AFP: The last free opposition leader in the Maldives has been arrested as part of a major government crackdown on rival politicians who narrowly failed to seize control of parliament in the honeymoon islands.
Qasim Ibrahim, who ran for president in 2013 and currently heads the Jumhooree Party (JP), was one of four signatories of an opposition unity deal aimed at toppling President Abdulla Yameen.
The bid failed after Yameen ordered troops to remove the dissenting MPs from the floor of parliament, causing chaotic scenes and prompting the US to urge the Maldives to restore faith in democracy.
Ibrahim was taken into custody on Thursday night after police questioned him about allegations he bribed legislators, according to a coalition of dissidents known as the Maldives United Opposition (MUO). “With the arrest of Qasim Ibrahim, every opposition leader in the Maldives has now been arrested and is under some form of detention,” the MUO said in a statement.
There was no immediate reaction from the Maldives government, but the president’s office repeated a statement denying accusations of intimidation. Since coming to power, President Yameen has presided over a general crackdown on political dissent in the nation of 340,000 that has raised fears over the country’s stability and dented its image as a tourism paradise.
In 2015, former leader Mohamed Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in prison on terrorism charges that were widely seen as politically motivated.
Nasheed, who heads the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party from London where he lives in exile, became the country’s first democratically elected president in 2008, but was narrowly defeated by Yameen in a controversial 2013 election run-off.
He was slapped with fresh terrorism charges last week after leading the opposition move in parliament remotely.
The new charges against him stemmed from when Yameen was briefly detained in 2010, allegedly under orders from Nasheed, who was president at the time.
Nasheed, who has pledged to return to the honeymoon islands to contest the 2018 election, said last month’s incident in parliament exposed the government’s shaky majority.