MDP condemns arbitrary imprisonment at the dreaded Dhoonidhoo jail of Mr.Mohamed Shihab MP and Mr.Hassan Afeef MP

Reports from Male’ have confirmed that the police have imprisoned two respected parliamentarians Mr.Mohamed Shihab and Mr.Hassan Afeef. The Maldivian Democratic Party strongly condemns their imprisonment without charge, their being held incommunicado and without access to legal assistance.

The MDP sees this police action as an attempt by the Government to intimidate opposition MPs, in blatant disregard to national and international concerns over irregular and illegal means and attempts by the Government to interfere and influence the outcome of forthcoming general elections.

The MDP therefore makes this urgent appeal to the concerned international community to make representations on behalf of Mr Shihab and Mr.Afeef.

In particular, the MDP requests all stakeholders in the future stability of the Maldives to pressure the Maldivian government to: ensure the election process is free and fair and in accordance with international standards – specifically, the Maldivian government must desist from harassing MDP candidates and must allow the registration of the MDP; that all who wish to stand for election are allowed to stand and campaign freely; that the electorate and the media are allowed to engage in open debate; and that state resources are not used to favor some candidates more than others.

Background information

Both Mr. Mohamed Shihab MP and Mr. Hassan Afeef MP are key leaders in the reform movement. Over many years they have vehemently argued for a pluralistic democracy in the Maldives and have worked hard to ensure parliamentary proceedings are lawful. On two occasions in the last few months they have walked out of the house in protest at the Speaker’s attempt to unfairly manipulate proceedings.

Mr. Shihab and Mr. Afeef, both have submitted their papers to contest for the forthcoming election. Mr. Afeef will be defending his traditional homeland seat of Kolumadulu Atoll, which he has held for the last 15 years. Mr. Shihab is one of the longest serving MPs. His traditional seat is South Nelandi Atoll, but further to the decisions of MDP Mr. Shihab will be contesting for a seat from Male’. Male’ is one of the strongest fortresses of the party.

These elections will be of crucial importance to the future of democratic change in the Maldives. The People’s Majlis being elected will nominate a single candidate for the 2008 Presidential election. The parliamentary nomination, which for the last 26 years has always been President Gayoom, will be put to a ‘yes-no’ referendum of the people. If the nominated candidate wins the referendum, he (women are barred from Presidential elections) will hold office until 2012. In the past, the referendum has been a foregone conclusion as President Gayoom always wins with over 98% of the vote.

The forthcoming elections for the People’s Majlis are also important with regards to constitutional reform. A further parliament has been established to make changes to the constitution. Called the People’s Special Majlis, this body is comprised of the fifty members of the People’s Majlis, the President’s cabinet and another 42 elected seats and a further 8 Presidential appointees.

Even with the inherent biases towards the President in the current system, the performance of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) since its establishment in late 2003, poses a serious threat to the incumbent government. In the elections for the 42 elected seats of the People’s Special Majlis, held in May 2004, pro-reform candidates (candidates are banned from running under the MDP banner) won 30 out of the 42 seats, some 70%.

If the MDP wins a similar share in the upcoming People’s Majlis election, the government would lose control over the nominations for the next President and the direction of the reform process. Thus, faced with such formidable opposition in the run-up to this election, the government continues to subvert the rule of law in an attempt to hold on to power.

In contravention of Article 27 of the constitution of the Maldives, the government refuses to grant registration for the Maldivian Democratic Party, while the government itself is acting along the lines of a well-formed single party. The government fields their own candidates acting as a party as defined by Article 27 of the constitution.

In the recent months, the government has intimidated the public by banning public gatherings, conducting sweeping mass arrests, torturing those arrested, declaring a state of emergency and nighttime curfew. The government continues to hold pro-reform MPs in detention with threats of charges with long jail sentences. The government has charged two pro-reform MPs under Article 46 of the archaic Penal Code of the Maldives.

The government is also threatening to charge other pro-reform activists and candidates for the forthcoming election and is presently intimidation and harassing the existing leadership of the reform movement in the Parliament.

The arrest of the opposition MPs and activists continues at a crucial stage of the reform programme. The MDP fielded a winning candidate for Speaker of the Special Majlis in August 2004. The reform movement has also mustered widespread grass-roots support, garnering unprecedented rallying strength, as shown by the peaceful gatherings of July and August 2004.

The MDP feels that decisions and deliberations on reform should be made with the full participation of all parties who would be affected by such reforms. The continued detention of opposition MPs and candidates and the harassment and intimidation of candidates is therefore seen as grossly unfair and as such the MDP believes that the civil rights of thousands of its supporters are being denied.