Additional reporting by Ahmed Naish
Parliament’s Privileges Committee held an emergency meeting on Friday following the arrest of two MPs and senior figures in the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), for the alleged possession of drugs and alcohol.
In a statement, police said 10 people were arrested on Thursday night during a ‘special’ operation on the island of Hodaidhoo in Haa Dhaal Atoll.
In addition to ruling coalition Jumhoree Party (JP) MP Abdulla Jabir and MDP MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor – also the party’s international spokesperson – those arrested included former SAARC Secretary General and Special Envoy to the former President, Ibrahim Hussain Zaki, former Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair and his wife Mariyam Faiz.
The others arrested were Jadhulla Jaleel, Hamdan Zaki, two Sri Lankan nationals named Raj Mohan and Anoor Bandaranayk as well as a Bangladeshi named Suhail Rana.
Police said they found large amounts of “suspected” drugs and alcohol upon searching the island with a court warrant.
The arrests were made “based on information received by police intelligence,” police said. Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef told Haveeru that the suspects were arrested with alcohol and “hash oil”.
Following the arrests around midnight, the suspects were taken to Kulhudhufushi in Haa Dhaal Atoll, and Zaki was hospitalised.
Despite a police attempt to extend the detention periods all suspects including the two MPs have now been released by the Kulhudhufushi Magistrate Court, with the exception of Hamdan Zaki.
The island of Hodaidhoo was leased to Yacht Tours for resort development in January 2003. According to Haveeru, it was previously inhabited but the population was relocated to Haa Dhaal Hanimadhoo in 1997. Kaashidhoo MP Jabir is Chairman of Yacht Tours.
The MDP has alleged the arrests were a politically-motivated attempt to disrupt parliament ahead of a no confidence motion against President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, and an amendment to voting procedure to make such votes secret. A second no-confidence motion against Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel was withdrawn this week pending the outcome of the secret vote amendment.
“It is such a coincidence that whenever the Waheed Government wants to frame those critical of their government, they come up with trumped up charges and very often it is something to do with alcohol,” said former MDP Chairperson Mariya Ahmed Didi, in a statement.
“Such accusations have led one of our MP’s to submit a bill to parliament totally banning its importation,” she added, calling on the government “to stop harassing senior politicians and MPs and have early elections in the country so as to get the country on track to democratic governance.”
Following the arrests, former President Mohamed Nasheed alleged in a tweet that the arrests were made the same day Waheed had “threatened” parliament during a speech on Kinolhas in Raa Atoll.
“Less than 24 hours after my former deputy threatened the parliament, police have arrested MP Hamid, Jabir and my press secretary. They must be freed immediately,” Nasheed said.
Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz has stated that the MPs were arrested “at the scene of the crime” and that it was up to a judge to release them.
Section 102 of Parliament’s rules of procedure states that MPs cannot be arrested while there is a no-confidence motion before parliament to impeach the president or remove a cabinet minister, judge or member of an independent commission from his or her post.
The Majlis secretariat released a statement on Friday afternoon stating that Speaker Abdulla Shahid had instructed police to abide by parliament’s rules of procedure after he was informed of the arrests.
“Currently, the approval of dismissal of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan and the Civil Service Commission President Mohamed Fahmy Hassan have been sent to the Parliament,” read a statement from the secretariat.
Meanwhile, at an emergency meeting of the Priviliges Committee, Jabir’s wife and Minister for Gender and Human Rights, Dhiyana Saeed, alleged police brutality during the arrest and argued that they were a politically-motivated attempt to disrupt Monday’s vote.
Saeed said she had received a text message from President Waheed stating as much, which she said she would share with parliament.
“Abdulla Jabir didn’t get the opportunity to call his family. But when we sent people over there [to Kulhudhufushi] and spoke to him [on speakerphone], members of our family heard him say that he was severely brutalised,” she told the committee.
“[Jabir said] he was struck on the face, hit on the head from behind after they came from the sea while he was walking on the beach, thrown down on the beach and handcuffed from behind and dragged away. [He said] his feet and body were bruised in several places as a result.”
Dhiyana said she was told by the lawyers that they have seen signs of injury on Jabir’s body. A journalist from Haveeru, another “eyewitness”, had corroborated the lawyer’s account, she said.
According to the lawyers, police refused to allow photographs of the injuries to be taken, she added.
While “even MPs” should be investigated if they were suspected of committing a crime, Saeed said she found it “hard to believe today” that this was the case.
“If it was a case of alcohol, it is not today that this should be investigated. This happened before a very important vote by the People’s Majlis on Monday,” she said.
“I have a very strong reason for making this allegation. That is, in a text message to me, the President has alleged that this happened with a different motivation. He directly connects his accusation with Monday’s vote. I believe this is something that the Majlis should be very concerned about and investigate in depth.
“The leader of the country is saying that he himself is questioning the motivation behind this and who it was that did this. Police made the arrests, right? So this is an allegation against police by the President. And he said in the SMS that there is a possibility that some people might have done this to antagonise people against [the President] with regard to the vote on Monday.”
Saeed offered to share the text message with parliament, adding that it “should be very relevant.”
She claimed that Jabir was arrested on the beach without any drugs or alcohol, and questioned as to how the whole island could be considered a scene of crime.
Under Islamic Shariah, she explained, four witnesses are required to prove intoxication. If there were witnesses to the crime, she argued that there would be no need to either keep the suspects detained or extend their detention.
She suggested that the attempt to extend the detention was “very much connected to Monday’s vote.”
Concluding her statement to the committee, Dhiyana said the issue was “larger than arresting Jabir” as police had violated the Majlis rules.
She noted the Majlis rules or regulations derived authority directly from the constitution and that that the Supreme Court had “on many occasions upheld the regulations as valid”.
“Therefore, police have breached a very clear article [in the house rules] and this is really a very serious problem,” she said.
The Privileges Committee passed a motion to ask the Prosecutor General to press charges against Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz for arresting the MPs in violation of the law, and disregarding the Speaker’s instructions to release them.
The committee also passed a motion to ask the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) to investigate allegations of police brutality against the MPs.
Indian government expresses concern
India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has issued a statement expressing concern at continuing political instability in the Maldives, observing an “urgent need for dialogue and reconciliation among all political parties in Maldives in a peaceful and democratic manner.”
“We have seen reports related to the arrest of former Secretary General SAARC and other members of the Majlis in the Maldives earlier today,” said the MEA’s spokesperson.
“India urges the government of Maldives and all political parties to adhere strictly to democratic principles and the rule of law thus paving the way for the holding of free, fair and credible elections. Violence and coercive measures are not conducive to this end,” the MEA said.
“India has also been concerned at the occurrence of anti-India demonstrations and statements by a section in Maldives. A senior official of the government of India visited Maldives recently and conveyed our concerns in regard to recent developments in the country.
“The situation is being monitored closely keeping in view the need to ensure safety and security of Indians in Maldives and Indian interests in that country,” the statement concluded.
The arrest of one of its MPs, Jabir, is likely to further strain the ruling coalition, particularly the executive’s relationship with the JP.
President Waheed last week sacked one of the JP’s cabinet ministers, Transport Minister Ahmed Shamheed.
The sacked minister, who on local media claimed he had “several differences” with the President, was removed from cabinet following the announcement of the extension of his party leader’s Maamigili Airport lease for 99 years.
Dhiyana Saeed – the Human Rights Minister, Jabir’s wife and another former SAARC Secretary General – is the JP’s other cabinet minister.