Majority leader Ahmed Nihan has attracted a storm of criticism for spitting at a female opposition MP’s face during a heated exchange over corruption allegations on the parliament floor on Wednesday.
South Asians for Human Rights, a regional human rights group, in a statement condemned Nihan’s attack on Rozaina Adam, an MP with the Maldivian Democratic Party, and criticised Speaker Abdulla Maseeh’s failure to halt the sitting.
“SAHR finds it equally regrettable that the Speaker of Parliament took no notice of the incident and continued the parliamentary proceedings. The Speaker thus seemed to endorse a highly reprehensible act of the Majority Leader, allegedly intended to insult and humiliate the female MP.”
Videos of the incident show Nihan spit out a large mouthful of water at Rozain’s face, prompting her to throw water back at Nihan. The majority leader later claimed he had been choking. However, a video of the aftermath shows Nihan saying he would do it again.
The row has turned nasty with Rozaina calling the act “bioterrorism” claiming Nihan had tuberculosis. Nihan had been hospitalised and flown abroad for treatment in January for a lung infection.
Nihan, who heads the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives, has since published a medical report that indicates he does not have an infectious disease.
— Ahmed Nihan MP (@ahmed_nihan) February 28, 2016
Rozaina has also lodged a complaint with the Inter-Parliamentary Union. The IPU last year said Maldives accounted for 35 percent of all its human rights complaints concerning Asian MPs.
PPM MP Sujau Usman meanwhile has accused Rozaina of attacking Nihan with a bottle and called on the speaker to launch an inquiry.
Usman said Rozaina had injured Nihan’s left thumb.
Women’s rights group, Hope for Women, headed by PPM council member Aneesa Ahmed, has also condemned Nihan’s actions in a Facebook post.
“We believe that such behaviour hinders the work carried out to achieve gender parity, and most importantly it affects the work carried out to increase female participation in politics,” the NGO said.
SAHR meanwhile called on Maseeh to take immediate steps toward “an impartial investigation into the incident and to ensure that proper reparations are made to the female MP, so that the dignity of the parliament is safeguarded.”
SAHR also expressed concern over complaints that Maldivian female MPs have “been physically attacked on a number of occasions inside the parliament and have been threatened to be raped by fellow male MPs”
The statement went on to note that acts of intimidation have gone uninvestigated.
“When institutions who are the guardians of democratic values and of the rule of law fail to deter any deviant behaviour within their own institutions, they injure not only their reputation but also erode the respect for democratic conduct amongst individual legislators.”