Comment: #findmoyaameehaa

This article first appeared on Dhivehi Sitee. Republished with permission.

Thursday night, two weeks ago, was the last time anyone saw Ahmed Rizwan Abdulla, 28-year-old journalist, blogger, human rights advocate and all-round great person.

A lot—yet nothing—has happened since Rizwan was reported missing to the Maldives Police Service (MPS) on 13 August.

On 15 August Rizwan’s family and friends organised a search of Hulhumalé, the island neighbouring Male’ on which Rizwan lives on his own. Starting with the desolate, deserted areas—-of which there are many—-the search party combed the whole island. It was in vain.

On 16 August Rizwan’s friends and colleagues, who obtained CCTV footage from the Malé-Hulhumalé ferry terminal from the night he was last seen, identified him on camera buying a ticket and going into the waiting area to board the 1:00 a.m. ferry on 8 August. This footage has since been made public. For the next twenty minutes or so—-the amount of time it takes for the ferry to reach Hulhumalé—-Rizwan was on Twitter. Between 1:02 a.m. he sent out 11 (mostly re-) Tweets, beginning with this one, which said he had just boarded the ferry:

His last Tweet was at 1:17 a.m three minutes before the ferry would have reached Hulhumalé.  According to Rizwan’s employer, Minivan News, he sent a Viber message at 1:42 a.m. The newspaper further reports that according to Rizwan’s telephone service provider that his mobile phone was last used at 2:36 a.m. at a location in Male’. Since then, nothing.

There was a shocking development to the story a few days after the search for Rizwan began. On the night he was last seen, two witnesses saw a man being abducted from outside Rizwan’s apartment around 2:00 a.m. Minivan News, which withheld the information until it was made public by other news outlets, published details of the abduction on 18 August. The witnesses heard screaming and saw the captive, held at knife point by a tall thin man, being bundled into a red car which drove away at speed. The witnesses contacted the police immediately. They also recovered a knife from the scene. The police took a statement and confiscated the knife.

And that was that.

It is mind-boggling that there were no searches in Hulhumalé after eye-witness reports of an abduction, no sealing off of exits to and from the island, no investigation in and around the area of the abduction to at least ascertain who had been bundled into the car. If the police had done any of this, Rizwan’s family would have been aware of his disappearance so much sooner. Two weeks on, the police still don’t seem to have managed to locate the red car—-this on a 700 hectare island with the total number of cars totalling around fifty, if that.

Outrage at police ‘incompetence’ has grown steadily as days turn into weeks without news of Rizwan’s whereabouts. MPS’ reaction to the criticism has been petulant, like an offended prima donna. It issued a long statement demanding that the public stop criticising police given how brilliant they obviously are; and, unbelievably, proceeded to hold a press conference about Rizwan to which all media outlets bar his own Minivan News was invited.

Speculation that MPS does not want Rizwan found is becoming fact as time passes with no leads. How incompetent does a force have to be to remain clueless about how a person was abducted from a small island? How many red cars can be hidden on such a small piece of land, surrounded by the sea? How difficult would it be to locate the individuals caught on CCTV following Rizwan at the ferry terminal in Male’? It is common knowledge that life in Male’ is now governed by an ‘unholy alliance’ of ‘born-again’ fanatically ‘religious’ gangsters and thugs controlled by politicians and fundamentalists.

Whatever the police is driven by—fear, complicity, support—it is certain the government shares its ‘could not care less’ attitude. President Yameen’s callous response on 20 August to news of Rizwan’s disappearance confirmed this: ‘I cannot comment on anything and everything that happens, can I? The police are probably looking into it.’

It is as if the disappearance of a young man, a journalist and well-known human rights advocate—the first incident of its kind in the Maldives—is as routine as a mislaid shopping list. The President, who campaigned as saviour of the youth population, had not a word to say about the abduction and disappearance a young man of vast potential. Yameen chose, instead, to wax lyrical on his success at begging in China, having procured a 100 million US dollars in aid money for building a bridge between Malé and Hulhumalé, the island where Rizwan is feared to have been abducted from.

Who wants a bridge to an island that is so unsafe? An island where women are raped in broad daylight and young men disappear without a trace? Where gangsters and violent extremists rule, where the police turn a blind eye to crime and where the streets have no lights?

It is quite extraordinary that a president of a country sees no need to express concern for a citizen whose sudden disappearance has led to statements from international bodies ranging from the UN Human Rights Commissionerto media associations such as Reporters Without Borders, CPJIFJ and South Asia Media Solidarity Network as well as news outlets and human rights advocates in the region and across the world.

In some of this week’s news coverage, Rizwan’s name is on top of the world’s missing journalists’ list. According to Minivan News, many foreign diplomats based in Colombo have made the time to listen to its concerns about Rizwan’s abduction.

Perhaps prompted by diplomatic concern, over a week after Rizwan’s disappearance became public knowledge, the Maldives Foreign Ministry finally issued a hastily put together statement yesterday, full of factual and other types of mistakes, expressing a perfunctory concern hard to accept as sincere.

While the politicians, the gangsters and the religious fanatics with their support of Jihad, beheadings and other forms of killing trip over each other to ignore, laugh about, cover-up and prevent knowledge of what has happened to Rizwan, friends, family, and admirers of his deep humanity, are unflagging in their hopes and efforts to find him safe and sound.

It is on social media, where he is known as Moyameeha, that Rizwan has made his widest impact. The Maldivian Twitter community is especially bereft without his presence. It is not surprising. The off-line Maldivian society has been largely taken over by gangs, zealots and bigots. There is no safe place for people like Rizwan—with bold ideas, open minds and creativity—to come together in real life. So they gather on Twitter—the most free of modern media platforms—exchange thoughts, discuss politics, make poetry and music, argue, joke, laugh, and cry, become friends and form the kind of free, liberal and tolerant public sphere they cannot have off-line. Rizwan is a shining star of that community, one of its well-liked and giving members. The community wants him back.

Close friends have set-up a website, findmoyameeha.com, where everything that is officially  said and done in relation to Rizwan’s disappearance is gathered in one place. It also counts every passing second since he went missing. Friends have also set up Facebook pages dedicated to finding Rizwan while existing Facebook pages that support him have created a repository of online tributes:

Bloggers, who look up to him as one of the first to make an impact in the sphere, have been paying homage, re-finding and sharing some of his most moving posts. Rizwan’s friends discuss his poetry, his love of music (and obsession with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan), his enthusiasm for Dhivehi language, folklore and history, and most of all his never-ending good nature and empathy. Even the deeply divided and highly politicised journalistic community appears to be waking from a deep slumber, and putting their differences aside to demand that efforts to find Rizwan be stepped up.

Over the past few years the Maldives Police Service has become highly adept at being ‘incompetent’, at being ‘unable’ to solve the crimes they don’t want solved while putting all their efforts into hunting down bootleggers, cannabis smokers and petty criminals. If they catch any major offenders, the corrupt judiciary lets them go; so why bother? This being police ‘best practice’, a majority of the Maldivian population now choose to ‘forget’ unsolved crimes, stop asking questions, and carry on as nothing happened.

Not this time. Rizwan’s family, friends, supporters and like-minded journalists are not going to stop asking questions and looking for answers. Because if they do, it is the last nail in the coffin of Rizwan’s vision—shared by those looking for him—of a tolerant Maldivian society in which people are free to think, embrace diversity and difference, be creative, live safely and have the right to peace and happiness.

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Tourists blissfully unaware of Islamist tide in Maldives: Irish Times

“On arrival in the Maldives, holidaymakers bound for the exclusive resort of Gili Lankanfushi are whisked from the airport to a speedboat, given a freshly prepared coconut to sip and a cloth bag bearing a slogan: ‘No News, no Shoes.’ The idea is to place your shoes in the bag during the 20-minute boat journey and forget them, along with distressing world events, for the duration of your stay at the tropical island paradise,” writes the Irish Times.

“Avoiding the headlines may be no bad thing while watching sea turtles swim under your luxurious water villa, or while walking barefoot along the sparkling lagoon’s palm-shaded white beaches. It is certainly no bad thing for the Maldivian tourism industry, because the news is not good from this resort archipelago of some 1,200 low-lying coral islands in the Indian Ocean.

“In April, following a 60-year moratorium, the Muslim country’s government reactivated the death penalty. Facilities are being built at a prison on Maafushi Island to have murder convicts executed by lethal injection. The age of criminal responsibility in the Maldives is 10, but children as young as seven – who may be found guilty of certain crimes under Islamic sharia – could now potentially face a death sentence.”

Read more

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Comment: Waheed flees with MVR 500,000 in cash and no dignity

This article first appeared on Dhivehi Sitee. Republished with permission.

Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik has fled the Maldives with MVR500,000 (US$34,000) in cash and no dignity. Last night, at around 10:30 pm while opposing candidates and their supporters were busy holding their last campaign rallies ahead of tomorrow’s vote, Waheed hastily got into a speedboat waiting at the jetty straight in front of his Office and beat a retreat.

Dr Manik, was the Vice President in the first democratically elected government of the Maldives but betrayed President Mohamed Nasheed on 7 February 2012 as the facade that portrayed the day’s coup as ‘a legitimate transfer of power’. He ran for President in September this year but managed to garner only 5% of the vote. He remained as ‘President’ for 21 months, the last three days of which were beyond the presidential term he illegally occupied.

He recorded a ‘farewell speech’ aired this morning on all television channels some 12 hours after his departure. He spent his last words on defending his decision to side with the coup-makers – “I was treated very badly as a VP!”; on insisting that the Supreme Court is the final authority on the Constitution – “we have to obey the Supreme Court, no matter what!”; on boasting about how he maintained peace and stability in the Maldives – “I did that under so many difficulties!”; and on praising the security forces for their “defence of the Maldives and our people.”

He sounded bitter, and was determined, even at the last minute, to attack his former President.

While hiding in whatever glorious mansion of Macau that he is in, he told anyone watching Maldivian television that Nasheed had ordered the military to use rubber bullets against the mutinying police on 7 February. Retired Brigadier General Ibrahim Didi appeared on television this afternoon to refute Waheed: “How would he know? He was not there.”

Waheed spent the night of the worst crisis in recent Maldivian history hiding inside the official residence while his wife Ilham dolled herself up for the presidential oath taking ceremony planned for later in the day.

Without Waheed, the coup-makers would not have been able to legitimise their illegal overthrow of the first democratically elected government of the Maldives, of which he was the Vice President. Without Waheed, the traitors would not have been able to hold on to power for 21 months, and without Waheed as a fig leaf, they would not have been able to drain public coffers of all money, renege on international agreements, destroy Maldives’ relations with the international community and allow Adhaalath Party’s Islamists to gain such traction in our socio-political affairs.

“I will have to consider what the atmosphere is like in Maldives,” he told Haveeru yesterday when asked if he plans to return. Waheed has a reputation for fleeing – when things got tough back in the 1990s when he was an MP, he ran off abroad for a job in the United Nations. He has boasted that he provided education for millions of women in Afghanistan when he was posted there after the American invasion. In the lead up to these presidential elections, he was asked on TVM’s RiyaaC programme if he would stay or flee should he lose: “I will stay,” he lied.

Waheed is one of the biggest traitors in the history of the Maldives. He is also one of its biggest cowards.

Dr Azra Naseem has a PhD in International Relations

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to editorial@minivannewsarchive.com

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Comment: When you’re voteless in the Maldives, resistance is not futile

This article first appeared on Dhivehi Sitee. Republished with permission.

Saturday dawned as crisp, sunny and beautiful as any other day in the Maldives. The clear blue skies belied the dark cloud that descended over a majority of the country’s population after the beleaguered Elections Commission announced shortly before midnight on Friday that the Supreme Court, and other allied state institutions, had left it with no choice but to call off the second round.

What the Elections Commission has been forced to call off is hope — the expectation that democracy will be restored in the Maldives on 11 November 2013.

For 19 long months, a majority of Maldivians have dedicated most of their lives to winning back democracy from the authoritarian gang that came to power on 7 February 2012. The fight has been all-consuming and has affected every single Maldivian one way or another.

In the immediate aftermath of the coup came the violent confrontations with the security forces. Hundreds were beaten up, arbitrarily arrested, detained without charge, and ordered to obey, or else. Basic human rights—freedom of assembly and expression—were rolled back. Foreign ties were broken coldly, with little care for international norms or the inevitable consequences. The economy suffered blow after blow, leading to bankruptcy with little hope for recovery in the foreseeable future.

Working with unscrupulous ‘religious scholars’, intense nationalism was promoted in parallel with virulent xenophobia against any foreign actor that promoted democracy. Ties with autocratic regimes were fostered, along with relations with international gangsters known for drug trafficking and money laundering. National assets were sold off and deals made with unscrupulous foreign governments that spoke democracy but acted with nothing but their own national interest in mind. Unexplained murders, gang-related crimes, drug abuse and sexual offences increased exponentially.

The international community’s decision to condone the coup and endorse it as ‘a legitimate transfer of power’ was a major blow, but not enough to kill the Maldivian people’s desire for democratic governance. In the face of intense pressure from the international community to obey, to put stability before rights, to follow ‘the democratic process’, combined with brutal force by domestic authorities, the street protests could not be sustained. But supporters of democracy did not give up. Led by Mohamed Nasheed and the Maldivian Democratic Party, Maldivians channeled their frustrated hopes into campaigning for a democratic election instead of protesting on the streets.

MDP’s presidential campaign has been an exemplary democratic exercise – the ‘costed and budgeted’ manifesto it brought out in August this year is the embodiment of a majority of Maldivians’ hopes and dreams for the future. It is based on views and opinions gathered from people on every inhabited island and it envisions a future in which the Maldivian people will, at long last, be empowered to work for their own socio-economic progress under a government that a majority of them have elected of their own free choice. Of course, it is naive to think that every desire would be fulfilled, but at least everyone was asked what they wanted, everyone had a say, and everyone could take ownership of their own future. No such bottom-up exercise has ever been conducted in the long authoritarian history of the Maldives.

On 7 September, 88 percent of the electorate turned out to vote. 45.45 percent of them voted for Mohamed Nasheed, 25.35 percent for Abdulla Yameen, 24.07 percent for Gasim Ibrahim, and 5.13 percent for Mohamed Waheed. Nasheed did not get the 50 percent plus one needed for an outright win, but the Maldivian map, from north to south, was all yellow at the end of voting that day. Most people in all atolls bar two want a democratic government led by Nasheed.

The authoritarians know this, always did. Plan B was there from the start – let them have their vote if they must, but the results will always be ours, as we want it. Over a thousand observers, local and foreign, verified the election as free and fair. Except for minor errors, expected in any election anywhere in the world, it went without a hitch. Only 25 percent of the Maldivian people want Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s autocratic rule to continue. That’s when the stubborn septuagenarian called in all the stops and brought into full play the dregs of dictatorship that continued to infect Maldivian democracy throughout the three years or so it lasted.

Gayoom has played his old house-boy Gasim well. Taking full advantage of Gasim’s indignation about not having received the votes he paid for, Gayoom has dictated most of the Supreme Court bench – the most corrupt of the many corrupt state institutions – to rule in Gasim’s favour, bringing the Maldives to where it is today: a constitutional vacuum into which Gayoom can effortlessly step in and ‘rescue’ us from ourselves. If Gasim thinks that Gayoom will let him take the president’s oath on November 11, he is an even bigger fool than he has repeatedly shown himself to be.

The Supreme Court did not just issue an injunction against the second round, it also ordered the security forces to act against anyone who tries to go ahead with the polls. One can only imagine the elation of the baton-happy coup-Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz who immediately deployed his forces to the Elections Commission, sealing the Commissioner and staff off from interaction with anyone local or foreign.

Efforts for mediation by the international community were not just prevented by the police, but strongly criticised by Gayoom’s minions. With his daughter at the helm of foreign relations as the State Minister of Foreign Affairs, it summoned India’s High Commissioner for a good telling-off for attempting to help disenfranchised Maldivians. The government has not stopped spurning the international community since, and will not stop until it becomes clear to everybody – at long last – that Gayoom and his followers will not allow democracy in the Maldives, whatever it takes.

The truth of the matter is, and has been since 7 February 2012, is that there will be no election in the Maldives as long as Nasheed, the champion of the Maldivian democratic movement, is in the running. So the focus has now returned to the farcical prosecution of Nasheed, through the very courts that have proved again and again that they are neither independent nor respectful of the ‘judicial process’. The machinations are fully underway to annul the first round and put Nasheed behind bars before calling fresh elections, if there are to be any. Reports say Gayoom himself is planning to run if and when new elections are held, his ‘economist’ brother having failed to live up to family expectations by not being able to garner much support.

Having lived under Gayoom for most of their lives, a majority of Maldivians remain oblivious to the fact that indefinitely delaying the elections is a robbery of their fundamental right to vote, and not just that of MDP members or supporters of Nasheed. Their gloating about the cancellation of the election is both sad and sickening. They will do everything in their power to help bring Gayoom, and their own enslavement, back to life.

For the rest of Maldivians, the only choice left is to refuse to obey. Power, contrary to popular belief, is not something that can be taken away by force. It can only be given away, by the people, if we so decide.

Resisting a full-fledged authoritarian reversal has been a long hard slog that has taken a heavy emotional, financial and social toll on all of us. Sustaining the resistance will be difficult, and all out civil disobedience would be even harder; but do it we must, if we are to be in control of our own destiny. What we must keep in mind is: nobody can govern us without our consent. It is within our power not to give it.

Dr Azra Naseem has a PhD in International Relations

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to editorial@minivannewsarchive.com

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Comment: A Jumhoree Maldives?

This article was first published on DhivehiSitee.com. Republished with permission.

I went with a friend to the Jumhoree Maalan on Majeedhee Magu last night to get a copy of the Jumhoree Party manifesto.

The Maalan is a vast space of two floors, on a piece of land well over 2000 square feet. Part of it, towards the back, is cordoned off with a big red banner saying ‘Voting Booth’. Two men sat at a table to the side – they looked the closest thing to receptionists we could find. We asked them for a manifesto.

For some reason, the request surprised them. They called over a harried looking man, ‘Ahammadhey’. He agreed to give us a copy and walked over to a room at the back with a big bunch of keys. JP manifesto is kept under lock and key, like a tightly guarded trade secret. He brought us each a little leaflet, a six page summary of the People’s Manifesto: Development Certain.

The frontpage is an illustration of JP’s vision for Maldives. There’s a small island to the far right, connected to an ‘Islamic city’ rising from the sea. The entire shoreline is dominated by a mosque which itself dominates a university standing adjacent, to the left. There’s one or two trees, a crane busily constructing more buildings in a concrete jungle.

A father and son are at the forefront of the picture, walking into the mosque together. They are the nucleus, the centre of the universe as imagined by JP. A woman is somewhere in the distant background, attending to a little household chore, as women do. The only other person is a figure of non-distinctive gender, standing on a bridge. S/he looks about to jump off it. A Maldivian flag is the tallest of all things, rising above everything except the minaret. Not one but two suns shine down on this JP idyll.

There’s quite a few things—eighty three to be exact— that JP promises will happen to make this vision a reality. It begins with the promise to build an Islamic university, followed by the promise to include Nationalism as a separate subject in the national curriculum. Four regional institutes for ‘Arab Islamic learning’ will be established across the country. Next to religion is crime and punishment. Better forensics, more surveillance, better trained police with its own ‘world class’ Police Academy and an all powerful Anti-Drug Agency that will ‘completely stop’ Male’s thriving drug trade.

We asked Ahammadhey if he could talk us through some of the pledges. ‘I am a masakkathu meeha [handyman],’ he said. ‘I don’t know what’s in it.’Ahammmadhay went to fetch us a man more familiar with what JP wants to do for us people. The resident expert turned out to be Umar Bey [Mohamed Hameed], who used to teach in Majeediyya School and is a familiar figure to thousands, like us, of Male’ voters.

‘Can you tell us a little bit more about the pledges here?’

‘It’s pretty straightforward, is it not?’

‘Can we have a copy of the full manifesto?’

‘I don’t have it. To be honest, I haven’t seen it yet.’

‘It does exist? You have one?’

‘Yes, there’s a big manifesto, it’s printed and everything.’

‘So where is it?’

‘I don’t have access to it.’

‘Who does?’

Umar Bey summoned another person who confirmed there is a manifesto the party can give us, but ‘not right now.’ He asked us to come back another time.

We continued our conversation with Umar Bey.

‘There’s a manifesto published on Scribd by Hassan Saeed, promoted on his FB page. What’s that about?’

‘Haha. That’s not a JP manifesto. That’s Hassan Saeed’s.’

‘Oh? Hassan Saeed has a different manifesto?’

‘He must do. I haven’t seen it.’

We had. A few days ago it appeared on running mate Hassan Saeed’s Face Book page.

The summary we got last night is a summary of Hassan Saeed’s manifesto on Scribd: build an Islamic state where religion, together with nationalism — taught as a subject in the national curriculum — will inform all socio-political and juridical decisions and conduct of society and individuals. It also speaks of ‘maintaining’ this traditional Islamic state, as if this is not an imagined place yet to be created but the way we have always lived.

I wonder how many people intending to vote for Gasim Ibrahim know the Maldives they are voting for.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to editorial@minivannewsarchive.com

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Comment: Election 2013 – where to, people?

This article first appeared on DhivehiSitee’s Election 2013 hub. Republished with permission.

It has been 569 days since the coup of 7 February 2012. We have walked a long way back in those five hundred odd days.

State-sponsored violence has returned with a vengeance, along with arbitrary arrests and detentions. Precious civil liberties – freedom of expression and freedom of assembly among others, have been scaled back to alarming levels. Basic human rights—freedom from arbitrary arrests, detention, torture and other state-sponsored violence – have been taken away.

Xenophobic nationalism coupled with radical religious ideologies has damaged not just our relations with each other but our relations with the rest of the globalised and inter-connected world of today. From a respected actor punching far above our weight in international relations, we have become a nation viewed as a ‘terrorist hotbed’ dominated by radical Islamist thought with little respect for universal human rights.

Foreign investors have been scared away, international financial agreements reneged on and international treaties cut up and thrown out. Corrupt oligarchs and self-interested government officials have negotiated our sovereignty to appease the national interest of big powers while petty crooks posing as cabinet ministers have sold or rented out our precious natural resources to international gangsters and unethical international business partners for hefty sums that line only their own pockets.

We as a people, once united by a shared belief in our own moderate Muslim identity, are now more divided than ever before, torn apart by the political abuse of religion as a form of absolute control over our hearts, minds and lives. Facts have been sacrificed in the construction of a particular truth, reality itself has become what the rulers tell us what it should be. It seems like we have lived five hundred years in the last five hundred days, all roads leading back to the past, further and further away from the world at present and what it looks set to become in the days to come.

It can all change in the next week. On 7 September 2012 we will decide whether to stay on this road to the past, or return to the present and back to the future. On the other side of this inter-connected world, in the Middle East especially, we have watched the ‘Arab Spring’ unfold. We were ahead of other countries in the ‘Islamic world’ in making a peaceful democratic transition. And we were ahead of others, like Egypt, in having the heady joy of a revolution killed by an authoritarian reversal that took the form of a coup.

Analysts have identified an emerging trend among such countries of an ‘authoritarian push-back‘. Judging from the number of people who have failed to see the events of 7 February 2012 in the Maldives as a coup, both home and abroad, we may well fall within this new trend. Or, we can prove the analysts wrong like we did those who believed peaceful democratic transition is impossible in an Islamic country. We can say no to the authoritarian push-back, preempt the forecasted trend before it can even begin. The choice is ours to make on 7 September.

Let us make it an informed one.

Candidate 1: Gasim Ibrahim

Gasim Ibrahim (61) [or Qasim Ibrahim after re-branding for the campaign] is the candidate for Jumhooree Party. Gasim’s main ally isthe Adhaalath Party, the most politically active ‘Islamic organisation’ in the country.

Candidate Gasim’s defining characteristic, as put forward by him and his campaign team, is that he is the richest man in the country. Gasim is the owner of Villa Group, the largest company in the Maldives with 6000 employees. According to Gasim’s Wikipedia page, although ‘his net worth has not been made public’, it is ‘believed to be in access of 500 million dollars’. Gasim’s properties include several luxury tourist resorts, uninhabited islands, and shipping, fisheries, fuel, construction and manufacturing as well as import/export companies. Gasim also runs Villa High School and Villa College, which, although money-making businesses, he also aggressively promotes as evidence of his philanthropy along with a large number of study loans he has provided for many Maldivian students to study abroad.

Gasim’s chief selling point is his ‘rags to riches’ biographical narrative. Born to a blind father on the island of Dhiddhoo in the neighbouring Alif Atoll, his mother died when he was 39 days old. Gasim was brought up on Maamigili island by his grandmother and other relatives until he came to Male’ at a young age, ending up as a servant boy in Endherimaage, the unofficial residence of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Gasim’s chief patron in the house was Ilyas Ibrahim, Maumoon’s brother-in-law. That Ilyas, a powerful political figure throughout Gayoom’s reign, is now working under Gasim to promote his presidency, is another glorified strand in Gasim’s poor boy made millionaire narrative. Another celebrated one is that Gasim, who did not receive any formal education, was awarded an honorary doctorate from the Open University of Malaysia in December last year.

Gasim’s chief pledges are in line with his multimillionaire identity. In addition to laptops and iPads for all children and more materialistic goods to all voters and various constituencies, the Jumhooree Coalition has also pledged that a win for them would ensure everyone in the country will have the opportunity to ‘be a Qasim’. Last Friday Gasim donated a large number of equipment — computers, air-conditions and LCD TVs to schools in Addu City, but has denied it is a bribe intended to influence the elections.

What Gasim’s campaign carefully omits from all discussions about his wealth is his enormous debt. While Gasim was the Minister of Finance (2005-2008), the state-owned Bank of Maldives approved loans to Gasim’s Villa Group worth almost US$ 40 million (US$37,601,520) — 32.4 per cent of the bank’s entire capital. The Finance Ministry, which Gasim headed at the time, held a 51 per cent veto over any decision of the Bank of Maldives board, of which he was also a non-executive member.

Gasim is also presenting himself to voters as a champion of Islam and has formed an alliance with the ‘Islamic party’, Adhaalath, to ‘defend Islam’. This part of his campaign appears geared towards the not insubstantial segment of the voter population that prefers a manifesto for the afterlife to one for here and now. Given Adhaalath’s goal of making Sharia the only source of law in the Maldives, Gasim’s alliance with the party means that a win for him is likely to bring the country closer to Adhaalath’s dream of the Maldives as an ‘Islamic state’ belonging to a revived global Caliphate.

Personal Tidbits

Gasim has four wives, the maximum allowed for a Muslim man, and 12 children, seven boys and five girls. His oldest is studying for a Master’s and the youngest is less than two years old. He also has six grandchildren. Gasim is reputed to have a hot temper and a reputation for not being the politest man in politics. One of his wives has said he is a very ‘caring and sharing’ husband who answers the phone no matter where in the world he is. Another says he is ‘very kindly’, and that he has never spoken to her in anger. Gasim has said that he married four women to increase his chances of having a daughter.

Why should you vote Gasim?

In his own words:

Maldivians would know very well that there is no other reason for me to contest these elections except to bring them the development and progress they want. If I were driven only by personal interest or my own business interests, I wouldn’t need to be running for this position. Anybody who gives it serious thought will know that what I am doing is making their development certain.  In the same breath, every Maldivian who gives it serious thought will also be certain that I will not touch even a penny from our treasury; that I will not allow room for hatred to spread in this country; that I will get the economy back up and running; that with God’s help I will establish justice to their satisfaction; I will not let our independence and sovereignty be disturbed even the slightest; and that I am ready to spill my blood on this ground in protecting our glorious and sacred religion and independence. Every person who gives this some thought will know that they must vote for me as President of the Maldives.

-RiyaaC Programme, MNBC One

Candidate 2: Mohamed Waheed

Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik (60), is the incumbent President, running as an independent candidate. Waheed took oath on 7 February 2012, a few hours after Mohamed Nasheed resigned under duress. Until then Waheed was Nasheed’s Vice President. Waheed insists his presidency is legal, a claim legitimised by the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) ruling a year ago that the events of 7 February 2012 did not amount to a coup d’état.

Waheed’s chief selling point to voters has been a claim to calmness, an ability to remain undisturbed in extreme turbulence. As evidence of this, Waheed has pointed to his two inaugural speeches at the Majlis, delivered amid riotous heckling by MDP MPs and large protests outside. According to his brother Ali Waheed, it is down to Waheed’s infinite patience and unflappability that the streets of Male’ are not completely chaotic as they were in the immediate aftermath of the coup. With a long and illustrious career in the United Nations behind him, Waheed’s campaign also projects him as a man of the world with the kind of international experience that all his rivals lack.

Waheed has been described by Hassan Saeed, then his chief political advisor as ‘politically the weakest person in the Maldives‘, and his 18 months as acting president has been disastrous for both him and the country. He has presided over a shocking decrease in freedom of expression and other civil liberties as well as the biggestincrease in state-sponsored violence since democratic rule began. Waheed’s government has entirely failed to take any steps towards crucial judicial reform, has been dogged by massive economic problems, and has damaged foreign investor confidence with a range of bad decisions, especially the decision to void GMR’s airport development contract. Waheed insists none of this has anything to do with him and maintains that he has support of ‘the silent majority’ which he estimates to be about 90 percent of the population.

Personal Tidbits

Waheed makes a mean lamb/beef curry, shares domestic chores with his wife Ilham Hussein, loves cycling and listens to Ghazals. He has three grown-up children, two of whom are as involved in his political life as his wife. Until recently, his youngest, a son, was known as Jeffrey but is now referred to as Salim, perhaps to appease the radical Islamists who insist on Arabic names for children as proof of the parents’ Islamic beliefs. His wife Ilham, who is also his first girlfriend, has said what she admires most about him is his morals and good manners.

Why should people vote for Waheed?

In his own words:

I believe that today the Maldivian people want a leader who will take the nation forward calm and steady. People who can bring the necessary development and reforms as smoothly as possible. I have shown this to the best of my ability in recent days. This is a difficult time. This is an unusual time in Maldivian history. It is a time of exceptional change, a time which requires that we go forward with some amount of maturity, calm and steadiness. It requires development of the whole country without personalising the difficulties, by looking at the big picture. We have to find a way to continue with the democratic work that has already been started. I believe that our brothers and sisters will carefully look at all candidates. When they do, I believe that I will receive a lot of support.

-RiyaaC Programme, MNBC One

Candidate 3: Abdulla Yameen

Yameen Abdul Gayoom (54) [also known as Abdulla Yameen] is PPM’s [Progressive Party of Maldives] candidate and brother of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom who ruled Maldives from 1978-2008. The defining characteristic of Yameen’s candidacy is, in fact, this family relationship—a vote for Yameen, the electorate is told on a daily basis, is a vote for Gayoom; electing Yameen would be a re-election of Gayoom by proxy.

Yameen’s chief selling point is that he is an economist and as such someone who can manage the country’s bankrupted finances better than any other candidate. Giant billboards appeared all over Male’ in the early days of the PPM campaign, some with quotations from famous world economists, as evidence of Yameen’s economic competency. Yameen has also promised to concentrate on making things better for the country’s youth, the most troubled and troublesome segment of the Maldivian population.

Several accusations of corruption, including alleged involvement in an international money laundering racketworth  US$800 million with ties to the Burmese junta have been levelled against Yameen. He denies the allegation and all others, describing them as ‘baseless and unfounded‘. Yameen is known for his tendency to sue for libelagainst anyone who makes or repeats such accusations, sometimes claiming millions in damages purportedly for no other reason than to ‘vindicate his good name.’ Apart from the promise to bring back the policies and characteristics of brother Thuththonbe’s [Gayoom’s] rule, one of Yameen’s main pledges to voters has been his promise the plan to restart his earlier attempts to explore for oil in the Maldives. Most of Yameen and PPM’s campaign has otherwise concentrated on criticising rival Mohamed Nasheed, the Maldivian Democratic Party candidate and others.

Personal Tidbits

Yameen has a hard time smiling, a fact which his campaign has sought hard to remedy with several friends appearing on MNBC One’s RiyaaC programme with Yameen to insist on how much fun he reallyreally is. He is, the PPM campaign has insisted, ‘a seriously funny man’, and it is a mistake to view his normal ‘reserve’ as arrogance. Yameen has three children, oa six-year-old boy and two grown-up children. His wife Fathimath Ibrahim is an active member of his campaign, although both his older children he says, absolutely hates the fact that he is in politics. When he appeared on the RiyaaC programme, he was shown relaxing at home with a book which, on close inspection, appears to be Heart Work by Chan Chin Bock [Publisher: Singapore: Economic Development Board] – more evidence of his competency as an economist.

Why should you vote Yameen?

In his own words:

The only viable option for any Maldivian who wants to make their lives better is to vote for me. [Why?] Because the biggest challenges we currently face are in the economic sector—problems in this area are permeating all others. Why is the health sector not developing as it should? Why cannot we add a new classroom to a school? Why aren’t there more doctors, more foreign doctors? Why are we short of IV fluid? These are all budget, money, dollars and sense, Rufiyaa, Laari, aren’t they? So, to find out how to earn Rufiyaa Laari, to understand how to spend Rufiyaa Laari with the least amount of waste and knowing how to draw the political map is the only way to draw the map and get there. Is it not? That’s why I have said a person who comes to the leadership will come with the aim to do something, not to continue business as usual. That’s why I want to say to all Maldivians: if you want to seriously change things for the better, there’s no need to look at any other candidate in my opinion, okay?

- RiyaaC Programme, MNBC One

Candidate 4: Mohamed Nasheed

Mohamed Nasheed (46) is the candidate for Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and the only democratically elected president in Maldivian history. He was ousted on 7 February in the coup that was ruled ‘not a coup’ by the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI).

Nasheed’s chief selling point is his long history of fighting for democracy in the Maldives and his pledge to restore it if elected again. Nasheed’s two and half years in government (November 2008- February 2012) was controversial — people either loved him or hated him. Few were indifferent. The Nasheed administration introduced free healthcare, a basic pensions scheme for the elderly, and a desperately needed transport system that made travel between the islands scattered across 90,000 square kilometres of Indian Ocean easier than ever before. Freedom of expression and other civil libertiesflourished to unprecedented levels during his presidency.

A large share of Nasheed’s time in government, however, was spent fighting the always present threat of an authoritarian reversal, the ‘dregs of dictatorship’ that remained within every branch of government. The opposition majority in parliament blocked several key plans of the administration and opposed judicial reformat every turn, vehemently obstructed Nasheed’s push for taxing the rich, making the executive’s job as difficult as possible in the new democracy.

Throughout his years in power, his administration was also dogged by accusations of nepotism, over-indulgence, and most damagingly, of being ‘irreligious’ [Laa Dheene] and anti-Islamic. Despite the latter, it was also during Nasheed’s presidency that Maldivian religious radicals, liberated by Nasheed’s commitment to freedom of expression, most widely disseminated their hate-filled ideologies ultimately contributing to his downfall.

As a presidential candidate, Nasheed still rouses strong emotions. Tens of thousands—men and women of all ages—clearly adore him. Detractors hate him, refusing to believe he resigned under duress and accusing him of concocting a tall tale about being forced to resign. In their version of the truth, he left the position unable to govern or in a moment of weakness. Despite the allegations, all his opponents acknowledge that he is their strongest rival. In fact, all of them have said he is their only rival.

Personal Tidbits

Nasheed is a history enthusiast who has authored two books. A former journalist and an avid reader, he has said his true passion is writing. He loves animals and kept a whole cage full of birds until he was jailed himself. On returning from prison, he freed them all. He loves spending time with his two daughters and, as a committed weekend-cleaner at home, has said if he loses the election his teenage daughter has suggested they start a domestic cleaning company together. His wife of nineteen years, Laila, has said what she loves most about Nasheed is his great sense of humour.

Why should you vote for Nasheed?

In his own words:

I believe the Maldivian people really wanted to ask ‘why’, and to do something by themselves to find an answer to the ‘why’. They wanted to vote, and to establish a leadership from the results of that vote. They wanted to have more than one person to vote for and to have a competitive political environment . People are realising that it is we who have tried to establish competitive politics in this country and I think they accept what we have done in this regard. People also appreciate what we were able to do in our two years. Our track record in government is good. We did not arrest and torture a single person. We did not seize anyone’s property unlawfully. People really wanted to be free from torture, to be safe from inhumane violence. Our track record on that is impeccable. I also feel that people accept the policies we propose for the future. I believe this year’s election results has almost been decided already. The re-registration of voters casting their ballot paper in places other than their home islands has shown clearly that we will win in one round. God willing, we will win in one round.

- RiyaaC Programme, MNBC One

Dr Azra Naseem has a PhD in international relations

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to editorial@minivannewsarchive.com

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Transcript: MNDF Staff Sergeant Shafraz Naeem’s CoNI account of Feb 7 mutiny

This article was first published by Dhivehi Sitee. Republished with permission.

On 7 February 2012, MNDF Staff Sergeant Shafraz Naeem was commanding Bravo, one of the Bandara Koshi Battalion riot squads that confronted the mutinying SO police in front of the military headquarters. He resigned five days later.

“I have lost faith in the institution,” he told the Commission of National Inquiry [CoNI] later. This is Shafraz Naeem’s account of what occurred during the mutiny, reconstructed from the transcript CoNI’s interview with him on 7 July.

I was commander of the riot squad of the Bandara Koshi (BK) Battalion from the time the protests began. We were supporting the MNDF riot squad.

We were on standby till 11:30 p.m. [6 February], when we were dispatched to Artificial Beach. The police were withdrawing when we arrived. My squad placed three cordons in the area. Nobody was violent, but there was much verbal abuse.

I received an order to withdraw to Sawmill. “If we withdraw, there will be trouble,” I said to my senior, [Lt.] Ali Ihusan. We withdrew.

Shortly afterwards, we were ordered to return to the scene. Protesters on both sides—the Coalition and MDP—were hurling stones and verbal abuse at each other. We put the cordons back up.

I heard some vehicles arriving. I saw police officers screaming at everyone, the protesters, the MNDF, at everybody. They began running after MDP protesters.

“We will kill you all!” they were shouting.

We restored order, moved the media away. After thirty minutes, the police returned. They were singing patriotic songs. One officer approached me. He put his baton under my chin and let forth a string of profanities.

“You must withdraw to BK”, we were told fifteen minutes later.

“Clear the area. Get the media out. Remove everyone carrying iron rods from the scene,” Captain Amanullah ordered.

We arrived at Bandara Koshi in the early hours of the morning. About 40-50 SO officers, I am not sure exactly how many, were staging a sit-in at Republic Square. I dispatched squads to cordon off designated areas, MMA [Maldives Monetary Authority] and other spots.

Around 2:30 a.m., outside MNDF [Headquarters], I met General Shiyam. He stood watching the Republic Square.

“Why aren’t you giving orders to arrest them?” I asked.

“Go away!” he responded.

I had to ask. We had received intelligence of an intended police mutiny. After being at the Artificial Beach, I knew it was happening.

Half an hour later, all of us squad commanders received orders that no one—be it police or media—was to be allowed inside the cordons.

Some VTV or DhiTV journalists refused to leave. After an argument, we pushed them out.

“Let them in. And, let in the police once they show their ID card,” one officer,  [Major] Adil Rasheed said.

Every minute, five or six of them came in, filling up the cordoned off space. SO Officers were allowing gangsters inside the cordons, too. I saw Firusham allowing a few of them in at around 5:30.

We dispersed the crowd as far back as the Metro cafe’.

“Get the cordons inside and withdraw to HQ”, we were ordered at around 6:30.

“Why?” I asked Captain Amanullah and Major Adil. I always question orders that do not feel right to me.

“Mind your own business,” [First] Sergeant Amir Hussain said. I was told not to question orders.

“Get some sleep,” Lieutenant Colonel Fayaz told everyone once we were inside. All our armour was removed, my chest guard, everything except my shield. We had breakfast.

“The President wants to meet you,” we were told.

At the same moment, I heard police saying their Azum [pledge]. I heard screaming. And I heard the President shouting to us, “Go outside and arrest them!”

I, with about ten special forces personnel, went.

Those of us with shields were at the front, those without came behind. I was commanding from the front.

“Do not fire!” we were shouting. There were riot guns, rubber bullets, tear gas grenades.

“Do not fire until they fire!” I heard the police shouting. Each side waited to see what the other would do.

A gas canister flew towards the police.

It was fired from our side. I saw who threw it. It was Tholath, the Defence Minister.

“Do something!” he said. The canister landed. All hell broke loose.

**********

Police charged. I ordered my men to do the same. I don’t recall how many canisters we threw. Stones, all sorts of things came at us. I was hit many times. I did not give up, I stayed until I was dragged in. I was the last person in.

I was not the main lead but one of several. There were sergeants, I was a staff sergeant. I saw my lead, Lieutenant Hamid Shafeeq only inside the HQ. He was the only person I heard issuing instructions. There was no plan, all orders were ad hoc.

When President Nasheed shouted at us to go out, all command and control was lost. Nobody took charge. I don’t think anybody even cared.

We went out when the President ordered us, but once we were outside, nobody gave us orders. The Ground Commanders, who were outside with us, should have commanded. They did not. About 3-4 minutes is enough time to analyse the situation and issue orders. There would have been enough time for a plan of attack. If the canister had not been thrown.

Around 9:30, I saw a large group of men gathered near the Communications Room. “Nasheed is a criminal. Do not obey unlawful orders,” I heard them say. I reported it to my senior.

“I will handle it,” he said.

“Collect all guns!” I heard a commander saying soon after. All weapons were taken away.

Outside, I could see Riyaz, Fayaz and Nazim. Shiyam, Fayaz (Papa) and were inside.

“Tell the president he has no choice but to resign!” I heard Fayaz say to Shiyam.

“I will”, Shiyam said. He had a weird smile on his face.

I was attending to some injured soldiers when I heard joyful shouting. [Mohamed] Nazim was being hoisted up by some football coaches.

Shiyam had let Nazim in, I know.

Nazim was in the forces before. I cannot remember now, but I think he was a Colonel. He was my instructor.

“This won’t go well,” I thought. I knew Shiyam was aware of what was happening. Once, while training with Shiyam, we had a conversation about an intended naval base.

“Where are you going to get the money for it?” I asked him.

“Gasim Ibrahim will give unlimited funds for the base. He will help MNDF grow,” he replied. The naval base is Shiyam’s dream project.

I don’t know what happened after Nazim went inside.

A rumour started soon that MDP was about to torch MNDF homes. Some people began to get worked up. They wanted to go outside. Shiyam and Zayed got them into a squad, and sent them out. There was nothing, no MDP people, no thugs.

It was past 11:30 then, and we heard Nasheed had resigned.

**********

The next day, I returned at about 8:30 p.m. Nothing much was happening.

“If there is any rioting,” Papa told Shiyam, “Give me two minutes. I’ll have it all under control.”

I was in Bravo when I saw police charging the demonstrators.

“Why are they doing this?” I asked my senior [Lt. Col] Nasrullah. Even he did not know.

“Shut up,” Papa said to me.

I got a lot of flak and warnings for asking questions, for following President Nasheed’s orders. I took an oath to protect the country and the president; not to beat civilians or to mutiny. I did not take an oath to follow a mutinous general. I was never a big fan of Nasheed, but it did not matter to me who the President was that day. I would have done the same for any president.

In my view this was a coup. Why? I could see it from the way they handled everything, their attitude, how cool and calm all the officers were. I could tell from how cool General Shiyam was inside the MNDF. They did nothing. This is not how a uniformed officer should behave.

I really don’t know what [Moosa] Jaleel, Chief of Defence, was doing. He was walking around, smoking, as if in a trance, unaware of what was going on around him. I had admired Jaleel, but in that situation, his mind was somewhere else. General Nilam, too. Had I not pushed him to the ground inside MNDF, he would have been hit by bricks. I am not saying that he, too, was in a trance.

Perhaps they were in shock over the mutiny.

UPDATE: In communications with Dhivehi Sitee since the above post was published, Shafraz Naeem has said the CoNI transcript is inaccurate. Among the clarifications he would like to make are the following:

  • He arrived back at Bandara Koshi the following day [8 February] at 2:30 p.m., not 8:30 p.m. as recorded in the transcript.
  • He stated that he was not a fan of how President Nasheed handled the MNDF, not that he was ‘never a big fan of Nasheed.’
  • Parts of his conversation with General Shiyam about the naval base have been left out.
  • A heated exchange between Shafraz and Co-Chair, Ismail Shafeeu, on command and control–who was responsible for its loss and how it happened–has been omitted from the transcript.
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Comment: Origins of the Special Operations police

This article was first published on Dhivehisitee. Republished with permission.

An especially trained squad known as Special Operations were at the forefront of the police mutiny that ended in the resignation of President Mohamed Nasheed on 7 February. Together with riot police squads, they have since led violent attacks on protesters and re-introduced into Maldivian society the culture of impunity and violence of the pre-democracy era. Although their abuse of power and violations of human rights have been documented by local and international institutions, there have been no prosecutions or disciplinary actions against them.

Late last year, Nasheed’s Police Commissioner Ahmed Faseeh gave evidence to the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) on the events of and surrounding 7 February 2012. Although it was a national inquiry held for the benefit of the public, none of the statements and evidence submitted to CoNI have been made public. A transcript of Faseeh’s evidence, however, was leaked online recently.

He provided members of CoNI with a detailed description of how the SO was created in 2004, as a means of crushing the Maldivian people’s uprising against dictatorship and their agitation for democracy. This is an English language translation of the evidence, reconstructed in narrative style. The only changes made are to style, facts remain as shared by Faseeh:

“Police Commissioner Adam Zahir summoned me to his office. It was about two weeks before the 12/13 August 2004.

On 1 September we will be placed under the Ministry of Home Affairs,” he said.

“If we do not get a good force ready by then, we could be severely weakened. We must do everything that can be done to cope. So we must have a plan. Faseeh, why don’t we find someone who can build muscle?” Adam Zahir asked me.

“There is only one person in Male’ with a gym for building muscle. His name is Kesto Haleem, he is the owner of Muscle Load,” I replied.

Adam Zahir asked for more details.

“His name is Kesto Haleem. He may have been a student of yours. He was in Majeediyya School, four batches before us,” I told him.

“We must know him to see. Must have been in a class of mine. Get him over quickly,” he said.

I called Haleem and the three of us met in Adam Zahir’s office the very next day. From what I remember, it was around late afternoon.

“I want to put some muscle on about 30 boys.”

“That’s no problem”, Haleem said immediately. “They can be trained in my gym. For free. All you have to do is get the meds.” Zahir agreed.

The day after, Haleem told me he wanted to take ‘Before’ and ‘After’ pictures of the boys. They were called to the Police Theatre Hall, looked at, and measured. Work began on preparing the team.

Only a few days later, I think it was 12,13 August, vast crowds gathered at Republic Square.The boys stood with me outside the police gates, to protect us and to protect the headquarters. They had not yet had any training; they were green. But, these boys — about 30 or 35 from what I recall — made a line in front of the Hussein Adam building, blocking its entrance. I stood behind the line, around the middle. There was a stabbing. I was cut only a little. Two of the boys were stabbed, the one in front of me, and one a bit further away.

About two months later, the boys were all muscled up. They were ready. Within six months, they were what you would call “pumped.”

“This isn’t enough. We must also teach them something about special operations,” Adam Zahir said. “Why don’t we talk to Thailand?”

Thailand is a friendly country. Our police relations are very good. Discussions with a Thai General secured us 16 placements at their Police Commanding School. I even went to the opening ceremony. From what I recall, I went with F.A [Mohamed Fayaz, current State Minister for Home Affairs]. It is a tough school, and the boys trained rigorously for about two months. They returned from the Commander School and became what is commonly referred to as the Star Force. STAR Team is their real name—Special Tactics and Rescue, that’s what STAR stands for.

That’s how they came into being.

In truth, STAR Team is the name of Singapore’s elite force.We followed the Singaporean model because it is most suitable to a place like this. It is an island nation, they are at the forefront of law enforcement. I, too, graduated from Singapore. That’s where we took the STAR Team from and, actually, we worked within the democratic process.

There were many challenges. We did not really know much at the time. Also, around the same time, it became essential to train riot squads. There were only two individuals with riot control training. From what I recall, one of them was called Superintendent Asheeth. Initially it was with Asheeth’s assistance that we laid the foundations, introduced recruits to what riots are, taught them methods of confrontation, took them through the drills, explained the system to them. That is how they were trained.

MDP was very active on the streets. They were protesting day or night, whatever the area of Male’. Even if a banner was lifted, the cloth must be confiscated—that was the policy. No banners could be hung, those were the orders from the top. When I was head of that department, this is how orders came down: “Remove the banner! Remove the pot! Remove the fish!” For instance, if we cooked bon’baiy, an order might come to have the bon’dibaiy pot removed. Next thing, the pot would be in Dhoonidhoo. Really. That’s how things were.

So, these are the boys.

My second point relates to how they were recruited. When we separated from the military, our population was about 400. When that includes personnel based elsewhere in the country, Male’ is left with only about twenty. We had no choice but to recruit a large number of police. There was no time for a proper recruiting process. People were given crash courses, some training, and sent out on to the streets.

We did not have the opportunity to recruit the kind of people we wanted. Although educational requirements demanded at least two passes in the London O’Level exams, we had to ignore that. Civil unrest was on the rise, time was of the essence, and we had no choice.

I would like to raise two points in relation to this. The boys that we recruited for the riot squads and the Special Team—or STAR Team—were not the type of people we wanted to recruit. We became more certain of this when Dhivehi Observer, a website, started carrying regular video clips of police, intensely criticising their actions. It was bad for our reputation, and became a matter of great concern to us.

“Watch their actions to check what they are really like,” Adam Zahir told me.

I went to a scene personally, and with increasing concern, relayed the allegations to the Direct Commander.

“We really have to look into this. This is ruining our reputation. If they confiscate a camera, they shatter it. If they get hold of a person, they spray him. Or, after bringing the person under unnecessary control, they hit him.”

There were several such incidences. There was no integrity then. No Police Integrity Commission.

Under Adam Zahir’s orders, I therefore sent an undercover team to observe them secretly. Their language was filthy, their vocabulary was obscene. They use the Lhaviyani word all the time. If they got hold of someone, they hit them.

Adam Zahir changed their command. That was one, one and a half, or two years before the term ended in 2008. That is why I wanted to talk about this. They are connected to the events of 7 February; that is why I have gone into such detail.

We did not get the kind of people we wanted, the kind of people we would have been proud of.

Back then, they thought they were in charge of the police, that they were the only people running the police. In fact, this attitude of theirs and the ego that accompanied it, created major motivational problems throughout the police. They were all puffed up, that was their attitude.

This was also of great concern to me. Adam Zahir did suggest having them replaced, but at a time like that, it was very difficult to do so. Before it could be done, government changed. In fact, under the new regime, I tried very hard to shuffle them, rehabilitate them, change their language.

When I became Commissioner on 17 November 2008, one of my greatest concerns was the murder rate in Male’. I think from 2007 to this day, there have been 41 murders in Male’. Cold blooded murders in a tiny society. A very very serious issue. I tried using them to tackle the problem.

But these people, these members of the STAR Team or Special Operation, regard routine police work as outside of their duties. If assigned to any other task, they jeopardise it, create chaos. They’ll hit someone, spray someone in the mouth, cut someone’s hair—something, they will do something disruptive. Nor do they want to do anything physically demanding. They do not want to arrest anyone by doing the dirty work, every day routine work, by asking questions. That’s not something they like to do.

I think, from what I have shared, you will know by now who these people are, how they came into being.

Dr Azra Naseem has a PhD in International Relations

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to editorial@minivannewsarchive.com

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Comment: Extremism affecting the daily lives of every Maldivian

This article originally appeared on DhivehiSitee. Republished with permission.

Islamic extremism is very real in the Maldives. It affects the daily lives of every Maldivian, and is gaining in scope, intensity and violence every day with the pseudo-democratic government that came to power on 7 February.

This is not to say that Islamic extremism did not exist during the three short years in which the Maldives was a democracy. On the contrary, it was during democratic rule that extremism gained its strongest foothold in Maldivian society.  It is a myth that democracy is an antidote to extremism, as is widely proposed in much of the existing anti-radicalisation literature. Democracy, with its many freedoms, provides a much more conducive environment for radicalisation than does an authoritarian regime, as has been seen in the Maldives.

When Islamic extremism began to be imported into the Maldives in the late 1990s with the advent of the so-called international ‘religious terrorism’; and when the export of extremist ideologies intensified globally with the War on Terror, the Maldives was under the dictatorial regime of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Although in recent times Gayoom has aligned himself with the ideologies of the hardline Islamist Adhaalath Party, during his rule, he presented himself as a moderate Muslim who believed in freedom of religion and advocated religious pluralism in the Maldives.

What he did not tolerate was extremist ideologies spread in the name of Islam. His methods of suppressing such beliefs – imprisonment and torture – cannot be condoned, nor are they compatible with the values of democracy. It cannot be denied, however, that they held Islamic extremism in check in the Maldives for over a decade.

The transition to democracy in November 2008 opened the door for Maldivian Islamists to push their agenda forward.

A confluence of events had helped them consolidate support even under Gayoom’s repressive policies: the 2004 tsunami which literally put the fear of God into many a Maldivian living on remote islands, and which the Islamists exploited as a means of spreading their ideology by depicting it as punishment from God for man’s ungodliness; and the War on Terror, which was used by Islamist states and movements to intensify their efforts to fund and spread their ideology to Muslim populations across the world.

Despite a tourism industry worth billions of dollars, three decades of authoritarian rule in the Maldives left behind a population that was mostly on the poverty line, had extremely low levels of education, and contained tens of thousands of disaffected youth with few prospects for social mobility or economic success. All are factors that have been shown to facilitate the spread of extremist ideologies.

Added to this was the supposedly inescapable need for the newly democratic government to form a political alliance with the Islamists, and a democratic president who believed in freedom of expression in absolutist terms, and who failed to fully appreciate that such freedoms are not always exercised with responsibility by those who enjoy them.

While during the War on Terror most democratic governments everywhere sought to find a balance between freedom of expression and the need to curb incitement to violence in the name of religion, under Mohamed Nasheed’s government Maldivian extremists enjoyed absolute freedom of expression.

Bookshops came to be laden with publications that spread their teachings; their message was constantly transmitted in mosques, on air, and on the Internet. The success of their efforts are now there for all to see.

Of course, under Nasheed’s government it was not just the extremists who had the freedom to express their views. Those who disagreed with their ideology, too, enjoyed the same freedom. This was, in fact, Nasheed’s strategy and hope: that the civil society would counter extremism without requiring any intervention from the government.

It was a huge mistake. The civil society was not strong enough to take on the Islamists, especially in the face of the institutional support that the Islamists enjoyed under the MDP (Maldivian Democratic Party) government with its politically expedient alliance with the Islamist Adhaalath Party. Nasheed also underestimated the power of the label of ‘un-Islamic’ or anti-Islam as a tool for suppressing dissent.

The fight against extremists was thus left to individuals who worked alone or in very small groups. Their discourse was easily slapped down and condemned by the extremists using the ‘anti-Islam/un-Islamic/heretic’ label. As it turned out, this label was also the most powerful tool used against Nasheed himself to help facilitate the downfall of the MDP government, demonstrating just how much power such a designation wields in a rapidly radicalising society.

Despite the knowledge that Nasheed was a firm believer in freedom of expression, few dared to take on the extremists openly then, or now. When they did, the MDP government utterly failed to support them. The lack of any assistance or support for Mohamed Nazim, who in May 2010 dared to publicly declare his disbelief in Islam, and of Ismail Mohamed Didi in July 2010 who felt persecuted for his lack of belief and committed suicide at the age of 25, brought into sharp relief the absence of any serious commitment by the MDP government to fighting extremism.

Instead of tackling the oppression that the Islamists were imposing on Maldivians, the MDP – beleaguered by continuous authoritarian attempts at a reversal – often chose to ignore the problem, or worse, sided with the Islamists.

With the regime change of 7 February, the problem has grown acutely worse. Not only did the new caretaker President Dr Waheed enthusiastically demonstrate a previously unknown affinity with Islamists, his Coalition Government has, from the beginning, continued to deny extremism even exists in the country.

This deliberate denial, coupled with the appointment of Islamists to top positions in government and society, has resulted in the opportunity for extremism to grow unchecked. It now has deep roots within all state institutions including the executive, the parliament, the judiciary and most worryingly, within the security forces.

Recent events of extraordinary violence and their aftermath have gone a long way in demonstrating the truth of this claim.

The attempted murder of Hilath Rasheed

Hilath Rasheed is the only openly gay human rights activist in the Maldives. He, along with fellow blogger and writer Yameen Rasheed, were among the very few Maldivians who dared to voice their anti-extremist opinions publicly. Most bloggers and other writers used pseudonyms. Such caution was not without reason. Death threats against such writers were common.

On 4 June 2012 extremists carried out their threats and attempted to murder Hilath. I met Hilath a few weeks after the attack. There was a scar about 10 inches long  running across his throat horizontally. His voice was only just coming back, and his whole being appeared shaken.

Hilath told me that the last words he heard from the man who cut his throat were:

This is a present from Shaheem, Mutthalib and Imran.

The three men referred to are: Sheikh Shaheem Ali Saeed, the current Minister of Islamic Affairs; Ibrahim Muththalib, an MP who is the most ardent advocate of the death penalty in Parliament; and Imran Abdullah, president of the Adhaalath Party and one of the main actors in the Islamists’ contribution to the change of government on 7 February.

Hilath also made the allegations openly on his blog (banned in the Maldives since November 2011), and they were also reported in Minivan News, although the latter stopped short of identifying the politicians by name.

There has been no official response bar an attempt to mislead the international community by portraying Hilath as a violent criminal caught up in gang violence.

While it is a fact, related by Hilath, that the man who cut his throat named the said politicians, it is quite possible the attacker may have been lying about their involvement. It is also possible that the attackers (there were three altogether) decided to act on their own, motivated not by direct orders but by the ideologies perpetrated by the named politicians.

In the absence of a proper investigation by the Maldives Police Services (MPS), it is hard to know for sure.

In the four months since the attack, and despite existing evidence such as CCTV footage of the incident, the MPS has made no progress whatsoever in their investigations. Without police protection and fearing, instead, persecution by them, Hilath now lives in self-imposed exile. And the MPS has, for all intents and purposes, abandoned the investigation.

This failure by the Maldives Police Services to investigate the attempted murder of Hilath is not simply the incompetency one can expect from a heavily politicised police force. It also implies the existence of dangerous connections between law enforcement leaders and Islamists that go to the very heart of the increasing extremism in the country.

This is a proposition I make on the basis not of Hilath’s case alone – a similar failure has plagued the MPS in the most recent attack associated with Islamists: the murder of MP Dr Afrasheem Ali.

The murder of Dr Afrasheem

Dr Afrasheem Ali was among the increasing number of politicians in the Maldives who also act as religious scholars and pundits, blurring further the already thin line between politics and religion. He was a staunch Gayoom loyalist, an MP for Gayoom’s Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) who played a key role in the successful authoritarian attempts to hijack judicial independence in the Maldives.

Although some of Dr Afrasheem’s views on women and their role in society was far from liberal, he is reported to have spoken against forcing women to cover-up and also said that a believing Muslim cannot be declared an unbeliever simply for their failure to grow a beard or display other such ‘religious’ trappings – apparently daring statements for a religious scholar and what passes as ‘moderate’ (or ‘un-Islamic’) in the Maldives these days.

Dr Afrasheem’s killing was no random act of violence. It was a targeted assassination, carried out without mercy within the premises of his own home. He had been the victim of previous attacks, targeted for his beliefs that contradicted those of extremists. In conservative religious circles he was often referred to as Dr Iblis (Dr Satan).

The last major activity he participated in before his death was to appear on television, reportedly at his own behest, to “ask for forgiveness from citizens if he had created a misconception in their minds due to his inability to express himself in the right manner.”  The Islamic Ministry has denied reports that it pressured Dr Afrasheem into making the apology. And, Islamic Minister Shaheem has stated that, contrary to reports, there had been no disagreement between them.

And, just as with the attempted murder of Hilath, the government’s immediate response was to mislead the international media. This time it implicated Nasheed, with the President’s Office spokesperson sending an SMS to international news agencies reading:

Nasheed’s strongest critic Dr Afrasheem has been brutally murdered.

And again, just like with Hilath’s attempted murder, the investigation of Dr Afrasheem’s death appears to be going nowhere.

Not only has there been zero progress, the MPS has also been busy making political use of the murder—a trend which started with the murder of a policeman on 22 July 2012.

So far, a total of six people have been arrested in connection with Dr Afrasheem’s murder. Two weeks later, no charges have been brought against any of them, lending much credence to the allegation by MDP and other democrats that some of the arrests are intended more as a means of persecuting MDP/democracy activists rather than solving a murder. One of them, a young MDP activist, Mariyam Naifa, was released without charge, explanation or apology – but with many conditions – just yesterday, after 15 days in jail.

The MPS is not the only institution where murder is regarded as a political opportunity. Within days of Dr Afrasheem’s death, the Islamist-led push for the death penalty has received new vigor in parliament while the government has moved rapidly to revoke licenses for twenty-four hours shops and cafes citing ‘national security’.

The fact of the matter is that extremist ideologies have taken root within the national security apparatus as much as it has in political institutions. This is evident from the role that religion played in motivating the police and army personnel who refused to obey the ‘heretic’ Nasheed’s orders on 7 February.

It appears that crimes committed in the name of Islam are being pushed to the side by law enforcement personnel who are more interested in turning such atrocities into political battlegrounds, and/or see them as religious duties that do not deserve punishment.

If this continues to be the case, there is little doubt that the Maldivian people stand to suffer even more serious civil and political repression in the not too distant future as the Islamists continue to turn their extremist ideologies into government policy.

Is there a solution?

Islamism in the Maldives is a fact. It may not be the sort that blows people up and turn buildings into ash, but it is rapidly changing the Maldivian society into one of religious intolerance, xenophobia, and a place of violent punishments for those who refuse to follow its ideologies.

If extremism and its associated hatred and violence are to be stopped, or at least held in check, the MDP must start standing up to the politicians and ‘religious scholars’ who propagate such views, and it must stop giving into their demands for the sake of political expediency.

Nasheed has promised that MDP would refrain in the future from forming political alliances that require it to sacrifice its ideals. If he keeps his promise, this is indeed good news. Despite the corruption manifest among many members of its upper echelons, MDP is the only political party in the Maldives right now that has shown a strong commitment to reinstating democratic governance in the Maldives. And, Nasheed remains a beacon of hope for most Maldivian democrats who firmly believe in his commitment to democratic governance despite past mistakes.

The MDP is also the only such body in the country with the clout to push for anti-radicalisation measures without losing the support of a majority of its members. Many of MDP’s supporters are secularists and/or those committed to religious tolerance – values of democracy that are said to be universal.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee stated categorically in July 2012 that there should be no reason for the Maldives to cling on to its current reservation on Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Under the circumstances, it makes no sense for MDP officials to back down when confronted with militant beliefs as it has done in the past.

Even if the MDP does find the courage to stand up against extremism, however, the Maldives needs the support of the international community in fighting the phenomenon. It failed miserably in coming to the aid of the Maldivian democracy in its hours of need, choosing instead to support the pseudo-democratic government of Dr Waheed. But, it cannot afford to be so blasé about the growing extremism in the Maldives.  A failure to properly understand the current Maldivian malaise poses a danger not just to the people of the Maldives, but to its neighbours and the world at large.

Even the most realist of international actors should, therefore, pay close attention to the activities of Maldivian Islamists and refuse to take the new government’s word that ‘there is no extremism in the Maldives’ like it accepted the government’s declaration that ‘there was no coup on 7 February.’

Azra Naseem holds a doctorate in International Relations.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to editorial@minivannewsarchive.com

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