Government denies ordering surveillance on ministers, lawyers

Government denies ordering surveillance on ministers, lawyers
April 07 15:42 2016

Two former attorneys general, a minister at the president’s office, and the former Islamic affairs minister have been under secret police surveillance for nearly a year on suspicion of plotting a coup d’état, according to a credible source.

The criminal court in May 2015 authorised the police to tap the phones of Legal Affairs Minister Aishath Azima Shukoor, prominent lawyers Husnu Suood and Dr Mohamed Munnavar, as well as former Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, the well-informed source told The Maldives Independent on the condition of anonymity.

“The orders were issued on suspicion of planning to overthrow the lawful government with foreign nationals. It was first issued in May 2015, renewed every three months and was last renewed on March 16, 2016,” the source said. 

According to the source, the lawyers were unaware of the court orders until recently. One of them learned of the surveillance last week through “other unofficial means”.

“It’s not clear yet under which law the court orders were issued. However, I know for sure that it’s not a MoniCon order under the new terrorism act,” he said.

The controversial anti-terror law passed in October last year authorises the High Court to grant ‘monicon’ (monitoring and control) orders for police to electronically tag, intercept communications, and conduct surveillance on terrorism suspects.

The home ministry has denied the existence of surveillance orders, with a spokeswoman saying in a text message: “There is no such order.”

The police was not responding to calls at the time of going to press.

Besieged by multiple political crises and perceived threats from within his administration since early 2015. President Abdulla Yameen had sacked two defence ministers whilst the ruling party-dominated parliament impeached two vice presidents, one of whom is now on trial over an alleged attempt to assassinate the president.

In his first public address after former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb’s arrest last October, Yameen painted a picture of a disloyal and unruly cabinet of ministers, some whom he accused of colluding with the opposition to topple the government.

Former Prosecutor General Muhthaz Muhsin is meanwhile in police custody over an alleged attempt to overthrow the government with a forged warrant for Yameen’s arrest. Following the ex-chief prosecutor’s arrest, Yameen had said that the fraudulent warrant was part of a coup plot.

Meanwhile, Husnu Suood, a former attorney general and the defence lawyer in several high-profile cases over the past year, publicly called on the government yesterday to remove the surveillance orders.

Azima – also a former attorney general – meanwhile departed to the UK last night to meet with the Commonwealth Secretary General Patricia Scotland as a special envoy of President Abdulla Yameen.

She was appointed legal affairs minister at the president’s office in January.

Former Islamic Minister Shaheem, a founding member of the religious conservative Adhaalath Party, resigned from the cabinet in May last year following the arrest of AP leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla from a mass anti-government demonstration.

Shaheem announced his retirement from politics and was later appointed vice chancellor of the Islamic University of Maldives.

Dr Mohamed Munnavar served as attorney general under former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. He quit the government to join the newly-formed Maldivian Democratic Party during the post-2003 democratic reform movement.

He also served as the MDP’s president, but left the party after failing to secure the party’s ticket for the 2008 presidential election. Dr Munnavar was critical of the short-lived MDP administration, but endorsed former President Mohamed Nasheed ahead of the 2013 presidential election.