Category: Judiciary

Keeping up with the authoritarians


by Azra Naseem

The Maldives is no longer a democracy. For some reason, this is a fact which most observers, especially from the outside, are unwilling to accept. All statements and reports from the international community note ‘with concern’ the many actions of Yameen’s regime that fall well within the boundaries of authoritarianism, yet continue to insist the Maldivian democracy still exists – it’s just ‘at risk’.

According to experts, modern democratic regimes meet four minimum criteria: 1) the executive and Majlis are chosen through elections that are open, free, and fair; 2) virtually all adults possess the right to vote; 3) political rights and civil liberties, including freedom of the press, freedom of association, and freedom to criticise the government without reprisal, are broadly protected; and 4) elected authorities possess real authority to govern, in that they are not subject to tutelary control of military or clerical leaders.⁠1

Which of these criteria are met by the current Maldivian regime?

In terms of No.1, the electoral process, the Supreme Court’s interventions in the presidential election of 2013 made a mockery of the electoral process. The many tricks and tactics used to draw out the election until it eventually ended in a win for Yameen are by now well documented⁠2 and cannot be described by anyone who understands the principles and norms of democracy as ‘democratic.’

The Majlis elections in 2014, which was preceded by Supreme Court-engineered firing of President of the Elections Commission Fuwad Thowfeek—noted for his integrity—was characterised by vote buying and selling. As the EU Observers noted, while⁠3 the election was ‘calm and orderly’, it was marred by ‘allegations of prevalent vote-buying, excessive campaign expenditure and abuse of state resources’⁠4.

Another death blow to the electoral process has been the systematic imprisonment of all opposition leaders. Almost all opposition leaders are in jail: former president Mohamed Nasheed for 13 years, charged and convicted of terrorism; leader of Adhaalath Party Sheikh Imran Abdullah, charged with terrorism and in detention without trial now for over a 100 days; former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim, convicted of weapons smuggling and jailed for 11 years. Those who haven’t been put behind bars, like 2013 presidential candidate Qasim Ibrahim, have either been coerced out of the political arena through threats to personal freedom and business interests while others—like the Chairman of MDP Ali Waheed, Deputy Leader of Jumhooree Party (JP) Ameen Ibrahim and impeached Vice President Mohamed Jameel Ahmed—have chosen to live in exile rather than spend what could be decades in prison. This state of affairs ensures that, when (or if) the next election comes around it would be, for all intents and purposes, non-competitive.

Number 2 on the list, the right for virtually all adults to vote still exists. But based on the experiences discussed above—judicial interventions, the now deeply embedded custom of vote buying and selling, patronage, blackmail and corruption—it is clear to see that the mere existence of that right does not ensure its contribution to the strengthening of democracy.

No. 3—the protection of civil and political rights—has suffered equally greatly. It is not simply leaders of the opposition the regime has clamped down on. From 8 February 2012 onwards, it became the norm to quell opposition protests with brutal violence. Pepper spray, violent beatings, and imprisonment were prevalent throughout the regime of caretaker president Waheed and during the protests in the lead-up to and during the 2013 presidential elections; and it has been standard practise after Yameen’s election. The arrest of over 200 protesters on 1 May 2015 and their subsequent unlawful detentions, mistreatment and intimidation—combined with the continued imprisonment of Nasheed and coercion of MDP—have effectively put a stop to all opposition rallies.


It is not just activists and mass protesters who have been silenced. There are virtually no independent institutions or civil society organisations left with the capacity or courage to criticise the government. The independence of the Elections Commission and the Human Rights Commission was taken away through Supreme Court instigated suo motu cases, while all other institutions, such as the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) as just one example, have been rendered toothless by appointing regime loyalists as members. The recently published report by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) chronicles the many steps taken against cvil society organisations since 2013, which all contribute towards elimination of civil and political rights.

And, when it comes to No.4, the possession of ‘real authority’ by elected officials to govern—this now applies only to Yameen and members of his Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM). The entire local governance system has been dismantled, and elected council members rendered powerless. In the Majlis, PPM and its allies enjoy the majority power needed to pass whatever Bills they propose, and where an absolute majority is needed—as seen in the machinations that saw MDP voting with PPM for two controversial constitutional amendments—it resorts to blackmail, coercion, patronage and the usual web of corruption and deceit to engineer the result it desires. Elected MPs have also lost their power through amendments made to Majlis rules such as the recent abolishing of the requirement for debate and discussion before passing bills, and the new regulation which says only PPM members can propose any legislation or amendments related to state finances.

Clearly, the Maldives is failing to meet the minimum criteria required of a modern democracy in all sectors. Experts admit that violations of these criteria occur in even the most established democracies. However, in such cases, the violations are not systematic enough to ‘fundamentally alter the playing field between government and opposition.’ In the Maldives, the playing field is not just failing to be level, it has been almost totally annihilated. The Maldivian Democratic Party is at its weakest since inception, its power to mobilise supporters and lead opposition activities held hostage to a) government’s unlawful detention and mistreatment of its charismatic leader, Nasheed, and b) to the threat to freedom and security of all its supporters.

So what kind of a regime is it that currently exists in the Maldives?

As the ICJ report noted, the Maldives’ transition to democracy was flawed. While Nasheed managed to instigate several democratic reforms, many key elements of the state apparatus remained within the control of the former Gayoom regime. For most of the transition period under Nasheed, the Majlis remained under opposition control, not acting as a responsible branch of the opposition but existing as a bulwark against much needed democratic reforms. The judiciary, too, remained in the grips of the same forces, its key members acting against the new democratic constitution rather than with it. As diligently chronicled by former member of the Judicial Services Commission, Aishath Velezinee, MDP was at times unable—and at other times unwilling—to instigate the actions necessary for change in the right direction.

The Maldivian democracy in transition under Nasheed can therefore be described as being, a ‘weak’ or ‘flawed’ or even a ‘diminished’ democracy; nevertheless it was one that met the minimum requirements of one. A difficult transition experience is neither unexpected nor unusual, as seen by the many African and Eastern European countries that adopted democracy in the post-Cold War era. And, as was seen from these countries, authoritarian reversal is not an unusual ending to such a transition.

waheed-maldivesOnce the controversial end to Nasheed’s government was accepted by CONI as ‘legal and constitutional’ with ‘no coup, no duress, no mutiny’, possibilities opened up for the ‘flawed democracy’ to change into a hybrid regime veering away from democracy towards competitive authoritarianism. When caretaker president Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik took the reigns of the country, this is the direction in which he—with the Gayoom loyalists he signed with—firmly steered the country.

In a competitive authoritarian regime, violations of the four criteria discussed above are frequent:

Although elections are regularly held and generally free of massive fraud, incumbents routinely abuse state resources, deny the opposition adequate media coverage, harass opposition candidates and their supporters, and in some cases manipulate electoral results. Journalists, opposition politicians, and other government critics maybe spied on, threatened, harassed, or arrested. Members of the opposition may be jailed, exiled, or—less frequently—even assaulted or murdered. Regimes characterised by such abuses cannot be called democratic. (Levitsky and Way 2002)

As discussed previously, the presidential election of 2013, was less than democratic. Waheed’s rule was marked by major clamp downs on opposition, the brutal murder of MP Afrasheem Ali, and several attacks on journalists and media organisations. All such activities multiplied after Yameen’s election. Three young men, including a journalist, have been missing for over a year. The government has failed to investigate and, in the case of the disappeared journalist, has actively obstructed efforts to find him. While media freedom remains, Maldives has slipped from 51st place in the World Press Freedom Index in 2012 to 112th place in 2015. Added to this are the threats and actions against the opposition previously discussed, and the government’s control of the judiciary and the legislature — all hallmarks of competitive authoritarianism.

Clearly, the Maldivian democracy has long since passed the ‘at risk’ stage. It no longer exists. The question that should be asked is, under what sort of authoritarianism is the country in? Is it competitive, or full-scale authoritarianism?


In a competitive authoritarian regime, although not a democracy, there are still arenas of contestation through which opposition forces ‘may periodically challenge, weaken, and occasionally even defeat autocratic rulers’. These are: a) the electoral arena; b) the legislature; c) the judiciary; and c) the media.

In competitive authoritarian regimes the electoral process can be marked by large-scale abuses of state power. The media is often biased, and there is widespread abuse and harassment of opposition activists and candidates. But, major opposition parties and candidates still compete, the elections are generally free of massive fraud, and international observers are allowed to monitor the process. This (apart from the extra-legal interventions of the Supreme Court) largely applies to what happened in the 2013 presidential election in the Maldives.

Things have, however, progressed far beyond that stage now. What is seen happening in the electoral process at present—such as the routine imprisonment of opposition figures—are hallmarks of full-scale authoritarianism where elections are either devoid of any serious competition, or are not held at all. At the level of local government, the electoral process has all but disappeared. When it came to the latest round of local council elections, the newly elected Elections Commission—populated by regime loyalists—decided the process wasn’t worth the required MVR100,000 or so. Furthermore, if an increasingly loud media murmur is to be believed, plans are now in the offing to extend the presidential term limits from five years to eight years through yet another constitutional amendment through the Majlis.

Looking at the legislative arena, things are not any rosier. In a competitive authoritarian regime, the legislature—although controlled by a ruling party majority—remains a place where the opposition can, even if occasionally, put up a good fight; and can still be a public platform from which to criticise the regime. This was largely the case with the Maldivian Majlis during caretaker Waheed’s regime. Recent developments in the Majlis in relation to the constitutional amendments, however, proved that it no longer serves as a people’s parliament, representing differing opinions and voices. It, too, has become a hallmark of full-scale authoritarianism where ‘conflict between the legislature and the executive branch is virtually unthinkable.’

ConstitutionThat the third arena—the judiciary—is under the complete control of the government is not an argument that anyone seriously contests, except the executive itself. Dozens of reports have been published by a whole range of international organisations from the UN to the ICJ censuring its lack of independence and corruption, and criticism has flowed from individual states, regional bodies and supranational entities. During Waheed’s competitive authoritarian regime, the widespread corruption, patronage and blackmail inherited from the Gayoom era remained in the judiciary. But there was room—although very little—for individual judges to express dissenting opinions. Several decisions by the executive since Yameen’s assumption of office, brought into effect via the compliant Majlis—such as the restructuring of the Supreme Court bench—have, however, destroyed any wriggle room for independent thought or action in the judiciary.

The media, is perhaps the only one of the four arenas which full-scale authoritarian regimes usually control that is not yet fully within the grasp of the Yameen regime. This is due not for the lack of trying, but to the impossibility of imposing such control over the kind of globally inter-connected media that exists today. Spying—both traditional and cyber—on dissenting voices by the police is common place, as is harassment and intimidation. And, as discussed before, the working environment for many journalists is far from safe. On top of this, the regime is now set to pass two new Bills—one on Freedom of Expression and one on Counterterrorism—which are set to curtail dissent and opposition to degrees not seen since the transition to democracy in 2008.

In addition to all this is the Yameen regime’s total dismissal of international democratic opinion, treaties and laws, and a deliberate foreign policy shift away from the democratic international community in favour of China, and authoritarian regimes in the Middle East. Except for the fact that the Maldives is not (yet) a threat to international security, the regime could easily be described as a ‘rogue state’.

And yet—despite all the evidence which shows the Maldives fitting neatly into the existing frameworks of what defines at best a competitive authoritarian regime and at worst a full-scale authoritarian regime—leaders of established democracies, and international stakeholders in the global democratisation efforts, continue describing the Maldives as ‘a democracy at risk’. This is clearly no longer the case.

Why the reluctance to let go of the ‘democracy’ label? Does it arise from a fear of acknowledging defeat and admitting that despite the international community’s interest and (sometimes admirable) efforts to help democratise the Maldives, it has failed to take root and succeed? Or is it simply because international actors are not keeping up with the authoritarians in the Maldives?

This must change. Any efforts to restore democracy to Maldives must start with the acknowledgement that however successful the transition appeared in the beginning, it has been deliberately failed. A fresh start that learns from the past, and knows what we are dealing with at present, is necessary.

1 Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way, ‘The rise of competitive authoritarianism’, Journal of Democracy 13 (2) (2002), 51-65:53

2 EU Election Observation Mission, ‘Republic of Maldives parliamentary elections 22 March 2014: final report’, available at (27 August 2015).

See also: International Commission of Jurists and South Asians for Human Rights, ‘Justice adrift: rule of law and political crisis in the Maldives’, August 2015, available at (28 August 2015).

3 Commission of National Inquiry (CONI), August 2012

4 . EU Election Observation Mission, ‘Republic of Maldives parliamentary elections 22 March 2014: final report’, available at (27 August 2015).

Migrant workers’ voice: illegal and silenced in the Maldives


by Mushfique Mohamed

As news of socio-political turmoil forces the world to shift its eyes away from the pristine beaches of its beautiful tropical islands, Maldives is losing its untainted image as a luxury tourist destination with more exposure of its appalling track record on human rights. This article looks closely at the lack of both compassion and adequate law enforcement in the Maldivian society’s (mis)treatment of the South Asian expatriate community. It highlights not just the plight of the many Bangladeshi labourers but also the increasing number of South Asian women who are becoming victims of the corrupt and prejudiced criminal justice system of the country.

In addition to the Maldivian population of approximately 330,000, there are 200,000 expatriate workers living in the country, of which a quarter does not have legal status in the country. The Maldives’ treatment of migrant workers is degrading enough for it to be called ‘modern-day slavery.’ The trade generates over US$ 123 million in illegal profits in the Maldives. Last week two Bangladeshi workers, Shaheen Mia and Kazi Bilal were brutally killed bringing to the fore, in tragic circumstances, the unheard voice of the subaltern in today’s Maldivian society.

The government on 25 March banned a planned protest against the deplorable treatment faced by expatriate workers. The protest was planned to highlight the resurgence in violent crime against the South Asian workers. The government of current President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom’s brother; Asia’s longest serving leader until August 2008, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, also criminalised a planned protest following similar racially motivated assaults in August 2007, threatening expatriates with deportation.

In addition to silencing their voices and denying them agency, the criminal justice system, primarily the Criminal Court and law enforcement authorities perpetuate injustices against the marginalised. The violation of their fundamental rights is facilitated through certain judicial actors who are untrained, uneducated and corrupt. These judges do not pay any attention to the Constitution or domestic laws or international legal instruments the Maldives has ratified. Increasingly women are becoming victims of the system.

Malékalyanam: buying brides

RubeenaAn Indian woman was arrested night before last on allegations of infanticide and attempted suicide, raising concerns that she could be subject to the same judicial torture as Rubeena Buruhanudeen who was kept under pre-trial detention for over four years. The New Indian Express reported that Rubeena was part of a procedure known in India as ‘Malékalyanam’ in which impoverished girls from the Indian state of Kerala are married off to Maldivian men. Rubeena, married off to a Maldivian man under this procedure, ended up in pre-trial detention in the Maldives for over four years, accused of killing the child she had with her Maldivian husband.

Fareesha Abdulla, a Maldivian lawyer who took the case in 2012 on a pro-bono basis, emphasised that the investigation and remand hearings were not conducted with interpreters. “She [Rubeena] can’t understand Dhivehi, but the entire investigation was carried out without an interpreter. Maldives’ police wrote down a statement in Dhivehi and she signed it,” said the defence lawyer. “Infanticide is a serious allegation but when she requested legal aid before I took on the case, the Attorney General denied it,” Fareesha Abdulla explained further.

Before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power, the Manmohan Singh government’s Minister for External Affairs also urged Maldives to repatriate such detainees. Modi was scheduled to visit the Maldives last month but with international concerns growing over the arrest of former President Mohamed Nasheed on 23 February 2015, took the Maldives off his tour of Indian Ocean island nations. Soon after the diplomatic brushoff, Rubeena was repatriated to India in early March.

Aminath Zara, a Nepalese woman who was fighting for custody of her child with a Maldivian succeeded only after a yearlong legal battle at the Family Court. Zara arrived in the Maldives initially in October 2009 as Tasi Telisa to work at a beauty salon as a beauty therapist. She converted to Islam in 2010. She then left the country in September 2011 and returned after marrying a Maldivian in Sri Lanka in December 2011. When the baby was three, her husband demanded Zara to go back to work; she was the sole breadwinner at times. According to Zara, the marriage came to an end due to her husband’s infidelity while she was away working.

The couple filed for a divorce at the Guraidhoo Magistrate Court in September 2013, but the proceedings and documents were all in Dhivehi, and an interpreter was not offered. The magistrate decided “disobedience” by the wife was sufficient grounds for divorce. As a result Zara became a homeless – and soon to be illegal – single mother. She filed a complaint at the Gender Ministry because her ex-husband was threatening to deport her and gain full custody of the baby. A Maldivian lawyer, Lua Shaheer, who was providing pro-bono legal assistance, said that Zara’s husband repeatedly told her “you are a foreigner, you will have no choice but to leave this country without the child.”

The Gender Ministry provided Zara with temporary accommodation for three months. At the end of the three months she moved back to the island of Guradhoo but could not stand the abuse she was subjected to. With nowhere to live, her former lawyer Lua Shaheer took Zara in to her own home. She is now represented by another lawyer, Fathmath Sama, whose firm took the case on pro-bono.

The husband was represented by Ibrahim Riza, an MP for Gayoom’s Progressive Party of Maldives. The main argument in court was that “the mother is a Buddhist, the mother’s family is Buddhist, and the child would be deprived of a Muslim upbringing.” Zara’s husband also accused her of “abandoning the baby for monetary greed.” Shaheer testified in court that Zara is a practicing Muslim. Even though Zara won custody, the verdict states she cannot leave the country without the ex-husband’s permission if she decides to leave with the baby, effectively leaving her stranded in the Maldives without a place to live.

According to the Indian High Commission in the Maldives, an Indian woman named Manyama Orsu was charged with pre-marital sex and abortion. According to the new penal code, abortions after 120 days of pregnancy are illegal, but a pregnancy caused by rape is an exception to the 120-day rule. Orsu was charged before the new penal code came into effect. The court proceedings against her went on for two and a half years. She confessed to the first charge, and the State dropped abortion charges bringing an end to her arbitrary detention, facilitating her repatriation in late March this year.

DhoonidhooThere are also reports of other foreign women held at Dhoonidhoo Island Detention Centre on allegations of prostitution, abortion and drug trafficking. Some of these women are victims of sex trafficking and trafficking in persons. But without a systematic mechanism to identify victims, or the mentality to view such individuals as victims, Maldives’ authorities exacerbate psychological and physical trauma suffered by human trafficking victims.

Two foreign women identified by police as sex trafficking victims in 2008 were provided temporary shelter before being repatriated with the help of their home country’s diplomatic mission in the capital Malé. Due to the lack of investigative infrastructure based on the problem of Trafficking in Persons, nobody was prosecuted for the crime, and the case was dropped due to “lack of evidence.”

Lack of infrastructure & lack of will

There are other instances where lack of legislation, and lack of enforcement, have hindered any efforts to tackle the problem. In 2009, a Bangladeshi man was chained inside a small room for weeks; the chains were removed only when the man was put to work. The employer was released after merely four months’ imprisonment due to lack of anti-trafficking legislation at the time.

The Maldives’ government passed anti-trafficking legislation only in 2013, motivated only by the fear of threatened international sanctions. The Bill had been in Majlis since 2011. However, expatriate workers from South Asian countries continue to be victimized under forced labour conditions notwithstanding the legislation. The US State Department’s Report on Trafficking in Persons states that ‘the [Maldivian] government does not have procedures in place to identify victims of human trafficking.’ As a result trafficked persons are further victimized by the corrupt criminal justice system. At the same time, the legal system remains highly inaccessible to foreigners, especially in relation to criminal law.

Transparency International’s local chapter provided over 560 expatriate workers with legal aid in 2014, mostly with regard to cases that consist of forced labour indicators. ‘We believe that migrant workers are the most vulnerable community in the Maldives today, they do not have access to the legal system due to the language barrier,’ Transparency Maldives’ Senior Project Coordinator for its Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre, Ahid Rasheed, has said.

‘Maldivian society in general views Bangladeshi expatriates as lower class non-citizens; harassment against them has been completely normalized. The authorities view them as the problem and not victims of discriminatory attacks and human trafficking offences.’ Highlighting a history of institutionalised xenophobia, Rasheed said ‘the latest word from the government we heard – regarding the protest – questions basic rights afforded to migrant workers, similar to how all previous governments neglected migrant workers’ grievances.’

The Maldives enacted the Employment Act in 2008, and as a Member State of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), the Act harmonises domestic law of the Maldives with the principles and standards prescribed by the organisation. Independent institutions such as the Employment Tribunal and Labour Relations Authority were established through this Act. ‘Forced labour’ is prohibited and broadly defined to be any instance where there are elements of undue influence, threat, or intimidation with regards to employment. The Act also addresses discrimination at the work place and ensures both local and foreign employees right to freedom from discrimination based on race, religion, social standing, political beliefs, marital status, gender, or family obligations.

It is a common misconception that ‘human trafficking’ or ‘trafficking in persons’ requires illegal entry, similar to ‘human smuggling.’ Human trafficking sometimes begins as smuggling, can end up as exploitation and trafficking, but not all trafficking involves crossing-borders.The United Nations (UN) defines ‘trafficking in persons’ as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation or the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution was ratified by the Maldives in May 2003; a legal instrument recognizing the importance of establishing effective regional cooperation for preventing trafficking for prostitution and for investigation, detection, interdiction, prosecution, and punishment of those responsible for such trafficking.

The ILO defines the following as elements of forced labour: withholding payment and identity documents; abusive working and living conditions; debt bondage; restriction of movement; excessive overtime; deception; isolation; physical and sexual violence; and intimidation and threats. All of which are daily grievances faced by most low-skilled expatriate workers in the Maldives.

A report by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) in February 2009[8] states that Bangladeshi, Sri Lankan and Indian nationals are detained at the Malé Immigration Detention Center, managed by the Expatriate Monitoring Center under the Department of Immigration and Emigration. Ordinarily detained for not holding a valid passport, visa or work permit. HRCM urged the Maldives to become a member of the International Convention on the Rights of All Migrant Workers (ICRMW). The national human rights committee’s report recommended development and implementation of systematic procedures for government officials to identify victims of trafficking among vulnerable groups such as undocumented migrants and women in prostitution, who are human trafficking victims. It also urged identified victims of trafficking to be provided necessary assistance and not be penalized for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of them being trafficked.

CaptureThe US State Department has consistently raised the issue of increasing debt bondage among South Asian migrant workers under its annual Trafficking in Persons report. According to its most recent report, migrant workers pay agents around US$2,000-4,000 to work in the Maldives. There have been reports that some of the 200 registered agents bring migrant workers to the Maldives under terms of employment that amount to criminal acts of deception or fraud, entangling employees in a vicious cycle of debt. The report also recommends that Maldives accede to the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons.

The government has failed at implementing enacted laws, and it appears to be using the rise in violent crime to militarize the police service, and enact legislations that strip away the protections, freedoms and liberties enshrined under the Constitution that introduced democratization to the Maldives. As the focus remains on suppressing dissent from citizens who oppose the regime, the plight of the subaltern stays at the political periphery. The Maldives has yet to fulfill the minimum standards required to eliminate human trafficking.

Human trafficking victims are regularly penalized for acts that are the result of being trafficked; excluded from the legal system; and viewed as offenders. Maldivian authorities are known to detain such victims under inhumane conditions. The real perpetrators of trafficking such as employers, officials, recruitment agents or firms are rarely brought to justice, giving full impunity to these powerful offenders who have connections to transnational organized crime. The insularity observed among majority of Maldivians is reinforced on an institutional level by denying inalienable rights that are to be afforded to all citizens and non-citizens indiscriminately. Sex trafficking, forced labour, debt bondage and other forms of exploitation do not end with enacting legislations or acceding to treaties in order to be accepted as a member of the international community. A stipulation under law is only powerful to the extent to which it is realized, and for the subaltern – without the qualification to even speak – those rights are continually denied.

Mushfique Mohamed is a practising lawyer at Hisaan, Riffath & Co., and also works as a consultant for Maldivian Democracy Network.

Main Photo:, Rubeena Buruhanudeen, Minivan News


Getting away with murder


by Azra Naseem

In the early hours of this morning a 24-year-old Bangladeshi waiter, Shaheen Mia, was brutally murdered at a Male’ café he was working in. A group of masked men stabbed him to death. The day before, on the island of Mundoo in Laamu Atoll, another young man, 29-year-old Ali Ziyadham, was knifed to death allegedly in an argument among a group of men who were drinking home brewed alcohol. Last month, on 22 February, a 24-year-old was murdered outside his home in Male’, he was almost decapitated. In January, in the island of Vaavu Rakeedhoo, a three-year-old boy was beaten to death by his mentally ill mother, herself a victim of sexual abuse over a long period of time. All in all, since November 2013, there have been 12 murders and three abductions in the Maldives. Few have received justice.

Ex-Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim was fired on 20 January. Police raided his home in the middle of the night and ‘found’ weapons. Charged first with conspiracy to overthrow the government and later with importation of weapons into the country, he was remanded in custody. Before being imprisoned Nazim gave a press conference in which he said, ‘no Maldivian citizen will have safety and security.’ He could not have made a truer statement. Law and order are now non-existent in the once peaceful islands.

Just a short decade or so ago, a murder in the Maldives was a rare occasion that got the whole country talking. Back in the early 1970s, a German tourist killed his girlfriend in a Male’ guesthouse. Throughout the eighties and well into the 1990s, Maldivian people still spoke of the murder in hushed tones—killing was such a rare occurrence that people could not forget even the smallest details about the event. Today, killing is so common it is hard to remember who, when or why.

The blame must be taken squarely by the failed criminal justice system of the Maldives. Investigations are set to fail—often deliberately—at all stages: the police never seem to find evidence; when they do, they charge the wrong person; or when the right person is charged, the courts release them for ‘lack of evidence’ or wrongfully obtained evidence, or to teach the government a lesson. In 2011 Judge Abdulla Ghazee, whose continued releasing of violent offenders had made him a national security threat, released a suspected murderer, Shahum Adam, to teach the Health Ministry a lesson. He went on to kill again.

In the year that followed Ablow Ghazee’s release from custody on 7th February 2012, after Mohamed Nasheed was deposed on the pretext of having acted unconstitutionally by having the lawless judge taken into military custody, there were nine murders.

The first was of 21-year-old Abdulla Muheeth (Bobby), killed by gangs in what turned out to be a case of mistaken identity. On the night he was killed, there were three other violent attacks in Male’. Muheeth’s killers are awaiting the death penalty. Less than a month after Muheeth’s death, 33-year-old Ali Shifan was attacked and killed by two men on a motorbike in Male’. The next victim was a 75-year-old woman, Fathimath Zakariyya, attacked and killed in her own home on the island of Neykurendhoo; the next a 65-year-old man, Hassanbe, on the island of Maafaru, also attacked and killed in his own home; he was followed by a 16-year-old schoolboy, Mohamed Aruham, attacked and killed while sleeping on a park bench in Male’; 65-year-old lawyer Ahmed Najeeb came next, killed and thrown into a garbage bin; he was followed by a 26-year-old policeman, attacked and killed while on duty on the island of Kaashidhoo; then came the murder of 46-year-old MP Afrasheem, brutally attacked just outside his own apartment; followed by Moneerul Islam, a Bangladeshi worker, also killed in his own home in November 2012.

There was a drop in the number of killings after that, with three in total in the year 2013 – one in March, in July and in December of that year. In 2014, however, the number of killings went up again—five lives were taken violently that year. In 2015, only in its third month, this morning’s murder of Shaheen Mia is the year’s fourth.

The police are not doing their job of law enforcement, and of protecting and serving the community. As observers have pointed out, their main focus seems to be on the political rather than the criminal.

Hundreds of policemen and women are deployed to man every peaceful protest; a flurry of press releases and media briefings precede and follow any demonstration; and dozens are taken into custody from each of them. The gangs that operate on the fringes of these protests, meanwhile, get away with throwing crude oil, chilli water and even petrol at the demonstrators; and with attacking them physically. The only purpose of the police seems to be to stifle opposition to the government, to enforce the government’s power, and to keep people from rising up against it.

The current Home Minister, Umar Naseer, competed in the PPM primaries as a presidential candidate in the 2013 election. He lost to the incumbent president Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom. According to Umar, Yameen rigged the primaries to win. In the subsequent fallout, he alleged that Yameen has deep connections with the gangs of Male’; and also that the President was connected to the murder of MP Afrasheem Ali.

Once made the Home Minister in Yameen’s government, however, he has gone silent on whatever it is that he knows about the president and his gangs. Not only is he silent on Yameen’s alleged criminal activities, but also on any criminal activity. He is Home Minister in name only, his wings cut and vocal chords either bought or being held to ransom. He has no power over the police either. This week, he resorted to issuing orders to the police through Twitter, so powerless is he.

More recently, former PPM MP Ahmed Mahloof who has now been kicked out of the party, has come up with similar allegations of Yameen’s criminality. He implicates Yameen’s right-hand man in government, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb, of being as closely connected with the gangs of Male’ as Umar accused Yameen of being. According to Mahloof, Adeeb knows what happened to journalist and blogger Ahamed Rilwan, abducted at knifepoint from outside his home in August 2014. Pictures of Yameen and Adeeb with members of Male’s various gangs are everywhere. Pictorial evidence shows Adeeb’s connections with gangs exist not only at the local level but also the international – he posed shamelessly with the notorious Artur brothers from Armenia, implicated in arms and drugs smuggling worldwide.

The fact is none of these people with information—Nazim, Umar or Mahloof—are willing to share what they know with the public. It may be because the information is their only bargaining tool, it could be what keeps them alive. According to what Nazim has been revealing in his sham trial, police acts as thugs when commanded by Adeeb, Yameen’s proxy. In October 2014, a group of masked men wielding machetes cut down the areca nut palms lining Male’s main streets. The perpetrators were never identified by the police. According to recent revelations by Nazim during his on-going trial, it was the Special Operations police, pretending to be gang members who committed the crime. Rumour has it that Yameen suspects the trees have been used to put a curse on him using black magic.

The police are also implicated in enabling, and the cover-up of Afrasheem’s murder—they were on duty, closing the roads to his home when the murder occurred. Did they let the killer in, then closed off the road so there would be no witnesses? The public widely suspects they had a role in the abduction of Rilwan. An eyewitness to his abduction called the police immediately after seeing a man being bundled into a car at knifepoint from outside Rilwan’s apartment on the island of HulhuMale’. They did not respond, and never publicised the event allowing Rilwan’s disappearance to go unknown for days. They are still deliberately neglecting the investigation, hiding, obfuscating, impeding any progress. In the killing of Ziyadham on the island of Mundoo on Friday night, according to local media, people reported unrest to the police repeatedly, suspecting something was about to go very wrong. The police did not respond, arriving on the island hours after the killing despite having hours to have prevented it from happening. Less than an hour ago, in response to the latest killing, the police have told local news outlet that it ‘believes’ all citizens are safe.

A deadly mixture of deliberate collusion with violent gangs, the country’s incompetent law enforcement authorities, and the unqualified corrupt judiciary, has made life in the Maldives hell for its inhabitants.

This government is an utter failure on every level. Yet, half the people are fighting to keep it, and the judiciary, in place.

Visit for details of murders in Maldives since 2001.