The former ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) commemorated the eighth anniversary of the brutal crackdown of the pro-democracy demonstration on ‘Black Friday’ August 12 and 13, 2004 with a special rally last night.
The rally featured video presentations about systematic torture under the regime of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and testimony of victims of the crackdown on the unprecedented 22-hour public gathering at the Republic Square.
Addressing a capacity crowd at artificial beach last night, former President Mohamed Nasheed said that Black Friday was the day that the Maldivian people started to believe that they could assert their will and power over the government.
“It was the day when the Maldivian people found courage,” he said. “It was the day when the people started to believe that they could come out and reverse the autocratic rule of this country and eradicate torture and brutality.”
The former Amnesty International ‘prisoner of conscience’ paid tribute to the hundreds of demonstrators and reformist MPs arrested and beaten by the former National Security Service (NSS) on August 13.
Nasheed urged reformists to “continue the journey” begun on August 12 and 13 with the lessons of the past eight years, vowing not to stop the fight “until true freedom and independence is established in this country.”
The hopes of the Maldivian people for a better future was “tied to forming a civilised security forces,” Nasheed said, adding that everyone in the police and army were not “bad and ruthless people.”
It was MDP’s “duty” to work with numerous youth and experienced officers “of a national spirit” in the security services to reform the institutions, he continued.
Nasheed said he was “certain beyond doubt” that the Commission of National Inquiry’s (CNI) report would note that a number of mutinous officers of the security forces committed crimes and unlawful acts on February 7.
“After CoNI’s report, we should only go back home after bringing them to justice,” he said.
He added that the nation could not be held as the “spoils of war by a few police and army officers.”
‘The hidden baton’
Speaking at the rally, former Male’ MP and first president of MDP, Ibrahim ‘Ibra’ Ismail, argued that the “biggest success for the people” on August 12 and 13 was to show the outside world as well as the Maldivian people “the culture of brutality concealed by Gayoom.”
“The hidden baton” was made exposed through the efforts of reformists, said Ibra, which was put away after Gayoom’s election defeat only to be brought out again on February 7, 2012.
“This is not something the Maldivian people will accept. You cannot tie the tongues of the Maldivian people again. Today, the Maldivian people no longer fear that baton,” he said.
In a video message aired at the rally, Naushad Waheed – brother of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik – spoke of torture in jails during President Gayoom’s 30-year reign.
Naushad, former deputy high commissioner to the UK, warned that those in power would not willingly relinquish it regardless of the conclusions of CNI’s report, urging MDP to remain vigilant and within legal bounds.
Former Special Majlis MP Mohamed ‘Nafa’ Naseem meanwhile said that the reformists drew courage from the months spent in Dhoonidhoo detention island following the crackdown on August 13.
“If I remember correctly, more than 300 people were put in jail for a long period,” he said. “I never saw anyone cry out of fear. Everyone was smiling. [We] crossed the threshold of fear.”
In a video interview, Mariyam Manike – mother of Evan Naseem, who was beaten to death in Maafushi prison on September 19, 2003 – recounted her treatment at the hands of NSS officers after her arrest outside her residence on August 13.
Manike said she was beaten by NSS officers after being taken to the main army barracks and was kept for hours with her hands cuffed behind her back.
NSS officers threatened to kill her while one officer told her that “this is the handcuff your son was wearing when we killed him,” Manike said.