Tagged: Maldives democracy

Death by popular demand


by Mushfique Mohamed

The death penalty breeds injustice. It is most often imposed on  the persecuted or the underprivileged. As the civilised majority increases its commitments to abolish it, some countries have spiked up executions. This includes states that have resumed the death penalty after discontinuing long-standing moratoriums.  Apart from far-reaching authoritarianism, there doesn’t seem to be a common thread linking these countries together.

What are the factors propelling a minority of the world’s countries to resume capital punishment and proliferate executions? Is the motivation behind implementation of the death penalty really a matter of public safety? Or is it motivated by the religious duty of leaders, as it is zealously claimed by politicians in Islamic countries?

In 2015 half of all death sentences were carried out in Asia. Excluding China, almost all executions were carried out in Muslim-majority countries — Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. On the other side of the death penalty discourse, 145 countries—74% of the world—joined the list of countries that are either abolitionist in practice or law. Despite the repeated fact: ‘there is no cogent evidence to show that the death penalty is a more effective detriment to crime than long-term imprisonment’, people from various backgrounds casually support it. The only difference is that most people in the developed world would not say it out loud at the risk of not being taken seriously.

Arguments that favour the death penalty wouldn’t stand in any informed discussion on the subject. The possibilities of wrongful convictions, botched executions, severe mental illnesses of defendants, or mitigating factors that could disprove guilt after sentencing are plausible enough to fully reject the idea of State sanctioned death as a punishment.

Religious vigilantism has killed yet another open-minded and humorous pioneer of blogging and political satire in the Maldives, Yameen Rasheed was brutally stabbed 34 times in the stairwell of his home. The Government’s narrative has not been one of condemning all forms of violence and hate. The official party line is: ‘be careful of your words, it could get you killed’,  while the list of unsolved political violence continues to guarantee impunity for the usual suspects.

Populism on the rise

The Islamist death penalty rhetoric that was at the tip of Maldives’ president Abdullah Yameen’s tongue at the beginning of his presidency fizzled out late last year. It didn’t even take 24 hours for the Government to capitalise on the slain blogger’s shocking death. At a time when Rasheed’s family and friends were forced to feel a horrific sense of déjà vu over his friend Ahmed Rilwan’s forced disappearance in August 2014, President Yameen callously justified the death penalty through the murder of one of its most vocal critics. Stating in no uncertain terms that the President would issue death warrants within “two-to-three months”.

At home he’s the Trump-esque, triumphantly chauvinistic president who ‘has guts’. According to President Yameen, he is ready to start executions, not because he ‘wants to’, but for the ‘betterment of Maldivian society’. We, as Maldivians, are to feel grateful that we have a president who is incongruous with the times. It’s his assertion that executions are to resume in the Maldives because he is in touch with what the people want. In terms of public support for capital punishment, he may not be far off the mark.

But, to what extent is this thirst for blood manufactured? Is the call for the death penalty really following judicial precedents, or is it a sign of a justice system that revolves around the whims of political leaders?

In 2013 Pakistan reversed its moratorium on the death penalty for convicted terrorists. The following year the Maldivian government did the same for murder convicts. In many Muslim-majority countries, violent groups are already taking the law into their own hands. Whether it’s vigilante groups in Bangladesh hacking secularists to death, or radicalised gangs in the Maldives policing religiosity.  In these South Asian countries there is a huge conflation of ‘secularism’ with not just atheism, but antitheism too. Why are these countries increasingly re-interpreting Islam in a way that promotes medieval practices over positivist Islamic jurisprudence?

In Urdu, Dhivehi, Bengali and other South Asian languages, Islamists explain—online or through religious literature, radio and television—how harsh punishments are endorsed under religious discourse. Most of its members are not your average Muslims but usually tend to be ‘born-again Muslims’ or the newly converted. There are websites solely dedicated to naming and shaming those that actively counter Salafi-Jihadism. The dirty work is then left to radicalised violent criminals who seek repentance for their delinquent past through violence against those that enervate their ‘holy’ death-cult ideology.

Although Maldives’ moratorium on the death penalty was only lifted for murder, the penal code prescribes death for blasphemy. Fundamentalist ‘Islamic scholars’ are already calling for the beheading of Maldivian secularists. By resuming public torture as a punishment, South Asian governments like Yameen’s are either attempting to get a handle on these religiously extreme violent groups, or doing their very best to boost their Islamist credentials. Given the moderate, culturally synchretic, and state-controlled Maldivian Islam in the past, majority of Maldivians today are convinced that Salafist Islam is the “true” version of Islam. Therefore the religious nationalism in these countries are becoming equally intolerant and insular. What are the global forces that promote regressive punishments over rehabilitation or life imprisonment?

The resumption of the death penalty in the Maldives coincides with increasing cultural, religious, economic and military ties with Saudi Arabia. While Pakistan has Iran to offset over-reliance on Saudi Arabia, it is a different story in the Maldives where the change from democratic transition to authoritarian reversal is in full swing. It might be convenient to point out that money from the oil-rich Arabian Peninsular is circulating all over the world. However, the hegemonic effects it can have on a small developing country differ greatly.

Manufacturing support

Soaring crime rates have created a public that’s willing to accept anything as the ‘right’ solution. Feeding off a panicked public, the currently embattled Maldivian president is ready to implement the death penalty for the first time since 1953. Ineffective governments use the death penalty to give the public the appearance of justice being served, although our judiciary ‘regularly dispenses injustice’.

Increase in violent crime is a result of sudden frenetic development that has interrupted the slow-paced and unpretentious island life but failed to meaningfully mobilise the youth with opportunities. In Maldives, it’s also a sign of increasing links between criminal gangs, politicians, and police that protect them. This new reality of life in urbanized islands was effectively used to convince the public that killing to stop killing is the only solution.

The idea that the ‘authentic’ version of Islam is strict and vengeful has been implanted in young minds through the education system. The Ministry of Islamic Affairs and its tacit support to those religious scholars that either call to or incite violence against liberals formalize these ideas. The old non-violent Maldivian way of life has been buried – violence is our culture now, and it’s suggested that we need more violence to revive our peaceful way of life.

Old habits

The death penalty exposes historic flaws in our justice systems. Politicised police forces in South Asia rely heavily on forced confessions to prevent public disillusionment of policing. Reports of a confession can also give the impression there’s very little debate over guilt of suspects.

There was virtually no violent crime in the Maldives until the 1990s, before urbanisation stunned Malé and facilitated the emergence of criminal gangs. Things couldn’t be more different today. We know that even for a small country our judicial system is plagued with a backlog of cases and in completely unfamiliar territory. It is easy to bend rules and eliminate rivals through rushed trials. For instance, Pakistan regularly abuses anti-terror laws and uses kangaroo courts to suspend fundamental rights and convict defendants. Our laws are designed to be open-ended and vague – the bigger the fishing net, the bigger the catch. These flimsy legal definitions and forever-morphing parameters of the law can be further widened through abuse of judicial discretion. Our justice systems refuse to abide by human rights and values of democracy.

Such populist South Asian leaders can count on contrived investigations to secure themselves and their allies. Any lines of inquiry that incriminates politicians or business tycoons go cold.  An accomplice, usually a young offender belonging to a gang, is sacrificed to appease the public’s call for justice. The big kahunas that fund or plan such atrocities are never implicated during investigations or criminal proceedings. As long as a delinquent takes the fall, politicians or leaders of criminal syndicates evade due course of the law.

Before the Salafi-Jihadist propaganda that followed the Indian Ocean tsunami, religious radicalism and fundamentalism were at the fringes of Maldivian society. Now, it’s mainstream to the point where those who don’t adopt Salafist views are seen as lesser Muslims co-opted by Western influence. These new threats create new forms of desperation. While stepping up sharia rhetoric, the government is ignoring how this will affect Maldivians in the long-term. And why not, when it’s an efficient cover for the executive’s incompetence? It diverts the public’s attention to narratives of ‘lack of faith’ equal to ‘deteriorating social fabric’ while more pressing issues like grand corruption, climate change, and political violence become incoherent background noise.

Not in our name

In reality, Islamic countries implementing the death penalty don’t seek justice. Instead they use quick fixes that pull the wool over the public’s collective eyes. State sanctioned killing is a dramatic diversion from an ineffective criminal justice system; it provides a spectacle—medieval, yes—but satisfying to Islamist publics of today. It is also  a useful tool for regressive regimes seeking to hide deeply embedded incompetency in policing and administering justice. In most South Asian countries, it is a misguided coping mechanism for asphyxiated criminal justice systems.

What about open democracies that execute convicts? The US is the only G7 country that still carries out executions. In 1982, Texas became the first jurisdiction to use lethal injection for its executions.  This is supposedly the humane way for a state to kill convicts. Everyone knows that violent crime still takes place in Texas, and the prospect of a lethal injection doesn’t deter most violent criminals. Such perpetrators are often mentally ill and seek publicity for their crimes. In recent years many American anti-death penalty campaigners have observed ‘an all-time low’ in death sentences and executions. Despite this, many in the developing world point to the  US in response to accusations of death penalty being anti-democratic by nature. We still glorify capital punishment for our superficial and selfish satisfaction even though judiciaries are ridden with disrepute. We believe that seeing the government essentially kill killers, makes us safer in our homes, in our communities.

The death penalty satisfies some sort of voyeuristic revenge complex we might have as humans, but it has very little to do with the murder victims’ family and friends, or the need to establish justice for their lost loved ones. Murder cases can drag on for years, exacerbating the victims’ families’ trauma. At times, calls for death cloud their calls for reprieve. It is unusual that we as the public seek retaliation for crimes from which we haven’t suffered as a consequence.

It doesn’t make us empathetic to appropriate the feelings of the victim’s family and endorse our corrupt governments to kill criminals, when our views are mostly based on incipient media reports; or conjecture arising from it. It makes us a society that is starved for justice to the point where we ignore systematic judicial corruption, and are willing to be satisfied with even the false veneer of justice. A killing spree is a killing spree, whether it’s state-sanctioned or the actions of a fanatic.

About the author: Mushfique Mohamed is a human rights lawyer. He has an LLB (Hons) Law and MSc(Econs) in Postcolonial Politics from Aberystwyth University.

Image: Zee News


Party like it’s real

by Azra Naseem

If you want an example of how people in power try to create your reality, Yameen’s bash tonight to launch The Real PPM is a classic

Fact is, The Real PPM is a thing that does not exist. At least not as a political party.

PPM is a registered party of some thirty thousand members, the elected leader of which is Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. After all the laundry has been done and all shades of family dignity have been hung out to dry on public lampposts, PPM remains the party of its members, led by the man they picked as their leader. These are material facts. That’s PPM for real.

A court saying the party is Yameen’s doesn’t make it so. The ‘courts’ have no business meddling, uninvited, in party affairs. Maumoon’s leadership of PPM is not limited to hosting great office parties. Preventing him from ‘even cutting the cake!’ does not stop him from leading the party. As for locking Maumoon out of his own office, putting a padlock somewhere and shouting “It’s mine!’ is as legally binding an ownership claim as pissing around a disputed area to mark territory.

Drawing on walls to insult others, perhaps popular entertainment in the caveman era, isn’t all that clever anymore. For one thing, it can backfire, as when Maumoon ended up owning Goruhan’daa and looking Gatu. “Grandpa totally killed it,” said the millennials.

And that business of deleting the name from the wall. Is a party ever only its office?

Just as clear is what  a political party is not. A group of men and women who, having claimed ownership of eight truckloads of party paraphernalia, take over the physical office of an established political party and declare themselves leaders of close to 40,000 people without so much as a by your leave, is not a political party.

The Real PPM is a gang of men and women, led by Abdulla Yameen, the President, who have staged a hostile takeover of the Maldives and a majority of its people, and are exploiting their leadership of the country to make as much money as quickly as possible from the people, the islands and their unique natural beauty.

That is what is being packaged as a new political party, ‘The Real PPM’, and being presented to anyone who will look and listen.

Yameen has a story to promote his product.

The West wants to colonise ‘us Muslims’. We must fight against Them. More, there are enemies within, eating us up from the inside like an autoimmune disease. These enemies were born to Maldivian mothers, the traitors. In these dangerous times, we must be afraid. We are all victims in need of protection. We need a strong leader, like Yameen.

Maumoon, the lazy, meddlesome, old brother, must bow out, his time is past. He should make way for young blood. Young Yameen has balls, he gets things done. He brought back the death penalty, no sissy him. He is tough on the criminals he is not on a first name basis with. He is ‘brave enough’ to change the Constitution whenever he wants, for whomever he chooses.

He will do whatever it takes to ‘develop the Maldives’.

What Maldives needs to grow as a nation is money. Money will end social inequality, money will guarantee a happier life, world class infrastructure will end poverty, dredging will solve the housing crisis.

Trust me, I am an economist.

Selling everything will get us money, it will cost us nothing.

Progress is skyscrapers, artificial trees, man-made beaches, imported marble.

Development is never again having to be on a boat to cross even a kilometre of the ocean. Chee, lonu.

Sustainable living? Takes too long. We can get fifteen million dollars for that island over there, and twenty for the other one in the distance, now. People are unhappy? Let’s cut down those trees, build an ice-rink and host a party.

You can’t beat us. Join us, let us buy you.

Yameen has great plans, and great plans need time to execute. We must reelect him. For ‘God and country’.

Are you watching Yameen’s product launch? Are you buying it?

Maumoon’s Monsters


by Azra Naseem

The ruling party, PPM, has split into two. One (so-called) Faction, is led by Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the party’s founder, leader, and muse. The second is led by Yameen Abdul Gayoom, the younger brother anointed and hoisted onto the throne by the elder, now a turncoat publicly, gleefully, stabbing his octogenarian sibling in the back, declaring him obsolete and an obstacle to government.

Debris from the battle between the brothers have been flying around for months. Maumoon was not happy with many of Yameen’s appointments. He was also unhappy with Yameen for amending the Constitution to allow Maldivian territory to be siphoned off and sold to anyone who is interested. As told by the Maumoon family, they always put ‘nation first’, and this, allegedly, is where their differences with Yameen begin.

Yesterday Maumoon told the media he has been trying to meet Yameen now for about a year. To be denied an audience with Yameen—who would not have been made President without Maumoon’s endorsement and tireless campaigning—is a shocking insult to a leader unused to being turned away. Still, always a man of dignity, he seemed to have wanted to wash their dirty laundry in private.

Unfortunately for Maumoon, Yameen is a stranger to dignity; he neither respects it, nor knows how to comport himself with any. To engineer Maumoon’s exit from PPM, Yameen resorted to the Gayooms’ favourite family toy—the Maldives judiciary. One of the many men on Yameen’s payroll that sit on various judicial benches issued a ‘court ruling’ handing over PPM to Yameen, as the Musthashar of the party.

Mushthashar, according to PPM regulations, is a fancy term referring to the ceremonial role given to any PPM member who becomes President. It is purely the role of an observer, nothing more. But, for some reason, someone called Haleem Bai—who used to be a ‘journalist’ but is suddenly a Civil Court judge—ruled that PPM now belongs to Yameen because Maumoon is too interfering, and has effectively ground the party to a halt.

This led to Maumoon bringing the Gayoom laundry basket to the court of public opinion. First he chaired a PPM council meeting where he appointed a new Secretary General. Then he held a press conference to make it clear his brother had finally overstepped the limits. Maumoon seems to have felt a sense of unwanted déjà vu having walked the same route before with DRP, which also splintered into an alphabet soup of factions. He was a man betrayed—et tu Adhurey? Nihan? He had hand-picked from the streets of Male’ many of the men who now stand behind Yameen. He had cocooned them in his patronage, lavished them with privileges, tried (with very little success) to clean up their street language, and thought he had (re)created them in his own image. Alas. His patient grooming amounted to nothing when pitted against the dollars Yameen has at his disposal post-MMPRC. The bling bling of golden Rolexes shine brighter than Maumoon’s preaching of a Gadharu-plated life.

“I took selfies with them…they would not have been elected otherwise”, Maumoon lamented, eyes wide hurt. These men (and Madam Hello Kitty), who now sit as PPM MPs in the Majlis and daily betray the people they are meant to represent in exchange for Yameen’s favour, had slowly pulled a fast one on the veteran politician.

“I will not respect the court’s ruling.” Maumoon said that. Really.

Maumoon’s own creation—one of the most corrupt judiciaries in the world—has finally turned around and bit the hand of its Master. Maumoon’s party engineered, and MDP allowed, the dismissal of Article 285 of the 2008 Constitution. Had it been followed, it would have cleaned the judiciary of the many unqualified and sometimes criminal figures Maumoon put on the benches during his 30 year reign.

The Gayooms were happy with court decision after decision that ate away at the Maldivian democracy. They were at the heart of the manufactured ‘people’s revolt’ following the military detention of Abdulla Mohamed, the so-called judge with criminal connections and a history of judicial misconduct. They were on Republic Square when—in the name of the Constitution—a democratically elected government was brought to a premature end by undemocratic means. The Gayooms supported—nay, more likely engineered—the court decisions which allowed Mohamed Waheed to stay in power well over the constitutionally stipulated term limit; the many Supreme Court interventions that finally handed the 2013 election to Yameen; the same court’s restrictions on the Elections Commission and the Human Rights Commission; and the (still continuing) rake of sentences that have locked away Yameen’s opponents one by one for long periods of time.

Despite the blatant disregard for law that these court rulings showed, despite the highlighting of this by national and international activists, experts and lawmakers, despite the injustice these rulings celebrated, and despite the demise of Maldivian democracy these decisions enabled, none of the Gayooms ever said of any of them: ‘I will not respect the court’s ruling.’

Today, when the ruling is against Maumoon, when he is the opponent facing the prospect of jail, he finally sees the judiciary for the monster that it is. Or, more accurately, almost sees it for what it is. There is yet to come the acknowledgement that it is a monster he created.

Maumoon’s Frankenstein, which now belongs to Yameen.

Just hours after Maumoon’s PPM Council Meeting, Yameen held his own PPM Council Meeting. It is as if the two men existed in parallel universes, where one is fully aware of—but refuses to recognise—the affairs of the other. At his own Council Meeting, Yameen did the same as his brother—elected a new Secretary General, and appointed other loyalists to key positions.

Now the two councils of the two PPMs are sending letters to the Elections Commission, each explaining their new appointments, and their positions as The Real PPM. A Local Council Election is looming, and future PPM candidates need to know which of the Real PPMs are actually real. Everyone knows the Elections Commission lost its independence the day the courts booted out Fuwad Thowfeek and his team of democracy champions. What remains to be seen, from the Commission’s response, is whether it belongs to Maumoon or to Yameen.

That’s the bottom line, really, of this battle of the brothers: does Maldives belong to Maumoon, or does it belong to Yameen?

Confronted with the spectacle of the reality show much of the country seem to have fallen into the stupor typical of reality TV audiences. People are hooked on every new episode, many too distracted to remember what is really at stake outside the family drama: Yameen, the so-called economist, has run the country into the ground with national debt now standing at a shocking 80 percent of GDP. State expenses continue to spiral out of control, tourism industry has gone down, and investors just aren’t interested. Yameen has absolute control of the judiciary and so-called independent institutions. The Majlis has stopped functioning. The opposition has been rendered wholly ineffective and virtually voiceless, and the multiparty system is under sustained attack. Isolationism is the new foreign policy, and human rights is an Enemy of Islam and an attack on Our Sovereignty.

Does Maumoon’s Awakening include a recognition of all, or any, of this? Will his criticism of Yameen include speaking out on any of these issues? Or will the face-off be restricted to challenging how he himself is treated by the younger man?