COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Police in the Maldives have arrested an opposition party leader on a charge of plotting to overthrow the government and remanded him for six days, a move the joint opposition condemned Friday as intensifying a crackdown on political opponents.
Jumhooree Party leader and lawmaker Qasim Ibrahim had signed an agreement with others last month to try to restore democracy in the archipelago nation, and the joint opposition said his arrest was aimed at obstructing the work of the alliance, which it said has threatened the power of President Yameen Abdul Gayoom.
Qasim was arrested Thursday evening on the charges of "attempting to influence no-confidence motions against the speaker of Parliament and deputy speaker" through bribing lawmakers and "plotting to overthrow the government and attempting to influence national security forces," according to the joint opposition's statement.
The arrest of the tourism tycoon came days after the government defeated a no-confidence motion against the speaker and thereby prevented an opposition bid to take control of Parliament. The arrest also comes ahead of another impeachment motion against the deputy speaker scheduled for Monday.
Police spokesman Ahmed Shifan said Qasim was arrested "on suspicion of bribing the lawmakers to influence the vote on a no-confidence motion on the speaker and attempting to influence the upcoming no-confidence motion against the deputy speaker and also for influencing the military and attempting to make unconstitutional changes to the government."
On Friday, he was remanded for six days, said Shifan.
The opposition says the charges are trumped-up and demonstrate the willingness of Gayoom's government to "subvert state institutions in order to pursue and persecute anyone who attempts to hold him accountable."
Qasim last month formed an opposition alliance together with Maldives' first democratically elected leader, Mohamed Nasheed, its former strongman leader Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and another political party. Qasim, who was a candidate in the 2013 presidential election, backed Yameen in the second round of polls against Nasheed, but later they fell apart.
Yameen is a half-brother of Maumoon and became president in 2013 by defeating Nasheed. Since then he has been accused of using the judiciary, police and bureaucracy to crack down on opponents.
Nasheed, a vice president, a defense minister and another political party leader have been given lengthy prison sentences after trials on terrorism charges that were criticized for lack of due process.
The government also tightly controls public gatherings and recently enacted an anti-defamation law with hefty fines and jail terms for journalists and social media users.