against such actions, whilst at the same time allowing citizens to protest, and to criticise where they wish, as it is steadfast in its commitment to justice.”