The daily pain

Yameen

by Azra Naseem

Yameen Rasheed was brutally murdered a year ago today. He had just turned 29, was on the cusp of a major career breakthrough, and had, only a short while previously, met the love of his life. He was the pride of his parents, a beloved brother, a doted upon uncle, a precious friend, an admired colleague, and a brave social critic. The promise of a fulfilling life of success, love, and potential contributions to shaping a more tolerant Maldivian society brought to an abrupt end by a knife plunged frantically into his young body; hatred cancelling out love, intolerance victorious over empathy.

It would have come as no surprise to Yameen that in the long painful year that has passed since his life was taken, none responsible have been punished. Justice, as he well knew, is non-existent in the Maldives. And nothing has highlighted this truth more than the obstacles against punishment for Yameen’s killers. To begin with, the investigation was so deliberately careless his already traumatised family had to sue the police for negligence. Their case, of course, was thrown out. The ‘trial’ that followed, and is said to be ongoing, is so secret it is closed even to Yameen’s family.

Murders are not just personal crimes, but crimes against society; but society is kept in total darkness about this particular killing which—if only society were to indulge in a moment of collective reflection it would realise—is a pivotal event in its history.

If Yameen’s death goes unpunished there would be no turning back for Maldives.

What is happening behind closed doors in the name of justice for Yameen is a struggle for the direction Maldives will take in the future: will it embrace tolerance, or will it submit to religious puritans free to take the lives of those who fail their demands for absolute conformity?

Yameen’s killing was followed by a flurry of state activity. Not against extremists who assume the authority to murder whomever they think offended what they believe is the right way to practice Islam, but against those who expressed views of Islam contrary to the extremists’ interpretations. The president used the occasion to mount an attack on ‘those who mock Islam’, and self-proclaimed religious authorities tripped over themselves to defend the right of the killers to take the lives of those who advocate tolerance. An Islamic society cannot be secular. It cannot allow other religions to co-exist. Muslims cannot empathise with people of any other faith. To advocate tolerance is to mock Islam. The message that has been broadcast loud and clear—by the president in his various speeches; by religious leaders; by figureheads of the various sects of Islam that have established themselves within Maldivian society; and—sadly—by a substantial portion of the population itself, is: follow this script, or be excluded from Maldivian society. And from life itself.

Around the world, across space and time, seemingly isolated events have triggered dramatic changes in societies. The killing of Arch Duke Ferdinand in 1914 became the catalyst for the First World War.  Almost a century later, the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in December 2010 became the catalyst for the revolution in Tunisia, which gave birth to the ‘Arab Spring’.

The killing of Yameen on 23 April 2017 had the potential to trigger similarly dramatic changes in Maldivian society. It was an event that could have— should have—brought every mother, daughter, sister, brother, friend, son, and fellow citizen out on to the streets from Male’ to Addu and everywhere in-between. It should have incensed every Maldivian who believe in the sanctity of life, who hold dear the tolerance preached by their faith, who value the existential right of human beings to think freely.

But the moment passed, only those personally touched by Yameen’s wonderful spirit came out on the streets. A handful of ‘society at large’ came too. But a year later, they too, have dwindled in number to almost nothing. Only family and friends, and a core group of human rights defenders, remain on the streets. Their pain is as fresh as it was this day a year ago, their demands as sincere, their commitment to justice for Yameen unwavering.

But they cannot do it alone.

Whether people realise it or not, Yameen’s death is a life-changing event for them. By not raising their voices as one, by remaining silent in the face of the farce that is ‘justice’ for Yameen, by going about daily business as if nothing has changed, in the empty space created by their silence, they are allowing religious puritans to write their own futures, and the futures of their children.

Perhaps none of this would have surprised Yameen.

But it would have certainly caused him pain.

It would have caused him pain to know that the society he fought for did not fight back for him; that when he lost his life in the battle for freedom, the war had already been lost to those making freedom a crime.

Or has it?

Without a people’s uprising or a similarly obvious consequence, Yameen’s killing may not seem as life-changing a moment in the history of the Maldives. But it is. In retrospective, if society remains complicit as now, it would be pointed to as the event which planted Maldives firmly on the path to intolerant religious puritanism. Truth is, there is still time to shape what happens next. The ‘trial’ is not over yet. The future is not yet writ large in a ‘court’ verdict. The people still have the power to make sure it will be one that allows all Maldivians right to think freely for themselves without being punished and killed for what they think and what they say.

What it will take is for everyone who believes in such a society to stand up.

Like Yameen did.

Or be prepared for daily panic, and endless pain.

    The making of the Great Ocean of China

    by Thilmeeza Hussain

    The political impasse in the smallest country in the Indian Ocean is drawing global attention to India’s power in the region and its leadership role in the world.

    If India does not act swiftly to ensure that the Maldivian people’s rights are protected and democracy is restored in the country, China, which has sided with the current Maldivian ruler Abdulla Yameen, is going to consolidate power in the region around India.

    The Maldives has been on a downhill slope since the coup d’état in 2012, when former president Mohamed Nasheed was forced to resign under duress; the country’s situation has deteriorated steadily since Yameen took office in a highly contested election. Soon after taking office, he has prosecuted every opposition leader and they are either in jail or exile.

    For many Maldivians like me, the coup d’état still feels surreal. We watched parliamentarians getting beaten on the streets and peaceful protesters being met with batons and pepper spray. The death of Maldivian democracy stood in stark contrast to our euphoria after the hard-earned end of a 30-year dictatorship. Yameen’s older half-brother, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who lost the first multi-party election in 2008, was the only president many of us had known our entire lives.

    For four years, we tasted freedom and rule of law.

    Today, voices demanding freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, or calling to uphold the rule of law are thrown behind bars. The door to jail cells is a revolving one, and there is a continuous flow of political prisoners.

    Not even members of Yameen’s own political party are safe if they are seen as a threat to his power. Not too long ago, we saw a member of Parliament (MP) stabbed to death with a machete on the stairwell of his home. When an investigative journalist, Ahmed Rilwan, started reporting on the murder, he was abducted from his home and hasn’t been seen since. Shortly after, Rilwan’s friend and political blogger Yameen Rasheed, who sought the truth of his friend’s disappearance, was stabbed in the neck and chest multiple times in the stairwell of his apartment building. State-sponsored attacks on citizens and a culture of impunity have taken over our country. Despite being under constant threat, harassment and fear, Maldivians are still fighting for their rights every day.

    It’s clear that the current pressure from the international community, including our closest ally and neighbour India, has not stopped Yameen’s blatant disregard for the rule of law so far. For example, the international community condemned the current administration’s refusal to release former president Nasheed, eight other political prisoners and reinstate 12 members of Parliament. Instead of abiding by our Supreme Court ruling, Yameen’s government declared a state of emergency, arresting and jailing two Supreme Court justices, three MPs, his half-brother, former president Gayoom, and anyone whom he saw as a danger to his rule.

    We Maldivians share strong ethnic, linguistic, cultural and commercial ties with India but if our human rights abuses are not enough to compel India into taking more concrete steps to stop Yameen, their own security should be reason enough.

    The rapid deterioration of the situation in the Maldives since 2012 has extended far beyond the shores of our islands because of our location, and it has brought India’s significance in the region into question. The worth of this vast ocean to India cannot be exaggerated.

    The Maldives lies next to crucial shipping lanes, one of the major choke points for the world maritime transit of oil which provides continuous energy supplies from the West to the Far East through the Indian Ocean (equivalent to just under half of the world’s total oil supply). Also, according to India’s ministry of shipping, about 95% of the country’s trade by volume and 70% by value comes via the Indian Ocean. As China swiftly grows its military presence in the Indian Ocean  in the garb of anti-piracy operations, India must come up with a more coherent plan; at the end of last year, it was forced to carry out a threat assessment due to the presence of Chinese submarines in the Indian Ocean.

    The Maldives, since its independence in 1965, has had an “India first” policy and leaders of both countries have held high-level exchanges on regional issues. But since Yameen took office, he has aligned with China, which has defended his authoritarian rule. The Maldives now owes about 80% of its foreign debt to China, which has been spreading its wings rapidly in South Asia and has been eyeing the atoll nation for its strategic location. China has already cosied up to Nepal by helping the latter reduce its significant trade deficit; it has invested heavily in Sri Lanka and Pakistan. China is strategically encircling India under the fancy name of the “Silk Road Project”. A part of the road will also pass through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and may eventually help Pakistan take over Kashmir.

    Is India losing its grip in the region and becoming a non-actor in the mighty Indian Ocean? Are we witnessing the making of the Great Ocean of China? If India loses its dominant power in Asia, it will not be able to safeguard its security or protect its interests.

    Although ours may be the smallest country in the region, our economic and political value cannot be overlooked. Let’s hope it’s not too late by the time India recognizes this.


    Thilmeeza Hussain is a former deputy ambassador of the Maldives to the UN and a 2018 Aspen Institute New Voices fellow

    This article was originally published by LiveMint, www.livemint.com on 20 February 2018

    http://www.livemint.com/Opinion/vr9GnxjjCJLIYYElZkL1gK/The-making-of-the-Great-Ocean-of-China.html 

      The road to justice is paved with answers to Rilwan’s abduction

      MaleShitty

      by Azra Naseem

      In the early hours of the morning on 8 August 2014, journalist and blogger Ahmed Rilwan (28), was captured on CCTV boarding a ferry from Male’ to Hulhumale’. It is the last known and verifiable movements of Rilwan who, it has been widely reported, was abducted later that morning from his apartment in Hulhumale’.

      It is three years to the day since Rilwan’s disappearance. Three years without any answers.

      Who took Rilwan? Why? What did they do to him? Did they kill him? How? Or, is he alive? Why were the authorities so unconcerned at such a disappearance? Why did the police not investigate the crime? Why did the parliament refuse to accept a petition signed by over 5000 people asking it to look into why the crime was being ignored? Why did the police release all suspects in the case they eventually arrested?

      Why the impunity?

      In the early hours of the morning on 23 April 2017, writer and blogger Yameen Rasheed (29), returned home from work after staying late to finish a project. At least two men were waiting for him inside his apartment block. They attacked him viciously, stabbing him over thirty times all over his body. The police arrived at the scene about half an hour later. It was another 11 minutes before the police, instead of calling an ambulance, bundled Yameen into a police car and drove him to the hospital. Yameen died shortly after.

      The police, meanwhile, set to work on the crime scene; not to process it, but to clean it up. Not only was the blood and other evidence washed away, the blood splattered walls were freshly painted.

      Three months have passed since without any answers.

      Why was Yameen killed? Why is the investigation a secret? Is there an investigation? Are the suspects in custody the ones who carried out the killing? Was it personal, or was it a contract killing? If so, who took out the contract? Was it violent extremists? Did they kill him for his anti-dictatorship satire? Did they kill him for being tolerant of other religions and minorities? Why have the police been so rude to his family? Why are they not giving any answers?

      Why the impunity?

      In the early hours of the evening on 31 July 2017, about ten masked men on five motorcycles whizzed past the heavy crowds on Male’s main street, Majeedhee Magu, at high speed. All of them were carrying sharp implements—machetes, knives—in plain sight. The headlights on their bikes were switched off. As they turned into a small laneway off Majeedhee Magu just past the Olympus Theatre, people stood frozen to the spot, afraid to say or do anything in case the men lashed out with their weapons.

      Only a few short moments later the men were back on the laneway, this time riding towards Majeedhee Magu. They had just killed Ahmed Anas (25), a boat captain from the island of Raa Atoll Meedhoo.

      As they rode at high speed they yelled at the public, in the filthiest language possible, to get out of their way. Child, woman or elderly, they did not care as they waved their weapons and threatened anyone that did not hasten to clear the way for them.

      “The moment was full of fear. The men’s cruelty and their shouted warnings haunted the atmosphere”, reported local newspaper Addu Live*.

      A week later, the police put 12 people in custody in connection with the murder. But no questions have been answered.

      Why was Anas killed? Was it a case of mistaken identity as President Yameen—not the police, but the President—has informed the public? Or was it a contract killing? Was Anas killed by the jealous gangster ex-husband of his wife-to-be, as the family alleges? Why did the President move so fast to give the murder a particular flavour? Will the suspects be released, like they were in Rilwan’s case? Are those in custody merely the people who carried out the killing on a contract basis, like they are in the case of Yameen? If so, will the person who took out the contract be brought to justice, or will they be allowed to get away with it, like in the case of Yameen and that of Dr Afrasheem Ali before him?

      Will the family get justice? Or will the devastated parents of Anas join those of Rilwan and Yameen on the streets, forced to turn their beloved sons into placards and hashtags and names on petitions that call out for justice in vain?

      In the three years since the abduction of Rilwan the (non)actions of the Maldives Police Service (MPS), and the authorities that command it, have created and nourished a culture of impunity for criminals that has made Male’, the capital of Maldives, one of the most dangerous cities in the world to live. This year alone there have already been three murders on the two square mile island that over 150,000 people call home.

      Residents of Male’ live in fear, hemmed in from all sides with no escape as the government closes all open spaces in the name of ‘development’. The Raalhugan’du area to the east where people used to go for runs, walks, chats, to surf, or just to breathe, is closed off to house Chinese labourers who are building an unnecessary bridge to an island just 10 minutes away by boat. The Sultan Park, once a lush green oasis in the centre of Male’ has been cordoned off for months on end, its ancient trees cut down to make way for an incomprehensible winter wonderland. Cafes, restaurants, streets, ferry terminals and all other public spaces have all been used for violent gangland attacks that have gone unpunished. Police are quick to cordon off any area they feel like, mostly when political dissidents—and/or those seeking justice—use them to gather peacefully to express their objections to the status quo of impunity.

      With nowhere to go, residents of this island prison are forced indoors, both adults and children trapped inside small apartments, unable to enjoy life, unable to live life. Afraid for their lives.

      Male’ City, or Male’ Shitty as many have come to call it, is a living hell for most of its residents.

      And it is all because of the culture of impunity that Maldives Police Service has created, and allowed to flourish, in the three years since the abduction of Ahmed Rilwan.

      To begin the end of this culture of impunity, the public must first be told what happened to Rilwan.


      *The description of what happened on the night Anas was murdered is a translation of the account reported in Addu Live

      The illustration is by Ahmed Fauzan