Adhaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla and former Defence Minister Tholhath Ibrahim Kaleyfaanu have been transferred from prison to house arrest last night.
Home Minister Umar Naseer said he instructed the Maldives Correctional Services to transfer the high-profile prisoners to Malé while their special protection unit in ‘Asseyri’ jail undergoes maintenance.
I’ve asked MCS to close down the SPU in Asseyri for the required maintenace and transfer the occupants (Imran & Tholath) to house arrest.
— Umar Naseer (@UmarNaseerPPM) April 4, 2016
But the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party contends that the move is aimed at appeasing the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group ahead of an upcoming review of the Maldives’ progress on resolving a year-long political crisis.
According to Imran’s lawyer, he was transferred to house arrest for a one-month period.
The move is unusual as Imran was transferred several times between the police detention centre on the island of Dhoonidhoo, the high-security Maafushi prison, and the low-security Asseryi jail on the island of Himmafushi following his arrest on May 1 last year.
The foreign ministry also tweeted about the pair’s transfer to house arrest last night but made no mention of the maintenance work.
MDP Chairperson Ali Waheed said in a tweet that the government is attempting to “deceive” both the Commonwealth and India.
President Abdulla Yameen – who has sought the help of the Malaysian government for the Maldives to “unfair punishment” from the Commonwealth – is due to visit India this month.
Yameen also dispatched ministers to Pakistan and the Solomon Islands last week. Both countries are represented on the CMAG, which is comprised of a rotating group of foreign ministers from eight member states.
Following a meeting in February, the CMAG – which monitors member states’ observance of democracy and human rights – issued a list of demands for the Maldivian government, including initiating all-party talks, releasing jailed politicians and enabling the return of exiles.
The government had invited opposition parties for talks ahead of the CMAG meeting, but the MDP and Adhaalath Party demanded the release of their respective leaders as a confidence-building measure.
The allied parties say the government reneged on commitments made during negotiations in July last year.
Yameen had said at the time that the Maldives avoided action after India and Pakistan “spoke in our defence” at the CMAG.
Imran is serving a 12-year jail sentence related to a terrorism charge over a speech he gave at a mass anti-government rally on May 1 last year. He was accused of inciting violence.
Tholhath was also found guilty of terrorism along with former President Mohamed Nasheed in March last year over the military’s detention of the criminal court chief judge in January 2012.
The High Court is presently hearing appeals of both convictions.
The ongoing political crisis was triggered by the imprisonment of Nasheed and former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim in March 2015, which drew widespread condemnation amid fears of an “authoritarian reversal.”
But Yameen remained defiant in the face of mounting diplomatic pressure and the threat of targeted sanctions, insisting that the politicians were jailed after independent judicial processes.
However, with Imran and Tholhath’s transfer to house arrest, all high-profile politicians jailed last year are now out of prison, albeit on a temporary basis.
Nasheed, Nazim, and former ruling party MP Ahmed Nazim were previously authorised to seek medical treatment overseas.
But the government last week ordered the ex-defence minister to return to the Maldives after he was photographed speaking with former MP Nazim in Singapore.
Yameen had also mocked calls for reform in a speech on the day of the CMAG meeting, telling critics to present a list of people they considered to be above Maldivian laws.
Since the CMAG meeting, the government has also submitted bills to criminalise defamation, strip benefits and privileges for ex-President Nasheed, and require opposition parties to re-register all of its members.
Street protests have been banned since last November.