President Nasheed has promised that the Maldives Police Service will investigate claims made by local historian Ahmed Shafeeg in his book, that 111 Maldivian citizens were held in custody and tortured by the former administration.
The claims led former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to declare that he would file a court case against Shafeeg for politically-motivated slander.
Spokesman for the former president, Mohamed Hussain ‘Mundhu’ Shareef, did not respond to Minivan News at time of press. However the former president’s lawyer, Mohamed Waheed Ibrahim, was cited in newspaper Miadhu as saying that lawsuits would be filed “against anyone who writes anything untrue and unfounded against Gayoom”, and that all such cases so far had been won.
During a ceremony at the Nasandhura Palace Hotel this morning to launch Shafeeg’s book, titled “A Day in the Life of Ahmed Shafeeg”, Nasheed observed that the former President was not solely to blame for human rights violations.
“The [human rights] violations were not committed by Gayoom alone. A whole system committed them. The whole culture of the Maldives committed them,” he said.
Shafeeg, now 82, was held in solitary confinement for 83 days in 1995 together with three other writers, including Hassan Ahmed Maniku, Ali Moosa Didi and Mohamed Latheef.
Shafeeg contends that 50 of his diaries containing evidence relating to the deaths of the 111 Maldivians were confiscated during a raid by 15 armed men. He was ultimately released by Gayoom with without charge, and was told by the investigating officer to write a letter of appreciation to the then-President for the pardon.
The lawyer representing Shafeeg, Abdulla Haseen, said the family intended now intended to press five charges against the former president after the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) rejected the case, claiming it was outside the commission’s mandate.
The President added that he knew the events chronicled by Shafeeg very well.
“Back then, from 1989 and 1990 onward, I spent a very long time – three years in total – in jail. Of that I spent 18 months in solitary confinement, and nine of those months in the tin cell,” he said.
All Maldivian rulers had employed fear to govern, Nasheed said, and he had always believed that Gayoom had him arrested and tortured to serve as a cautionary tale as the former president and his senior officials were already aware of the intent of “a whole generation” to topple his government since the early 80s.
“So the decision to put me through every imaginable torture in the world from the very beginning as an example to all those people was made, in my view, not because of any animosity President Maumoon had towards me personally,” Nasheed said.
He added that Gayoom alone could not be blamed for all the human rights abuses that occurred under his watch.
“It was not done by him alone. It was a whole system that did it. It was Dhivehi tradition that did it. It was Dhivehi culture that did it,” he said.
The President said said he thought that Gayoom’s decision to take legal action against the 82 year-old historian, who has lasting physical and mental damage from his ordeal, “is going beyond the limits.”
“I ask President Maumoon very sincerely and respectfully, don’t do this,” Nasheed said. “Go to Shafeeg. Go and ask for his forgiveness. This is not the time to come out and say ‘I’m going to sue Shafeeg.’ If you want to sue Shafeeg now, you will have to sue me. That is because I will repeat what Shafeeg is saying fourfold.”
Nasheed urged the former President to seek forgiveness, as he believed Gayoom had the “foresight and learning” as well as “capability and talent”, and had made “many contributions to the country.”
Together with allegations of corruption in the former administration, such as those aired by former Auditor General Ibrahim Naeem prior to his dismissal by the opposition-controlled parliament, allegations of torture remain one of the most politically divisive topics in the Maldives.
Opinions – very strongly held – oscillate between a desire for justice and a desire to move on, a desire for revenge and a desire for reconciliation.
Given the current state of the Maldives judiciary, sensitivity of the issue and extreme political polarisation of the country, it is likely that any verdict with even a remote chance of being accepted by both sides would need to come from an international court. Shafeeg’s family have indicated that they are prepared for this course of action should legal proceedings falter in the Maldives.