Government dismisses crackdown on opposition leaders

Government dismisses crackdown on opposition leaders
April 03 12:56 2017

The government has dismissed allegations of harassing and intimidating opposition politicians in the wake of last week’s failed bid to impeach the speaker of parliament, renewing calls for political parties to re-engage in talks.

In a statement released Sunday evening, the president’s office noted that the basis of the opposition’s claim is “investigations currently underway against some member of parliament” after Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim and his deputy, MP Abdulla Riyaz, were summoned for questioning at the police headquarters.

“However, the government reiterates that the judiciary and police in the Maldives are independent of government, or party, interference,” the president’s office asserted.

“These cases are based on legal evidence, therefore obligating the police to investigate.”

Gasim and Riyaz were summoned for questioning at the police headquarters again on Sunday. Gasim said the police took an audio sample for their investigation of alleged bribery ahead of the no-confidence vote.

Riyaz was accused of spreading false rumours and unduly influencing the police force.

On Friday, the opposition alliance decried the government’s “new campaign of intimidation and harassment against opposition leaders” after fresh terror charges were raised against former President Mohamed Nasheed and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was expelled from the party he founded.

The president’s office that the opposition “correctly stated” that the police have prevented Gayoom from speaking in the name of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives.

“The former President is no longer a member of the PPM – there are legal, as well as administrative, facts that speak to this – and as such he cannot legally speak for PPM,” it added.

On Thursday, the civil court ordered the police to shut down the “office of the PPM president” set up by Gayoom and to stop any activity being carried out under the party’s name. The police subsequently removed the PPM nameplate and flag from Gayoom’s office in Malé.

The opposition also noted that former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim was abruptly taken back to jail in the aftermath of Monday’s contentious vote.

Nazim was transferred to house arrest in April last year.

In January, a UN rights panel ruled that Nazim’s jailing was illegal and backed the retired colonel’s insistence that he was framed by the police. But the government rejected the judgment by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

The prisons authority meanwhile informed the wife of jailed MP Ahmed Mahloof that he will not be allowed weekly phone calls or family and conjugal visits for one month. He was accused of “threatening national security” by urging lawmakers to vote in favour of the no-confidence motion.

The Maldives Correctional Service has since told local media that Mahloof’s privileges have been restored as of Monday.

The president’s office statement made no mention of Nazim or Mahloof’s cases.

Ibrahim Hussain Shihab, spokesman at the president’s office, said President Abdulla Yameen welcomes an opposition that holds the government to account.

“However, it seems that the opposition is more interested in stunts to gain recognition and airtime in the international media,” he was quoted as saying in the statement.

“Such actions feel irresponsible and damaging to the state and its institutions – it further fosters falsehoods made about the policies, laws, rules and procedures of our nation. Reality and fact continue to be distorted to the detriment of the people of the Maldives.”

He went on to reaffirm the president’s “commitment to upholding the rule of law” and his “resolute” determination for maintaining the independence of the police and judiciary.

“This administration is under no illusion that it somehow has the authority to order a ‘crackdown’ on the opposition – nor would it take example from previous administrations in exceeding, or going beyond, such authority,” Shihab said.

He added that the government remains committed to re-engaging in all-party talks without preconditions and urged the opposition to take up the “renewed offer of consultation.”

Meanwhile, on Friday, the police also interrogated Anas Abdul Sattar, secretary-general of the Maldivian Democratic Party, over a tweet from the MDP’s official account that urged opposition supporters to gather near the police headquarters in solidarity with Gasim.

Two opposition activists are also under police custody on charges of sowing discord and spreading false information on social media, one of whom has been declared a “prisoner of conscience” by Amnesty International.

Transparency Maldives, the local branch of global anti-corruption NGO Transparency International, has also condemned “the harassment and intimidation of social media activists and journalists by the state.”