New terrorism charges against three opposition leaders have prompted concern over prolonged instability in the Maldives and raised fears that the government is out to silence the opposition.
The Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla, Jumhooree Party’s deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim and its council member Sobah Rasheed’s terrorism trials on charges of inciting fear are set to begin tonight.
If convicted, they face between ten and 15 years in jail. Imran was arrested from his home last night. Ameen and Sobah are out of the country at present.
The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) condemned the charges in a statement today: “The government’s use of terrorism charges against opposition leaders at a time when the opposition have expressed their ongoing willingness to engage in talks to end the political crisis is worrying.”
But the president’s office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali today blamed lack of progress in talks on the opposition parties.
“The problem here is the main opposition party MDP and Adhaalath Party are not sincere. The government has set the rules. No prisoner or a person will legal or administrative barrier can participate in the talks,” he said.
The Adhaalath Party and the JP had proposed Imran and Ameen as representatives with the government in separate talks. The new charges mean the government will not accept the pair as representatives.
The ongoing crisis was triggered by the imprisonment of former president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim. The government has ruled out discussions over the pair’s release.
The MDP’s spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said: “The Maldives’ slide to dictatorship is now complete. There isn’t an opposition leader in the country who isn’t either in jail or facing charges.”
The Adhaalath Party said the charges against the oppositions leaders are “cowardly” and “proof the government is unfaithful to the people and lack the ability to fulfil pledges.”
The JP was not available for comment at the time of going to press.
Imran and Ameen were arrested after a 20,000-strong protest on May 1 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.
The May Day protest was the largest anti-government demonstration in Maldivian history.
Sobah was arrested from an opposition street protest on May 3.
The 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 charges against the opposition leaders have sparked outrage on social media.
The former Attorney General Fathimath Dhiyana Saeed said she is “in shock.”
In shock over the new spate of terrorism charges. How far b4 rational thinking PPM members smell blood on their hands & say ‘enough&no more’
— Dhiyana (@dhiyanasaid) May 31, 2015
— Mariya Didi (@MariyaDidi) June 2, 2015
— Almond (@almond3131) June 2, 2015
Others questioned the government’s sincerity in resolving the political crisis.
President Yameen’s ‘all party talks’ amount to nothing but rhetoric with majority of opposition leaders in jail or on trial #Maldives
— MushfiqueMohamed (@mushfique_) June 2, 2015
Many members of the public Minivan News spoke to previously have also said they are skeptical of a positive outcome from the talks with the government having ruled out Nasheed and Nazim’s release.
MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy said: “The Maldivian state has all the characteristics of a criminal organisation.”
Dhivehi dhaulathu ga criminal organization ehge huriha sharutheh furihama https://t.co/EjTsNJsALf
— Imthiyaz Fahmy (@Imthiyazfahmy) June 2, 2015
JP MP Ali Hussein said the government will not enact the new penal code until it has jailed all the opposition leaders.
Idhikolhu gai thibi enmen jallah lumah fahugai noonee au qaanoonul uqoobaathah ah misarukaarun amalu kuraakah nufashaane.
— Ali Hussain (@AleeVoice) May 31, 2015
The new penal code, which would repeal the 1990 Anti-Terrorism Act, was set to come into force in April. But ruling MPs delayed its enactment until July.
Meanwhile, the government has drafted a new Terrorism Act. MP Hussein in a separate tweet said: “Under the terrorism law even a tweet of mine could be an act of terrorism.”
The only MP of the Adhaalath Party, Anara Naeem, said she does not want “a culture where criticism of the government leads to jail sentences.”
Hiyhama nujehey gothah baheh bunaairah, hayyarukoh theyrithakuge bidhhoshah laa kastholhu alhuvaa sagaafathu beynumeh noon.
— Anara Naeem (@AnaraNaeem) June 2, 2015
Referring to Imran’s arrest, former MP Visam Ali asked: “How long will the police carry out atrocities like this?”
— Visam (@visamali) June 1, 2015
Before his arrest, Sheikh Imran tweeted: “It is not a crime not to follow unlawful orders even if the orders come from the police.”
Fuluhun kuriyas gairu gaanoonee amurakah vaanama kiyaman nuvumakun kuhverieh nuvaane.
— Imran Abdulla (@ShimranAb) April 30, 2015
Other opposition politicians remained defiant. Former ruling party MP Ahmed Mahloof said: “Do what you can do now. God willing, tyrants will be answerable before the law and will face justice soon enough.”
Mikuda vaguthukolhutherey kurevey hurihaakameh kuravvaa,iraadhakureviyya qaanoon aai insaafu ais varah avahah aniyaaverinnaa bahdhalukuraane
— Ahmed Mahloof (@AhmedMahloof) June 2, 2015
The opposition has called for a third mass protest on June 12. The mayor of southern Addu City on Sunday said he will be in Malé for the protest.
12 June vaa Hukuru dhuvahu hunnaany Male’ ga. Alhugandumen rajjetherey meehun Male’ ebadhan. Kuda sity beynun vaanama kurin engevun edhen.
— Abdulla Sodiq(Sobe’) (@SobeAbdulla) May 31, 2015