Parliament on Tuesday recommended a series of measures in response to the findings of a presidential commission about the murder of MP Afrasheem Ali in October 2012 by a local extremist group affiliated with al-Qaeda.
A report by the security services committee with 11 recommendations was passed with 47 votes in favour and 10 votes against. The recommendations included obtaining annual reports and financial statements from 2012 to 2018 of Jamiyyathul Salaf, a religious conservative NGO that was accused of inciting hatred against Afrasheem with a sermon that warned the public not to pray behind the moderate scholar.
The report listed extremist organisations, people suspected of possessing varying degrees of knowledge about the murder, and groups suspected of conducting financial transactions in relation to the contract killing by a radicalised criminal gang. The oversight committee decided to seek information about financial transactions of all extremist groups from the Maldives Monetary Authority.
Other recommendations included taking immediate legal action against all persons found by the commission’s probe to have committed crimes, including a group of unidentified suspects who were inside Afrasheem’s apartment building and the nearby Christie’s restaurant on the night of the murder.
Further information would be sought from the defence ministry and immigration department about their departure overseas hours after the murder, including the names of the immigration officers on duty and those who permitted them to leave the country.
The committee recommended legal action against police intelligence analyst Ibrahim Riffath who was found to have received information prior to the murder but failed to take any action.
Legal action was also recommended against former Islamic minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem for providing false information to the commission’s inquiry. Both Shaheem and Salaf have denied any involvement and accused the commission of naming them in the report for political purposes.
Earlier on Tuesday, Home Minister Sheikh Imran Abdulla told MPs that the presidential commission had informed him there were no grounds to arrest or prosecute any suspects in relation to its findings about Afrasheem’s murder. The inquiry commission has the legal authority to seek arrest warrants and forward cases for prosecution, he stressed, pledging full cooperation from the police.
The Prosecutor General’s office said there was no new evidence to appeal the acquittal of Ali Shan, who was accused by the commission of stabbing Afrasheem in the stairwell of his home together with Hussain Humam, the only person convicted of the murder.
Shan, a ruling party activist, was suspended and then fired from his job as a Thilafushi site supervisor at the state-owned Greater Malé Industrial Zone Ltd after the report was made public.
During the debate on the security services committee’s report, both ruling party and opposition lawmakers criticised the home minister as well as the presidential commission and law enforcement bodies.
“We made a law and gave the commission powers, the power to arrest and detain, to conduct raids, to seize property. So if the commission did this right, Home minister won’t be able to come here today and say we can’t send this to prosecute. Police don’t have to send it for prosecution. In this law, we gave the commission the power to prosecute,” said Majority Leader Ali Azim from the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party.
MP Hassan Latheef, chairman of the MDP, questioned why members of an organisation that “recruits, trains and sends fighters to war” could not be prosecuted.
Opposition MP Ahmed Thoriq called on the president to dissolve the commission. “We know that it can’t produce results because home minister said that there is nothing that can be done. The Presidential commission tells the home minister there is nothing that can be done. The commission that we empowered with a law can’t serve its purpose,” the Mahibadhoo MP said.
Independent MP for Nolhivaram Mohamed Nasheed Abdulla accused Speaker Mohamed Nashed of leading an attack on Salaf to “silence the voice of religious scholars” as vengeance for the government’s decision to ban human rights NGO Maldivian Democracy Network over the alleged slander of Islam in a report about radicalisation.
On Monday, MDN expressed concern over calls to ban Salaf and called on the government to “to stop obstructing the legitimate work of civil society”.
“The allegations against Jamiyya Salaf, and individuals associated with the NGO of engaging in terrorist activities is a serious issue,” MDN said. “Our 2015 report, ‘Preliminary Assessment of Radicalisation in the Maldives’ highlighted the connections Jamiyya Salaf has to increasing violent narratives. Although this information has been reported, the inaction over the past several years has worsened the situation. We call on the Maldivian authorities to investigate these allegations and take legal action in due course.”
But MDN condemned “banning of civil society organisations as a first step following allegations against an organisation, without affording the right of reply or procedural propriety in line with democratic principles” and called on parliament to hold the community empowerment minister and registrar of associations to account for “taking unlawful and disproportionate action against civil society organisations.