Maldives Opposition decries 'ramped up crackdown'

Indo Asian News Service

Malé, April 1 (IANS) The Maldives' opposition alliance has denounced the governments "new campaign of intimidation and harassment against opposition leaders" after a failed bid to impeach the speaker of Parliament.

Speaker Abdulla Maseeh was accused of allowing President Abdulla Yameen to control the Parliament and preventing the institution from holding the government and state institutions accountable.

After a no-confidence motion against Maseeh was defeated earlier this week (March 27), fresh terror charges were raised against former President Mohamed Nasheed.

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was expelled from ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), the party he founded; and former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim was abruptly taken back to jail, reported Maldives Independent on Saturday.

Jumhooree Party (JP) leader Qasim Ibrahim and his deputy, MP Abdulla Riyaz, were interrogated by the police whilst jailed MP Ahmed Mahloof was deprived of his weekly phone call, family meeting and conjugal visit for one month.

"This week's crackdown appears to be an attempt by the President to effectively criminalise the political opposition and thwart any attempts by the Parliament to hold the President and his regime accountable," the Opposition alliance said in a joint statement on Friday.

Ahead of the no-confidence vote, former Presidents Gayoom and Nasheed along with JP leader Gasim and Adhaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla had signed a pact "to unite against President Abdulla Yameen's increasing authoritarianism."

The grand coalition sought to dismantle the pro-government parliamentary majority with the bid to remove speaker Abdulla Maseeh, said the report.

Hours after the vote, the ethics committee of the PPM expelled Gayoom from the party, accusing him of "working with the opposition to overthrow the lawful government."

But Gayoom, who is in India visiting a sick relative, disputed the legal standing of the ethics committee, which he had suspended in October at the height of the PPM's leadership dispute.

According to the PPM's charter, the party's president can only be dismissed if a two-thirds majority of delegates at a national conference votes in favour of a no-confidence motion.

The PPM on Saturday said that loss of any one person is no obstacle to the party's work, referring to Gayoom ouster.

On Thursday, the civil court ordered the police to shut down the "office of the PPM president" set up by Gayoom in Henveiru Thema and to stop any activity being carried out under the party's name with the PPM flag and logo.

On Friday evening, police officers broke the padlock on the gate and removed the PPM nameplate and flag from Gayoom's office.

Fresh terrorism charges were also filed against former President Nasheed over the military's nine-day "protective custody" of then-MP Yameen in 2010.

On Friday night, Anas Abdul Sattar, secretary-general of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), was also summoned for questioning at the police headquarters.

Sattar said the police interrogated him over a tweet from the MDP's official account that urged opposition supporters to gather near the police headquarters in solidarity with Gasim when he was summoned for questioning.