Police confiscate phones of social media activists

Police confiscate phones of social media activists
March 13 09:12 2017

The police have confiscated the phones of Thayyib Shaheem and Shammoon ‘Lucas’ Jaleel, accusing the popular opposition social media activists of “spreading misinformation and sowing discord in society”.

Thayyib, 42, was summoned for questioning on Thursday by the police sensitive and confidential information unit. The 29-year-old Lucas was summoned on Friday.

Upon arrival at the police headquarters in Malé, both men were handed court warrants authorising the seizure of their phones and other electronic devices for three months.

Thayyib and Lucas have 21,000 and 15,800 followers, respectively, on Twitter.

Neither were questioned about a particular tweet, but Thayyib said the police wanted to know who has access to his Twitter and Facebook accounts.

“They then proceeded to browse my Facebook account, going back to about a year,” he told the Maldives Independent.

Thayyib was the former news editor of the state broadcaster under former President Mohamed Nasheed.

“They also had some photocopies of my tweets but after I said there were other people with access to my Twitter account, they didn’t ask me any more questions about Twitter,” he said.

Lucas said he was first asked why he spread false information, a charge that he denied.

“They then asked me about how I got information. I told them it was from the news articles and what people tell me in confidence,” he said.

“I asked them if this was about Faafu atoll but they just laughed,” he added.

Both men have been outspoken in the online campaign against the rumoured sale of Faafu atoll or parts of it to Saudi investors, tweeting prolifically under the hashtag #SaveFaafu.

The police spokeswoman said the pair was “questioned over an ongoing investigation” and declined to provide further information.

In a statement on Sunday, the Maldivian Democratic Party condemned the “harassment” of journalists and social media activists who have been writing about the forthcoming mega project in Faafu atoll.

Describing the summoning of Thayyib and Lucas as “an unlawful atrocity,” the MDP said it demonstrates the lack of independence of the police institution.

The main opposition party also condemned the police for summoning the party’s members on the northern islands of Bileyfahi and Dhidhdhoo, alleging that the police threatened them against putting up banners or speaking about the Faafu atoll deal.

After warning that “legal action” will be taken against any attempts to carry out “demeaning” activities during upcoming official visits, the police have raided the MDP’s meeting hall twice and cracked down on a protest on Faafu Biledhdhoo, snatching banners from protesters.

Thayyib was meanwhile previously summoned to the police station twice over social media posts. In July last year, Lucas was arrested on a charge of “inciting hatred” against the security forces and held for nearly 40 days in police custody.

He was released after the high court overturned the criminal court’s third order to hold Lucas in remand detention.

However, the appellate court imposed four conditions for his release. Lucas was prohibited from carrying out or participating in any activity that hinders law enforcement officers, impugning the honour and reputation of such institutions, and leaving the country without permission.

Lucas was later informed by the police that the charges against him were dropped due to lack of evidence.