Opposition supporters gathered at the Maldivian Democratic Party meeting hall in Malé last night to welcome back MP Ahmed Mahloof and celebrate his release from prison.
The Independent MP for Galolhu South was released Friday morning after serving 10 months and 24 days on two counts of police obstruction.
“I don’t have the feeling of freedom when I’m here standing in front of this podium. What I feel today is that I’ve left the small jail of Maafushi and come to a much bigger jail,” Mahloof said at the rally.
Former Presidents Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and Mohamed Nasheed and several opposition figures have been forced into exile, he added, and travel bans have been imposed on Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim, MP Faris Maumoon, MP Abdulla Riyaz, Ameen Faisal and Shidhatha Shareef.
The current administration has deprived the Maldivian people of their fundamental rights, he said, vowing to restore democracy and “change this cruel, corrupt, oppressive and evil government” through legal means.
While the rally was ongoing, riot police officers used pepper spray and periodically attempted to disperse people from the street in front of the meeting hall. But the crowd remained in place. One man was taken into custody and released about an hour later.
Two days before his release, a UN rights panel ruled that Mahloof’s jailing was arbitrary and politically motivated. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called on the government to immediately release the lawmaker and to “accord him an enforceable right to compensation and other reparation”.
A day later, the high court upheld a six months jail sentence handed to Mahloof in late July last year. He was also sentenced to four months and 24 days in prison on a separate count of obstructing police duty.
Mahloof had been at the forefront of anti-government protests since his expulsion from the ruling party for “defaming” President Abdulla Yameen in early 2015.
He was found guilty of scaling barricades and trying to enter the restricted Republic Square during an opposition protest on the night of March 25, 2015, and then of trying to “flee” from the police after a remand hearing at the criminal court on April 3, 2015.
The charge of obstructing police duty carries either a fine of no more than MVR12,000 (US$778) or a jail sentence of no more than six months. The judge opted for the jail sentence despite pleas for leniency from the defence lawyer.
Mahloof’s sentencing coincided with the first rally of the Maldives United Opposition in July last year. As the opposition coalition’s spokesman, he was also detained multiple times while trying to promote the rally in Malé.
Despite the jail term, Mahloof retains his seat as a sitting MP is only disqualified if he is sentenced to more than one year in prison. But he was not allowed to attend parliamentary sittings or committee meetings.
Photo from Simwar
Alhamdhulillahi. So happy to be back home. Thank you all for the tremendous love and support. See you all tonight ❤️ pic.twitter.com/PtYW8fW7O3
— 𝐀𝐡𝐦𝐞𝐝 𝐌𝐚𝐡𝐥𝐨𝐨𝐟 (@AhmedMahloof) June 9, 2017