Six activists of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party arrested from the island of Ukulhas in Alif Alif atoll on charges of “sorcery and unruly behaviour” were released Monday after seven days in police custody.
The six men, including Alif Alif atoll council vice president Moosa Naeem, were arrested after opposition supporters created a mock grave on February 3 outside the home of an MDP activist who had switched to the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives.
The mock grave was made during a weekly MDP gathering and had pink petals strewn on top of a sand pile as a gesture towards the former activist. Magenta pink is the PPM’s colour.
According to local media, a group of policemen promptly arrived from the neighbouring island of Rasdhoo and inquired about the mock grave.
“I told them that some kids did it as a prank because a hardcore MDP activist quit and signed with the PPM,” Ukulhas Councillor Ali Zameer told newspaper Mihaaru.
The mock grave was meant to signify the erasure of the defector from the MDP, he explained, adding that it was dispersed at the police’s request without protest.
However, the six men – Naeem, Abdulla Saeed, Fikury Haneef, Saudhullah Ibrahim, Abdul Wahid Ali and Ibrahim Suzain – were arrested two days later and accused of practising sorcery and inciting fear among the public.
The arrest warrants stated that the men were under investigation on suspicion of practising sorcery, defence lawyer Nazim Sattar told the Maldives Independent.
“The custody form did not say anything about sorcery. It said ‘unruly behaviour’ on one person’s form,” Nazim said.
But the charges read out at court during their remand hearing included sorcery, he added. After the court remanded the six men to 15 days in police custody, they were transferred to the detention centre on the island of Dhoonidhoo near Malé.
Nazim noted that unruly behaviour under the new penal code is a misdemeanour that only carries a fine.
The police spokeswoman meanwhile declined to provide further details saying the case is under investigation.
Speaking to the Maldives Independent after his release, Abdul Wahid Ali said the mock grave was already set up when he went to the gathering.
“I don’t know why I was arrested. At first, they said I was an accomplice to a crime. Then they said I was disrupting peace and then that I was involved in sorcery,” he said.
“We don’t have freedom of speech. It’s like a sword is on our chests. We are uncertain of our safety and we don’t know when we will be taken.”
Upon their release, Wahid said the six paid for their own transport from the capital back to Ukulhas.
“We came home and got a lot of support. We were carried home on the arms of the people,” he said.
He suggested that the former activist, Shinaz Moosa, might have called the police when the MDP supporters gathered for the weekly Friday night rice pudding feast as part of the party’s preparations for April’s local council elections.
Moosa is reportedly the brother-in-law of PPM MP Ahmed Assad. He was unavailable for comment.
Wahid went on to criticise PPM supporters on Ukulhas, who “live by begging for money,” but stressed that islanders do not bear grudges over politics.
“People here do not keep things in their heart. We fight hard today but we will talk to each other like nothing ever happened,” he said.
The MDP had meanwhile condemned the arrests from Ukulhas as part of an “intensifying of the government’s intimidation and harassment of opposition members and supporters, ahead of the local council elections.”
The party said in a statement: “The government has threatened supporters with their jobs, and bribed MDP candidates with offers of government jobs in exchange for withdrawal of their MDP candidacies. The arrests are part of the same strategy of intimidation and harassment.”
The MDP contended that the government’s aim was to send a message to the party’s supporters.
“The first arrests of the government’s local council campaign coming from AA Ukulhas is not a coincidence,” the statement continued.
“Ukulhas was one of the islands to ever demonstrate against the establishment during the Maldives’ reform period in 2003, and has remained an MDP stronghold since then. These arrests are clearly meant to signal the consequences of demonstrating against President [Abdulla] Yameen to other opposition supporters and dissenters in other islands.”
Additional reporting by Hassan Moosa. Photo from social media.