MDP MP Ghafoor jailed as Supreme Court annuls parliamentary immunities

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.


Fugitive MP leaves parliament after four weeks on the run

Heniveru-South MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), has left the grounds of parliament after his four-week refuge there.

MP Hamid has been charged with refusing to provide a urine sample, following the police raid on Hodaidhoo in November last year.

Sun Online reported that MP Hamid had left after assurances that he would be allowed to stay in his own residence, crediting a newly cooperative relationship between the government and the MDP.

The police have been unable to summon Ghafoor to court, as doing so would violate the Parliamentary Privileges Act.

Article 11 of the Act prevents an MP from being summoned to court during Majlis hours.

The Act was amended on October 30 to enable MPs serving sentences to attend parliament.

Speaker Adulla Shahid warned police in late October that, “Any act that violates the People’s Majlis immunity, honor and functioning and committed in contravention to the [Parliamentary Powers and Privileges] Act will breach the Majlis privileges.”

Despite this, the Maldivian National Defence Force (MDNF) stormed the Majlis on October 26th, removing (MDP) MP Ali Azim and handing him over to the police.

MP Ghafoor expressed concerns that the MDNF would do the same to him, and was sentenced in absentia to six months in prison for non-compliance with court summons. The case regarding his failure to provide a urine sample is on-going.

Ghafoor said he has spent his time in the Majlis doing parliamentary work and reading, as well as receiving supporters and family members.

He was not responding to calls at time of press.


Defence and prosecution call the same witnesses as MP’s alcohol trial continues

The Prosecutor General’s (PG) Office has today told the Criminal Court that it has 11 witnesses against Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, proving that he was in possession of – and under the influence of – alcohol when arrested on the island of Hondaidhoo last November.

During today’s hearing the PG’s lawyers said that the 11 witnesses were police officers in the team that raided Hondaidhoo, and that in addition to the 11 witnesses there were two experts that examined the alcohol found on the island and the related documents showing the test results.

Meanwhile, MP Hamid also submitted eight police officers as witnesses in his defence as well as the two experts that examined the alcohol.

The presiding judge told Hamid that some of the police officers that he had submitted as witnesses in his defence were police officers has been named as witnesses for the prosecution, meaning that he would he would have to change witnesses.

Hamid submitted the witnesses to prove to the court that the alcohol found on Hondaidhoo island did not belong to him and that police had illegally arrested him.

The hearing into MDP MP Abdulla Jabir’s case – also concerning the possession and use of alcohol – was scheduled for today but was cancelled due to the defendant being out of the country.

The trial of the third person charged – Jadhulla Jameel – trial was conducted in the Criminal Court today with state lawyers read out the charges against him, before his lawyers were asked to respond to the charges.

His lawyer said that the charges did not specify that Jadhulla had consumed or possessed alcohol.

A total of 10 people were taken into police custody on November 16 after police raided and searched Hondaidhoo with a court warrant. Officers alleged they found large amounts of suspected drugs and alcohol upon searching the island.

Senior MDP members – who had held top portfolios in the the government of former President Mohamed Nasheed – were arrested in the case, including former Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair and his wife Mariyam Faiza, as well as Nasheed’s Special Envoy Ibrahim Hussain Zaki and his son.

The state is also pursuing separate charges against MP Hamid in relation to his subsequent failure to provide a urine test.

According to the Drug Act, Sections 123(a), 161(a) and 161(b), any person arrested on suspicion of having abused alcohol or narcotics has an obligation to comply with police requests for routine urine examination by promptly providing urine samples, and failure to comply is a criminal offence punishable with a one-year jail sentence.


Comment: To serve and protect dictators

You cannot teach an old dictator new tricks.

As the Maldives continues to experience the reversal of their democracy, the Maldives Police Service was out on the streets once again yesterday, demonstrating their tired old Gayoom-era tricks.

Early Tuesday morning, an unprecedented number of police arrived at Usfasgandu, the protest site on the south eastern side of Male’, where pro-democracy protesters led by the MDP have been demonstrating for months calling for early elections.

Armed with a search warrant, they forcibly evicted the protesters from the scene. Hundreds of police men and DED officials then combed through the area, later claiming to have recovered such criminal loot as a box of condoms and a potentially illegal “brown substance” – conveniently wrapped in MDP membership forms, lest anyone doubted their story.

The scenes evoked memories of March 19, when a joint police and military raid on the previous MDP protest camp at the nearby Raalhugandu area recovered more unlawful substances and cans of illegal alcohol, that were rather thoughtfully stored by the protestors in convenient MDP branded boxes, presumably with a large colourful arrow pointing towards it.

Those familiar with the Maldives’ painful transition to democracy would remember a time when the police were routinely employed by the state to harass and intimidate dissidents and crush all opposition.
Those times, it is evident, have come roaring back.

“Rule of law”

According to the Police narrative, the mutiny that culminated in the toppling of the first democratically elected government was ostensibly led by patriotic police officials who were disillusioned with the ‘unconstitutional orders’ they were being handed by the elected leaders.

In keeping with that noble spirit, hundreds of police officers publicly renewed their vows to “uphold the rule of law” in dramatic television footage captured at the Republican Square on that fateful morning.
It is the pride of any nation to have a Police Service that espouses such fanatical devotion to the “rule of law”.

Yet, one can’t help but call into question the sincerity of the Maldives Police Service’s newfound love for their constitution, and their hastily arranged commitment to the ‘rule of law’.

What is one to make of the brazen criminal actions of the rogue Police and military personnel who went on a public rampage, ransacking the MDP party quarters and beating up their activists?

How does one explain away the storming of the State broadcaster and airing on it content from a private TV propaganda outlet belonging to businessman politician Gasim Ibrahim – who is alleged to be among the primary financers of the coup d’état?

What does one make of the intensely politicised nature of a police department that appears to stop just short of publicly swearing allegiance to a certain political party run by a former dictator?

Exactly which law were the Maldives Police Service upholding when they threatened and physically assaulted elected MPs and the democratically elected President of the Nation? Under which clause of the Police Act did they assault some of their own senior officers inside the Police HQ on the day of the coup d’état?

Certainly, the rule of law could not be more violated than when the Police continued to dismantle the Usfasgandu camp site last night, in direct contravention of court orders forbidding them from doing exactly that? From their actions, it is plainly obvious that the Maldives Police Service couldn’t care less about “the rule of law” – which continues to be the ruse employed to explain away their treason on February 7.

For their part, Waheed and his newly appointed Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz have also publicly lauded the police for their unapologetic actions on February 7th, hailing it as a great example of ‘upholding the rule of law’.
There has been no investigation, and not a single police officer or military personnel has been booked for the brutality and wild excesses of that dark day.

Instead, in keeping with the Gayoom-era tradition, the Police have been richly rewarded for their services. For their troubles, the newly installed regime has lavished the Police and military with a record number of promotions, and monetary rewards.

Waheed – the problem, not the solution

With his various public utterances about ‘National unity’ and pledges to uphold the constitution, Waheed has attempted to project his regime as some kind of force for stability.

Unfortunately, Waheed’s appeal to ‘unity’ appears to be about as hollow as the Police Service’s professed love for the ‘rule of law’. He continues to eagerly defend the indefensible by refusing to take action against identified cops, who brutalised civilians in full public view and continue to do so with impunity.

While his helmeted riot cops continue to beat back thousands of angry protesters every week with their batons and shields, Waheed appears to not be interested in even acknowledging their sincere grievances. Instead, in the months following the coup d’état, he has lost no chance to colour the supporters of the MDP – by far the largest political party in the country – as ‘terrorists’.

It must be noted that the MDP led protests that have continued unabated since February have been largely non-violent, marked by weekly rallies and public forums – and often music, dancing, exhibits, videos, and speeches.

Yet, during the latest raid yesterday, Police again took into custody several MDP leaders, including MDP spokesperson and MP Imthiyaz ‘Inthi’ Fahmy, and a couple of elected MDP councillors. When enraged protesters poured out onto the streets again last night, the Maldives Police Service responded yet again with heavy-handed tactics.

Apparently pleased with this campaign of intimidation, Waheed’s Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed said on his public twitter account, “I commend the way our MPS attend (sic) Usfasgandu”.

From delaying tactics and misinformation, to harassment and intimidation, Waheed’s regime appears to have played all its cards since February 7th, and yet it is clear that the protesters simply aren’t willing to go back indoors until their demands are met.

The fact of the matter is that the continuing unrest – where a significant percentage of the population feels robbed of their legitimate government in highly questionable circumstances – can only be resolved by free and fair elections, and ensuring justice for the victims of mindless police violence.

These are absolutely essential for the public to restore their confidence in the government and heal the deep rifts with the security forces.

However, thus far, Waheed has shown no inclination to quit his stalling tactics, keep his erring ministers in check, ensure justice is served to the criminals in uniform, or stop his posturing against international bodies like the CMAG, or actually let the public have their say as a way out of the crisis.

Thus, it naturally follows that Waheed is the problem and not the solution – for he and his newly adopted network of Gayoom cronies are exactly what lies between the public and their vote.

To maintain this unsustainable status quo, Waheed has resorted to the same tactics that Gayoom did – namely, taking the Maldives Police Service off their leash and letting them loose upon the public, assigned with the singular task of cracking down on dissent with impunity.

Thus, the regime that was brought to power in a hail of batons, shields and tear gas continues to be sustained by the same ugly means and the country as a whole continues its free-fall into a dissolute police state.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]