Opposition MPs have slammed a bill that proposes stripping privileges for former presidents convicted of criminal offences as the latest attack on dissent by the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives.
The amendment to the Former Presidents’ Privileges Act by MP Abdul Latheef Mohamed follows the introduction of a bill criminalising defamation and an amendment to the Political Parties Act that may reduce the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s membership by half.
The amendments are likely to pass as the PPM holds a parliamentary majority.
The amendment to the law awarding benefits for former presidents would strip former President Mohamed Nasheed, who was convicted of terrorism on a charge of abducting a top judge, of protection by the Maldives National Defence Forces, medical insurance, a pension, and funds to employ staff.
Some 44 MPs voted to accept the bill for consideration, and set up a select committee to review the draft amendment.
Speaking on the parliament floor, MP Eva Abdulla said the bill demonstrates President Abdulla Yameen’s jealousy of Nasheed’s popularity as the leader of the largest political party in the Maldives.
The pro-government majority had passed last year a similar law that stripped Nasheed of the MDP presidency on account of his terror conviction.
MP Abdulla Riyaz of the Jumhooree Party said it was unfair to sever Nasheed’s benefits as the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention had ruled his imprisonment arbitrary and illegal.
Nasheed is currently in the United Kingdom on government-authorised medical leave.
Riyaz, a former police chief, also highlighted that Nasheed’s appeal is currently before the Supreme Court, and criticised Yameen for what he described as arbitrary measures to jail opponents through the judiciary.
PPM MPs however said Nasheed does not qualify for state benefits because of his alleged efforts to defame the Maldives. Nasheed has called for targeted international sanctions on officials responsible for human rights abuses.
Government officials had previously questioned Nasheed’s eligibility for state benefits claiming he had not completed a full five-year term in office. The former president was ousted three years into his presidency.
The raft of bills come amidst international pressure on the government to initiate dialogue, release political prisoners and allow space for dissent.
The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, a body that monitors member states’ observance of democracy and human rights, has suggested it may take action against the Maldives if the government fails to initiate dialogue by April.
The CMAG had placed the Maldives on its formal agenda following Nasheed’s ouster in 2012, and had discussed similar action last year when the opposition leader was sentenced to 13 years in jail.
The bill on defamation, introduced last week, proposes hefty fines for defamation and a jail term for individuals who are not able to pay the fine.
The amendment to the Political Parties Act, if passed, will de-register political party members who have not submitted their fingerprints on membership forms. Finger-printed forms for political party membership was first required in 2010, before PPM emerged as a splinter faction of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party.