Lawyer Nazim Sattar was summoned for questioning at the police headquarters Wednesday over a retweet alleging that the first lady was travelling from Singapore to Malé “with large amounts of cash”.
According to his suspect information form, Nazim was accused of sowing discord among the public by spreading false information on social media and of making false reports to law enforcement agencies.
The Singaporean police and immigration were tagged in the original tweet by Akram Kamalludeen, a council member of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party.
Speaking to the Maldives Independent, Nazim called his summons “ludicrous”.
“I would also like to note that they continued to say I am to be at the police for a case under investigation. They would not say which case or the charge,” he said.
“However, the Criminal Procedures Act says they cannot do so and that the police must reveal the nature of the accusation.”
The charges against him include “unsworn falsification to authorities” and “false reports to law enforcement.”
Nazim is also the younger brother of exiled former President Mohamed Nasheed.
His summons followed the arrest of prominent social media activist Thayyib Shaheem last week on suspicion of inciting fear and panic about the H1N1 swine flu virus and sowing discord among the public with false information on social media.
The criminal court extended Thayyib’s remand detention by a further 15 days on Thursday afternoon.
On Tuesday, Amnesty International said it believes Thayyib has been “detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression, and therefore considers him a prisoner of conscience.”
The international human rights group expressed concern that restrictions imposed by the government on the right to freedom of expression are contrary to obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Amnesty also called on the government to “immediately and unconditionally release Thayyib Shaheem from detention, and drop any criminal proceedings against him.”
Transparency Maldives, the local branch of global anti-corruption NGO Transparency International, has meanwhile launched an online campaign in support of journalism and dissemination of information.
“We condemn the harassment and intimidation of social media activists and journalists by the State.
Media is just an expression of demand for information,” the NGO said.
“Disseminating information is not an act of terrorism.”
Thayyib was formerly the news editor of the state broadcaster under former President Mohamed Nasheed. He has more than 21,000 followers on Twitter and routinely levels serious allegations against President Abdulla Yameen, ruling party lawmakers, and senior state officials.
Thayyib’s arrest came less than two hours after he posted on Twitter audio clips of MP Ahmed Nihan telling a group of people that the constitution was amended to facilitate the sale of the island of Himithi in Faafu atoll to the Saudi deputy crown prince.
The constitution previously prohibited foreign ownership of Maldivian land, but controversial amendments were brought in July 2015 to authorise foreign freeholds if an investment exceeds US$1 billion.
Shortly before his arrest, Thayyib also alleged on Twitter that 13 boxes unloaded from a Saudi helicopter were taken to the presidential retreat island near Malé under the supervision of two officials from the Maldives Monetary Authority.
The central bank promptly issued a press statement denying the social media rumours as “absolutely false and without any degree of truth”. The MMA also threatened to take action against those who spread lies about the institution and its employees.
Thayyib’s phone was meanwhile confiscated earlier this month after he was summoned for questioning at the police headquarters.
He told the Maldives Independent that the police wanted to know who has access to his Twitter and Facebook accounts.
“They then proceeded to browse my Facebook account, going back to about a year,” he said.
“They also had some photocopies of my tweets but after I said there were other people with access to my Twitter account, they didn’t ask me any more questions about Twitter.”
A day later, the police also summoned social media activist Shammoon ‘Lucas’ Jaleel and confiscated his phone.
Both men were outspoken in the online campaign against the alleged sale of Faafu atoll or parts of it to Saudi investors, tweeting prolifically under the hashtag #SaveFaafu.