An opposition member was arrested today over a weekly prayer for political prisoners. Hassan Ahmed ‘Hassantay’ is charged with contravening the Religious Unity Act.
Hundreds of Maldivian Democratic Party supporters have been gathering outside the Islamic centre in Malé every week after Friday prayers since former president Mohamed Nasheed’s arrest in February.
MDP national council members use a megaphone to lead the prayer, seeking the release of the opposition leader and other jailed politicians as well as an end to “tyranny.”
The Islamic ministry had claimed in a statement last week that the MDP’s prayer contains ill wishes towards particular people, describing it as a “show off and had threatened to take legal action.
According to the arrest warrant, the party’s national council member “is suspected of leading a group prayer after the Friday prayers on 20 November 2015 outside the Islamic Centre with a political agenda to spread hatred amongst citizens, after the Islamic ministry had publicly ordered not to recite prayers outside the Islamic ministry in groups.”
He was arrested from a café in Malé this evening.
Confidential police intelligence information and videos of the prayer recitation are listed as evidence.
The 1994 religious unity law prohibits any action or speech that could disrupt religious unity and harmony, harm the independence and sovereignty of Maldives and restrict the rights of a specific group of individuals in society.
Offences specified in the law carry two to five years of house arrest or imprisonment.
MDP spokesman MP Imthiyaz Fahmy told the Maldives Independent Hassan’s arrest would not bring a stop to the party’s activities.
“This is a desperate and brutal act by [President Abdulla] Yameen’s government. The MDP and the people of this country are fighting for a cause, we will go on and this cannot be stopped,” he said.
MDP contends the Islamic Ministry’s statement last week only increased turnout at the Friday prayer.
The MDP has announced a fourth mass protest for Friday, November 27. The party says the protest, titled “Emancipation,” will be a prolonged protest
The arrest and imprisonment of Nasheed as well as ex-Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim triggered a political crisis in the Maldives. The opposition alliance held daily street protests and staged three mass anti-government demonstrations in the capital.
A UN human rights panel has since ruled Nasheed’s imprisonment illegal, but the government rejected the ruling, saying that only the Supreme Court can release the opposition leader.
Meanwhile, the Islamic ministry last month ordered mosques across the country to recite a special prayer after the five daily prayers for the safety of President Abdulla Yameen in the wake of a blast on the president’s speedboat on September 28.
However, a few days later, the ministry instructed mosques to stop reciting the prayer after opposition from island councils and Imams.
Worshippers and Imams at some mosques as well as prominent religious scholars objected to the mandatory prayer, contending that it was a bid’ah (heretical innovation).
“Protect and save our ruler, our people, and our country from the evil plots of schemers, acts of terrorism, the deceit of the deceitful, and the envy of the envious,” reads the scrapped prayer.