Tagged: Maldives authoritarian rerversal

What we talk about when we talk about Independence


by Shahindha Ismail

This July marks 50 years of independence for Maldives. It is truly fitting, in this sense, to light up the nation and celebrate the occasion with music, fireworks and fanfare. The government has spent millions to make it the most colourful and celebrated event in our small country.

Then why does it seem that all this is being rained upon? In sentiment as well as, alas, by Mother Nature? There has been so much resistance towards preparations for celebrations in the run up to the Independence Day. Is it not worthy of our leaders to stop and think for a moment? For our people are a freedom loving lot, a people who will sacrifice life and livelihood for it and, therefore, will undeniably celebrate it with fest and fervour.

However, contradictory sentiments have been expressed in abundance. Those of us who speak out have stood at public podiums and joined rallies. They have objected to this celebration of independence on TV, radio and print media. Others, especially the youth, have made their views crystal clear on social media. Parents have refused to let their children participate in school performances for the big event. The lights that have been spread across the city do not reach the homes of the people.

Why do we not rejoice in our fiftieth year of independence? Why is the air thick with negativity?

True, the Maldives was a British Protectorate for decades before they let us have our independence. Independence, as defined in the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary, freedom from political control by other countries. Yes we have achieved it. Or, even if we fought no battles for it, we have it nevertheless.

What, then, are we so unhappy about? What do we – those with the heavy hearts – talk about when we talk about independence? Do we have freedom from political control of our country?

Our beloved, unique language calls independence minivankan. It also means freedom in our language. Free from shackles, free from undue authority, free in thought, act and conscience. This minivankan is something we are yet to have.

The biggest freedom that I have seen us celebrate is the Constitution of 2008. We fought for it, sacrificed for it and we earned it. It came with such hope and enthusiasm! It made our hearts soar in flight and the whole nation, regardless of political alignment reverberated in joyous celebration. It brought with it the Chapter of Rights, the first ever in the history of Maldives. Written into the Chapter are all the freedoms our people have. To live, to earn, to raise our children, to speak our minds and to belong, to be part of this society that we call home, free from fear or persecution.

What has happened to it since that glorious 8th of August in 2008? The chapter has lain there, gathering dust. Of the 53 provisions guaranteeing fundamental rights in the Constitution, there is only one which the Supreme Court and Parliament have shown an interest in–and used at every opportunity: Article 16 – the provision that allows limitations on the rights provided in the Constitution.

The people have been completely removed from the political processes. They have become a mere ballot paper, nothing more, nothing less. The people are no more worthy of consultation in the direction that our nation should take. Let the people live in freedom and enjoy fully the fruits of this independence that we celebrate. Let there be inclusion, tolerance and respect. Let the people be part of this freedom.

Today would have been so different if the nation put our people forward. If we had let their say guide us, avoid blunders, speak from experience. How far behind they are. It feels as though sometimes ‘we’ refer to ‘some’. Why are all the lights and celebrations in the capital city? Where are the rest of the people? The keepers of the white beaches and blue waters? The nation expects us all to join the fireworks. Take a boat ride, pay for a bed and food and celebrate with ‘us’. This is not what the people want. They wish to be part of it, not an audience to it.

This nation can barely feed the people or care for them. People speculate on the expenditure on the lights and fountains alone. Why, when the average family can no longer bear the electricity bills as it is? Why spend the millions on festivities when the orphanage can hardly manage to feed the children there? The people do not agree with prioritising jubilee over necessity.

Our people live in a caged nation where simply expressing a wish to break free from it could have them imprisoned, or get destroyed or even be killed for trying it. This nation has lost too many lives, shed too much blood and tears with no recourse, no reconciliation and no accountability. Open the cages, and there shall be freedom. Have the courage to listen to the people. Their frustrations, their opinions and their two-cents-worth do matter, and they should not be punished for it. An equal say in our lives does not belittle anyone – why must it invoke such hatred? No! It is just an opinion, a freedom! Everyone is free to say it and to listen to it. We all should revel in what good can come out of it. The rest can be discarded.

This is just one view of what we talk about when we talk about independence. Or minivankan. What do the rest of our people feel? Has anyone tried to understand it?

Everything that we preach for must begin at home. No less for freedom and independence. Just because someone occupied our home for some years and then left it does not make it a free home if we are shackled inside of it.

About the author: Shahindha Ismail is the Executive Director at Maldivian Democracy Network. Shahindha has been working in fields related to human rights for ten years, and is the co-author of the MDN publication: Asaasee Haqquthakaai Minivankan [Fundamental Rights and Freedoms]. She has also contributed several articles and reports to human rights journals. She is a keen runner, and is married with one daughter. 

Photo: Among thousands of fairy-light decorations put up to mark Independence Day

‘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.