The Maldivian authorities have confiscated the passport of a top opposition figure without comment, prompting allegations of government intimidation and harassment.
Shidhatha Shareef was briefly held Thursday morning at the airport when she landed in Malé after a ten-day trip to Bangalore, India.
The Adhaalath Party council member said immigration officials told her the criminal court had issued a warrant for her passport.
“The official at the immigration counter kept fiddling with my passport. First they said there was a hold in the system. Then they told me that the criminal court had ordered the confiscation of my passport,” Shidhatha told the Maldives Independent.
Immigration officials, however, failed to produce the warrant.
She was then taken to a police station at the Velana International Airport.
“They did not ask me any questions. I asked for the court order, but they were not able to show me anything,” she said, adding: “I don’t think they had it.”
The police and immigration department confirmed Shidhatha’s account, but declined to offer a reason for confiscating her passport.
Shidhatha said the police had informed her she was not under investigation, but that “it may be the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives. No one could give me any answers for certain.”
“This is obviously harassment. I suspect that they are trying to pin something on me, and I am not sure why. I left the country just ten days ago and there was no problem then.”
Shidhatha was a deputy minister at the gender ministry before she defected to the opposition.
She is now the Maldives United Opposition’s shadow minister for gender. The MUO is an opposition coalition comprising of the Adhaalath Party and the Maldivian Democratic Party.
MP Imthiyaz Fahmy, a spokesman for the MDP, condemned the travel ban on Shidhatha, saying: “This has nothing to do with her committing a crime. The government is systematically targeting and harassing opposition politicians.”
In July, the police seized Shidhatha’s mobile phone in a probe into a welfare fund set by the opposition to assist families of supporters who are arrested at protests.
Many of President Abdulla Yameen’s political opponents have been jailed or forced into exile.
Most recently, the police announced that they are seeking charges against former President Mohamed Nasheed for arresting Yameen during his tenure. Nasheed lives in exile in the United Kingdom: He sought asylum there after he was granted medical leave from prison where he was serving a 13-year sentence on controversial terrorism charges.
Ali Waheed, the former chairperson of MDP who also lives in exile in the UK was charged with terrorism in October.
The government has also revoked the passports of Nasheed, former Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, and two senior MDP officials living in exile.