The high court has released prominent social media activist Thayyib Shaheem on the condition that he refrains from defaming the government.
Thayyib was arrested on suspicion of inciting fear and panic about the H1N1 swine flu virus and sowing discord among the public with false information on social media. The criminal court remanded the 42-year-old to police custody thrice since his arrest on March 17.
His lawyer Nazim Sattar told the Maldives Independent that the appellate court overturned the criminal court’s second order on the condition that Thayyib allows the police access to his personal electronics for 60 days and seeks permission before leaving the country.
“We asked that he be released with conditions and he agreed to these conditions,” the lawyer said.
Nazim said the high court observed in its judgment that Thayyib has already spent nearly a month in detention. He also noted that if Thayyib is prosecuted for the offences he was accused of, “the three-month baseline for jail time will decrease to a fine as it is his first offence.”
According to his arrest form, Thayyib’s charges include raising a false alarm, a class one misdemeanour that is defined in the penal code as providing false information either about an imminent violent offence or “a situation that is serious to human life”.
The second charge is disorderly conduct under section 615 of the penal code, which is defined as “creating a hazardous, physically offensive or seriously alarming condition by an act that serves no legitimate purpose.”
The first offence carries a maximum jail term of one year and the second a maximum of three months.
Thayyib was formerly the news editor of the state broadcaster under former President Mohamed Nasheed. He has more than 21,000 followers on Twitter and routinely levels serious allegations against President Abdulla Yameen, ruling party lawmakers, and senior state officials.
Thayyib’s arrest came less than two hours after he posted on Twitter audio clips of majority leader ruling party MP Ahmed Nihan telling a group of people that the constitution was amended to facilitate the sale of the island of Himithi in Faafu atoll to the Saudi deputy crown prince.
The constitution previously prohibited foreign ownership of Maldivian land, but controversial amendments were brought in July 2015 to authorise foreign freeholds if an investment exceeds US$1 billion.
Thayyib’s phone was meanwhile confiscated in the beginning of March after he was summoned for questioning at the police headquarters.
He told the Maldives Independent that the police wanted to know who has access to his Twitter and Facebook accounts.
“They then proceeded to browse my Facebook account, going back to about a year,” he said.
“They also had some photocopies of my tweets but after I said there were other people with access to my Twitter account, they didn’t ask me any more questions about Twitter.”
A day later, the police also summoned social media activist Shammoon ‘Lucas’ Jaleel and confiscated his phone.
Both men were outspoken in the online campaign against the alleged sale of Faafu atoll or parts of it to Saudi investors, tweeting prolifically under the hashtag #SaveFaafu.
Thayyib was also widely credited the week before his arrest with forcing the health authorities to reveal in mid-March that the H1N1 type of influenza virus was spreading in the Maldives.
In response to swirling rumours and panic on social media, the Health Protection Agency released a statement at midnight saying that the virus was detected during routine influenza testing.
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