by Azra Naseem
On 13 May 2012, PPM Interim Deputy Leader and 2013 presidential candidate, Umar Naseer, gave an interview to the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) on how the events of 7 February 2012 unfolded. This is a translation of the part of the interview focusing specifically on the protests of 6 February and the subsequent events that culminated in President Nasheed’s resignation.
Oh, yes. When this Mohamed Nasheed got power in 2008 he was already accused of being an irreligious man who would shatter the economy and destroy our religion. So, as a senior leader of a responsible political party, we were watching it very closely. The more we watched, the more we saw how he was establishing relations with Israel, what he was receiving from various churches to spread Christianity in the Maldives, how he was selling our natural resources to foreigners, and what he was doing to end our sovereignty.
Watching all this, we were certain that it was incumbent upon every single one of us to end this man’s rule. The question for us political leaders was whether to end it within or outside of the law. We decided to end that man’s rule from within the law. We did everything we could to achieve this goal. Protests, submitting numerous petitions to Majlis [parliament], filing court cases…we did all this continuously.
At the same time Mohamed Nasheed was issuing various unconstitutional orders. Through the government, he was also making attempts to force police and military to follow unconstitutional orders. We know he was doing this. We know a lot of people in the military, the police and the government. They were informing us.
By the evening of 6 February, we had shown very clearly to the people of the Maldives that Mohamed Nasheed is a man trying to spread other religions in the Maldives, that Mohamed Nasheed is a man who was trying to sell our sovereignty to other countries. We were able to convince every Maldivian that he had directly violated our Constitution. It took a huge combined effort over three years to arrive at this point: protests that continued for 22 consecutive nights and the many previous protests, the cases that were filed in court. It had been made blatantly clear to all Maldivians.
So, that protest on the night of the 6th , well that was a protest we weren’t planning on ending.
Before this, by the 2nd, MDP had started bringing out its paid thugs to confront our protests. These included criminals released under the Second Chance [government rehabilitation programme for offenders] and paid gangsters from all over Male’. Before we started our protests, they tried to intimidate us, coming there with knives and such like. So we were encouraging PPM activists and others to confront them.
Anyway, on the evening of 6th February, a large number of Second Chance criminals and gangsters paid by Mohamed Nasheed intended to confront us with iron rods and bars. They faced us at the Artificial Beach, where our protests started near the stage. They started their protests about 50 feet away from us, with loudspeakers. Their intention was to stop our protest. Police intervened, set up a cordon separating the two sides, and remained between them.
We were continuously telling the police that Mohamed Nasheed arrested Abdulla Ghaazee against the Constitution and that he should be released immediately. It was not just about Abdulla Ghaazee; the plan was to attack the whole judiciary.
We had information that on 8 February Mohamed Nasheed would close other courts in the Maldives, send all judges home, and acting on his own, would establish a Judicial Reform Commission. From then onwards, it would be this Commission that would appoint all magistrates. We knew this. The plan, so, was to destroy the country’s entire judicial system. We were sharing this information with various people who were in this with us.
The night of the 7th was the turning point.
If we give them space until the 8th, they would destroy the entire Maldivian judiciary.
On that day we confronted them with our—and their—biggest thugs. If attack became necessary, we were ready. That’s how we came out that night to the Artificial Beach.
The other side also brought out their full force.
The police came between the two sides—why? Because they knew that night’s would be the biggest of confrontations. I notified Faseeh [Commissioner of Police] by SMS that there would be a bloodbath there that evening if he did not monitor the situation properly. Faseeh guaranteed that police would maintain control and peace.
Anyway, on one side our people were speaking, and on the other side, they were speaking over loudspeakers, too. It did not go to a confrontation, but people on both sides were throwing things like water bottles at each other. All of a sudden we saw the police withdraw. I think Farhad Fikry was the main police officer there. I sent him a text message asking him why the police had withdrawn.
“The military are going to takeover. We have received orders from the Home Minister,” Farhaad replied.
I sent a message to Faseeh. He did not reply.
I told senior MNDF officers that the military will find it difficult to control the situation. They don’t have much training in controlling civil disorder unlike the police, an elite force in such situations. We saw the military going in, police withdrawing, and then the military withdrawing shortly afterwards. When we saw the military withdrawing, we knew Mohamed Nasheed’s plan was to get both sides agitated so he could declare a state of emergency.
That’s the plan Mohamed Nasheed had prepared for 8 February to destroy the judiciary: take it under his personal control; sack judges and other appointments made by the JSC; close all the courts; extralegally appoint people he and Maria approve of to the Judicial Reform Commission, which will then takeover all powers of the judiciary. Getting PPM and its coalition partners in a confrontation with thugs paid for by the MDP, causing a bloodbath, and then using it as an excuse to declare emergency—that was the last phase of that plan. We knew that.
I said this immediately to our supporters, that declaring emergency was the other government’s strategy. I told them this is why a fight was being prepared for.
Even as the military began withdrawing, I said to senior MNDF officials:
“We know the strategy. It is to declare emergency. We won’t obey any such emergency,” I told them.
The confrontation was imminent.
Suddenly, we saw Mohamed Nasheed’s thugs begin throwing stones. Our line retreated a bit. Soon, though, our line recovered and advanced with equal force. Throwing stones, we made them retreat. We were in very close combat when we saw police arriving at the scene.
I don’t know what sort of orders they were following, we didn’t know if any orders had been given at all. They came and sprayed tear gas on both sides and separated them. Our troops backed down and moved near our jagaha [party base]. Troops on the other side retreated.
On our side, the command was for our troops to keep advancing without attacking, and to control our territory. We received news that police were running after the MDP thugs. We were still in position when we heard the police had gathered at the Republic Square and declared their refusal to obey unconstitutional orders. This gave us much encouragement.
Why? Because that’s what we wanted. No Maldivian should follow any illegal orders.
We ordered our supporters to gather at the Republic Square, which they did. But the other military came out and stopped them from getting in. They blocked off the MMA area, Chandhani Magu intersection and Bandara Mosque. This led to a bit of a confrontation between our supporters and the military. Tear gas canisters—about 10 of them—were thrown at us. Our focus was on getting our supporters onto the Republic Square, so, we continued to engage despite the canisters.
Suddenly, those Second Chance criminals of MDP I was talking about, and MDP thugs, approached from the direction of Bandara Miskiyy [Mosque]. Armed with iron rods and bars, they began attacking our people near the MMA. Our people retreated in shock. Some tried to flee. But, when the leaders among our people advanced as one group and counter-attacked, the MDP thugs retreated. There was a lot of violence at that point. An MDP person had to be hospitalised.
We learned later that these people had been drinking alcohol. Waheed Deen [current Vice President] was the supplier. At the time, Waheed Deen was a big MDP supporter. It was inside Mulee Aage the plan to attack us near MMA was hatched. Usually they ply these people with alcohol before sending them out. That night they couldn’t get any alcohol, until they found some from Bandos [Island Resort]. Waheed Deen made the arrangements. We know that.
He is the Vice President now, but Waheed Deen is a man who made several attempts to stop our activities. It is after doing all this in vain, and when we heated things up, that he came and joined this government. These MDP thugs, drunk on the booze supplied by Waheed Deen, attacked our line and caused head injuries to about five of our people. One of our main lieutenants got an iron bar in his chest. It wasn’t put into the chest, but it caused serious injuries. About 10 of our people were hospitalised. I was informed of this by our people guarding the hospital.
That was MDP’s first attack on us that night.
Still, we continued to engage with the military. They were firing gas canisters. We kept up our attempts to get onto the Republic Square. Our purpose was to support and encourage the police not to follow unconstitutional orders. That’s a basic right the Constitution gives us, that’s why.
Amidst these attempts came MDP’s second offensive of the night. This was also carried out by a big group of drunkards. We, all our activists, got together and foiled that attack too. There were no more attacks from MDP that night.
The confrontation between us and the military was still continuing. Tear gas canisters were still being thrown. We forced them to retreat, too. Our troops continued to engage with the military. The purpose was to get to the police.
As the sun came up, we saw the military abandon their positions and leave. All our supporters spilled on to the Republic Square. Once there, we worked with the police, really. We gave them all the assistance they needed. We knew they hadn’t had any food all night, they had no water to drink, nothing. We told the police that the water, the energy drinks. All that we were supplying them, we would supply them to the military too, and to any member of the public who wanted them. So, we supplied everything to everybody.
Then, as the sun rose, we saw Mariya [Didi] and some MDP MPs forcing their way into the Republic Square. We saw them shouting at the police, almost assaulting our people. Again, there was a violent episode. Why? Because MDP people came with planks and things. Mariya and them may not have been carrying such implements themselves, but the MDP people who came with them had metal bars, rods, knives and the likes. Our people had no choice but to confront them. There was major violence. The MDP people who came with Mariya retreated.
I was communicating with the Defence Minister then.
I told him:
“Mohamed Nasheed has two options tonight: release Abdulla Ghaazee to respect the constitution or resign voluntarily.”
By then I had communicated with the Defence Minister about four times. The Defence Minister and I, we are very close. We trained together in the military, and we had been classmates. We did all our military training together. So we are very close. We were in communication with each other.
“Choose one of the two options, or face mortal danger” I kept telling Tolhath [to tell the President].
I did not mean that the threat to life came from the police or the military. There were thousands of people gathered there, they were trying to get into the military headquarters. We knew that even if they managed to get in, the military would not dare shoot them. Which means their lives were in danger. Our control was lost at the time too.
Although we were the direct moral authority, we knew that right then—with a crowd that large—things could only go the way the crowd wanted it to. We knew very clearly it wanted: Mohamed Nasheed’s resignation. It was very obvious to us. That’s what they were all calling for. It was not the police or the military who were demanding it; it was the public. The public were demanding Mohamed Nasheed to resign immediately, to release Abdullah Ghaazee immediately.
That’s what I relayed to the Defence Minister.
He suggested that I go in and speak to the people, and asked for some time for the government to make a decision on Abdulla Ghaazee.
“There has been enough time. It has been 22 days. No more time to give. Now there are only two options left. Pick one, or face mortal danger,” I said.
By mortal danger, again, I mean danger from the public, the possibility that the public may force their way into the military HQ.
As these exchanges continued, around 7:00 that morning, we grew certain that Mohamed Nasheed’s rule could no longer continue.
Why? Because by then they had used up all the tools in their possession against us. All their thugs had been used. We had responded to all attacks by the thugs and destroyed everything. We had been monitoring their jagaha. The motivation and morale there was very low. We knew they were no longer capable of regrouping and launching a counter-attack. We were sure of this by about 7:00 that morning. Their last attack, like I said, was the attack by Mariya.
So we were sure that Mohamed Nasheed’s rule was at an end.
The only way to maintain it was for the military to come out and start shooting. We knew the military wouldn’t do that. I don’t think the Maldivian military would ever fire a gun again. They were blamed for shooting someone that needed to be shot in jail. We knew they would never shoot anyone after that. But we also knew they would use rubber bullets, tear gas, every other power technic they could, to disperse the public.
Once we were sure that MDP would not attack again, I said to Tolhath:
“Tholhath, all your options are exhausted. Tell President Nasheed to resign or release Abdullah Ghaazee immediately.”
He did not reply.
Later, around 8:00 am I received news that some of our people were getting ready to go to the airport, to get it back from GMR. I forbade my troops from going to the airport, and immediately called Indian High Commissioner Mulay.
“On behalf of all Maldivians gathered here, I assure you that nobody would attack Indian interests,” I told him.
President Nasheed phoned me on the Defence Minister’s phone.
“I have now decided to resign,” the President told me. “Why don’t you come in to the military HQ and discuss this with us?”
“I’ll think about it,” I told him.
There were many lawyers with me at the time. They advised me against it.
“It’s too dangerous. They might kill you. We don’t know what the situation is inside, what the plan is. You shouldn’t go in there.”
“I can’t go. Tell me what you have to say,” I told Mohamed Nasheed.
“I want to go to the President’s Office, hold a cabinet meeting, inform them of my reasons for resigning,” he said. “You have to guarantee me safe passage to the President’s Office and full protection for my family.”
“It is not our intention—leaders of the political parties—to harm your family or endanger life.”
At this stage we heard [Mohamed] Nazim was inside the military HQ. I never told Nazim to go there. He had not been a part of our political activities, nor was Abdulla Riyaz a part of it. I only knew of their presence in the HQ when they telephoned and told me so. Before that, I only heard of their presence from reports on the ground, but there was no contact between us and them.
I rang Nazim.
“This Mohamed Nasheed wants to go to the President’s Office. He must go there under full protection. Under no circumstances is he to walk. He must be under full police protection. I would prefer if you took him in a BRDM.” My instructions to Nazim were very clear.
BRDMs are these large military vehicles.
“He will get full protection. He will go there under full protection,” Nazim assured.
This is how Mohamed Nasheed’s request to go to the President’s Office was arranged.
By then Mohamed Nasheed had told us of his intention to resign, and so had the Defence Minister.
We were watching as he went, dressed in a suit and under full police protection. We saw him in the President’s Office.
I ordered our supporters to fetch Abdullah Ghaazee from Girifushi [island]. Our supporters spoke to police on the ground and left for Girifushi on two police speed boats to bring back Abdullah Ghaazee.
“Let’s go!” our supporters told Abdullah Ghaazee. I don’t think he understood what was happening. The police put him on their phone to me.
“You are free now,” I told him. “Come to Male’.”
So, Abdullah Ghaazee was brought to Male’.
It was on TV I was watching all this.
Our troops—that is to say, our supporters—were in Republic Square. Once it was all done, Mohamed Nasheed had resigned and everything was complete, I went to the Republic Square and gave an address standing on a lorry.
“Maldives has been freed of Mohamed Nasheed.” I said. “Maldives will now see a completely different picture, God willing.”
Then we saw Mohamed Nasheed resigning, without any duress, on live television.
That’s how it happened.