The opposition alliance has stopped using the Jumhooree Party headquarters in Malé after the party’s leader Gasim Ibrahim was released with seven conditions imposed by the criminal court.
After 20 days in police custody, Gasim was released Wednesday afternoon on the condition that he refrains both from speaking in a manner that sows discord or incites unrest and allowing others to use his home or property to deliver such speeches.
The JP’s Kunooz meeting hall in the Maafanu ward of the capital – a property registered under the business tycoon’s name – was used for nightly opposition rallies since late March. After Gasim’s release, Wednesday night’s rally was changed to the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s smaller haruge (meeting hall) in front of the artificial beach.
A jail cell was set up on the Kunooz stage as a prop after Gasim’s arrest. The JP’s headquarters were also redecorated with the colours of the allied parties.
MP Abdulla Riyaz, the JP’s deputy leader, told the Maldives Independent: “We are waiting for the legal team to finish their assessment of the conditions, so we will only make a decision on using Kunooz after that.”
The conditions also included a gag order against any statements that could cause disquiet or misgivings among the public towards the heads of the executive, legislature and judiciary. Gasim was also ordered to refrain from “holding meetings with people who sow discord and strife in society”.
Lawyers and legal experts have since questioned the legality of the criminal court’s conditions, which also included cooperating with the police investigation, seeking police permission before leaving the country, and not committing any act to influence witnesses or eliminate evidence.
Hussain Shameem, a former deputy prosecutor general and a member of Gasim’s legal team, explained that a high court precedent has established that such conditions are unconstitutional.
In April 2015, the high court ordered MP Ahmed Mahloof’s release after overturning an “unconstitutional” 15-day detention order and protest ban.
The criminal court at the time kept extending the independent lawmaker’s remand detention after he refused to accept a conditional release that required him to stay away from protests for 30 days.
“The high court said Mahloof can only be held in custody if there is a reason to believe he may flee or fail to attend a court hearing. Judges said attending protests is not a reason for detention,” his lawyers said at the time.
According to some legal experts, the conditions imposed on Gasim breaches Article 49 of the constitution, which states that a court can only hold an individual in remand if there is a reason to believe they may tamper with evidence, fail to attend court or abscond from the trial.
Mahfooz Saeed, a lawyer and legal expert, told the Maldives Independent that the high court ruling established that imposing other conditions is unconstitutional.
“The high court ruling on Mahloof’s case mentioned four conditions. These conditions are also highlighted in the regulation to keep suspects under custody. It is an arbitrary decision to impose any other conditions,” he said.
According to the regulations, a suspect can be prohibited from travelling out of the island or visiting specific areas. He may also be compelled to attend the police station at specified times and to inform the authorities of any change in his address or phone number.
JP MP Ali Hussain told newspaper Mihaaru that the criminal court has deprived Gasim of exercising his constitutional rights to expressing himself freely, using his own property and engaging in political activity.
He stressed that making statements about state officials that could create doubt or distress among the public is not a crime in the penal code.
Gasim is presently standing trial on charges of attempting to bribe lawmakers to impeach Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed.
He was charged for declaring that the allied parties would grant tickets for the 2019 parliamentary elections to MPs who vote in favour of the March 27 no-confidence motion. He also offered to help with their re-election campaigns during a speech at an opposition rally.
Gasim was also charged with influencing the official conduct of a public official and intimidating and improperly influencing a voter. The MP for Maamigili would lose his seat if he is found guilty on any of the three counts.
The charges were raised after the newly formed alliance between opposition parties and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom sought unsuccessfully to gain the parliament’s majority in late March.
When his trial began, the criminal court rejected the prosecution’s request to detain Gasim for the duration of the trial. But a week later, he was arrested at midnight from his home in Malé on fresh charges of bribery and attempting to overthrow the government.
The criminal court later remanded the business tycoon to police custody for 15 days. The remand period was extended by four days last Friday.
He was released Wednesday afternoon after he was brought to court for the third remand hearing. The 65-year-old was detained at the police custodial centre on the island of Dhoonidhoo near Malé.
Gasim is yet to make any public statements since his release.
Former Presidents Gayoom and Mohamed Nasheed meanwhile welcomed Gasim’s release.
Extremely relieved and happy that Hon @qasimibrahim has been released. I salute his courage & wish him every success insha Allah.
— Maumoon Abdul Gayoom (@maumoonagayoom) May 10, 2017
Sharuthuthakaa ekuves Hon. Gasim Ibrahim jaluge kuda golhin salaamaiy vaagoiy vumakee libune ufaleh adhi hivvareh
— Mohamed Nasheed (@MohamedNasheed) May 10, 2017
While Wednesday night’s opposition rally was ongoing, ministers and lawmakers gathered down the road for the first ruling coalition rally since Saturday’s local council elections.
The ruling Progressive Party of Maldives began rallies at coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance’s meeting hall, located a short distance from the MDP’s haruge. The ruling coalition reportedly plans to hold gatherings every weeknight in a bid to reverse its fortunes after losing the municipal elections.
Reporting by Saya Ahmed and Shafaa Hameed.