Legal Politics

Court order to seize Internet activist’s phone sparks outrage

A criminal court order to seize the mobile phone of a prominent social media activist has sparked outrage and concern over the constitutional right to protect sources.

Citing a secret intelligence report as evidence, the police sought the warrant to identify Thayyib Shaheem’s sources for an investigation into alleged false claims about President Abdulla Yameen, the head of the anti-corruption watchdog, and senior government officials.

But the constitution prohibits compelling anyone “to disclose the source of any information that is espoused, disseminated or published by that person.”

The police reportedly seized Thayyib’s phone on Monday afternoon. The warrant authorised the confiscation of his mobile phones, SIM cards, memory cards and laptops for 30 days to collect data on calls and messages.

Judge Adam Arif also ordered Thayyib to unlock his phones for the police. The warrant was issued Saturday with a 72-hour enforcement period and the offence cited was disorderly conduct under section 615 of the penal code, a class three misdemeanour that carries a maximum jail term of three months.

Thayyib’s verified Twitter account has more than 26,400 followers. Formerly the news editor of the state broadcaster under former President Mohamed Nasheed, he routinely levels serious allegations of corruption against the president, senior officials and ruling party lawmakers.

The 42-year-old’s arrest in March for allegedly causing panic about the H1N1 swine flu virus prompted Amnesty International to declare him a “prisoner of conscience” who was “detained solely for exercising his right to freedom of expression”.

After nearly a month in custody, the High Court released Thayyib on the condition that he refrains from defaming the government.

Thayyib’s phone was also confiscated in early March. His arrest days later came less than two hours after he posted audio clips of Majority Leader Ahmed Nihan explaining that the constitution was amended to sell an island to the then-Saudi deputy crown prince.

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