Tagged: democracy

‘It’s not political’

by Azra Naseem

stay-cool-and-no-politicsMohamed Nasheed, opposition leader and former President, was jailed for 13 years on charges of terrorism for an act that does not fit into any of the over 300 definitions of terrorism that currently exist across the world. One of the five co-defendants in the case, Moosa Jaleel, the current Defence Minister and Nasheed’s Chief of Staff at the time of the said act of ‘terrorism’, was cleared of the same charge yesterday. For Nasheed, the conviction came because he could not prove he was innocent. For Jaleel, the acquittal came because the prosecution could not prove he was guilty. Neither of the verdicts, according to the government, was political.

Rtd Col Mohamed Nazim, Defence Minister until charged with conspiracy to overthrow the government in February 2015, was found guilty of a lesser charge of smuggling weapons into the country. The evidence against Nazim could not have been any more frivolous or, frankly, any more ludicrous. Allegedly, he was planning to shoot and kill Yameen, his right-hand man Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb, and a few others in the current government. He laid out detailed plans of how to do it and supposedly saved them on a pen-drive. More sophisticated event planning can be found in a primary school exercise book. Nazim’s legal team pointed 12 gaping holes in the evidence against him. Yet, he was pronounced guilty and jailed for 11 years. Nothing political about it, maintained the government.

Nazim's alleged Plan to KillNazim’s alleged Plan to Kill

Next came Mohamed Nazim, MP for Dhiggaru area, and, until Ahmed Adeeb weighed into the relationship, Yameen’s closest political ally and partner in all businesses above and below board. Yameen and Nazim went way back, even founded a political party together – People’s Alliance – which later merged with Gayoom’s PPM. Adeeb’s presence somehow muddied the waters between the friends and, before Nazim could say ‘jangiya’, he had been sentenced to 25 years (life) in prison for corruption worth 1.4 million Rufiyaa. The fraud was committed when Nazim was working in the Atolls Ministry back in 2004. When things were good between Yameen and Nazim, the same courts had said about the same allegations that ‘Nazim had no charges to answer.’ But now, out of favour with Yameen, not only were the charges worth answering, they were also worth life imprisonment. Meanwhile Adeeb, who is basking in the sunshine of Yameen’s approval, can happily ignore allegations of corruption worth millions of US dollars. Not only that, the Auditor General who dared expose the allegations, was removed from his position and a more ‘friendly’ figure put in his place so Adeeb does not have to put up with listening to such ‘drivel’ against him. On top of it all, news came yesterday that the Tourism Ministry is to have ‘extended powers’. ‘It’s not political’, says the government.

Meanwhile, life keeps getting harder to live on the islands of Maldives. Taxes have gone up, along with living expenses. Salaries, however, remain as low as ever. While each tourist who arrives in the Maldives – and according to Tourism Ministry figures there were over a 100,000 in February alone – spends an average US$350 a day, the average monthly salary of a civil servant remains below that amount. While the price of fuel has gone down dramatically across the world, electricity bills have become impossible for people to pay. Not only are the bills remaining as high as ever, the government is also cutting subsidies which made it possible for people to pay them in the first place. ‘Don’t make this political’, says the government.

Amidst all this came the news that the President’s Office has given each of the five Supreme Court judges, along with the president of the Anti-Corruption Commission, newly built apartments in Male’ at a discounted rate. Land is the most precious commodity in the Maldives, especially in and around Male’. Decades of centralisation has meant all essential services such as healthcare and education are only available in the capital city with even a modicum of satisfaction. People are desperate for housing in the area – the apartments in Male’ are meant as some sort of a solution for this problem. Yet, instead of the desperate, they are given to the already flush. ‘It’s to protect their integrity’, said Adeeb, speaking for the President’s Office. ‘It’s not political.’

While coping with the hardships of surviving in the messed up economy, half the country is out on the streets attempting to save, through peaceful civil resistance, the last remaining vestiges of democracy. The government has responded by describing civil and political rights enshrined in the 2008 democratic Constitution as ‘loopholes’ through which people are abusing the ruling party. Laws will be made to close them holes, it has said. So the authorities first moved to ban protesting in certain areas, then at certain times, then at certain decibels and, most recently, without prior permission of the police.

Nazra Naseem, MP Mahloof's wife, at the time Mahloof was being led away by policeThe police have taken into custody close to 200 people in less than a month, and the courts have taken to imposing unconstitutional conditions on their release, demanding that they don’t protest for days, weeks or even months, if they want to remain free citizens. Those who defy the bans are locked up, deprived of basic rights and even abused psychologically and physically. Opposition parliamentarians are often the victims. Most recently, MP Ahmed Mahloof defied the conditional ban on protests only to see his wife being physically, and she alleges sexually, abused by a group of policemen as he was hauled away to detention without charge for an undefined length of time. ‘Don’t make this political’, says the government. ‘It’s rule of law’.

To prove that ‘it’s not political’, the government continues to behave as if none of these events are taking place. It has announced plans to prettify Male’ with flowers all over the city; the Clock Roundabout is to get a new clock; one part of the land-sparse Male’ is to be turned into a show area of ‘what it used to be like’; buildings are to be painted; and a dozen or so Maldivians are to sky-dive into the national stadium in a grandiose gesture. Meanwhile, a travelling band of PPM activists are to tour the country setting off fireworks on various islands, when they are not travelling to award air-conditioners and other bribes ahead of by-election votes, that is.

Of course, none of this is political. These are not attempts to pretend that everything is fine. These are not attempts to show that only a few dozen mad people are out protesting, trying to upset the smooth running of a democratically elected, benevolent government which is only trying to do best by its people.

Of course not. All these activities are to celebrate 50 years of independence. Independence? Where is the freedom? you ask. Oh, don’t get political.

Correction: This article previously said Rtd Col. Nazim was jailed for 12 years. This has now been amended – he was jailed for 11 years. This article also incorrectly said the flats given to Supreme Court justices were in HulhuMale’. They are in Male’.

Thanks to Ali Abdullah for pointing out the errors.

Get up, stand up

by Azra Naseem

It is an extremely tense day in the Maldives as tens of thousands of people wait on tenterhooks for what seems to be the inevitable: the imprisonment of opposition leader, former president and icon of democracy, Mohamed Nasheed.

The outcome of the ‘trial’ which Nasheed has been subjected to is certain, the verdict written long before he was charged with ‘terrorism’ and remanded in custody on the island of Dhoonidhoo on 22 February. Everything that followed since that Sunday, over two weeks ago now, has been a sham and a travesty against justice. The barbarity was put on full display to the world, when Nasheed was brought to ‘court’ for the first hearing. Policemen, belonging to the notorious Special Operations, pushed and shoved Nasheed to the ground. Pictures and videos of the event shocked the country, and the world.

The current rulers, led by Yameen Abdul Gayoom, shrugged off the outcry with nonchalance. Locally, the police claimed Nasheed had pulled a stunt, fallen to the ground voluntarily like a footballer faking an injury looking for to be rewarded with a penalty. It did not matter that video and pictorial evidence told a different story. Internationally, Foreign Minister Dunay Maumoon was recalcitrant, insisting that Nasheed’s trial is a ‘domestic issue’ that no foreigners have a say in. The government remained impervious to all outside criticism. Even the cancellation of a planned trip by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a diplomatic slap of substantial magnitude, did not make any impact on its determination to pursue with their chosen path of leading Nasheed to jail. In fact, as time passed, the government grew more belligerent. Yameen Abdul Gayoom said on 9 March that people in distant foreign lands should butt out of Maldivian affairs. Brushed aside were the many international treaties which the Maldives is signatory to, which gives the international community the right to particular actions during certain circumstances — such as in times of the destruction of rule of law.

And what a destruction it has been. Every hearing in the court, itself unconstitutional, has dealt a deathblow to the concept of rule of law. The Prosecutor General’s appointment now appears to have been engineered for the very purpose of this prosecution, as are the panel of three ‘judges’. None of them have adequate legal qualifications, and all of them are in each other’s pockets. All of them have close ties to the man at the centre of these ‘terrorism’ charges—Ablow Ghaazee, himself accused of misconduct and corruption—who Nasheed allegedly ‘kidnapped’.

The three man bench has obstructed justice at every opportunity, refusing to give Nasheed’s lawyers enough time to study evidence; giving them evidence on CDs that do not open or have been damaged; refusing Nasheed the opportunity to appoint new lawyers when the current ones objected to their unlawful treatment; and incredibly, refusing to allow Nasheed to present witnesses with the judgement that no witness can disprove the prosecution case.

Every hearing has been held after sundown, and Nasheed brought to court in darkened vehicles under heavy police escort. The lengths to which prosecutors have gone to separate Nasheed and his supporters, and to prevent media from taking pictures of him, have been ludicrous at times. On 8 March, about an hour before Nasheed was brought to court, the powers that be spread a blue banner across the entrance to the building, placed strategically to cover the camera angle from which Raajje TV usually shoots Nasheed’s court arrival. The banner read ‘Welcome, International Women’s Day.’ A blatant mockery not of justice alone, but also of women.

There has been much anguish among Nasheed’s supporters. On 27 February tens of thousand came out to protest against the court’s decision to remand Nasheed in custody throughout the trial. It was the biggest political gathering the capital island of Male’ had ever seen. People flooded the main street of Majeedhee Magu almost covering it from end to end. Since then there have been protests every night and everyday on various different locations across the country. But the government is refusing to listen to them no matter how many there are; it seeks to shut them down instead.

Every protest is manned by hundreds of Special Operations police, sometimes with reinforcements from the army. Almost every other protest ends in brutality and/or arrests. Scores have been arrested, taken to prison, then released with the unconstitutional condition that they don’t protest for periods of time as set by the court-–sometimes days, sometimes months. Leaders of MDP are handpicked for the arrests, making sure that less and less of them will be able to join protests against Nasheed’s arrest. One person—MP Fayyaz Ismail—refused to sign the court’s unlawful protest ban. He was given an extra 15 days in custody. There is no legal basis for such an order.

An increasing number of locations are being declared ‘no-protest zones’ for various reasons: for residents’ peace; for local business interests; for law and order, etc. etc. Freedom of assembly is being rolled back swiftly, and without hesitation. Other associated freedoms are under similar attack. Journalists are being barred from covering the trial without legal reason. Reporters are being banned from videoing places they are legally allowed to. Police are forcing them to delete footage already recorded without legal authority to do so. The state broadcaster is continuing to ignore the biggest ‘trial’ in the country’s recent history, completely ignoring its duty to keep citizens informed.

Meanwhile, Yameen and members of his ruling cabal are relishing the distress and helplessness of supporters of democracy and Nasheed. Decorum and statesmanship are nowhere to be seen. When MDP MPs protested against Yameen’s inaugural speech in Parliament, he gave into his indignation, getting up and waving his thumbs up and down, then up again, like a crazed Caligula in Roman times.

Yameen’s trusted sidekick, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb, who has shrugged off corruption charges amounting to millions of US Dollars and engineered the unconstitutional removal of the Auditor General who dared bring up the charges, led a motorbike procession on the streets of Male’ this weekend, calling to expedite Nasheed’s conviction. Among the rats led by this Pied Piper on a bike with a Rolex watch on his wrist and a sapphire ring on his finger, was the current Defence Minister, ex-military General Moosa Jaleel. Jaleel in his eagerness to belong to Yameen’s cabal, and thus enjoy automatic immunity, forgot that he is himself on trial for the same charges he was calling Nasheed to be convicted for.

To further increase the public disgust level [or degree of impressiveness, if the onlooker is a supporter of Bro Adeeb], Adeeb has led a ‘movement’ that mimics Yameen’s thumbs-down gestures as if it is something to be celebrated and not shamed by. He has posed with his thumbs down with cabinet ministers and parliament members—as well as with his usual string of young, disaffected men on the fringes, and in the heart of, Maldives’ violent gang culture. Everyone in the Motorcade of The Shamelessness wore t-shirts emblazoned with a thumbs-down signal.

This hatred of Nasheed as a person cultivated with relish by Yameen and Adeeb has been embraced by thousands of their supporters. It has blinded them to the fact that what is being destroyed in this sham is not just Nasheed’s personal freedoms but also every single Maldivian’s many civil and political rights and their right to equal justice for all.

The fundamental problem with the Maldives’ transition to democracy was that it was unable, and oftentimes unwilling, to reform the judiciary. Few had the foresight to see where the democratic transition would end without an independent judiciary based on the principles of rule of law. Now, even on hindsight – with the results on full display – many are still too blinded by personal vendettas, grudges and hate to see that this ‘trial’ of Nasheed is the last nail in the coffin for a democratic future for the Maldives. Years of anti-Nasheed propaganda have closed people’s eyes to the fact that whatever wrong he may have done, if they want themselves to be treated fairly and equally and live in a just society, they must protest against the injustice he is being subjected to.

Today it is the moral obligation for every Maldivian to stand up against injustice. The subject of concern is not a particular individual, be it Nasheed, Nazim, the common man jailed for six years for stealing a jar of fish-paste; or the murderer who is allowed to walk free because he is in the inner cabal. It is justice itself.

Last time the people should have stood up en masse for justice and did not, the Maldives was robbed of a free and fair election. The result is in office, orchestrating injustice, via the courts that engineered his election. This time if the people fail to stand up, it will shut all doors to another election in the foreseeable future; along with the doors to equal justice for all, quite likely for generations to come.

#FindMoyameehaa to find ourselves


42 days and 15 hours since Rizwan (also known as Rilwan), a young man in his twenties, disappeared without trace from the small island of Hulhumale’. Despite some factual inaccuracies elsewhere in the article, the UK’s Independent newspaper was right on target when it described Rizwan’s disappearance as an illustration of a darker, less seen Maldives. It is now very clear to anyone in the Maldives with a thinking mind that either top-level people in the government, the security forces, or both, have a hand in Rizwan’s disappearance.

On the night Rizwan was last seen, two witnesses came forward to say, they saw a man being forced into a red car at knife-point from outside Rizwan’s apartment. They immediately contacted the police who arrived on the scene, took notes—even recovered a fallen knife—and went off on their merry way. Despite the eye-witnesses, police said on Tuesday this week (after 39 days) that there is no connection between Rizwan’s disappearance and the abduction from outside his apartment on the night of his disappearance. It beggars belief that the police cannot even tell us who, if not Rizwan, was kidnapped in the middle of the night from Hulhumale’. No one else’s family has come forward to report a missing person.

If not Rizwan, who was abducted from outside his apartment? Where is Rizwan? How can a Maldivian disappear without trace from a small island? Why are the police spreading disinformation? Why are they trying to plant rumors that the abducted person was a female? Why are they trying to deceive? Who is behind Rizwan’s disappearance? If police cannot answer any questions related to the disappearance of a law-abiding peaceful citizen with no history of violence or criminal activity, what is their purpose? Who is the Maldives Police Service (MPS) ‘protecting and serving’ if not citizens?

There have been many previous examples of police incompetency or complicity in major crimes. On all such occasions there are combined religious/political motives—or, as Minivan News put it—‘an unholy alliance’—of radicals and violent gangs (often sponsored by the state) behind them.

In June 2012 Hilath Rasheed the first (and still only) openly gay Maldivian blogger advocating for LGBT rights was brutally attacked near his home. His throat was slit from side to side causing the neck to open like a widely yawning mouth. Seeing the gaping hole, a nurse at the hospital fainted.

“No one thought I would make it,” Hilath said. I met him in Sri Lanka a month after the attack. His voice was still gruff, like it every word he spoke was an attack on his vocal cords. His hands shook, and he kept turning around to double-check he was not being attacked from behind. “They wanted to kill me,” Hilath said looking me in the eye. His shock was still palpable many painful weeks after the attack. CCTV footage exists of the attackers approaching him from both sides in the lane-way to his family home in Male’ in the early evening shadows. Hilath was certain he gave, and police collected, enough evidence to identify who the attackers were. Yet, there has been ‘no progress’ in the investigation. Hilath, who feared for his life, sought shelter elsewhere. The police took it as an opportunity to say they could not continue the investigation as the victim was not there to pursue the matter further. As if an attempted murder is merely a crime against an individual and not the entire society itself. Hilath has, understandably, chosen to remain in exile rather than seek answers or battle for justice in the Maldives—it is a place where questions remain unanswered, crimes remain unsolved and justice remains undelivered.

Before that, in January 2011, was the attack against Aishath Velezinee, then a member of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC). She was stabbed in the back in broad daylight. Hilath spoke out for gay rights; Velezinee spoke out against judicial wrongdoing and crimes against the State and Constitution. The man who stabbed her aimed for her spine—paralysis could easily have been the outcome. It was a narrow miss.

The police, after weeks of ‘investigation’, identified someone as the attacker. But it was, if they were right, so clearly the hired would-be assassin rather than the persons (or forces) behind the attack that Velezinee insisted the police dig deeper and find the person who commissioned the attack. They did not. In the end, the police did not pursue even the culprit they had themselves identified. Once again it was ignored that grievous bodily harm or attempted murder are crimes against society to be pursued by the public prosecutor on behalf of the people of Maldives rather than a dispute between two individuals that can be ignored if the parties involved are not pursuing each other.

The most brutal case—so far—has been that of MP Dr Afrasheem Ali who was hacked to death on 2 October 2012 at the foot of the stairs leading up to his apartment. At the risk of sounding like the late blogger Dr Haulath who conjured up ‘evidence’ and anonymous sources to make wild allegations against people, I will recount what I have been told by a wholly reliable—yet necessarily anonymous source—who was until recently privy to national intelligence: Dr Afrasheem was murdered by hired foreign mercenaries. Those who commissioned his murder are now in top positions in government. Dr Afrasheem offended some; he was also standing in some people’s way of political progress; his religious views offended some others. For many powerful people, Dr Afrasheem was better dead than alive. He was right in the middle of the ‘unholy alliance’ between corrupt politicians, religious extremists and ‘born-again’ gang-members. The clean-up afterwards involved millions spent on silencing the family, the murder of a Bangladeshi expatriate who knew too much, and speedy dispatch of the murderers back to their own countries. With this investigation—unlike the attacks on Hilath and Velezinee—the police put up a pretence of investigating. When the US offered to help with by donating services of the FBI, there was no choice but to accept. Reports from inside say the FBI team with so much obstruction and obfuscation from within the MPS they left in disgust. So far, the truth remains totally hidden.

President Abdulla Yameen who heads the current government has many allegations of corruption against him that date back years. This includes the alleged wrongful acquisition of US$800 million when he was in charge of the State Trading Organisation (STO) during his half-brother Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s 30-year dictatorship. Nothing has ever been proven against him, of course, which is the reason for—and the end result of—his power. Yameen became president partly by successfully cultivating deep ties with ‘the youth’—the substantial percentage, anyway, of whom that are involved in the narcotics trade and gang-violence. Despite having run for presidency on a youth ticket, he was callously unconcerned with the news that Rilwan had disappeared from Hulhumale’. Rizwan was a youth taken without trace from the island the ‘youth President’ intended to develop into a dedicated ‘Youth City.’

Days later the very president, who had ‘No Comment’ about Rizwan because—in his words, not mine: a President cannot comment about ‘anything and everything’—was happy to order the police to stop taking down the ‘huts’ or ‘shelters’ that Male’ gangs use in various areas of the island city to congregate and plan their various nefarious activities from. Not one word, though, has President Yameen had to spare to comfort Rizwan’s grieving family, his persistent friends who persevere in seeking answers, and the shocked people of Male’ city and its ‘suburb’ of Hulhumale’. Not a single word. It is a silence that speaks volumes. It is a silence which has given the police license to ignore Rizwan’s disappearance, unlike the gangs and their huts. ‘We will stop taking down the [gang] huts because the President has said so,’ the police said.

Are the police failing to investigate Rizwan’s disappearance because the President has not ordered such an investigation personally? Is that what it takes to instigate a police investigation in this so-called ‘democracy’? Under the leadership of Yameen, are the functions of the security forces so arranged that unless he gives a direct order no crime can be investigated?

Once again today, friends and family of Rizwan—like every Friday since his disappearance—are out trying to keep his disappearance in public consciousness. This is a Herculean task in a society held captive by materialism and is in thrall to money. It is nigh on impossible in a society where a general decline in civil values, morals and principles are increasingly hidden behind a veil of claimed religiosity. For each Maldivian shocked by the fact that a young man who has never caused any living person—or creature—any harm can be made to disappear without a trace from a small island with a population of just thousands, there are three who could not care less or are willing to denigrate Rizwan for not sharing their puritan principles or narrow-minded worldview.

The case of Rizwan is, like Azim Zahir said yesterday, also about the future of the Maldives. If we do not want it to be a society of people who care not where their money come from as long as it lines their own pockets; who care not about injustice as long as they (and their own) are free; who care not if there is no security in society as long as they (and their own) come to no harm; who mind not about the disappearance of a young man as long as he is not their child, brother, husband or friend then we must all look for Rizwan.

If we do not want to lose ourselves, we must all come together and make sure the authorities #FindMoyameehaa.