A former Malé city councillor on trial for obstruction and unlawful acquisition and disclosure of information has switched factions in the divided Progressive Party of Maldives.
“I have withdrawn the support I gave for President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in the political arena since 2008,” Zaidul Ameen declared Monday night on his social media accounts.
“And I have decided to do everything I can to re-elect President Abdulla Yameen in the 2018 election and to maintain this government that came to power in 2013 through [a campaign] with my involvement.”
Zaid, who previously represented the mid-Henveiru constituency in Malé city council, was a staunch loyalist of former president Gayoom. He was expelled from the PPM along with MP Faris Maumoon last year amid an acrimonious leadership dispute between the Gayoom brothers that split the ruling party into rival factions.
The 80-year-old former strongman went on to form an alliance with opposition parties with his son leading a push to oust the speaker of parliament.
Zaid was arrested in January on a blackmailing charge and transferred to house arrest in May after the criminal court reversed a previous decision to keep him detained for the duration of his trial.
On September 26, the court released Zaid from house arrest on the condition that he stays in Malé for one month.
Hearings have been closed to the press and members of the public since the trial began in late April.
Zaid was charged with obstructing the 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.
Local media reported that Zaid is accused of attempting to sell a secretly recorded conversation with Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed Mohamed.
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 the elder Gayoom.
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, was released to house arrest in March after more than a year in custody.