JP leader Gasim returns to Maldives

Gasim Ibrahim, the leader of Jumhooree Party (JP) returned to Maldives today after the government removed a freeze on his Villa Group accounts over an alleged unpaid fine of US$90.4million.

Gasim spent nearly three months abroad, during which he announced he will resign from politics after his term as Maamigili MP expires in 2019. He has now pledged to hand over the reigns of the JP to new leaders.

“Gasim did not mention any particular reason for coming back. But I note there isn’t any reason for him not to come back,” JP spokesperson Ali Solih said.

The JP split from the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) coalition in January and allied with the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in an anti-government campaign. MDP leader and former president Mohamed Nasheed was subsequently arrested and imprisoned on terrorism charges and Gasim’s Villa Group was slapped with a US$90.4million fine.

The Villa Group maintains the fine is unlawful. However, the JP and the government said they have reached an agreement on paying the fine.

Local media reported that the police had issued an arrest warrant for alleged funding of a historic anti-government protest on May 1. He was also accused of involvement in a plot to assassinate President Abdulla Yameen during the trial of ex defence minister Mohamed Nazim on weapons smuggling charges in March.

Explaining Gasim’s silence on Nasheed and Nazim’s sentencing, JP deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim said the government had “economically – paralyzed” Gasim. Since then, Ameen and JP council member Sobah Rasheed were both arrested and charged with terrorism. The pair have now fled the country.

Gasim was first in Bangkok, and later in Frankfurt.

MDP chairperson Ali Waheed, who was arrested along with Ameen and Sobah, tweeted a photo of Gasim’s arrival at the Malé airport saying: “The picture says it all. This is not fair. President Yameen should remember a time will for others as well”.

He further said the government had forced Gasim to sacrifice his political career

Waheed is in the UK.

While Gasim was abroad, he backed several government proposals, including a constitutional amendment that will disqualify him from running in the 2018 presidential elections.

The amendment sets new age-limits of 30-65 years for the presidency. Gasim will be 66 in 2018.

The JP accepted President Abdulla Yameen’s invitation for talks without conditions. The JP and the government have held two meetings so far. Talks are ongoing between the MDP and the government now.


Tax authority removes freeze on Villa Group accounts

The tax authority has removed a freeze on Jumhooree Party leader and tourism tycoon Gasim Ibrahim’s Villa Group accounts in yet another indication of a thaw in relations between the opposition and the government.

A senior government official told Minivan News that the Villa Group had submitted a plan to pay the US$90.4million claim within two years.

“The Villa Group initially denied that had to make any payments. But now Villa Shipping has agreed to pay the government. That’s why MIRA [Maldives Inland Revenue Authority] has removed the freeze,” they said.

MIRA froze the accounts of Villa Shipping and Trading in May after the Tourism Ministry annulled several agreements on properties leased for tourism development and claimed the company had failed to pay rents on some of the properties since 2006.

The 90.4million claim includes US$75.5million as a fine.

The opposition says the move was an act of reprisal after Gasim’s JP split from the ruling coalition and allied with the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in an anti-government campaign.

Several opposition politicians including ex-president Mohamed Nasheed was arrested and sentenced to jail shortly after the formation of the new alliance.

After months of street protests, historic anti-government marches, and mounting diplomatic pressure, Nasheed was transferred to house arrest in late June and preparations are now underway for talks.

Speaking to Haveeru today, Gasim maintained that his company did not owe any money to the state, but said he had no choice but to make the payment.

“We are having to do this this because our cases at the courts are still pending. We had no choice to do this until the court reaches a decision. If there is any justice in Maldives, I am sure I would not have to make the payment,” Gasim said.

The Villa conglomerate – which operates businesses in shipping, import and export, retail, tourism, fishing, media, communications, transport and education – previously said the claim is unlawful and is contesting it at the civil court.

The civil court had rejected a request for a stay order on paying the fine until the courts uphold the claim.

Villa Group says the claim has cost the company a US$80million loan. It had struggled to pay the salaries of some 5000 employees following the accounts freeze.

In mid-June, Gasim announced that he will retire from politics once his term as Maamigili MP expires in 2019. The long-time presidential hopeful also said he will no longer contest in presidential elections. The government with opposition backing has now amended the constitution to set new age limits of 30-65 years for the presidency, meaning Gasim will be ineligible for the 2018 presidential elections. He will be 66 then.

The JP is in disarray. Two senior party officials fled the country after they were charged with terrorism over a historic anti-government protest on May 1.


Gasim to retire from politics

The leader of the opposition Jumhooree Party (JP) Gasim Ibrahim has announced he will retire from politics once his five-year term as Maamigili MP expires in 2019.

The philanthropist and tourism tycoon, who contested the 2008 and 2013 presidential polls, told newspaper Haveeru today that he plans to resign as the JP leader. He also said he no longer wants to run for the presidency.

“My experiences of the two [presidential] elections I’ve contested are clear. It has damaged my businesses. Now I want to step down and serve the people. There is a lot I can do to serve. I have served many people for the sake of humanity,” he said.

Gasim’s announcement comes weeks after the government slapped a US$90.4million fine on his Villa Group and froze the accounts of several subsidiary companies.

The claim was issued after the JP split from the ruling coalition and allied with the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in a campaign against President Abdulla Yameen’s alleged authoritarianism.

The JP is meanwhile in disarray with two senior officials facing terrorism charges.

Gasim is in Germany at present, Haveeru said. He has been abroad since late April. In a tweet in May, he said he was in Thailand.

Party over

Gasim on Tuesday also appealed to the 10-member JP parliamentary group to support a ruling coalition-proposed constitutional amendment that would bar him from the presidency.

“The JP’s constitution states the leader of the party is its presidential candidate. I fill that position today. But with my decision to support that [the constitutional amendment] I cannot hold that position. So I will hold a congress and hand over the leadership to someone else,” he said.

The ruling coalition wants to set an age limit of 30 to 65 years for the presidency. The constitution at present says that presidential candidates must be 35 years of age.

Gasim will be 66 in 2018.

The MP said he would not abandon the party even if he stepped down from its leadership. “This is a party of 30,000 members. I do not want to destroy the Jumhooree Party. So I will settle the party debts to zero and hand over to a new leadership.”

The JP is currently the only opposition party in talks with the government.

The JP’s last-minute backing was key in President Yameen’s 2013 presidential win. The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) and the JP formed a coalition government, but tensions arose within months after JP accused the ruling party of failure to honor provisions in the coalition agreement including awarding JP members’ jobs.

Gasim had also backed ex-president Mohamed Nasheed in 2008 against the president of 30 years, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

The JP and Nasheed’s MDP had formed a coalition with several smaller parties, but the coalition, too, fell apart within its 100 days. Gasim went on to play a key role in Nasheed’s 2012 ouster.

Economic sanctions

According to Haveeru, Gasim is in Frankfurt to save his ailing company.

The Villa Group – which operates businesses in shipping, import and export, retail, tourism, fishing, media, communications, transport and education – has faced difficulties in paying its 5000 staff due to the tax authority’s decision to freeze company accounts.

The Villa Group is contesting the US$90.4million claim at the civil court.

The claim has cost the company a US$80million loan, Villa has said.

“We are in dire straits, unable to pay salaries. With the accounts freeze, we are facing difficulties in sending money to students we provide scholarships for. Tourism occupancy is also very low. So I am looking for ways to improve the company’s financial situation,” Gasim said.

The Villa Foundation is currently supporting some 350 students’ higher education in the Maldives and abroad. The foundation says it has provided some 5000 students with full or partial scholarships.

Since the tax authority issued the US$90.4million claim, Gasim has not been seen at opposition protests and has remained silent on the ongoing political crisis triggered by the jailing of several politicians including Nasheed.

MPs and senior officials of the JP, however, went on to form a new coalition with the MDP and the religious conservative Adhaalath Party in March.

Gasim served as Minister of Finance from 2005 – 2008 and served as the Speaker of the special parliament set up to draft the Maldives’ new constitution in 2008.


JP proposes all-party talks in first meeting with government

The opposition Jumhooree Party (JP) has proposed conducting all-party talks to resolve the ongoing political crisis at the first meeting between the opposition party and President Abdulla Yameen’s representatives today.

JP MP Abdulla Riyaz told Minivan News that the party proposed three other issues for discussion: freeing opposition politicians in jail or facing criminal prosecution within legal bounds, ensuring the independence of the judiciary, and protecting investors.

A second meeting has been scheduled for 3:00pm on Sunday to discuss the proposals.

President Abdulla Yameen had called for separate talks with the three allied opposition parties last month, but Riyaz said the JP today proposed setting up a “platform” for discussions among all political parties, including the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

The JP’s representatives for the talks are MPs Riyaz, Ilham Ahmed, Faisal Naseem, and Hussain Mohamed.

The government’s representatives include tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb, president’s office minister Mohamed Hussain Shareef ‘Mundhu,’ and environment minister Thoriq Ibrahim.

Mundhu told the press that the discussions took place in “a friendly atmosphere” and both sides agreed on how to carry the talks forward. The ministers will present the JP’s proposals to the president, he added.

All-party talks

The president’s official invitation for talks came after months of continuous protests over the imprisonment of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim as well as a US$90.4 million claim on JP leader Gasim Ibrahim’s Villa Group.

The JP immediately agreed to sit down with the government without conditions.

Gasim has meanwhile been in Bangkok since late April. According to local media, the criminal court has issued an arrest warrant for Gasim on charges of financing a historic anti-government mass protest on May 1.

The JP’s deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim and council member Sobah Rasheed are accused of inciting violence at the May Day protest, and have been charged with terrorism. If convicted, they face between 10 and 15 years in jail.

Both Ameen and Sobah are out of the country. In a video message this week, Sobah said he is seeking political asylum.

President Yameen has meanwhile ruled out negotiations over Nasheed and Nazim’s release. His agenda focuses on political reconciliation, strengthening the judiciary and political party participation in socio-economic development.

The MDP has proposed Nasheed, chairperson Ali Waheed and MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih as representatives. The Adhaalath Party proposed its president Sheikh Imran Abdulla, who is currently in police custody. He is also charged with terrorism over the May Day protest.

The government has rejected Nasheed and Imran as representatives.

Speaking to Minivan News today after Riyaz declared that the JP was not involved with the ‘Maldivians against tyranny’ alliance and the upcoming mass protest on June 12.

MDP vice president Mohamed Shifaz said that JP members were working with the alliance in their individual capacity. He noted that the JP had not formally joined the alliance or supported the May Day protest.

MDP MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih meanwhile told the press this afternoon that all political parties should sit down together for the talks in order to ensure a positive outcome.

“We think that a good result can be achieved when parties of all ideologies sit at the same table for discussions as all parties were given the same agenda and they have the same concerns,” he said.

The newly-appointed British High Commissioner to the Maldives has also supported all-party talks.

“We think it’s important that talks involving all parties should take place. It seems to me to be logical that talks should take place involving all the parties together, both the party in government and parties in opposition,” James Dauris said in an interview with Minivan News during a two-day visit to the Maldives in May.


Opposition politician, charged with terrorism, seeks asylum

An opposition politician who was charged with terrorism this week has sought asylum in a foreign country.

In a video message published on You Tube last night, Jumhooree Party (JP) council member Sobah Rasheed said he has obtained asylum in an unspecified foreign country, to avoid prosecution by President Abdulla Yameen’s adminsitration.

“I am currently abroad, under a foreign government’s protection. I have come here to further serve the Maldivian people. I had to come here to avoid being a sacrifice to Yameen’s tyranny, because I can only further serve the Maldivian people if I make this move.”

Sobah, the Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla and JP’s deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim are accused of inciting violence at a historic anti-government protest on May 1.

If convicted under the 1990 Anti-Terrorism Act, the three face between 10 and 15 years in jail.

Nearly 20,000 protesters took to the streets on May Day, demanding the release of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim, whose arrests sparked the ongoing political crisis.

Sobah pledged to launch an international campaign seeking sanctions against President Yameen’s government. He said he will inform the international community of Yameen’s tyranny, corruption and prosecution of political leaders, as well as the businesses who prop up the government.

“I will especially highlight the politically motivated trials conducted by the authoritarian, evil and corrupt judges in the criminal court, in partnership with Yameen and [the tourism minister] Adeeb, and the bribes these judges have taken.”

He also said he would reveal details of those who murdered ruling party MP Afrasheem Ali in 2012.

Sobah pledged to continue his campaign until the government releases Nasheed and Nazim from jail, and stops targeting JP leader Gasim Ibrahim’s businesses.

Sheikh Imran has denied charges at a first hearing on Sunday.

Sobah and Ameen’s trials were set to begin on Sunday, but were cancelled as they are out of the country.

Gasim has been in Bangkok since late April. The criminal court has reportedly issued an arrest warrant for Gasim for a charge of funding the May Day protest.

The tax authority in May froze Gasim’s Villa Group’s accounts claiming the company owed the government US$90.4million in unpaid rent, fees and fines.

Gasim insists the claim is unlawful and is contesting it at the civil court.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) chairperson Ali Waheed was also arrested on May 1, but the PG office has reportedly not made a decision on prosecuting the former MP.

The terrorism charges follow President Yameen’s invitation for separate talks with the three allied opposition parties. Imran, Ameen, and Ali Waheed are among the representatives of their respective parties.

The May Day demonstration was the largest anti-government protest in Maldivian history. Riot police cracked down on the demonstration with tear gas, pepper spray and baton charges after protesters attempted to enter Malé’s restricted Republic Square at dusk.

Nearly 200 people were arrested and scores of protesters and some police officers were injured during violent clashes.

The terrorism charges against Sheikh Imran also comes after President Yameen threatened to prosecute the religious conservative party’s leader over allegations linking the president to the murder of Dr.Afrasheem.

The opposition has called for a third mass protest on June 12.


MDP proposes radical roadmap for political reconciliation

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has proposed transferring imprisoned ex-President Mohamed Nasheed and other political leaders to house arrest as “immediate steps to build trust” in a draft roadmap for political reconciliation.

The roadmap was laid out in a preliminary paper compiled at a workshop held by the MDP national council last night, and is to be shared with Adhaalath Party and the Jumhooree Party (JP) for the three allied parties to arrive at a “consensus from which to begin negotiations with the government.”

The paper also proposes negotiations on changing to a parliamentary system of governance and reforming the police and the judiciary.

President Abdulla Yameen had called for separate talks with the three allied opposition parties, two weeks after a historic anti-government protest on May 1.

He has, however, ruled out negotiations for the release of Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim, whose arrests in February triggered the ongoing political crisis.

Hundreds were arrested and injured in clashes on May Day.

Although the government has proposed separate talks, the MDP says it “would be of more benefit for the Maldivian people, if the MDP, Adhaalath and Jumhooree Party were to find common ground and present a united stance for negotiations.”

The national council is due to hold a second workshop tonight to discuss the paper, but Minivan News understand it will not undergo substantial changes.

Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla was meanwhile arrested last night ahead of the first hearing of his terrorism trial tonight, throwing the possibility of the talks going forward into doubt.

JP deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim and council member Sobah Rasheed are also facing terrorism charges. Imran and Ameen were among the representatives of their respective parties for the talks.

Building trust

Stressing the importance of building and maintaining trust among all political actors, the MDP said imprisoned politicians must be transferred to house arrest, until the truth of the accusations against them can be verified.

Along with Nasheed and Nazim, the MDP says former defence minister Tholhath Ibrahim and former ruling party MP Ahmed Nazim should also be transferred to house arrest.

The latter pair were convicted of terrorism and corruption, respectively.

The government must also withdraw charges against the opposition leaders and supporters arrested from protests, the paper said.

The MDP also called for an end to “politically motivated” targeting of opposition-aligned businesses, including JP leader Gasim Ibrahim’s Villa Group, former MP Abdulla Jabir’s Yacht Tours, and the VA Company.

The tax authority froze Villa’s bank accounts last month. Local media has said the criminal court has issued a warrant for Gasim’s arrest. The JP leader is in Bangkok at present.

Other immediate steps include ensuring job security of government employees facing dismissal for attending opposition protests, ceasing disciplinary action against councillors for participating in political activities, and stopping “government actions that disrupts the peacefulness of protests calling for the release of President Nasheed and other political prisoners.”

The government must also publicly disclose information gathered by Maldivian and foreign intelligence agencies regarding the murder of MP Afrasheem Ali and the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan and launch independent investigations involving civil society organisations, the MDP said.

Parliamentary system

Once the immediate steps have been taken, the MDP proposed negotiations for “a smooth and peaceful” change from a presidential to a parliamentary system of government.

The paper noted that coalitions led by the MDP and the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) won the 2008 and 2013 presidential elections, respectively. But both coalitions disintegrated soon after the polls.

Coalitions between political parties are incompatible with the presidential system and the Maldivian constitution, the MDP contended, and would not lead to stability as the electorate is unwilling to grant a popular mandate to a single candidate or party.

The party that holds a majority in the current parliament should form a government under the new system, the paper suggested.

The ruling PPM and coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance controls a comfortable majority of the 85-member house. If the MDP’s proposal is accepted, the PPM will continue to lead the government.

However, public referendums should take place to legitimise the decisions of several MPs who have switched parties since the May 2014 parliamentary polls.

Judicial reform 

The MDP said the party believes that it remains “an easy task to change the government using the security forces” as a police and army mutiny had forced former President Nasheed to resign on February 7, 2012.

In order to prevent a similar situation, the party recommended identifying the mutinous elements and soldiers, seeking reconciliation, and establishing trust and good will between the officers and the MDP.

Among the steps for judicial reform, the party recommended changing the composition of the Judicial Service Commission, completing investigations into allegations of judge’s misconduct, and setting a university degree as the minimum qualification to become a judge.

Other proposed measures included immediately enforcing the new penal code, passing an evidence law and criminal procedures code, and repealing amendments brought to the Judicature Act that saw the removal of former Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain and Justice Muthasim Adnan.

The party also proposed amending the constitution to state that the Supreme Court would not have the authority to make laws and to allow an equal say for ruling and opposition parties in appointing members to independent institutions.


Terrorism trials for Adhaalath, Jumhooree Party leaders set to begin

The terrorism trials of opposition Adhaalath Party and Jumhoory Party (JP) leaders are set to begin at the Criminal Court tonight.

Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla’s trial is set for 8:00pm, while trials for JP deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim and council member Sobah Rasheed have been set for 8:30 pm and 9:00pm, respectively.

The three are charged with inciting violence at a mass antigovernment protest on May 1. If convicted, they face between 10 and 15 years in jail.

At tonight’s hearings, state prosecutors will read out charges against the three and judges are expected to give them a three-day period to appoint lawyers.

Imran is in police custody at present. He was arrested from his home at 11:00pm last night on a criminal court warrant.

“The warrant stated Imran should be brought to court tonight under police guard,” a police spokesperson said.

A warrant is usually issued only if the accused repeatedly fails to attend court, or if the accused may abscond or flee from trial. The Adhaalath Party said Imran only found out about the hearing at the time of his arrest.

It is not yet clear if a warrant has been issued for Ameen and Sobah’s arrest. The police declined to comment on the issue. The criminal court was not responding to calls at the time of going to press.

Minivan News understands Imran, Ameen and Sobah are charged under Article 2 (f) of the 1990 Anti –Terrorism Act that states inciting fear and issuing threats to harm individuals or damage property is an act of terrorism.

Imran and Ameen were arrested after the May Day protest and accused of encouraging violence in their speeches, which police contends led to protesters assaulting police officers, damaging property, and disrupting public order and safety.

Sobah Rasheed was arrested from an opposition street protest on May 3.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) chairperson Ali Waheed was also arrested on May 1, but the PG office has reportedly not made a decision on prosecuting the former MP.

The police had also accused the opposition leaders of threatening President Abdulla Yameen and other senior government officials.

The terrorism charges follow the president’s invitation for separate talks with the three allied opposition parties. Imran, Ameen, and Ali Waheed are among the representatives of their respective parties.

Following his release last week after 26 days under police custody, Imran denied the allegations.

More than 20,000 people took to the street on May 1 calling for the release of imprisoned former President Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim, whose arrests sparked the ongoing political crisis.

The May Day demonstration was the largest anti-government protest in Maldivian history. Some 193 were arrested and scores were injured.

Nasheed was charged with terrorism over the detention of a judge during his tenure and sentenced to 13 years in prison in March.

Nazim was sentenced to 11 years in jail on weapons smuggling charges. The retired colonel maintains the weapons were planted at his home by rogue police officers.

Foreign governments and international bodies including the UN criticized Nasheed and Nazim’s rushed trials for apparent lack of due process. The parliament of the European Union has called for Nasheed’s immediate release.

The opposition alliance has meanwhile called for a mass protest on June 12.

The terrorism charges against Sheikh Imran also comes after President Yameen threatened to prosecute the religious conservative party’s leader over allegations linking the president to the murder of MP Afrasheem Ali in October 2012.


Ameen resigns as chairman of Vmedia

Jumhooree Party (JP) deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim has resigned as chairman of Vmedia, saying he wants to “devote every second to the opposition cause” against government authoritarianism.

Ameen was arrested in the wake of the May Day anti-government demonstration and accused of inciting violence against the government. He was released on Thursday after the High Court overturned the criminal court’s order to hold him in remand detention for 15 days.

“It is with deep regret that I submit my resignation as executive chairman of [Island Broadcasting Company] and Vmedia. My colleagues [Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran,] [Maldivian Democratic Party chairperson Ali Waheed], and [JP member Sobah Rasheed] are still in jail,” Ameen tweeted yesterday.

Ameen was appointed chairman of Vmedia and parent company IBC – owned by JP leader Gasim Ibrahim – last year after President Abdulla Yameen dismissed him from the cabinet.

Ameen was appointed transport minister under the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives’ coalition agreement with the JP. The coalition was dissolved after Gasim stood for the speaker of parliament.

Ameen also served as Vmedia’s CEO before his appointment as transport minister in November 2013.

The JP formed an alliance with the main opposition MDP in February and launched protests against the government.


Ameen is a member of the opposition ‘Maldivians against tyranny’ alliance’s steering committee and has been active in opposition protests.


Former police chief questioned over Dr Afrasheem murder, Raajje TV arson

Former police commissioner and opposition MP Abdulla Riyaz was summoned to the police headquarters last night over comments he had made over the murder of MP Dr Afrasheem Ali and the torching of the Raajje TV studios.

Riyaz said he was questioned about remarks made in an appearance on Raajje TV on April 20.

The MP had said he would reveal information on Dr Afrasheem’s murder in October 2012 “when the time comes” and that police had been negligent in the arson attack in October 2013 that had destroyed the opposition-aligned private broadcaster’s offices.

The Jumhooree Party (JP) MP for Thaa Kibidhoo said he was asked if he had any additional information on the two cases.

“I said any information I got at the time will be with the police,” he told reporters outside the police headquarters.

Riyaz was police chief from February 2012 until his resignation in November 2013, shortly after president Abdulla Yameen assumed office.

Police accused him of disclosing state secrets or confidential information, Riyaz said, but the specific information in question was not made clear.

Riyaz stressed that he had not revealed any sensitive information during the Raajje TV interview, adding that he had faced criticism from the public for not doing so.

Explaining what he meant by revealing information “when the time comes,” Riyaz said he will answer truthfully if he is questioned at court or the parliament’s national security committee.

Police did not take his statement as he spoke “off the record” and told interrogators he would remain silent over the allegations against him.

Riyaz said he chose to remain silent because “the government is framing politicians”.

The MP said he was afraid to drive his car without checking to see if anything has been planted, he said, claiming that attempts were being made to frame him with drugs.

Riyaz has maintained that police framed ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim, who was sentenced to 11 years in jail in March over weapons smuggling charges after police found a pistol in his apartment in late January.

He also called on police to provide updates to the public about the investigation of Dr Afrasheem’s murder, the Raajje TV arson, and the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan.

The police summons for Riyaz came amid heightened political tension in the wake of a crackdown on a mass anti-government rally on Friday. Nearly 200 protesters were arrested after clashes with riot police in the largest anti-government demonstration in a decade.

Opposition leaders involved in organising the May Day protest, including senior members of the JP, have since been arrested. Riyaz is the deputy leader of the JP’s parliamentary group.

In December 2012, Riyaz had said that Dr Afrasheem’s murder was politically motivated with a local gang offered MVR4 million (US$260,000) to carry it out.

The late moderate religious scholar and Progressive Party of Maldives MP was brutally stabbed to death on October 1, 2013 in a murder that shocked the nation.

Hussain Humam, the chief suspect in the murder and the only person convicted of the crime so far, has alleged president Abdulla Yameen and tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb’s involvement in the killing.

However, Adeeb accused the opposition of orchestrating Humam’s remarks in a “character assassination” attempt. Humam had said at the first hearing of his appeal at the High Court last month that president Yameen and Adeeb “will know best” the details of the murder.

Former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom meanwhile told reporters yesterday that president Yameen should sue opposition politicians alleging his involvement in the murder for defamation and strongly condemned the insinuations.

Humam was found guilty and sentenced to death in January 2014 while a second suspect charged with Dr Afrasheem’s murder, Ali Shan, was acquitted in September last year with the court citing insufficient evidence.

Shan was implicated in Humam’s confession, but the judge said several witnesses had testified that the accused was at a restaurant at the time the murder took place.

A third suspect, Azlif Rauf, who Humam said had planned the murder, left to Turkey with six members of Malé’s Kuda Henveiru gang in January.

The Raajje TV studio was meanwhile torched and completely destroyed on October 7, 2013. Suspects arrested in connection with the arson attack have yet to face trial despite CCTV footage of the arsonists.

Reporters Without Borders at the time condemned the police for failure to defend the station despite repeated requests for protection, and the forwarding of a specific threat the previous evening.