Officials of the government’s road corporation on Monday night uprooted and burned a tree planted by ex-president Mohamed Nasheed in Thaa atoll Vilufushi.
Vilufushi island councillor Hussain Jabeen, a member of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), was later arrested for allegedly threatening employees of the corporation over the incident.
Vilufushi councillor Ibrahim Shafiu told Minivan News that officials from the island subdivision of the Maldives Road Development Cooperation (MRDC) uprooted the tree around 12:00pm on Monday, claiming it was impeding road construction.
“Usually when they uproot trees from the green area they ask for our permission and for where else to keep them. This time they did not say anything before uprooting the tree and burning it at the garbage dump,” said Shafiu.
The incident comes in a highly charged political environment with the opposition alliance gearing up for a mass anti-government rally on May 1.
Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in jail on terrorism charges last month.
The opposition-dominated Vilufushi island council has also put out a statement condemning the act as “uncivilised and cowardly.”
Shafiu accused the road corporation employees of targeting the tree planted by the then-president Nasheed during a visit in April 2011, noting that other trees at the green zone have not been uprooted.
However, Ahmed Mamdhooh, deputy manager of the MRDC, told Minivan News that the council gave approval for uprooting trees ahead of laying tar for the road construction project.
Island councillor Jabeen was meanwhile arrested with a court warrant after midnight on Tuesday. He was accused of damaging iron rods on the road development site and verbally abusing and threatening the corporation’s employees.
Jabeen was taken to the police station on the nearby island of Madifushi and later brought before a magistrate for extension of remand detention.
However, the magistrate court released the island council president from police custody.
Speaking to Minivan News today, Jabeen denied the allegations, saying he politely spoke to management officials and objected to the uprooting of a tree planted by a former president.
He also said the council alone cannot authorise removal of trees and that the road corporation had to seek permission from the land survey authority as well.
Councillor Shafiu also said he went with Jabeen on Monday to meet the corporation’s senior staff, who refused to meet the councillors.
The pair then went to the road development site, sought out the manager, and asked for an explanation, he continued, but were told that the management officials were unaware of the incident.
Jabeen said the tree had been targeted before by pro-government supporters.
“Even in the past people have thrown petrol on the tree and cut off the branches, but it grows back each time,” he said.