Former Education Minister Dr Musthafa Luthfy has called for a review of security arrangements afforded to Maldivian politicians by police over fears of an increase in “orchestrated” political attacks in the country.
The comments were made after former education chief Luthfy, who has also previously served as Chancellor of the Maldives National University, claimed he had been struck in the face on Saturday (October 6) by an unidentified assailant on the island of Kanduhulhudhoo, Gaafu Alif Atoll.
Footage of the attack has already been posted on media sharing websites Youtube.
The attack, which did not result in any significant injuries to the victim, occurred less than seven days after Progressive Party of Maldives MP Dr Afrasheem Ali was found murdered by his home.
On Thursday, parliament’s ‘241’ Security Committee summoned both Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz and media regulator, the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) to discuss issues including the MP’s murder, politician safety and allegations that media organisations had been “spreading hatred” against MPs.
A recent report released by the Asia Foundation has alleged politicians and businessmen were paying gangs in the Maldives tens of thousands of rufiya to assault rivals, damage property, and in some cases have them killed.
While stressing that attacks on politicians within the country remained “rare” occurrences, Dr Luthfy claimed that it was the responsibility of police to ensure “order was maintained” across the nation amidst rising political tensions.
“It is rare that these sort of attacks happen, but the chance of similar incidents occurring in the future could be reduced by an increased police presence,” he said. “I accept there may be difficulty in getting sufficient numbers of officers onto different islands.”
According to Dr Lutfhy, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) had registered a complaint with police after a male assailant appeared to punch him in the face whilst he was leaving Kanduhulhudhoo, where had had been campaigning earlier in the day.
He claimed that his attacker had been waiting around ahead of his arrival, before running up and punching him in the face and quickly escaping afterwards. Dr Luthfy said he suspected the attack had been planned beforehand, though he had not been made of any developments if the attacker had been found by authorities.
“The incident as I understand it has been caught on camera and shown I think on the Youtube website. Police should have hopefully seen this,” he said, adding that an official complaint about the incident had been sent to authorities.
“It’s a serious incident, the leader of our party has been calling against violence right now. Even after it happened our supporters were very calm. I know police went after the suspect, but they might not been able to get to him as he ran off.”
Dr Luthfy claimed that a number of similar incidents had been recorded by the country’s politician and could increase further with an intensified schedule of campaigning by both the MDP and government-aligned parties ahead of presidential elections expected next year.
Despite the growth in political tensions in the country during the build up and aftermath of February’s controversial transfer of power, Dr Luthfy claimed that fears of a potential increase in violence against MPs was unlikely just the country’s electorate venting their frustration.
“I think these things are very much orchestrated and organised,” the former education minister said. “We cannot go on like this, I was just walking in the street and get attacked.”
Dr Luthy pointed to an incident last week where a makeshift blockade was set up off the shore off the island Gemanafushi in Gaafu Alif atoll in order to block the arrival of a MDP vessel as a sign of increased tension and intolerance of rival political campaigning in the nation. One of the vessels was carrying former president Nasheed as he was travelling as part of a campaign tour of some of the country’s atolls.
“I think police should be present to minimise the chance of such incidents. There are a lot of tensions right now and if there is a lack of police presence, things can go wrong,” he said.
In the past, Dr Luthfy said that some parliamentarians have had to ask police for protection, reflecting an environment where MPs and senior politicians had been more free, or “complacent” in regards to their safety whilst being out in public.
“I think now that police should take the responsibility and try to be present during these campaigns just in case,” he said. “ Yes, these incidents [of attacks] are rare, but to try and minimise these incidents in future, I think a police presence would be a good thing.”
Both Commissioner Riyaz and Police spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef were not responding to calls from Minivan News at the time of press.
Despite the former education chief’s claims, former President Mohamed Nasheed requested Thursday (October 4) in writing that his Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) security detail – provided under the Former President’s Act – not accompany him on a campaign tour. The MNDF later released a statement saying that it could not take any responsibility for harm that might befall the former president whilst not under its protection.
Nasheed’s decision was announced the same day Parliament’s ’241′ Security Services Committee summoned police chief Riyaz for an update into the investigation of MP Dr Afrasheem’s murder.
Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party MP (DRP) Mp Ali Azim, a member of the security committee, told ahead of the meeting that the committee had hoped to try and establish whether there was evidence to suggest the attack was politically or religiously motivated.
However, both Azim and MDP Chairman ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik could not detail any outcomes of the meeting when contacted by Minivan News.
Aside from the ongoing murder investigation, media regulator the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) was also being summoned before the committee over concerns about the media’s role in spreading “hatred” about MPs in the country.
While accepting that the constitution called for the allowance of freedom of speech within the media, Azim claimed that there were limits, alleging that the national press were not being held sufficiently accountable for their work.
“The media has been accusing MPs of wasting taxpayers’ money; of suggesting not enough work is being done and saying that no laws are being passed,” he said. “I don’t think these accusations should be there. A few TV, radio and online media services has been accusing MPs of these things.”