Additional reporting by Ahmed Nazeer.
The Criminal Court has opted to extend the detention period of four suspects accused of involvement in the murder of Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Dr Afrasheem Ali, as parliament’s ’241′ Security Services Committee today meets to discuss politician safety.
Authorities today confirmed that the four suspects, which the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has alleged include two “front-line activists”, would be kept in custody for an extra 15 days as the investigation into the murder of the MP continued.
The high profile murder has been met with growing speculation from politicians over potential political or religious motives, yet police have so far provided no details on the nature of the murder, despite allegations and counter claims appearing in the media.
The MDP yesterday expressed concern that the “brutal murder of a respected and elected member of the Parliament” was potentially being used to frame political opponents. The party has therefore called for “calm and restraint”, while also slamming the President’s Office for issuing statement claimed to connect the attack to former President Mohamed Nasheed. Along with condemning the murder, Nasheed this week praised Dr Afrasheem for his moderate views on the country’s Islamic identity.
According to a BBC report earlier this week, the President Office’s Media Secretary “sent out a text describing MP Afrasheem as the ‘strongest critic’ of Nasheed.”
Rules and regulations
Despite the allegations, Director of the Department of Judicial Administration Ahmed Maajid told Minivan News today that the extension of the suspects’ detention period was in accordance with rules linked to ongoing police investigations.
“Under this regulation, the police must produce anyone arrested on suspicion of criminal activity before a judge within 24 hours. The judge may order for the detention to be extended for a period of up to 15 days if the police can convince the court that a suspect needs to be detained for investigation,” he said. “In reviewing this order, the judge would consider such factors as the nature of the crime and the possibility of the suspect tampering with evidence if released for example.”
At the time of press, Maajid was unable to confirm the identity of the judge who had granted the detention extension, adding that such details could not be granted without receiving a written notice from the media. He added that the judge’s ruling had been consistent with similar investigations.
Police Spokesperson Sun-Inspector Hassan Haneef meanwhile confirmed there had been no further developments within its investigation, beyond the detention of four suspects for questioning in the case.
The Maldives police service have not so far given the identities of the suspects being detained as part of ongoing investigations.
However, the MDP yesterday released a statement claiming lawyers representing party activists Mariyam Naaifa and Ali Hashim had confirmed they had been detained as part of an investigation into the murder.
“The MDP has strongly condemned the gruesome murder of the member of parliament and scholar Dr Afrasheem Ali in the early hours of October 2, 2012,” the party claimed. “While the country is going through a difficult time following the murder of Dr. Afrasheem Ali, the MDP is deeply shocked and disturbed by the manner in which Maldives Police Services (MPS) is conducting their investigation into the incident.”
Aside from the detention of two party activists, the party added that its protest camp at the contested ‘Usfasgandu’ protest area in male’ had been searched by police officers using metal detectors yesterday. The party has alleged that officers on the scene had confirmed the search was related to the murder of MP Afrasheem.
Speaking to Minivan News today, MDP Spokesperson and MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor alleged that public faith in the police’s ability to conduct impartial investigations was low.
“People have lived with it their whole lives. They have been indoctrinated into silence,” he claimed.
Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party MP (DRP) Ali Azim told Minivan News that the ’241′ Security Services Committee was today summoning Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz to get an update on the progress of the ongoing investigation into MP Afrasheem’s murder.
Azim, a member of the security committee, claimed ahead of today’s meeting that it would be used to try and establish whether there was evidence to suggest the attack was politically or religiously motivated.
Aside from the ongoing murder investigation, media regulator the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) was also being summoned today 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.”
Azim said he accepted that media had a role to hold MPs accountable for their work, but questioned the accountability in turn being required of the country’s journalists.
The MP stressed that the outcome of today’s meeting, which was still ongoing at the time of press, remained confidential and that he would be unable to elaborate further on its outcome.
Speaking to Minivan News today, Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) President Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir said that he had not been given any information surrounding the MBC being summoned before the security committee.
Hiriga said that the MJA would await the outcome of the MBC’s meeting before making any official comment on the matter, but added that local media should continue to be able to practice free speech as long as it was accurate.
“I think there are a number of issues that we need to address in the Maldives media right now regarding ethics,” he said. “But our stand has always been that we stand against efforts to undermine the work of journalists and the right to a free media here in the Maldives.”
Hiriga added that while the media had “no right to lie” to members of the pubic, it was nonetheless vital to ensure freedom of the speech was being upheld in the Maldives.
“If some media for instance want to support the government or a certain political side, we have no issue with that, but the information provided must be accurate.”