CoNI & the Coup: I. Constructing the truth
There are no facts, only interpretations.
– Frederich Nietzsche
When the allegation lacks substance or reality, nothing is required in response.
– Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI)
by Azra Naseem
The idea that an objective truth can exist independent of political power is a myth dating back to Plato. On the contrary, truth and political power are intricately woven together—one cannot exist without the other. Instead of an ‘objective truth’, what becomes accepted as ‘reality’ is based on what those in power are willing to include as ‘true’ and what they exclude as ‘false’ in what they say and do about a given issue. While such power/truth relations are normally hidden from surface observations and casual scrutiny, the Report of the Commission of National Inquiry, Maldives is a document that blatantly demonstrates how ‘truth’ is produced in this manner and how the truth so constructed is used to exercise power and control over society.
It is CoNI’s conclusion that there was “No coup, no duress, no mutiny” in the Maldives on 7 February 2012. To arrive at this ‘truth’, the CoNI Report excludes all information it regards as false and includes only what it deems true according to preconceived notions and beliefs. “When the allegation lacks substance or reality”, it states, “nothing is required in response.” How CoNI decided what ‘lacks substance or reality’ and, therefore, can be dismissed as not worthy of a response, is not explained. It is an arbitrary measurement, composed and set up by the Commission according to a standard that itself decided on, and which it decided not to make public.
Some statements contained in the report, however, do provide an indication as to the criteria used by CoNI to decide which of the 293 witnesses it interviewed were telling the truth, and which of them were judged as simply repeating ‘hearsay’ or enthusiastically relaying fantasies of a confused mind susceptible to suggestion.
Take, for example, the following statement:
Just as a question has no evidential value unless the person answering accepts or adopts the fact contained in the question, allegations have no evidential value just because someone has articulated them repeatedly.
What does this confused and confusing statement mean? If a question is being asked in order to establish the facts of an event, why then does the question itself contain a fact that the answer must first accept for it to be considered valid? Is CoNI saying that a decision was made from the very beginning to exclude as invalid all the answers that did not first accept ‘the fact’—as stated in CoNI’s findings—that ‘there was no coup’?
How much evidence was excluded on this basis? Is this the grounds on which the evidence of Nasheed’s wife, Laila, for instance, was given no consideration by CoNI? In an investigation of the validity of Nasheed’s claim that he resigned under duress, fearful not just of a public bloodbath but also for the safety of himself and his family, would the evidence of his wife not be essential to verifying his explanation?
It is not just Laila’s evidence that seems to have no place in CoNI’s deliberations. Although one of the appendices to the report provides a list of 49 pieces of documentary evidence submitted by various witnesses, there are only seven such documents it refers to as having ‘comprehensively reviewed by the Commission’.
Of these, what it relied on most was its own Timeline, published on 6 June 2012, over two months before it completed its deliberations. [The English translation of the Timeline published on the CoNI website on its official letterhead was copied verbatim—except for an occasional substitution of a word here and there—from Dhivehi Sitee with neither permission nor acknowledgement, or shame for that matter.]
According to the CoNI Report this Timeline, published prior to interviewing some of the most important witnesses to the events of 7 February, was the truest document of them all. There was nothing anybody could say to challenge its version of events, for it contained CoNI’s ‘truth’.
It must be noted also that despite the many alternative scenarios which have been produced internally and internationally, there has been virtually no challenge of any substance to what was recorded in the Timeline.
Indeed. Not when all evidence that was excluded from the Timeline remained excluded as unworthy of inclusion.
This is an analysis of some of the most blatant exclusions of fact the CoNI Report relied upon to construct a particular ‘truth’ about the events of 7th February 2012. It is part one in a series of in-depth analyses of the CoNI Report which, if accepted in its current form as ‘what really happened’ in the Maldives on that day, renders the 2008 Constitution of the Maldives meaningless and creates the conditions in which the illegal overthrow of a government can be deemed legal.
Exclusions that made CoNI’s ‘truth’ possible
The role of the judiciary
Crucial to the events leading to the downfall of the first democratically elected government of the Maldives is its judiciary. In 2010, authoritarian loyalists within the Judicial Service Commission—the independent body set up by the first democratic Constitution of 2008 to monitor judicial independence and ethical/professional standards of judges—conspired successfully to declare parts of the Constitution irrelevant. Article 258 required that by 7 August 2010 all individuals on the bench should possess particular standards of education and moral standing.
Authoritarian loyalists, determined since the beginning of the transition to democracy to prevent its consolidation [as Umar Naseer said], have sought to control the judiciary as part of its plan to derail the democratic project. Dismissing Article 285 as ‘symbolic’ allowed individuals to sit on the bench who had not only shockingly low levels of education (some are primary school drop-outs) and possessed long criminal records, but are also of disgustingly low moral character.
Given that CoNI regarded Nasheed’s decision to arrest Abdulla Mohamed, Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, as the catalyst of the events of 7th February, how objective is a truth that dismisses as irrelevant clear relations between the dismissal of Article 285 as ‘symbolic’, Abdulla Mohamed, and President Nasheed’s decision to forcibly remove him from the bench? This is evidence made available to CoNI in Velezinee’s witness statement and in the Nasheed government’s Dossier on the Maldivian Judiciary ‘considered comprehensively’ by CoNI.
When CoNI says Abdulla Mohamed was arrested because he ‘made a decision which deeply displeased President Nasheed and the MDP stalwarts’, it is providing a version of ‘truth’ that deliberately excludes the crucial information that Abdulla Mohamed is a criminal who is on the bench by dint of an oath administered to him unconstitutionally through the secret machinations of a group of authoritarian loyalists.
Abdulla Mohamed’s moral character is in serious doubt, having reportedly ordered two child witnesses in a sexual offence case to re-enact the alleged abuse, in open court and in front of the accused (See complaint filed against Abdulla Mohamed by Dr Hassan Saeed, currently Special Advisor to the president). Abdulla Mohamed also freed a murder suspect to ‘teach the Health Minister a lesson’ (See also The Failed Silent Coup, Aishath Velezinee, p.86).
Within three hours, the freed prisoner had killed again. When the Judicial Service Commission found him guilty of political partisanship and thus of judicial misconduct, the Civil Court overruled JSC, the oversight body appointed by the Constitution to keep the courts in check. The Majlis, the only remaining power with the authority to supervise the Judicial Service Commission, failed to do so.
Anybody considering ‘the objective truth’ about President Nasheed’s decision to arrest Judge Abdulla Mohamed must necessarily consider the context in which it occurred. CoNI did the opposite. Its Report takes Abdulla Mohamed’s arrest as entirely separate from all facts surrounding it bar those relating to actions taken by the President. To do so, it falsely claims that all evidence submitted to CoNI ‘about the unconditional behaviour of Judge Abdulla’ were submitted only by ‘MDP members’, then dismisses it all as beyond the Commission’s mandate and thus irrelevant.
It is the exclusion of evidence against Abdulla Mohamed—which explained Nasheed’s decision to arrest the man—that allows CoNI to offer as ‘the objective truth’ Abdulla Mohamed’s detention as the actions of a man willing to hold the country’s Constitution as ransom for his personal pleasure. All action that followed could thus be explained as ‘reactions’ to this unreasonable and ‘unlawful’ act.
Islamists’ incitement of hatred
It was not only the role of the judiciary in the events leading to 7 February 2012 that CoNI excluded from its deliberations. The vital role, led by Sheikh Imran Abdulla, that Islamists played in inciting public hatred against President Nasheed, indispensable for facilitating the day’s events unfold in the manner it did, is also missing from the ‘objective truth’ CoNI presents.
This is information necessary for understanding why military officers were marching on the streets of Male’, beating their chests in unison and shouting ‘God is Great!’ in defiance of their Commander in Chief. The Islamists’ (and leading opposition politicians‘) labelling of Nasheed as a heretic, and their call to an imagined Maldivian Ummah to rise up in Jihad against him is well documented in the media. Much of it was, in fact, telecast live on VTV, DhiTV and, later, on the illegally seized and renamed state-broadcaster ‘TVM’.
All of this is either glanced at perfunctorily or entirely excluded from CoNI’s truth. It only acknowledges religion had a role to play in the events of 7 February only as a thing abused, denigrated, mocked and disrespected by Mohamed Nasheed. The subversive role that Islam was made to play in the events of the day—in the form of leading Islamists’ encouragement of a public uprising and a mutiny of the armed forces as a ‘religious duty of every Maldivian Muslim’ against a blasphemous leader—is thus excluded from CoNI’s assessment of the ‘objective truth’ as presented to the public.
Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik
Although among the few documents CoNI studied comprehensively is MDP’s The Central Role of Mohamed Waheed in the Maldives Coup D’état, it glosses over Dr Waheed’s astonishing meeting with key opposition leaders at his home in the late hours of 30 January.
[At the meeting] He was asked if he “was prepared to carry out [his] legal responsibilities.” He is known to have replied in the affirmative. On the same day, the leaders of the opposition political parties held a press conference to announce their endorsement of the Vice President.
What Constitutional duty did the Vice President promise to fulfil? Strangely for a fact-finding mission, CoNI seems not to have asked.
If the President cannot fulfil his duties for any reason, the Constitution says the Vice President succeeds him. There was a democratically elected President in office at the time. Nasheed had most certainly not made any indication of an intention to resign then or any time in the future.
On what basis, therefore, were Opposition leaders visiting the Vice President’s home in the middle of the night to ask if he was willing to sit on Nasheed’s chair? On what basis did Waheed “reply in the affirmative”? Why was an announcement made by the Opposition Coalition in the small hours of the morning to ‘endorse Waheed for President’? Why were they preparing so hard to be ready for the eventuality that Nasheed would soon be out of office? Why did Waheed not fulfil his Constitutional duty to ‘assist the President in the discharge of his duties and responsibilities’ [Article 112(a)]? CoNI’s questions to Dr Waheed appear to have included none of the above.
Vital facts are thus excluded by omission, allowing CoNI to propose the ‘objective truth’ that ‘President Waheed properly succeeded President Nasheed’ as, it says, is ‘foreseen in the Constitution.’ Had the above questions been asked, and had that information been included in the Report, it is possible that the ‘truth’ arrived at would be different. The Constitution most certainly did not foresee a situation where a Vice President rightfully succeeds a President if the former was involved in wrongfully contributing to the latter’s resignation.
The Opposition Coalition
The Opposition Coalition, which came together as the 23 December Alliance under the banner of ‘Defending Islam’, was a motely crew; a diverse group of people who, for different reasons, desired the same end: the fall of President Nasheed’s government.
It comprised of Islamists angered by Nasheed’s reluctance to embrace their extreme conservatism, tourism tycoons angered by Nasheed’s new taxes, other political and monetary opportunists who saw the change as favourable to their status and pockets, and the authoritarians, those ‘lingering remnants of dictatorship’ determined to prevent the consolidation of democracy. Several of these figures were seen on television, instigating, participating in or encouraging the events of 7 February. Yet, CoNI only refers to them in order to describe them as victims of ‘baseless allegations’:
A great many names were bandied about, but with no evidential basis for the allegation. Chief among those names were the present President Dr Waheed, former President Gayoom, present Minister of Defence Retired Colonel Mohamed Nazim, present Chief of Armed Forces General Ahmed Shiyam, leader of Jumhooree Party Qasim Ibrahim, ex-Minister of Defence Tholhath Ibrahim, present State Minister of Home Affairs Mohamed Fayaz, present Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz and Interim Deputy Leader of PPM Umar Naseer, and leader of the Adhaalath Party Sheikh Imran Abdulla.
Let us, for one moment, leave aside questions about ‘baseless allegations’. What about questions arising from what everyone witnessed rather than based on supposed conjecture?
What were opposition leaders doing in the Police Headquarters on 7 February during the unrest? Why were they crying tears of joy, thanking Allah, and hugging each other in celebration at the news that Nasheed was to resign? Why did Gasim Ibrahim thank God, as seen on TV, that ‘it had ended without having to resort to arms’? Why were three civilians commanding the armed forces before President Nasheed resigned? These are actions witnessed by the nation, not hearsay, not fantasy.
CoNI does not appear to have asked any of these questions from any of the above-named people, choosing instead to focus on supposed false-allegations while ignoring questions arising from facts made bare for all to see. The questions that CoNI did ask, it reports, were satisfactorily answered. CoNI’s satisfaction does not seem to have required much. As long as the answer was one that was based on its already accepted fact—‘there was no coup’—even the commonest and lamest excuse was satisfactory:
Aslam, while appearing before the Commission, read about an SMS attributed to Mr Saleem, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Environment. The SMS spoke of a distribution of 2.4 million Rufia to the “mutinying” policemen. The Commission summoned Mr Saleem. He debunked the message effortlessly, claiming that he did not recall sending such a message. After hearing him, the Commission would not investigate the privacy and personal affairs of all and sundry as desired by President Nasheed and his aides in the absence of minimally credible supporting evidence. (emphasis added)
Claiming not to recall an action is ‘effortlessly debunking’ any allegation that the act occurred? It is sufficient to not only stop any further investigation but also to accuse the other side of trying to invade the privacy of ‘all and sundry’?
This is an astonishing stance to take for a Commission charged with a responsibility of national importance. It is a stance, however, that allows CoNI to exclude from its inquiries any evidence that ‘Nasheed and his aides’ submitted, presenting it all as ‘baseless’, ‘belated’ and/or ‘incredible’. It then becomes easy for CoNI to dismiss the demand for such investigations as ‘naïve’, and a waste of important time.
Such allegations are very easy to make and some naively suggested that if the Commission trolled through scores of bank accounts, telephone records, SMS logs and intelligence reports, all would be revealed.
A Legal Review of CoNI’s report commissioned by MDP and carried out by a team of Sri Lankan lawyers (in the absence of any such studies undertaken by the Maldivian legal community) notes twenty-four significant occurrences relating to the events of 7 February that CoNI omitted from its deliberations. These include the unlawful activities committed by protesters in the Opposition Coalition; Umar Naseer’s role in the events leading up to and on 7 February; Nasheed’s assurances to the police that no harm would come to them; and the evidence of many key witnesses who were only called to the Commission after the first draft of the CoNI Report had been published 1
The CoNI Report was expected to tell the Maldivian people how their first democratically elected government came to an end on 7 February. It was meant to end, once and for all, the greatest rift among the Maldivian people to date: the divide between those who believe that President Mohamed Nasheed resigned voluntarily and those who believe that he was forced to resign under duress.
The CoNI Report does give a definite verdict: President Nasheed resigned voluntarily. A definitive conclusion it maybe, but it is hardly ‘the objective truth’ that CoNI claims it to be.
It is a ‘truth’ that CoNI constructed by excluding what it arbitrarily deemed irrelevant and/or false, and including what it, in the same manner, deemed relevant and factual. Given the relations between political power and truth—a truth cannot be accepted as such until those in power validate it through their words and actions—those who refuse to believe CoNI’s version of the truth are automatically labelled ‘delusional’, ‘mad’, or ‘fantasists.’
The CoNI report did not heal any rifts, it did not answer the questions that mattered, it did not provide the Maldivian people with the information they need to see the ‘truth’ on their own. Instead, it constructed an official version of events that everyone must accept as the truth or be themselves regarded as false.
- The Review also highlights how much evidence regarding the mutiny of a group of police and military personnel on 7 February—without which the change of government would not have been made possible—is missing from the CoNI Report. Given the importance of their role in the ending of the country’s first democratic government, and the increasingly powerful role that they have assumed in the Maldivian society since, CoNI’s investigation into the police and military roles deserves a separate analysis. This will be published shortly as part of this series. ↩