A Malé city councillor has accused the police of keeping him under custody to seek a pretext to arrest former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, alleging attempts by a senior police officer to coerce false testimony.
In a press statement released Wednesday before he was taken back into custody from house arrest, Zaidul Ameen said the warrant issued for his arrest on January 13 stated that he was suspected of conspiring with others to blackmail unnamed persons using a video, which he was also planning to share with the media “for financial and political gain”.
After raiding his apartment and confiscating his laptop and phone, Zaid said the only question the police asked was whether he secretly recorded a conversation with a senior state official, which they said could have been a minister, lawmaker or judge.
The police then began asking about a video that they are looking for as well as a hard disk alleged to have gone missing from the former headquarters of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives.
“The police have been repeatedly asking me in the interrogation to give a statement saying that the hard disk and video are in [Gayoom’s] possession and that President Maumoon is planning secret plots against the present government,” Zaid alleged.
The police media official declined to respond to the allegations, directing the Maldives Independent to a tweet assuring an internal probe by the professional standards command.
Zaid, who represents the mid-Henveiru constituency in the Malé city council, is a staunch Gayoom loyalist. In July last year, he was expelled from the PPM amid an acrimonious leadership dispute that split the ruling party into rival factions led by Gayoom and President Abdulla Yameen.
Gayoom has since withdrawn support for his half-brother’s administration.
Zaid went on to allege that he was questioned numerous times in the absence of his lawyer by a high-ranking police official, who also asked him to replace his opposition-aligned attorney.
The top officer told him that Gayoom “has no power anymore” and offered to secure a government posting of his choice if he changed his allegiance.
Zaid alleged that the officer stressed the importance of his statement for arresting Gayoom and repeatedly threatened to keep him in jail “like Shumba Gong” if he refuses to cooperate.
Ahmed Ashraf, known as Shumba Gong on social media, has been in police custody since November 2015. The teenager was arrested on suspicion of links to the September 2015 blast on the president’s speedboat but was later charged with sending threatening text messages to a senior PPM member.
His trial has stalled since it began in February 2016. The charge of issuing threats carries a maximum jail sentence of one year.
Zaid’s remand detention has meanwhile been extended five times by the criminal court. He was taken back into custody last week after the court transferred him to house arrest in late January.
On Wednesday, the court remanded him to police custody for a further 13 days.
Zaid noted in his statement that the judge has repeatedly asked the police to wrap up the investigation, but the police have been requesting extensions claiming that it is necessary for the investigation to keep him in custody.
The city councillor added that he was taken back to custody because he refused to give false testimony against Gayoom. When he was transferred to house arrest, Zaid said he was told to make a decision and informed that his passport has been withheld for three months.
“I believe this baseless case was manufactured by the police to seek a statement from me to arrest President Maumoon,” he said.
A day after Zaid’s arrest, Gayoom was also questioned by the police over missing hard drives thought to contain the PPM’s membership registry, the alleged loss of which was cited as the reason for delaying the local council elections.
Expressing grave concern over Zaid’s allegations in a statement issued Friday night, Gayoom noted that the PPM’s old office was under police control when Yameen’s supporters ransacked the place and removed all of its computers, documents and furniture.
Gayoom condemned the “politically motivated” deprivation of Zaid’s liberty and security, calling for his immediate release or transfer to house arrest if the police have finished interrogating him about the blackmail charge.
The senior officer accused of coercion should not be involved in any further interrogation, which must take place in the presence of a lawyer, he added.
The 79-year-old who ruled the Maldives for 30 years also called on the police, the human right’s watchdog, and the police oversight body to investigate Zaid’s allegations.