US, EU and Canada condemn fresh crackdown on Maldives opposition

US, EU and Canada condemn fresh crackdown on Maldives opposition
April 09 14:50 2017

The United States, the European Union and Canada have condemned the Maldives government amid a fresh crackdown on the opposition which has seen the arrest and investigation of key figures on bribery charges.

“Opposition politicians ought to be able to conduct their activities without fear of intimidation or incarceration,” the EU and the embassies of Canada, Norway, Switzerland and the US said in a joint statement on Saturday.

“It is critical for democracy in the Maldives that the Government respect fundamental freedoms, including freedom of assembly and freedom of speech.”

A spokesman for the president’s office declined to comment, but referred to a fresh invitation by the government for all-party talks.

The statement by the EU, US and Canada follows the Thursday arrest of MP Gasim Ibrahim, the leader of the Jumhooree Party, on charges of bribery and attempting to oust President Abdulla Yameen.

A newly minted coalition, comprising of Gasim’s JP, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s faction of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives, and former President Mohamed Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party, are trying to weaken Yameen’s hold on power by gaining control of the parliament.

It has launched a bid to remove the speaker and deputy speaker, who are both loyal to Yameen, but a no-confidence motion against Speaker Abdulla Maseeh failed in March.

The vote was marred with irregularities and the opposition has pledged to file a new motion.

In its aftermath, the government invited the opposition once again to talks, while also intensifying a crackdown on key figures.

The Yameen faction expelled Gayoom from the PPM, a party he founded, and the police removed the national flag and the PPM logo from his office. The former president is currently in India.

Nasheed, who lives in exile in the United Kingdom after being sentenced to 13 years in prison for terrorism, was summoned to court on fresh terror charges.

Former defence minister Mohamed Nazim, who was under house imprisonment after being sentenced to 11 years in prison on weapons smuggling charges, was taken back to jail.

MP Abdulla Riyaz, the deputy leader of JP and a former police chief, had his mobile phone confiscated and was placed under investigation on charges of spreading false rumours and attempting to influence the security forces.

Then, on Thursday Gasim was arrested. Police claim he attempted to bribe lawmakers to remove the speaker and may tamper with evidence if he remained free.

However, defence counsel for Gasim say the police have no evidence.

The police also raided the home of two Gayoom supporters and confiscated their phones accusing them of involvement in the alleged bribery attempt.

The opposition has labelled the call for dialogue insincere and a diversion.

The United Nations on Friday reiterated the need for inclusive dialogue to resolve the Maldives’ protracted crisis. The country has been plunged into turmoil since Nasheed and Nazim’s arrest in early 2015.