Malé city councillor Zaidul Ameen has been transferred to house arrest after the criminal court reversed a previous decision to keep him detained for the duration of his trial.
The reasons for the court’s order are unclear as it was issued during a closed-door hearing held Monday to hear witness testimony. The next hearing was scheduled for July.
Zaid was put on trial on charges of obstructing administration of law, unlawful acquisition of information, and unlawful disclosure of information. Each of the three counts carries a penalty of four months and 24 days in prison.
Hearings have been closed to the press and members of the public since the trial began in late April.
Local media reported earlier this month that Zaid is accused of attempting to sell a secretly recorded conversation with Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed Mohamed.
Hameed also chairs the judicial watchdog body.
According to Zaid’s lawyer Mahfooz Saeed, the court heard anonymised testimony from two state witnesses during the previous hearing of the trial on May 2.
Zaid was previously transferred to house arrest twice following his arrest in early January on a blackmailing charge.
Shortly before he was taken back from house arrest to police custody in late February, Zaid accused a high-ranking police officer of threatening to keep him detained unless he gave false testimony that could be used as a pretext to arrest former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
Zaid, who represents the mid-Henveiru constituency in the Malé city council, is a staunch Gayoom loyalist. In July last year, he was expelled from the Progressive Party of Maldives amid an acrimonious leadership dispute that split the ruling party into rival factions led by Gayoom and President Abdulla Yameen.
After raiding his apartment and confiscating his laptop and phone, Zaid said the only question the police asked was whether he secretly recorded a conversation with a senior state official, who they said could have been a minister, lawmaker or judge.
The police then asked about a video that they were looking for as well as a hard disk alleged to have gone missing from the PPM’s former headquarters.
“The police have been repeatedly asking me in the interrogation to give a statement saying that the hard disk and video are in [Gayoom’s] possession and that President Maumoon is planning secret plots against the present government,” he alleged.
The police media official declined to respond to the allegations at the time, directing the Maldives Independent to a tweet assuring an internal probe by the professional standards command.
Zaid went on to allege that he was questioned numerous times in the absence of his lawyer by a high-ranking police official, who also asked him to replace his opposition-aligned attorney.
The top officer told him that Gayoom “has no power anymore” and offered to secure a government posting of his choice if he changed his allegiance.
Zaid alleged that the officer stressed the importance of his statement for arresting Gayoom and repeatedly threatened to keep him in jail “like Shumba Gong” if he refuses to cooperate.
Ahmed Ashraf, known as Shumba Gong on social media, has been in police custody since November 2015. The teenager was arrested on suspicion of links to the September 2015 blast on the president’s speedboat but was later charged with sending threatening text messages to a senior PPM member.
His trial has stalled since it began in February 2016. The charge of issuing threats carries a maximum jail sentence of one year.
Other key Gayoom supporters have also faced legal action.
Abdul Aleem, the secretary-general of Gayoom’s PPM faction, was summoned for questioning by the police last Wednesday over allegations of bribing lawmakers to vote in favour of a no-confidence motion against Deputy Speaker ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik.
Aleem said he was asked whether he had any knowledge about, managed, stashed or delivered funds intended to be distributed to MPs.
He categorically denied the allegations.
He was also previously placed under investigation, along with Gayoom supporter Ibrahim Afraath, on a charge of bribing lawmakers ahead of the March 27 vote to oust the speaker of the parliament. The police confiscated their phones and raided their home for hidden cash on April 7.
Aleem also paid an MVR85,000 (US$5,500) fine for contempt of court last month.
He was fined after a five-judge panel at the civil court decided that he contravened a ruling that effectively gave Yameen control of the PPM.
In late April, the police sought Interpol assistance to find Gayoom’s personal assistant, Ahmed Sofwan, in connection with an undisclosed investigation. Sofwan’s passport has since been revoked.
The 38-year-old is reportedly in India along with Gayoom, who left in March to visit a sick relative. Sofwan is also a member of the PPM’s governing council.