The criminal court has reportedly issued an arrest warrant for Jumhooree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim.
Local media reported last night that police had sought the warrant to arrest the business tycoon over allegations of funding the May Day anti-government mass rally.
The opposition MP and chairman of Villa Group is currently out of the country.
“But we are seeking arrest warrants related to the May Day protest,” the official said.
Nearly 200 protesters were arrested from the 20,000-strong demonstration on May 1, including main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) chairperson Ali Waheed, Adhaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla, and JP deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim.
The arrest warrant follows the tax authority freezing the bank accounts of several companies owned by Gasim over allegedly unpaid rent and fines. The government has, however, denied the opposition’s claim of unfairly targeting Gasim’s business interests.
A day before the May Day rally, tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb accused Gasim of funding the protest “while hiding in Bangkok” and hiring Sheikh Imran under “a contract” to topple the government.
Gasim promptly denied the allegation in a tweet. He had reportedly traveled to Thailand ahead of the protest.
Imran and the other leaders of the allied opposition parties are being held in remand detention for 15 days. They are accused of inciting violence against the government during the May Day rally.
On May 1, opposition protesters called for the release of imprisoned ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim.
JP spokesperson Ali Solih told Minivan News that the party has not been able to confirm if the warrant has been issued, but “we can’t say it won’t happen under the present circumstances.”
Solih accused the government of attempts to “intimidate” political opponents and “create fear among the public.”
He noted that Gasim’s support was crucial for president Abdulla Yameen’s victory in the 2013 presidential election.
“Is this is the reward for all the work Gasim did to bring this government?” he asked.
Following a fact finding mission last month, Amnesty International expressed concern with the “rapidly deteriorating” human rights situation in the Maldives.
“There’s a climate of fear spreading in the Maldives, as safeguards on human rights are increasingly eroded. The authorities have a growing track record of silencing critical voices by any means necessary – be it through the police, the judicial system, or outright threats and harassment,” Amnesty’s Maldives researcher Abbas Faiz told the press in New Delhi.