UN censures ‘erosion of democratic norms’ as arrest of lawmakers continue
Three MPs have been arrested and several others summoned for questioning since the unprecedented expulsion of opposition lawmakers from the parliament building by the police and military last Monday.
The United Nations has expressed concern over “the gradual erosion of basic democratic norms and principles” in the Maldives as a crackdown on the opposition continues after last week’s lockdown of parliament.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on the government “to uphold the constitutionally guaranteed rights of speech and assembly” and “to refrain from all acts that result in the harassment and intimidation of Members of Parliament, political parties, civil society and the media.”
In a statement released by his spokesman Thursday, the secretary-general also encouraged “effective dialogue and consultations on political issues.”
Three MPs have been arrested and three summoned for questioning since the unprecedented expulsion of lawmakers from the parliament building by the police and military last Monday.
MPs Mohamed Waheed Ibrahim, Mohamed Ameeth and Saud Hussain were accused of breaking through police lines and entering the parliament building after the Majlis had declared that they were no longer members of parliament.
Six former ruling party lawmakers were deemed to have lost their seats after the Supreme Court ruled that MPs who were elected on political party tickets will be disqualified once the electoral body notifies parliament that they have either left their party, been expelled, or switched parties.
MP Waheed was arrested Monday night and remanded to 15 days in police custody a day later.
Saud was also arrested on the same charges last Tuesday but he was released shortly afterwards due to an error on the arrest warrant. The warrant named MP Mohamed Ameeth in the section detailing the reason for the arrest.
Ameeth was arrested Thursday night and Saud turned himself in Friday morning after the police announced that the Villigili MP was wanted in connection with an ongoing investigation.
The criminal court ordered a 15-day remand detention for both lawmakers. All three arrest warrants cited “a letter from the parliament” as evidence.
The police have also thwarted attempts by the opposition to hold rallies or stage protests in Malé, cracking down on gatherings with pepper spray and detaining several people over the past five days.
On Tuesday night, the police raided the Jumhooree Party headquarters and shut down the opposition’s main meeting hall. According to the search and seizure warrant, the suspected offences include rioting, influencing official conduct, obstructing administration of law, and the forceful overthrow of the government.
Police officers left Kunooz on Friday night.
Minority Leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, MP Mohamed Falah and JP MP Abdulla Riyaz were meanwhile summoned for questioning for entering the parliament building. The opposition lawmakers were accused of criminal trespassing, obstructing or restricting police officers, disorderly conduct, and obstruction of the administration of law or other government functions.
If convicted, the lawmakers face a maximum sentence of four years and three months.
Speaking to reporters outside the police headquarters Friday night, Solih stressed that opposition lawmakers acted within legal bounds.
“In any case, the law does not allow anyone to obstruct members of parliament from going to the People’s Majlis,” said the parliamentary group leader of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party.
He accused the government of scheming to detain or disqualify lawmakers in order to regain the pro-government majority.
President Abdulla Yameen’s previously unassailable majority in the 85-member house collapsed dramatically earlier this month when ten MPs left the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives after backing the impeachment of the speaker.
On July 3, the four-party opposition coalition submitted a no-confidence motion against Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed for the third time with 45 signatures. However, the motion was controversially thrown out with the deputy speaker contending that it was rendered invalid by the disqualification of four lawmakers.
The Supreme Court has since decided to hear appeals from the four disqualified lawmakers, three of whom were expelled from the PPM long before the Attorney General sought the anti-defection ruling.
MPs Waheed, Ameeth and Saud were expelled from the PPM in late March and early April after taking former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s side in an acrimonious leadership dispute with his half-brother Yameen.
The PPM was split into rival factions after the elder Gayoom was stripped of his powers as the party’s elected leader in October last year. The 79-year-old went on to sign a pact with opposition leaders and sought to seize the parliament’s majority with defections from the divided ruling party.
Gayoom’s son, MP Faris Maumoon, who was leading the group of ex-PPM lawmakers, was meanwhile arrested on July 18 on charges of attempting to bribe lawmakers.
A day later, the criminal court ordered his detention for the duration of a new trial on bribery charges. However, the police have yet to conclude its bribery investigation or ask the Prosecutor General’s office to press fresh charges against Faris.
The MP for Dhiggaru is also on trial over an identity fraud charge over the use of the PPM’s flag and logo at a joint opposition press conference.
MDP MP Ibrahim Mohamed Didi, a retired brigadier general, is meanwhile standing trial on fresh terrorism charges whilst Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim’s trial on bribery charges resumed last Tuesday.
Regardless that 4 of our MPs including my son @afarismaumoon are in arbitrary detention, we will continue our reform work within the law. pic.twitter.com/qzILfoLpjI
— Maumoon Abdul Gayoom (@maumoonagayoom) July 28, 2017
Police is at my doorstep. Mi azumeh nugudaane. Fahathakah nujeheynan. I'll be back stronger, Insha Allah. pic.twitter.com/iyyVomQ0wb
— Mohamed Ameeth (@MohamedAmeeth) July 27, 2017
“My resolve won’t be shaken. I will not back down.”