Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim was arrested at midnight Friday from his home in Malé on fresh charges of bribery and attempting to overthrow the government.
According to the second arrest warrant granted by Chief Judge Abdul Bari Yousuf, the business tycoon is accused of influencing lawmakers to sign a no-confidence motion to remove the speaker and deputy speaker of parliament. He was also accused of influencing judges as well as police and military officers and of inciting fear and sowing discord among the public.
The police claimed that Gasim was encouraging the alleged actions in his speeches at nightly opposition rallies. Leaving him free would impede the investigation as he could hide evidence and influence witnesses, the warrant stated.
Gasim also poses a threat to society, the police said.
Judge Bari remanded the lawmaker to 15 days in police custody on Friday. He dismissed objections from defence lawyers about the same judge who granted the arrest warrant presiding over the remand hearing as the legality of the arrest is the first question of fact.
The opposition alliance meanwhile condemned the “fabricated charges and illegal arrests of opposition leaders”, calling the moves “panic measures” in response to the opposition’s bid to gain a parliamentary majority.
“The increasingly flagrant and nefarious actions follow the newly formed opposition alliance’s announcement of commanding sufficient parliamentary votes to impeach the Speaker of Parliament,” reads a joint statement.
The government, however, has dismissed the opposition’s allegations of intimidation and harassment of politicians, insisting that the police and judiciary are independent.
With former President Mohamed Nasheed in exile and other politicians in jail or under house arrest, Gasim is the only opposition leader able to actively lead the new coalition formed between opposition parties and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
The Inter-Parliamentary Union also expressed concern about Gasim’s arrest and urged the authorities to “see to due process and rule of law.”
After six days in custody earlier this month, the high court released Gasim on the grounds that his arrest violated the parliamentary privileges law, which requires the Prosecutor General to seek a warrant if a sitting MP is to be detained for a criminal investigation.
PG Aishath Bisham reportedly applied for the new warrant.
Gasim’s trial meanwhile began on April 13, a day after his release. At the first hearing, the judge rejected a request to detain him for the duration of the trial.
He was charged with bribery, influencing the official conduct of a public official, and intimidating and improperly influencing a voter. The trial is set to resume on Sunday. The MP for the Maamigili constituency will lose his seat if he is found guilty on any of the counts.
Last Sunday, the police raided Gasim’s home and office and confiscated his mobile phone. He was also questioned Wednesday night about alleged attempts to exert influence on judges and police and military officers.
Gasim was also barred from the leaving the country and his passport has been withheld.
Following his arrest Friday night, Gasim’s heavyweight lawyers were prevented from meeting their client with the area around the police headquarters cordoned off. They were later allowed access at the police detention on the nearby island of Dhoonidhoo.
Gasim was first interrogated over remarks he made during a speech before the March 27 no-confidence vote against the speaker. The JP leader had declared that the allied parties would grant tickets for the 2019 parliamentary elections to MPs who vote in favour.
He had also offered to help with the re-election campaigns. Gasim later said his remarks were directed at JP MPs who have switched to the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives, maintaining that he was fulfilling his responsibility after the party issued a three-line whip to vote in favour of the no-confidence motion.
Gasim’s earlier arrest meanwhile prompted the EU and the embassies of Canada, Norway, Switzerland and the US to urge the government to respect fundamental freedoms and to allow opposition politicians “to conduct their activities without fear of intimidation or incarceration”.