A tale of many fools

Narrenschiff

by Azra Naseem

I am a bit hesitant to say anything.

President Yameen has warned that women who defame others may well find themselves forced to pay out their monthly MVR50,000 salon allowance into government coffers as a fine for tarnishing his stellar reputation. Neither I, nor any woman I have ever met—and I am pretty sure any I will ever meet would—have that kind of money to spend on a monthly visit to the salon. So I will dismiss this threat.

The President has also said, though, that if you can’t dish out the cash, you will have to pay your dues by sitting in a cell for however long it takes to remove the stain from his otherwise unblemished good name. And, as Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon has explained to the world, just because you are politically active, doesn’t mean you are a political prisoner when you end up in jail for criticising politicians. Which means I can’t just pack my ‘pillow and mat and run off to a foreign ambassador’ for help, or hide out in 10 Downing Street until Ian Paisley Jnr MP rats me out.

All this would ordinarily put me in a dangerous position if I am to say what I am going to say.

But, since I am ‘a Western puppet’, and have found safe harbour in a country that I reckon would be quite happy to never again have to listen to anything the Paisleys have to say, I will risk it:

have you in recent days heard of anything more ridiculous than President Yameen being bestowed with this ‘Kalam Award’ for ‘good governance’?

Let’s unpack that.

The award is being given in the name of the late Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, President of India from 2002 to 2007. A scientist the country is rightfully proud of. A national hero. The government of the state of Tamil Nadu bestows an award in his name in recognition of individuals who make significant contributions towards scientific development, humanities and student welfare. The first such award was given last year to Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) scientist N. Valarmathi who led the team that successfully launched India’s Radar Imaging Satellite RISAT-1 in 2012.

The ‘Kalam Award’ President Yameen received today has no relation to the Tamil Nadu government award, nor does it have any relation to any official Indian authority. It is being handed out by a drugs rehabilitation centre in Kerala called Dale View. The only publicly knowable connection between Dr Kalam and the rehab is a visit by the late Professor to the rehabilitation centre in February 2015, most likely as part of his many social and humanitarian works.

Many questions come begging: how/why is an obscure rehabilitation centre in rural India judging the quality of governance in a foreign country? What is Yameen’s connection to a rehabilitation centre in Kerala? Why is this award a matter of national importance and celebration?

Question number one: Dale View is not qualified to judge President Yameen’s, or any other President’s governance record for obvious reasons. It is a rehab, not an institute of foreign relations or governance or diplomacy or public policy or any related field. At least not by any universally recognised standards of measure.

On question number two, many speculative answers are floating about on social media. They have to do with the supply of pharmaceuticals, the State Trading Organisation, and Yameen. I am not going to repeat them here, lest I have to forgo a blusher or eyeliner this month.

Some of the possible answers to question number three are what’s really bugging me. Why is this award a matter of national importance and celebration?

Why President Yameen is making this a big deal is easy to understand, seasoned diplomats say.

We can expect more glorious awards of the same ilk for the Dear Leader.

What about the people who are cheering him on, cultivating this narcissism and bowing in adulation before the foisting of an over-inflated ego on everyone? They are the piece of the puzzle that makes absolutely no sense. What kind of a trance are people in that they unquestioningly and ecstatically celebrate an award handed to Yameen for inexplicable reasons by a group totally unconnected to the field in which the award is being given, or to the person in whose name the award is being conferred?

Given the dictatorial tendency for self-promotion and self-celebration, it’s not surprising that the official website of the presidency has already issued at least four press releases on the subject. Nor is it surprising that his personal media outlet, without even a trace of self-awareness named Public Service Media, has been more or less live-tweeting the event complete with pictures of the president wearing sunglasses indoors.

His two spokesmen–one who attempts to present the President’s words in a way that makes sense in Dhivehi, and the other to present them in a way the English-speaking world finds acceptable—have been pretty busy too.   Like I said, that’s to be expected. But the rest? For example: Supposedly well-educated MPs

The educated, well-travelled and sophisticated Ms Dunya Maumoon

The buffoons in Parliament

The bevy of social media minions employed to sprout filth as counter-argument

General ordinary members of PPM

And late onto the bandwagon, but by no means the last, President of PPM, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who knows better

What has happened to us all?

Unlike Dunya, who more or less said, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” about the 49% of the population who did not vote for my government in the last election, I can’t stop sparing a thought or too to the 51% who (according to the Supreme Court) did.

We can’t get away from the fact ‘they’ are us. We are all in this together. Besides, things have changed since the ancient European practice of fools being put on ships, The Narrenschiff, and made to sail off into the vast horizon yonder. That’s not an option now, even in an ‘infant democracy’ where everything is different from grown up democracies.

Fact is, the only way to avoid being made to look (and be) the fool—which is what we look (and many of us feel) today as the president prepares to return home with his trophy award—we must find a way somehow to introduce people to the radical idea of thinking. Democracy cannot take hold among sheep.


Updates:

As I published, preparations were getting underway to welcome the president and his trophy. The silly season is set to stay a while.

13:52 Loyal MPs slaving away to welcome the trophy, and ‘HEPY’ (Pet name: His Excellency President Yameen)

19:10 The trophy and the President are expected in less than half an hour. Will the unbridled joy be contained by the tight security measures? Hard to know. 

20: 34 So called Public Service Media has stopped streaming Live coverage of the incident, unable to handle mockery on social media. Here’s the latest:

20:45 Plane has landed. You can see the flag waving young school children ordered to come to the airport to welcome the president.

20:57 Cabinet Ministers tripping over themselves to serenade

20:05 The joy of it all seems to be overwhelming supporters of HEPY. 

    Violence in the Maldivian family: why does it continue to breed despite the Domestic Violence Prevention Act?

    HorseToWater

    by H Abdulghafoor

    Four years ago today, on 23 April 2012, the historic Domestic Violence Prevention Act (DVPA) entered the legal framework of the Maldives. The legislation gave some hope to those advocating preventing domestic violence and gender based violence, which according to available research affect 1 in 3 women in the country at some point in their lives.

    Article 34 of the 2008 Constitution of the Maldives provides the fundamental right to every individual to marry and establish a family. It further says that,

    The family, being the natural and fundamental unit of society, is entitled to special protection by society and the State.

    The DVPA 2012 is among several laws that are intended to provide protection to the most vulnerable in society. It is the only law that specifically works to protect families from the social affliction of violence occurring within families. However, as the old cliché goes, you can take a horse to water but you cannot make it drink.

    The family is indeed the fundamental unit of society. It is also where a significant number of the women who are primary carers of children and the elderly (not to mention the men), experience violence in all its forms – physically, psychologically and economically. The primary perpetrators of violence, as research tells us, are disproportionately men. Husbands, fathers, stepfathers and uncles are most common among perpetrators of domestic abuse.

    The primary purpose of the DVPA 2012 is to criminalise domestic violence. The law further seeks to do a wide range of things. These include –

    providing protection to victims of domestic violence;

    to find justice for victims;

    to prevent violence and rehabilitate perpetrators;

    to increase stakeholder awareness about domestic violence to increase their competency to address the issue;

    to identify civil and criminal liabilities of offenders and also,

    to “comply with international standards for the prevention of domestic violence and to apply and enforce relevant principles of justice in accordance with such standards”.

    The DVPA 2012 provides a comprehensive definition of what a “domestic relationship” is, clarifying the circumstances in which the law is applicable. These include connection through marriage, sharing the same residence, being related through parenthood or guardianship, connection through domestic service as well as those in an intimate relationship. In the Maldives, research has shown that 1 in 5 women experience physical or sexual violence from an intimate partner. Intimate partner violence is a debilitating form of violence from which many women are unable to escape. A vivid case in point among recent incidents is the sickening and brutal fatal assault by an estranged husband against his wife in Gaaf Dhaal Thinadhoo in December 2015.

    The DVPA specifies 17 different acts of domestic violence ranging from physical and psychological violence to economic deprivation and property damage. Intimidation, harassment, stalking, coercion, confinement without consent, enforced impregnation to deter spousal separation as well as exposing a minor to acts of domestic violence are among notable acts criminalised by the law. However, the extent to which these definitions are helping to reach convictions or to apprehend perpetrators of abuse is questionable.

    The Family Protection Authority (FPA) is an independent entity created by the DVPA. While Article 68 of the law says that the law will come into force with immediate effect upon publication in the Government Gazette, it took the government nearly six months to physically establish the FPA – and even then, on a shoestring. The Authority has yet to become fully functionally effective, being under-staffed and significantly under-funded, which is a pervasive issue afflicting the social services sector in the Maldives. In its initial few years, the FPA’s programming work was almost entirely funded by external donors such as UN agencies. For a country as rich with tourism dollars as the Maldives, it is a telling indicator of poor prioritisation and weak governance that the Maldivian State is unable to provide “special protection” to the family as the Constitution demands.

    It is uncommon in the Maldives for laws to highlight the necessity for budgetary allocation. However, Article 55 of the DVPA specifically instructs the People’s Majlis to ensure that adequate funding is provided to implement the law by providing the necessary resources to relevant authorities such as the FPA and the police services. Nevertheless, the failure of the People’s Majlis and the government to uphold the law is amply evident in the resource-poor state of the FPA. In 2014, the FPA requested a budget of MVR 9.9 million of which MVR 2.3 million was facilitated. In 2015, the FPA applied for a budget of MVR 8.1 million of which MVR 4.6 million was facilitated. However, the authority was only able to expend 85% of its 2015 allocation due to government imposed restrictions on its expenditure.

    As the oversight authority to ensure the implementation of the law, the FPA is assigned a sweeping mandate under Articles 52 and 53 of the DVPA. Despite minimal resources, the FPA has managed to exist and remain a credible entity due to the commitment of the team of young staff at the Authority, who are assisted by a supportive Board. The challenges faced by the FPA are vastly disproportionate to the level of State support the Authority receives. In its 2015 Annual Report, the FPA observed the following challenges to its work:

    challenges to implement its mandate to raise public awareness due to inadequate resources including staff and funding

    challenges to provide the necessary services to victims of violence and support them to productively participate in society due to lack of technical expertise

    challenges to provide counselling services to support perpetrator rehabilitation due to lack of technical expertise.

    FPA reports that in 2015, a total of 438 cases of domestic violence were reported to the Authority. These include 352 cases against women, 122 cases against men and 2 cases against the unborn child. What is clearly evident is that each year, the number of cases reported to the FPA has increased dramatically, from 19 cases in 2013, to 149 cases in 2014 to 438 cases in 2015. The inability of the government to provide resources to the FPA is indicative of a policy level disconnect with the reality of the prevalence of domestic violence in the Maldives.

    Another sobering reality is that domestic violence cases rarely reach prosecution stage following investigation. One of the biggest challenges for prosecution is that victims of abuse often retract their statements after lodging complaints. They often do not want to pursue their claim for complex reasons, sometimes due to family situation and sensitivity to associated social stigma; economic dependency on the perpetrator; fear of reprisal as well as lack of confidence in the available protection services. In the Women’s Vision Report produced by UNDP in 2014, close to 75 percent of respondents rated domestic violence as their topmost personal concern from a list of twelve issues. Fourth on the list, with 56 percent was the challenge of accessing justice.

    In May 2015, the criminal court fined a man MVR 200.00 (USD 13.00) for assaulting his wife and inflicting grievous bodily harm. To put this in perspective, the fine for a first time parking offence in Malé currently stands at MVR 250.00 (USD 16.00). At that time, domestic violence cases were being prosecuted using the old Penal Code of 1966, an obsolete law which has now been superseded by the new Penal Code which came into force in July 2015. Domestic violence issues do not take a linear route and prosecution of cases depends on several factors. The DVPA is fundamentally a law designed to prevent the occurrence of domestic violence and some would consider it a shortcoming of the law that it does not dwell on punitive measures. However, Article 35 of the DVPA specifies fines for persons who breach the conditions of Protections Orders, with a first time offence carrying a six month jail sentence or a fine not exceeding MVR 15,000.00. This cumulatively increases to three or more offences, carrying a three year jail sentence or a fine not exceeding MVR 50,000.00. Whether this clause of the DVPA has ever been used is not known at the time of writing. With the arrival of the new Penal Code, it is anticipated that prosecution is better equipped to seek just remedies for victims of domestic violence through the courts. It is once again, a weakness in the system that data is not available in the public domain on case prosecution of domestic violence incidents specifically.

    The DVPA entrusts a duty of care to healthcare professionals to report suspected cases of domestic violence. However, it is notable that some doctors observe that this requirement is in conflict with their professional requirement to protect patient confidentiality. Such attitudes indicate a lack of understanding by health professionals of the law, its intent and the much broader problem domestic violence is in Maldivian society. FPA reports that in 2014, there were no reported cases of domestic violence to the Authority, from the largest tertiary hospital in Maldives, the Indhira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) in Malé. In 2015, the IGMH reported just 2 cases to the FPA. This is despite the fact that the vast majority of cases, a striking 66% of cases reported to the FPA in 2015, are from Malé.

    The picture is the same with other health service providers. In order to address this knowledge gap among health professionals and health service providers, efforts are being made by the Health Protection Authority to inform and educate the health sector about their legal responsibility to respond to the issue of domestic violence. A compounding factor is the belief in Maldivian society, which clearly affects the behaviour of health professionals too, that violence against women is acceptable and permissible as per certain religious beliefs held by individuals. The law however, does not tolerate violence in any circumstance and specifies that duty bearers within the police, healthcare providers and the courts among others, must act to prevent and stop domestic violence.

    One of the most important violence prevention tools provided in the DVPA is the instruction to the courts to provide Protection Orders to prevent acts of domestic violence. Article 18(c) of the DVPA states that “the fundamental objective of a protection order is to ensure the physical and psychological protection of the victims or potential victims of domestic violence, and to ensure their health and rights are protected and preserved.” Nevertheless, in the 2014 Annual Report of the FPA, the authority observed that most magistrates’ courts in the country do not have the form to issue a protection order. Such basic administrative short-comings malign the implementation of this important law to families, constitutionally entitled to “special protection by society and the State”.

    A further barrier to the implementation of the DVPA is the alleged reports by implementing stakeholders that in some cases, magistrates refuse to issue Protection Orders as they perceive it to be “un-Islamic”. It is a fundamental flaw in the judicial system when a judge is allowed to choose which article of which law to apply at whim, based on personal beliefs. According to FPA, a total of six Protection Orders were issued in 2013, 12 in 2014 and 15 in 2015 in the entire country. The vast majority of these orders were issued by the Family Court in Malé. In the magistrates’ courts, a total of four Protection Orders were issued over this three year period. While the Protection Order is a critical component of the DVPA, the challenges to its implementation put women and families at risk of life-long trauma and entrapment in the cycle that domestic violence breeds.

    The DVPA took time and effort to be brought into existence, to provide essential and worthy protections to safeguard the family. The law seeks to stop the dysfunction of violence happening within these fundamental building blocks of society. It seeks to break the cycle of violence afflicting families, often across generations. The will to fund and support the implementation of the law, however, is virtually non-existent. The reality of domestic violence in all its abhorrent forms runs insidiously in Maldivian society, frequently making disturbing news headlines. In many instances, mostly unreported, key stakeholders choose to dismiss the law, ignoring the professional and civic responsibility of its mandate, almost as though their individual beliefs can be held above the law. A system of accountability is yet to be established to ensure that law enforcement is adequately practiced by those mandated by the law. A system to ensure the effective implementation of the DVPA to protect the fundamental unit of society is taking far too long in becoming a reality, four years into its ratification.

    The situation leaves room to say that when it comes to preventing domestic violence in the Maldives, the proverbial horse has been taken to the water. It simply refuses to drink.

      Are we all going to kill Humaam?

      by Shahindha Ismail

      Mamma, how can you kill a man to show the world that killing is unacceptable?

      This is what my 14 year old daughter asked me today. I am so grateful that there is still so much innocence and, so, hope for new generations to come. It is as simple as she put it.

      Although the penalty existed, a 62 year unofficial moratorium on the death penalty in the Maldives was lifted in 2014 with the enforcement of the Regulation on the Implementation of the Death Penalty. We now have a list of 17 people on death row since 2008, and a few of them sentenced as minors. The government of Maldives has in the past year justified MVR 4 million (US$ 261,547) to build a death chamber at the prison island. After having tried and failed to procure the serum for lethal injection, the government has quickly fixed this problem, choosing instead to implement the sentence by hanging until dead.

      Out of the death row inmates, 23 year old Hussain Humaam has his case at the Supreme Court at present. Although not the first to be sentenced to death, he would be the first to be confirmed, if not acquitted by the Supreme Court. While all the death sentences were passed based primarily on confessions rather than evidence, what is most interesting in Humaam’s case is that his sentence is based on a statement given out of trial, during a remand hearing. It is also one of three different statements, contradicting each other, that he gave at the Criminal Court of Maldives. Let us not even go into the legitimacy of these statements when Islamic Shari’a and the law both require proof beyond any doubt as opposed to reasonable doubt, in the case of an accusation of murder. Article 52 of the Constitution states that a statement given in police custody, if contradicted at trial, cannot be used to convict the defendant.

      Humaam is a notorious delinquent since childhood; a boy who was involved in all types of crimes from theft to street fights to stabbing, and now murder. Is this why many of us have turned a blind eye to what is going on with this young man who the State will very likely put to death, despite the many flaws in the judicial process? Penalties should absolutely apply to offenders, and it is also in the interest of the society. However it is not in the interest of anyone when the law is twisted far enough to take the life of an individual without due process. Neither the process nor the interpretations used conform to best practice or our international obligations.

      An individual is part of the society. It is all these individuals, including the businessmen and women, the lawyers, the judges, mothers, fathers, our children and yes, the criminals and delinquents who make up a society. The Criminal Court deemed it necessary that a death sentence be passed on Humaam “in the interest of the harmony of the society” despite that fact that Islamic Shari’a requires ALL of the victim’s heirs to ask for it. The victim in this case left behind two children who are still minors, unable to state their wish until they turn eighteen. The Criminal Court deemed it necessary to not wait for these children to turn eighteen, as the Maalikee sect in Islam prescribes in such cases.

      I wonder why there is such an urgency to take this young man’s life. Furthermore, why would the court use Maalikee sect when the general principle in criminal law is that in a situation of conflict of law or principle, whichever law that is most lenient to the defendant should be used. This has also been the practice in the Maldives in many cases – yet we do not see this principle followed in the case of Humaam, and upholding this death sentence by the Criminal Court seem to have become crucial at many levels.

      I also wonder how many of us think about the gravity of this problem, with the State killing a man through a process that has breached the principles of Islamic Shari’a, common law, international obligations and even common sense. All of us who righteously speak of injustices, of a flawed justice system, inequalities, protection, prevention and so forth. Why do we not raise our voices against this atrocity? I cannot believe that we have failed the morality and values that our ancestors, and Islam itself, have left in us. It does not matter whether Humaam was ‘a good boy’. What matters is whether justice has been served, whether due process has been observed. Whether we treated Humaam fairly enough, such that if someone of our own (family) was accused of the same crime, we would have treated that person the same way.

      Humaam’s lawyer, Usthaz Haseen, raised the question of Humaam’s mental condition at the Criminal Court, citing family statements that Humaam has had episodes where he was not mentally fit.   What was the court’s response? That a claim for insanity could not be accepted since Humaam had previously faced many charges and never once claimed insanity till now. Dear court, there is no time set in stone as to when a man can lose his mind.

      The court also said that Humaam’s lawyer could not prove to the court that Humaam had a psychiatric problem. That is right. Humaam’s lawyer could not because he is a lawyer. Not a psychiatrist. The court then decided that Humaam was of sound mind. The court itself, not a psychiatrist. The next question is whether Humaam’s defense attempted to ascertain his frame of mind. Humaam was arrested on the night of October 20, 2012 and was in police custody until he was sentenced. Any medical or psychiatric evaluation that was conducted on him, was conducted by the police, by a medical professional of their choice. None of the medical records are shared with family. As with every person who is under police custody in the Maldives, no one will believe what those documents say, and insist on an evaluation by an independent medical professional or one of their choosing. Then again, it would be far-fetched to expect the judiciary or the state to provide an evaluation of Humaam by a psychiatrist that the family is happy with, and also for it to allow the family to have access to the medical reports.

      In the case of Ford vs Wainwright in Florida (1974), the United States Supreme Court allowed for a review to clarify, among other issues, whether the district court should have held a hearing on Ford’s claim of insanity. The court “found that three problems with the procedures followed in Ford’s case: he had no chance to provide evidence relevant to his sanity, he was denied the opportunity to ‘challenge or impeach the state-appointed psychiatrists’ opinions,’ and the procedure placed the ultimate decision wholly within the executive branch. The Court found that Florida’s inadequate procedure denied Ford his constitutional right to due process. Accordingly, Ford was entitled to a new evidentiary hearing in federal district court on the question of his competence to be executed” writes Capital Punishment in Context, a resource platform for cases involving capital punishment.

      The report of the Criminal Court repeatedly refers to the fact that Humaam was not consistent in what he said at the hearings. The court could not rely on his statements alone, so they rely on statements made by others. In legal jargon, hearsay. It also refers to Humaam’s self-proclamation that he had previously been involved in several heinous crimes. Again, it is a general principle in criminal law that, an assumption cannot be made for culpability based on the fact that one had previously committed a crime. Begging once again the question why the court could have declared him of sound mind then. Is it not natural for one to think the young man must be quite mad to be admitting to all these crimes when at the same time he is denying similar charges? Humaam has since attempted to end his own life and to harm himself in prison several times, at times requiring minor surgery. He speaks of a man in white entering the solitary confinement cell he has lived in for the past three years, of voices he hears deep into the night and of nightmares. The case screams for a psychiatric evaluation, yet none of the authorities or courts have had the decency to speak of it. Does the law allow for an insane man to be executed? Does Islam allow for it? I believe not.

      Will the Supreme Court allow for an independent evaluation of Humaam’s mental condition? In the case of Abdul Awkal in Ohio (2012), the Supreme Court indefinitely stayed his execution based on the county court’s ruling that Awkal was mentally incompetent for execution following a mental competency hearing. In the case of Robert James Acremant in Oregon (2011), a death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment without parole with the exception of new evidence showing Acrament feigned mental illness. In the case of Isaac Jackson Stroud in California (2011), his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment without parole based on an incurable mental disorder. The list goes on. It depends on whether the Supreme Court will consider the reality of mental illness in the case of violent offenders. It also makes me cringe at the state of rehabilitation and care available for the mentally ill in the Maldives.

      A bigger question for me is, will our society allow for an independent evaluation of Humaam’s mental condition? Are we, as a society, not satisfied enough to try and rehabilitate the outcasts within us? Or are we as a society too, hungry to take this man’s life, any life, believing that it will right the wrongs? Will we kill and do away with a chunk of our society to call it clean?

      Killing a man will not bring back the dead. It will not prevent anyone else from killing again – for if it were a deterrent, then the world will have stopped murdering people for hundreds of years now. More cases of death sentences have been scheduled at the High Court as we read this. The rush at which a State will go for an individual’s life is no worse than hearing of a gang of thugs planning to kill a man.

      One simple question. Prophet Mohamed SAW says, our Eeman will not be complete until we want that which we want for ourselves, for our brothers too. If Humaam was your own brother, would you believe that the court system is fair enough to warrant the taking of his life? Would we believe that the process he has gone through was fair enough?

      ******

      Related link: Dhivehi translation of Tariq Ramadan’s International Call for Moratorium on Corporal Punishment In the Islamic World


      About the author: Shahindha Ismail is the Executive Director at Maldivian Democracy Network. Shahindha has been working in fields related to human rights for ten years, and is the co-author of the MDN publication: Asaasee Haqquthakaai Minivankan [Fundamental Rights and Freedoms]. She has also contributed several articles and reports to human rights journals. She is a keen runner, and is married with one daughter. 

      Photo: Humaam’s family hugs him as he is brought to court, VMedia