Additional reporting by Mariyath Mohamed
Masked police in gas masks and riot gear have stormed a house on Fares-Mathoda in Gaaf Dhaal Atoll and taken former President Mohamed Nasheed into custody.
The arrest follows the Hulhumale Magistrate Court yesterday issuing a warrant for Nasheed’s arrest and presentation in court on Tuesday October 9.
Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs Imthiyaz Fahmy and Ilyas Labeeb were also taken into custody, along with former Minister of Environment Mohamed Aslam.
An MDP source on the island told Minivan News the three were not arrested but had accompanied Nasheed voluntarily.
“They did not want to let him be taken alone,” said the source, claiming that 50 police were involved in the operation to break down the door and take the country’s first democratically-elected President into custody.
MDP Chairperson Reeko Moosa Manik said police broke down the door of the house and pepper sprayed the former President.
“Everybody was masked and in riot gear, and we couldn’t identify any of the police officers,” Moosa said.
Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef confirmed that Nasheed would be returned to Male’ where he will be presented in court tomorrow.
Haneef said that Nasheed had been taken at around 9:45am.
“There was no trouble. Nasheed was very cooperative,” Haneef said, but was unable to confirm whether police had used pepper spray.
President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza tweeted on October 5 that “After Tuesday morning either you are with us or with the enemy. There is no negotiation or middle ground after Tuesday,” however Minivan News is trying to confirm whether Riza was referring to the trial of Nasheed or last week’s murder of Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), Dr Afrasheem Ali.
Riza was not responding at time of press. However President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad told Minivan News that the government had not been contacted by any foreign governments or international organisations expressing concern over the detention of the former President.
The issuing of the warrant – exactly seven months after Nasheed’s ousting – follows his defiance of a court-ordered travel ban outside the capital Male’, and two court summons.
The MDP has disputed the legitimacy of the Hulhumale court and three-member panel of judges appointed to oversee the proceedings, and sought to appeal in the High Court.
The party today called on the Supreme Court to declare the Hulhumale Court illegitimate, and announced its intention to launch protests.
The specific charge against the former President concerns his detention of Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, Abdulla Mohamed, during his final days in office.
Nasheed’s government justified the judge’s detention on the basis of national security, claiming he had “taken the entire criminal justice system in his fist”, and that the institutions mandated with keeping the judiciary accountable – the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) and Parliament’s Independent Commissions Committee – were politically manipulated by the former regime.
The state alleges that Nasheed violated Article 81 of the Penal Code, which states that the detention of a government employee who has not been found guilty of a crime is illegal.
If found guilty, Nasheed will face a jail sentence or banishment for three years or a MVR 3000 (US$193.5) fine, a sentence that would bar him from contesting future elections.
Former Minister of Defence Tholhath Ibrahim Kaleyfaan, Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) Colonel Mohamed Ziyad, former Chief of Defence Moosa Ali Jaleel and MNDF Southern Commander Brigadier-General Ibrahim Mohamed Didi also face charges.
Nasheed and his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) reacted last week by rejecting the authority of the country’s lower courts, contending that the trial was a politically-motivated attempt to prevent Nasheed from running in the 2013 Presidential election.
The MDP said yesterday that the party was “deeply disturbed and worried” about the decision to arrest the party’s presidential candidate, “and produce him to a widely disputed court.”
“The MDP notes with grave concern the state proceeds to prosecute President Nasheed while the UNHRC, ICJ, CoNI report, Amnesty International, FIDH, other leading human rights groups and our bilateral partners have expressed deep concerns over the independence and competence of the Maldivian judiciary,” the party said.
“We are currently on presidential campaign trail by boats in the Southern atolls. This trip has been organized for months and immediately after the dates of the trip were announced, the courts decided to summon our candidate to a court that is unlawfully established. Leading experts and lawyers have questioned the legitimacy of this court,” MDP spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor.
“This is not about justice. This is a politically motivated trial to invalidate our candidate’s candidacy and to deliberately disrupt the MDP’s presidential campaign. We are in the largest voting centers and it is very clear who will win the elections. They can only win the elections by invalidating his candidacy. We are deeply disturbed by the developing situation. We do not believe he will have a fair trial,” said Ghafoor.
Nasheed became the Maldives’ first democratically elected President in 2008, ending the 30 year rule of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Asia’s longest serving leader.
Under Gayoom’s rule Nasheed spent 18 months in jail, including long periods in solitary confinement, and was declared an Amnesty prisoner of conscience.
He resigned from office on February 7 after police and military officers joined forces with opposition demonstrators and assaulted the country’s military headquarters and state broadcaster. Leadership passed to his Vice President, Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan.
A Commonwealth-backed domestic inquiry in August concluded that the transfer of power was legitimate, however the MDP alleged key testimonies were overlooked and evidence dismissed.
The controversial transfer of power has resulted in months of political instability and a growing culture of violence and impunity in the Maldives, more famous for its upmarket tourist resorts and celebrity clientele.
A moderate Islamic scholar and MP of the government-aligned Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), Dr Afrasheem Ali, was stabbed to death outside his home on October 1, the country’s 10th murder this year.
Nasheed arrest follows the resignation yesterday of Head of the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) Shahinda Ismail, citing “major differences in opinion” with other PIC members.
A PIC report into police brutality during the February 8 crackdown contained contradictory findings, alleging that police action was justified by destruction of property. However Commissioner Shahinda disavowed the finding and stated that the police action was against the law as there was no evidence of illegal activity by demonstrators.
Shahinda’s husband, Deputy Prosecutor General Hussain Shameen, also resigned, claiming he was going to study for his masters in the UK.