The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has deplored the sudden jailing of its MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, despite promises of “leniency” from the government.
Ghafoor was sentenced in absentia to six months in prison for contempt of court, after failing to comply with police summons and evading authorities for almost a month by hiding in the parliament building.
Ghafoor contended that the court was deliberately scheduling hearings during critical votes and debates, violating the Parliamentary Privileges Act which requires MPs be allowed to be present during voting.
The Supreme Court on Thursday annulled several articles of the Privileges Act, declaring that this requirement was unconstitutional.
The Home Ministry then told local media that Ghafoor had been taken to Maafushi prison to serve his six month sentence, and would not be returned to Male for parliament sittings.
The Supreme Court in October stripped MDP-aligned MPs Ali Azim and Mohamed Nashiz of their seats, delivering the verdict in absentia in what the opposition labelled a “purge” of its majority. Azim was eventually arrested after the military stormed the parliament building and took him into custody.
The campaign of dismissals and imprisonment of opposition MPs reduces their lead in parliament ahead of critical votes on approval of President Yameen’s new cabinet ministers, as well as the passing of the government’s revised budget.
In a statement, the MDP condemned the jailing of its MP and spokesperson, noting that this came despite assurances from new Home Minister Umar Naseer that the government would treat the case with “leniency”.
“He was [initially] arrested in clear violation of the Parliamentary Privileges Act, which states that MPs cannot be arrested while a no-confidence motion against a government minister is pending,” the party stated.
“On Thursday the Maldives Supreme Court – an institution widely discredited as partisan in recent months – annulled the Parliamentary Privileges Act, in an apparent attempt to target MDP MPs such as Hamid,” it added.
MDP deputy chairperson Ali Shiyam observed that President Yameen, “who won the presidency in contested circumstances with 52% of the vote, said he would rule as a president for ‘all Maldivians’.”
“Sadly, within days of his presidency, the courts – which are de facto controlled by the executive – have started a witch-hunt against MDP MPs. This does not bode well for co-operation or compromise between the opposition and the ruling administration,” he said.