Condemning the imprisonment of former president Mohamed Nasheed, the US Secretary of State John Kerry said democracy is under threat in the Maldives.
“We’ve seen even now how regrettably there are troubling signs that democracy is under threat in the Maldives where the former president Nasheed has been imprisoned without due process,” Kerry told the press in Sri Lanka today.
“This is an injustice that needs to be addressed soon.”
"..PNasheed has been imprisoned without due process.That is an injustice that must be addressed soon"John Kerry, 2May pic.twitter.com/LZkzRKmr8Z
Laila and Nasheed’s international legal team on Thursday lodged a petition with the UN’s working group on arbitrary detention requesting a judgment declaring the opposition leader’s detention illegal and arbitrary.
The UN human rights office yesterday said Nasheed’s trial was “vastly unfair, arbitrary and disproportionate.”
Briefing the press in Geneva, Mona Rishmawi, the head of the rule of law, equality and non-discrimination branch, said Nasheed’s 19-day trial was politically motivated and was reached by judges wielding “incredible discretionary powers.”
Meanwhile, the European parliament passed a resolution on Thursday urging the government to release Nasheed immediately.
However, the government remains defiant, with the foreign minister saying President Abdulla Yameen’s government will not comply with demands from foreign governments to “meddle” in judicial affairs and release a convict.
In an interview with state broadcaster TVM, Dunya Maumoon said the Maldives would become “enslaved” and lose its independence if the government accepted such demands.
Foreign government do not wish well for the Maldives, she continued and called on the public to protect the country’s institutions, independence and sovereignty.
The government held a firework display in Malé tonight after declaring the opposition’s mass antigovernment protest a failure.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets yesterday over the jailing of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed, but police cracked down on protesters when they attempted to enter the city’s main square and dispersed the protest.
Hundreds including opposition leaders were arrested and injured in the crackdown, and two police officers suffered serious injuries in the clashes.
Announcing the fireworks event at a press conference this afternoon, MPs of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) labeled the protest a coup attempt.
“A president is elected for five years. It’s very clear how [the state] must act towards those who come out to oust the government before that. Those people are attempting a coup. That is an unlawful protest,” MP Riyaz Rasheed said.
“You cannot change a government without us. I’m saying very clearly that cannot be done. The people with those capabilities are with the PPM,” he added.
The PPM in alliance with the Adhaalath Party and the Jumhooree Party (JP) had led a campaign in 2012 to oust former president Nasheed. He resigned on February 7, 2012, after a police and military mutiny.
Accusing President Abdulla Yameen of authoritarianism, the Adhaalath Party and the JP split from the ruling coalition in March and February, respectively, and allied with Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).
“The protest failed, Imran went to jail and President Yameen will go forward with the nation,” MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla said.
Adhaalath president Sheikh Imran Abdulla, MDP chairperson Ali Waheed and JP deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim were arrested in a late night crackdown last night.
PPM parliamentary group leader Ahmed Nihan dismissed the opposition’s claims that 35,000 people had taken to the streets. He said only 13,000 had come out, but only to celebrate labor day and take selfies.
He described the protesters as unemployed young people who continue to depend on their parents for money to buy a cup of coffee.
“The 60 percent of people there do not support any political ideology, but since its May Day, labor day, they powdered their faces and came out to take photos for social media,” he said.
Many families are calling ruling party MPs requesting the release of family members who were arrested at protests, but “there is nothing we can do,” Nihan said.
Nihan says the government must dismiss civil servants and employees of state owned companies who were encouraging violence against police on social media.
“The parliamentary group requests the government to identify these people and give them notice as soon as possible and dismiss them. Open up opportunities for the young people who do not participate in such acts,” he said.
Praising the police for breaking up the protest, Nihan said the PPM parliamentary group will consider increasing financial and human resources for the police force.
MP Riyaz meanwhile warned the opposition the government stands ready to confront protesters: “we will not hide when they come out to beat us. We will hit back if we are beaten. We will not step back.
“This parliamentary group will do everything necessary to defend the government. We have a majority in all committees. We are telling the security forces and the independent commissions, you must carry out your responsibilities. Otherwise, the Majlis will take the required action,” he said.
The opposition alliance have vowed to continue anti-government protests tonight despite the arrest of 193 protesters and leaders of the allied parties after clashes at yesterday’s May Day rally.
Police have meanwhile threatened to break up any demonstration held without prior notice as soon as it starts. The ‘Maldivians against tyranny’ coalition has urged supporters to gather at the artificial beach at 9:00pm.
The goal of the May Day protest march was to “bring an end to brutality,” but was met with a brutal police crackdown, said main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih ‘Ibu’ after a meeting of the alliance’s steering committee.
Police have said that protesters assaulted police officers, damaged the property of the security services and the public, and disrupted public order and safety. Two police officers have been flown to Sri Lanka for treatment of injuries.
However, opposition leaders accused police of using “excessive and disproportionate force” against protesters after 30,000 people took to the streets of the capital.
Police cracked down with tear gas, pepper spray, stun grenades, and baton charges after protesters attempted to enter the ‘green zone’ to perform dusk prayers at the Islamic centre. Gatherings are prohibited at the Republic square in front of the mosque.
Ibu said the alliance had planned to pray on the street after marching to the western end of Majeedhee Magu, but the leadership decided to pray at the Islamic centre as police had told the AP that no protest activity should take place between dusk and evening prayers.
While such an order was unconstitutional, Ibu said the opposition leaders decided not to carry out any activities during the specified period.
“We had a plan. We tried for the people gathered with us to the Islamic centre any way they could. But you saw how police acted after that,” he said.
Responding to criticism of the opposition leaders “fleeing” the scene after the crackdown, Sheikh Mohamed Didi from the Adhaalath Party said the leaders went to pray at nearby homes when it became clear they could not enter the Islamic centre.
Former ruling party MP Ahmed Mahloof said reports suggested the number of people arrested yesterday could be as high as 280 and not 193 as police have said.
“We are clarifying this information. This number of people have never been arrested in Maldivian history,” he said.
Mahloof also criticised the Police Integrity Commission for claiming police had acted professionally and with restraint. The independent MP said police beat up several protesters.
Further clashes took place at 8pm after protesters regrouped at Chandhanee Magu with Specialist Operations (SO) officers periodically charged the crowd and made dozens of arrest.
Police have made public video footage of protesters tripping and beating up a lone SO officer. The officer was rescued by protesters and brought behind police lines, prompting a baton charge. Police said another officer was injured when a protest pickup broke through police lines near the fish market.
Ibu said pro-government supporters had infiltrated the crowd yesterday and that the alliance is looking into the assault of the police officer on Chaandhanee Magu to determine who was involved.
Mahloof claimed the incident occurred shortly after an SO pickup charged into the crowd at high speed, which angered the protesters.
The alliance regrets the incident and does not encourage violence, he said, and suggested that the officer might have been assaulted by gangs paid by the government.
Local media reported officials at the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGHM) as saying that neither the police officers nor protesters suffered serious injuries. Five police officers and six civilians were treated at IGMH while four protesters were treated at ADK.
Meanwhile, invoking authority under the 2013 freedom of assembly law to restrict the constitutional right to protest, police announced today that further protests will not be allowed unless police are given advance notice.
“We notify protest organisers that gatherings held without giving notice or providing full information to police will be stopped at the time of commencement,” the Maldives Police Service warned in a statement this afternoon.
The 2013 law requires organisers to uphold public interest and notify police if the protest is to take place on public roads. The law also states that the right to assembly can be limited in the interests of maintaining national security, public order, and stability.
The trial and conviction of former president Mohamed Nasheed was “vastly unfair, arbitrary, and disproportionate,” a senior official at the UN human rights office said yesterday, urging action to resolve a deepening political crisis.
The government, however, remains defiant in the face of growing international and domestic pressure for the release of the opposition leader.
At a UN press briefing in Geneva on Friday, Mona Rishmawi, head of the rule of law, equality and non-discrimination branch, said Nasheed’s 19-day trial was politically motivated and his conviction was reached by judges wielding “incredible discretionary powers.”
“We kind of started to get signals that even the government recognises that something went wrong with the process of the trial,” she was quoted as saying by Reuters.
“We would like to see this translate into concrete political action and see something happening in this case…What is very clear is that the president still has clemency powers.”
Rishmawi visited the Maldives from April 20 to 23 as head of a delegation from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to “examine the broader issues” related to Nasheed’s case.
However, foreign minister Dunya Maumoon told the state broadcaster yesterday that the government will not comply with demands from foreign governments to “meddle” with the judiciary and release a convict.
The European parliament adopted a resolution last week calling on the government to release Nasheed and urged member states to issue warnings on the Maldives’ human rights record on their travel advice websites.
Dunya reportedly said the Maldives would become “enslaved” and lose its independence if the government accepted the demands.
The foreign governments do not wish well for the Maldives, Dunya said, and called on the public to protect the country’s institutions, independence, and sovereignty.
After meetings with officials from the government and the judiciary as well as members of civil society organisations, the UN delegation found that the prosecutor general and judges have “excessive discretionary powers” in the absence of criminal justice procedures and evidence laws, according to a press briefing note from the UN rights office.
Rishmawi noted that lesser charges against Nasheed over the January 2012 military detention of criminal court chief judge Abdulla Mohamed had been withdrawn shortly before his arrest in February.
Nasheed “learnt about the new charge under the Terrorism Act only upon his arrest.”
He was found guilty on March 13 and sentenced to 13 years in prison.
The criminal court denied Nasheed “the possibility to prepare and present adequate defence, including calling defence witnesses, and examining the evidence against him.”
“What we saw is that the rules have been really changed to lead to a certain result,” she said.
The discretionary powers do not work for the benefit of a fair trial, which she said was the main issue at stake and suggested that “international pressure could help fix flaws” in the judiciary.
The briefing note added that the Maldivian judiciary is “is perceived as politicised, inadequate and subject to external influence” and referred to the convictions of former defence ministers Mohamed Nazim and Tholhath Ibrahim, who also “received disproportionate sentences in a flawed trials.”
The UN human rights office urged the government to ensure an environment conducive for political dialogue, allow the exercise of the rights of free expression and assembly, and ensure Nasheed’s safety in custody.
Rishmawi met the former president in a “temporary location” before he was transferred to the high-security Maafushi jail, and described Nasheed as thoughtful and humorous.
“But I wouldn’t say he was relaxed. He knew he was facing 13 years in prison and he knew that his situation is really really difficult and he worried a lot about his safety,” she said.
The arrests came hours after police said they would take action against the organisers of May Day’s anti-government protest. Two policemen were injured when clashes erupted between riot police and protesters earlier this evening. Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla was arrested at 11:00pm. The police say an additional 193 were arrested.
The MDP, Adhaalath Party and members of the Jumhooree Party allied last month over a crackdown on politicians including ex president Mohamed Nasheed and ex defence minister Mohamed Nazim. The pair were sentenced to 13 and 11 years in jail, respectively, in trials criticised widely over lack of due process.
2:15am: Malé’s streets are empty.
1:35am: The police say they’ve made 193 arrests tonight. The opposition says it had recorded over 170 arrests. Many people who were arrested were released tonight after a brief detention.
1:15am: The Elections Commission has declared the opposition’s May Day protest violent suggesting it may take action against the Adhaalath Party and MDP.
The police have meanwhile circulated a video of the attack on police officers in a bid to identify perpetrators.
Adhaalath Party isve ove MDP aai eku mihaaru Male' gai kuriyahgendhaa Muzaaharaa akee sulahaveri muzaaharaa ehkamah nudheken.
12:10am: Dozens of police officers in riot gear are once again chasing protesters down Chaandhanee Magu and indiscriminately arresting people on the street. Crowd is dwindling.
At least 15 people have just been arrested and are being taken away on a State Trading Organization lorry.
11:50pm: The president’s office spokesperson in a tweet said President Abdulla Yameen and the government will no longer negotiate with Sheikh Imran. The Adhaalath Party president was arrested at 11:00 pm.
“Raeesuljumhooriyyaage faraaipulhun adhi dhivehi sarukaarun ves Sheikh @ShimranAb aa dhen mashvaraa eh nukuraane” -im
11:15pm: The opposition says police have arrested Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla and are now looking for MDP chairperson Ali Waheed.
11:10pm: Opposition leaders including MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and Jumhooree Party deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim remain with hundreds on Chaandhanee Magu. Protest songs are blaring from speakers.
10:50pm. Police have chased dozens of protesters into a narrow lane where the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives is located, and trapped them by physically blocking the lane at the two ends. The police are now arresting the people trapped in the lane. Many appear to have been pepper sprayed. The crowd remains strong.
10:40pm: The police integrity commission has issued a statement declaring the protests to be violent. The statement said protesters had confronted police, verbally abused them, thrown pavement bricks and bottles at police officers. The PIC noted a lorry used in the protest had charged into police lines at dusk, and said the police were patient and had used limited force in controlling protests. The PIC noted protesters had also suffered injuries in clashes.
10:20pm: Opposition aligned Raajje TV say police have ordered its journalists to move out from the cordoned areas behind police lines, limiting its ability to cover the protest. The station’s cameraman Sajid, who was injured by a glass bottle thrown from the crowd of protesters, is receiving medical treatment at ADK hospital.
10:15pm: The opposition says records show at least 76 people have now been arrested. They include former MPs Ahmed Easa and Ibrahim ‘Bonda’ Rasheed. Police are charging into the crowd and arresting more people.
10:10pm. Police have entered a private residence on Majeedhee Magu and confiscated a pair of megaphones that was reportedly broadcasting opposition aligned Raajje TV’s live coverage of the protest.
Dozens of police in riot gear are active at the city’s central junction.
10:00pm: Violence on Chaandhanee Magu as police use stun grenades and pepper spray to disperse protesters. Police baton charged into the crowd and have now pushed back protesters to Majeedhee Magu.
9:40pm: Clashes between protesters and police erupt on Chaandhanee Magu. Minivan News observed police officers chasing protesters into a narrow lane and arresting at least 15 people. They were then put on a truck which drove off at high speed.
One policeman fell and was beaten severely by the protesters. Police are now indiscriminately beating protesters with batons.
Raajje TV cameraman injured.
9:35pm: Opposition leaders are appealing to protesters to converge on Chaandhaanee Magu.
In an interview with Raajje TV, MDP parliamentary group leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih said: “Everyone who came out this evening, come with us again. Come forward with us as we attempt to end this brutality.”
MP Mahloof said: “We knew they will brutalize us, that they will use pepper spray and stun granades. How many did they detonate? They just used rubber bullets earlier. Everyone who came out this evening, come again.”
9:20pm: Thousands remain in pockets on Chaandhanee Magu. Angry protesters continue calls for ex president’s release. Arrests are growing. Atleast nine arrested at the area in the past 20 minutes. Minivan News observed police officers carrying an unconscious protester.
Packed truck beyond capacity. And speeding. Mocking us
8:55pm: MDP lawyer Nazim Sattar says eight lawyers are awaiting permission from the police to provide legal counsel for those arrested from the protest today.
8:45pm: MP Ahmed Mahloof says police used rubber bullets and stun guns at the Chaandhanee Magu, and says he was beaten with batons. He has called for more protesters to converge at the city’s main junction.
8:40pm: According to the opposition’s detainee hotline at least 36 protesters have been arrested so far. The number could be as high as 50, an official said. The police have declined to reveal the exact numbers of arrests.
Minivan News observed police officers beating protesters with batons and pepper spraying fallen protesters as they charged into the crowd in front of the fish market at dusk.
8:30pm: Chief superintendent Abdulla Nawaz spoke to the press at 8:00pm outside police headquarters. He said the police had facilitated the march at first, but said the call at dusk to pray at the Islamic Center which is inside a green zone is unlawful. Noting a lorry used at the protest had charged at high speed into police lines, Nawaz said the protest is no longer peaceful. The police are considering action against protest organizers, he said.
7:50pm – Protesters on the streets appear to be confused after conflicting announcements about the area for regrouping. The MDP secretariat has asked supporters to gather at Chandhanee Magu near Amininya School. MP Mahloof, MDP MPs, and other senior members are at the area now.
Protesters who gathered near social centre have also marched to Chandhanee Magu.
Tourism minister Adeeb has meanwhile declared the May Day protest a failure while home minister Umar Naseer vowed that the government will never release Nasheed.
7:32pm – Protesters are heading towards the social centre following an announcement to regroup at the area at 8:00pm. The crowd on the outer road is now a few hundred.
7:30pm – Specialist Operations (SO) officers on a police vehicle are driving at high speed at protesters on Chandhanee Magu, forcing protesters to disperse into side alleys. The Chandhanee Magu-Fareedhee Magu junction is littered with bottles, flags, placards and discarded slippers.
Meanwhile, police have pushed back protesters on the outer road to the Maldives Ports Limited area.
7:25pm – Police have said that an officer was injured after a protest pickup drove through police barricades at high speed and broke through police lines. The officer is undergoing treatment.
Police have declared that the opposition protest is not peaceful and will be dispersed by police and the military.
7:11pm – Police have charged the protesters near the fish market and arrested several people.
7:07pm – A crowd of protesters near the Salsa Royal restaurant are heading towards the fish market area on the outer road.
7:04pm – Police have used tear gas again against protesters on the outer road. Protesters have been pushed back to the local market area. Police have warned that weapons will be used to disperse the crowd.
7:02pm – An arrested female protester near Seagull appears to be in serious condition after being pepper sprayed multiple times. Police have said an ambulance is on the way. Several arrests have been made in the area.
6:50pm – Military officers are readying water cannons. A police commander at the area told Minivan News that police earlier let a protest pickup pass beyond the barricade. It was stopped near the Islamic Centre.
Protesters on the outer road had thrown bottles, placards and other projectiles at police. Police used pepper spray and pushed the protesters back. Minivan News saw police beating two protesters with batons and pepper spray a man after he fell down.
6:46pm – Police have fired a stun gun grenade at protesters near the Chandanee Magu junction. At least six people have been arrested. A large number of military officers in full riot gear are also in the area as backup to police.
6:40pm – Police have used tear gas against the crowd on both the outer road and near Seagull cafe. Opposition leaders are in Boduthakurufaanu Magu. Police have declared that the protest is not peaceful and issued a last warning to disperse the crowd, saying “modern weapons” will be used and police will not bear responsibility for any injuries.
6:29pm – Police have also charged the crowd on Boduthakurufaanu Magu near the fish market. Clashes have erupted between protesters and riot police. Police are using pepper spray and pushing protesters back.
6:24pm – Police have used pepper spray and charged protesters near the STO trade centre.
6:22pm – Protesters are marching towards the Islamic Centre from three directions: Orchid Magu, Fareedhee Magu, and Boduthakurufaanu Magu. However, police and military have blocked all roads leading to the mosque with barricades. People in the area have been told to go pray at other mosques.
6:13pm – The crowd is chanting ‘Allah Akbar’ and heading towards the Islamic centre to perform dusk prayers.
6:08pm – Imran is leading the crowd in prayer. He prayed for God to grant protesters the courage to remain steadfast and persevere and to save the people from the “brutal” and “devious” of president Yameen and Adeeb.
6:00pm – Imran called on police not to “shed the blood” of protesters on Adeeb’s orders. The government’s tyranny will come to an end today, he said. The opposition alliance leaders will issue instructions on how the protest will proceed.
MDP chairperson Ali Waheed is now addressing the crowd, saying protesters will go home after securing ex-president Nasheed’s release.
5:55pm – President Yameen and tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb knows who killed MP Afrasheem Ali, says Sheikh Imran. He accused police commissioner Hussain Waheed and Adeeb of framing ex-defence minister Nazim. Adeeb is connected to international criminal organisations and President Yameen can only remain in power after negotiating with the opposition and signing an agreement, he said.
5:38pm – Protesters have started sitting down. Former ruling party MP Ahmed Mahloof is now addressing the crowd, saying protesters need to save the country from the “corruption” and “brutality” of President Abdulla Yameen’s regime.
5:33pm – “Today is a historic day,” says JP deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim. The opposition alliance is on the street to end bring an end to a “brutal” government, he said, and urged protesters not to leave the area. Loudspeakers have been set up at across Majeedhee Magu and other areas of the capital
5:21pm – Former Islamic minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari is addressing protesters at the western end of Majeedhee Magu. Standing up against brutality and tyranny is obligatory upon all Muslim, he said.
5:10pm – The tail end of the march is at the Henveiru stadium with about 200 protesters on motorbikes. The front line has reached other end of Majeedhee Magu. Minivan News estimates a turnout of at least 20,000.
5:00pm – The protest march currently spans more than half the length of Majeedhee Magu with several protesters still at artifical beach while the front line of the march has gone past Chandhanee Magu. Protesters are walking at a fast pace.
4:55pm – Protesters are chanting for Nasheed and Nazim’s release. The march has gone past Alikilegefaanu Magu now. Quran is playing on the protest pickup sound system. The tail end of the march is still at artificial beach.
4:52pm – The protest march has reached Sosun Magu.
4:50pm – MDP chairperson Ali Waheed, Sheik Imran, MDP MPs, and leaders of the Jumhooree Party (JP) are on the front line of the march.
4:43pm – The protest march has got underway with protesters streaming out of the artificial beach. The march is headed west on Majeedhee Magu. Protesters are carrying national flags as well as banners and placards calling for the release of former president Nasheed and ex-defence minister Nazim.
4:34pm – Leaders of the opposition ‘Maldivians against tyranny’ alliance have arrived at artificial beach, including main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party chairperson Ali Waheed and Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla. Addu City Mayor Abdulla Sodiq and senior members of the MDP are also at the artificial beach.
4:15pm – The area around Artificial Beach has been closed to traffic as protesters continue to arrive.
4:10pm – The opposition has set up a hotline for supporters to report arrests. They are 9666060 and 7730044.
3:57pm – Hundreds of people have started gathering at the artificial beach. Protesters are making their way to the eastern end of the capital’s main thoroughfare, Majeedhee Magu.
3:48pm – According to the union for resort workers, six resorts near the capital cancelled their weekend ferry to Malé today in a bid to prevent employees from participating in the protest. They are Meeru Island resort, Veligandu Island resort, Kuredhu Island resort, Komandoo Island resort, and Jumeirah Vittaveli, the Tourism Employees Association of the Maldives said.
3:45pm – Police officers involved in today’s operation have been given a briefing outside the police headquarters. Police told the protest organisers yesterday to suspend activities between dusk and evening prayers and to end the demonstration at midnight.
3:30pm – Over a thousand opposition supporters prayed for imprisoned ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim at noon today and for the courage to remain steadfast at a mass anti-government protest this afternoon.
The Maldives has been gripped by political turmoil since February with daily protests over what the opposition calls a lurch towards authoritarianism. Calls for revolution are growing on social media, with supporters saying they will bring an end to President Abdulla Yameen’s “tyranny” today.
The opposition rally will begin at 3:45pm from Malé’s artificial beach. The police swept the area at 2:00pm at the request of protest organisers. Three rusty knives were found, but the police say they are not connected to the protest. Thousands of opposition supporters have traveled from Maldives’ remote atolls to Malé this week to join the protest.
The government has accused the opposition Maldivians against tyranny coalition of plotting a coup, and say the police and army are at standby to break up any unlawful activities. Three were arrested late last night on suspicion of planning arson attacks and violence.
The president’s office spokesperson in a tweet said: “This government remains steadfast in upholding the law at any day, any time, any situation.”
“Mi sarukaaru miothy komme dhuvaheh, komme vagutheh, komme haalatheh gai ves qaanoonu nagahattai dhemehettumugai saabithu kamaai eku” -im
“When dictatorship is a fact, revolution becomes a right.” – Victor Hugo.
By many accounts, the atmosphere in Male’ is both festive and fearful right now. And so it would be. Today, supporters of democracy in the Maldives and those who want to prolong the increasingly autocratic regime of Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom are going head to head. Both sides are ready to give it their all, whatever happens, whatever it takes.
There is little doubt that the country is heavily divided. On the side of democracy supporters are at least 48% of the electorate who voted for Mohamed Nasheed in the 2013 election stolen by Yameen Abdul Gayoom through the Supreme Court. Added to this are a majority of the 23% who in 2013 voted for Qasim Ibrahim, the tourism tycoon who helped fund Yameen’s win and is now being persecuted by him. Also among the democracy supporters are those aligned with the religious Adhaalath Party who voted either for Qasim Ibrahim or Yameen. One of their leading figures, Sheikh Imran Abdullah, so zealously effective against Nasheed in the 2013 presidential campaign, is also now campaigning against this government. All in all, Yameen–and the autocratic values that he represents–has the support of less than 25% of the electorate, if that. A conservative estimate would, therefore, put the percentage of the Maldivian electorate against the government at around 65%. A higher figure is likely to be more accurate.
A large share of these people will be out on the streets of the capital Male’ today for what is likely to be the biggest demonstration in the history of the country.
People have come on boatloads from across the 1200 island archipelago. ‘We have travelled on different ships, but we are now all on the same boat’, observed one such protester on social media. They will all be congregating in Male’ at 3:45 in the afternoon, under the hot tropical sun. They want to rise up against the government that has refused to listen to any of their multitude of woes and worries: murders that have not been solved; abductions that have not been investigated; corruption that has been encouraged; islands that have been sold to shady businesses; lagoons that have been signed away for centuries; atolls handed to foreign governments for unknown purposes; medical care that has been negligent; basic services that have been inadequate; streets that have become too dangerous to walk; children who have not been protected; living that has become too expensive to afford; freedoms that have been severely curtailed; promises that have been unfulfilled; and lives that have become too joyless and filled with fear to enjoy. They want a government that would listen; a government of the people, for the people. And they are ready, in their tens of thousands, to come out on the street and demand all this, all theirs by right.
‘I do not want to rule with force,’ President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom has said. But short of using his own fists, he has done nothing but. All three powers of the State are entirely in his hand, though he continues to insist they are not. Some of the claims are laughable, such as his insistence that the judiciary is independent from his influence. The entire world has seen and said otherwise after the courts prosecuted and jailed opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed in the manner it did. With Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) holding an absolute majority, the parliament is his toy, too. As is the Prosecutor Generals’ Office, almost all independent commissions, and also the country’s armed forces.
With clear evidence of the partiality of these institutions laid bare on a daily basis, Yameen’s claims of not exercising undue influence makes him frequently look like Iraq’s Comical Ali: Maldives’ own Comical Abdulla.
The government has been preparing for the protest by banning civil servants from attending the rally, by firing pro-democracy staff in government-run institutions, and by producing and repeating the narrative that to protest is to destroy the country’s peace–as if there can be peace when a majority of the people are refusing to be ruled against their will. None of it is working. Desperate, it has wheeled out religious clerics to say it is against Islam to rise up against an elected leader. Sadly for the government, a majority of Maldivian clerics–having helped instigate the February 2012 coup which brought down the country’s first democratically elected–government, has little credibility left in this department.
In the meantime, Yameen’s right hand man, the financially rich but morally bankrupt Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb, has tried to heat things up further, challenging the protesters to ‘bring it on!’ He has said the government is ready to take on anyone that disagrees with it. There is fear, as well as compelling room for conviction, among democracy supporters that Adeeb–’bro’ to hundreds of gangsters–would not hesitate to bring the ‘boys’ out on the streets today. The plan would be, as has been executed many times before, to get his thugs to pretend they are part of the protest, and commit acts of violence in response to which the SO can unleash their own violence against the peaceful thousands marching for their rights.
The security forces
The Maldives Police Service has become one of the country’s least respected institutions. With a Police Commissioner of little education and even less knowledge of policing at the helm–appointed solely for his loyalty to Yameen–the force has become even more disliked than it was after the 7 February which a group of them facilitated. Since Hussein Waheed became Commissioner, the police have been deployed to do a lot of Yameen’s dirty work–framing political opponents, freeing criminal allies, and brutalising democracy activists. Members of theSpecial Operations police (SO)–supposedly an ‘elite’ group–have become such lackeys of the president that they are even attending to the president’s superstitions, carrying out ‘top secret’ midnight operations to cut down trees that were supposedly cursed against the government.
The only people looking forward to the protests as much as, or even more, than the protesters themselves today are the police. From everything they have said and done since today’s protests were announced, they have been preparing for this day. In the last week there have been almost daily press briefings all of which have included threats, intimidation and announcements of new measures to curb the right to freedom of assembly. They have all but imposed visa requirements on people travelling to Male’ from other islands for the protests, demanding they have accommodation, food and other arrangements pre-booked before travelling. They have instigated stop and search operations targeted at boats en route to Male’; paraded troops with imitation guns, banned batons, and gas canisters to perform ‘training exercises’; and they have used ‘intelligence reports’ to arbitrarily arrest leading opposition activists. They have arbitrarily banned the media from certain areas; and banned protests ‘between two prayer times’ — as if there is any time that’s not between one of the five daily prayers. They have warned that caution must be exercised near mosques and schools – as if there is any area on the two square kilometres of Male’ that is not near a mosque or a school. They have said no sound systems can be used after 11:00p.m and that it must all end at sharp midnight. They have declared the protest, yet to begin, ‘not peaceful’. They have announced a strategy of zero tolerance. Any infringement of the growing list of illegally actions, at anytime during the protest, by anyone, and ‘we will crackdown’, they have said.
Strength in unity
Not everyone who supports democracy, wants to protest the unjust incarceration of Nasheed, and rise up against the current government, can join the march today. There are many valid reasons to hold people back–mothers who cannot leave their children; the unwell; people who believe they simply cannot risk their livelihoods; people who cannot be in Male’ for various reasons; and more. But, no matter how hard the government and the police would like to believe otherwise, fear is the last reason holding any democracy supporter back from the streets of Male’ today. Together, the people are stronger than any government, no matter how brutal.
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With additional reporting by Ismail Humaam Hamid and Zaheena Rasheed.
The Maldives’ capital city Malé is gearing up for a mass anti-government rally tomorrow. The day will kick off with prayers at dawn and at noon. Protesters have been told to wear comfortable shoes and clothes for the official demonstration, which will start from the Artificial Beach at 3:30pm.
Supporters from Maldives’ remote atolls are continuing to arrive by the thousands, and the opposition has set hashtags #EkehFaheh15 (OneFive15) and #AniyaaverikanNinmman (To end tyranny) for the day, and started circulating leaflets on how to reduce the effects of pepper spray and tear gas.
Supporters say they are determined to “end the government’s tyranny” and free imprisoned ex president Mohamed Nasheed and former defence minister Mohamed Nazim.
Meanwhile, tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb has accused the opposition of plotting to overthrow President Abdulla Yameen’s government as the police continued riot control exercises on Malé’s streets.
“We expect the security forces to confront us, but we have no fear,” a smiling Khadeeja Ibrahim, 49, told Minivan News outside the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) offices at noon today.
She was among a group of MDP members who were about to deliver tens of thousands of petitions calling for Nasheed’s freedom to the president’s office. The police turned them back.
Across town, Ibrahim Nadheem, 26, who works in a grocery shop and is studying to become a Quran teacher said Nasheed “brought me hope, he had a vision for the youth, that we should grow up to be skilled and educated citizens.”
Nadheem’s face is disfigured by a broken nose after a police officer punched him during a protest in 2012.
At the airport, Mohamed Zubair, who suffered serious head injuries in a brutal police crackdown in February 2012, says he is ready to sacrifice again for Nasheed’s freedom. “Today I am hopeful.”
Nasheed and Nazim’s imprisonment has united former bitter rivals, the Adhaalath Party, the Jumhooree Party and the MDP, who now say President Yameen is out to silence all dissent.
The opposition called for the demonstration when Yameen turned down repeated calls for dialogue despite months of nationwide protests. The president made a record number of public appearances this week and has appealed to the armed forces to defend his administration.
Among government employees, paranoia and fear is high. Employees at the state-owned electricity company, STELCO, the Maldives Ports Limited (MPL) and the immigration department say their superiors have threatened them with dismissal if they are seen at the protests.
“We are all afraid, I can’t go. I don’t want to lose my job, I have to pay rent and take care of my family,” one 43-year-old man, who works in STELCO, told Minivan News.
The MPL has meanwhile arranged a BBQ at 1:30pm and a dinner for all of its employees tomorrow, in a move opposition supporting workers say is aimed at keeping them away from the protest.
“We’ve also been told if anyone of us is seen at the protests, we will be dismissed immediately,” an employee who wished to remain anonymous said.
The home ministry this week said it has received reports that dozens of island council members are traveling to Malé on state expenses to take part in the protests, and has asked the anti-corruption watchdog to take action.
The department of judicial administration has also demanded island offices to provide information on magistrates and judicial sector employees who have traveled to the capital this week.
Meanwhile, a website set up for the Mayday protest was hacked and a photo of president Yameen and the PPM logo was put up with the words: “Go back to your homes if you want peaceful Maldives.”
On social media, opposition supporters called for revolution.
The police have also raised concerns over violence, saying they have received reports protesters will harm police officers and attack the residences of cabinet ministers. Tonight, they issued a statement telling protesters to suspend activities for the hour between the dusk and evening prayers and said the demonstration must end by midnight.
Adhaalath Party (AP) president Sheikh Imran Abdulla said last night that protesters will perform the evening prayers on the street after a special prayer at sunset, advising protesters to bring prayer mats.
The police have released several photos and videos of protest control trainings this week.
The AP, which has claimed responsibility for organising the protest, must bear legal costs for any unlawful activities that may take place before or after protests, the police said.
Some opposition supporters fears of attacks by gangs, who are allegedly controlled by tourism minister Adeeb. Gangsters have attacked protesters in recent months with knives and vandalised their equipment.
Police preparation for May Day is just a show. It will not be the police, but Adheeb’s gangs confronting peaceful protestors tomorrow. — Mickail Naseem (@MickailNaseem) April 30, 2015
Individuals who said they will not attend the protests cited concern over a possible confrontation between police and protesters.
“I am not happy with the idea of protesting, it creates too much conflict. The end result will not be good,” said 49-year-old Maryam Waheedha.
A fisherman who wished to remain anonymous “for the safety of his family” told Minivan News that he was unhappy with the government, but did not like to protest.
“I used to make 3,000 rufiyaa a week from two baskets of fish before Yameen came to power. But now I am not able to make that in a month even with a ton of fish,” he claimed.
Pro-government supporters denounced the opposition as power-hungry, but said they expect tomorrow’s turnout to be high.
Mohamed Waheed, 36, said; “We will not go to the protest, we will be sleeping on May 1. I do think there will be a good turn out at the protest, big enough to pressure the government.”
Former first lady Laila Ali has lodged a petition with the UN requesting a judgement declaring former president Mohamed Nasheed’s detention illegal and arbitrary.
Laila and Nasheed’s international legal team is seeking an opinion from the UN working group on arbitrary detention declaring that his imprisonment for 13 years on a terrorism charge violates the Maldives’ obligations under the international covenant on civil and political rights and the universal declaration on human rights.
The charge relates to the military detention of a criminal court judge during his tenure.
The UN judgment should also “call for his immediate release; request the government investigate and hold to account all those responsible for his unlawful arrest, detention, trial, and imprisonment; and request the government award Nasheed compensation for the harm caused by being deprived of his liberty,” the petition stated.
Briefing the US press in Washington DC with lawyers Amal Clooney and Jared Genser, Laila said Nasheed’s absence was difficult for her and the couple’s two children.
“[But] I also have hope, I have hope because my international legal team has just filed a petition to the United Nations looking in upon arbitrary detention documenting the evidence that my husband’s detention is illegal and in violation of international law,” she said.
She also expressed concern about the health and safety of her husband.
“I am here today as a wife and a mother of two young daughters. I have always tried to maintain a private life for myself and for my daughters. I’m speaking out now because my husband has been silenced and not in a position to speak for himself,” said Laila.
Amal meanwhile said the conviction was “clearly designed to punish him for criticising the government and to remove him from the political scene.”
She noted that Nasheed had been arrested over 20 times during the 30-year reign of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and “subjected to blatantly political trials”.
Nasheed’s treatment under Gayoom’s half-brother, current president Abdulla Yameen “is no different, perhaps a tiny bit less transparent,” she said.
The terrorism charges followed the exit of Jumhooree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim from the ruling coalition, she continued, which bolstered Nasheed’s chances of winning the next presidential election.
After placing third with 24 percent of the vote in the 2013 polls, Gasim’s endorsement of Yameen in the second round run-off was crucial for the latter’s victory. Nasheed had emerged the front-runner in the first round of polls with 46 percent of the vote.
Gasim’s alliance with Nasheed “clearly became too much” for president Yameen, she contended.
The criminal court’s 19-day trial violated due process and compromised the basic guarantee of presumption of innocence, Amal argued.
She noted that Nasheed was not allowed to present defence witnesses while key witnesses had said they simply assumed Nasheed ordered the arrest of criminal court chief judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.
“This was considered more than sufficient for the judges to convict him” said Amal.
She contended Nasheed never ordered Judge Abdulla Mohamed’s arrest and said: “Nor could these events even if they true, on any rational analysis constitute the crime of terrorism with the severe penalties that this carries,” she added.
Amal said that the court had said that there is no need to call for defense witnesses because such witnesses “would not be able to refute the evidence submitted by the prosecution”.
“This tells you everything you need to know about the process. Because why call a defense witness, if you already know that the verdict is going to be guilty,” she said.
Testimony from two of the three presiding judges were also included in the prosecution’s submission to the trial. “It’s difficult to imagine a clearer case of judicial partiality,” Amal said.
Nasheed was also denied legal representation during the first hearing of the trial, while the judges later refused to grant him the opportunity to appoint legal counsel when the opposition leader’s legal team resigned in protest against the court’s refusal to grant sufficient time to mount a defence.
She also referred to police “manhandling and physically dragging Nasheed to the court room” after he attempted to talk to reporters outside the court building.
Amal also noted president Nasheed’s global advocacy for climate change and his decades-long struggle for human rights in the Maldives.
“He paid the price for his courage and popularity,” she said.