Letter: Appeal for right to a lawyer

Allow me to introduce myself. I am a member of the Writers’ Bureau of Manchester UK.

Even before the Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) was officially recognised by the Maldivian government I was actively involved in trying to promote democracy in the Maldives.

Once we were able to topple the 30 year dictatorship of Abdul Gayoom through the ballot box the MDP was able to rule for three years before we were deposed by the military.

Now I find I am back on top of the persecution list by the government.

About a month back I was pulled in on a drugs charge. At the hearing I told the judge that he cannot ask the police investigative officer to take an oath – with the Holy Quran as witness – as the said police officer had not attended the scene of the crime. He was parroting second hand information supplied by others.

This made the judge so mad he called me into court to begin proceedings of a case dating back almost five years. Apparently five years ago the police had found a small pen-knife with remnants of cannabis. According to a local lawyer, this could get me a 15 year sentence.

I told the judge I was prepared to answer the charges once I was given my legal rights. A Maldivian citizen is entitled to legal counsel by law. I appealed for the state to provide me with a lawyer.

The judge refused. He stated that it was only where high profile cases were concerned that the state provided lawyers. I pointed out that according to the Maldivian constitution that all citizens are equal before the law.

I have a hearing on the 18th of this month and despite what the constitution says, I doubt the state will provide me with a lawyer because at present almost 90 percent of those facing trial are deprived of legal counsel.

I would very much appreciate if Amnesty would do their best to lend me a helping hand in countering the judiciary’s autocratic methods. The judiciary in the Maldives is a remnant from the dictatorship of Abdul Gayoom’s 30 year reign.

Yours truly

Ali Rasheed

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Comment: Assessing the Presidential Elections

The outcome of any election is always uncertain.

According to reports, the winning party in the Maldives elections requires approximately 120,000 votes to secure the majority.

The MDP has the highest number of registered members; approximately between 45 – 50 thousand whereas the opposition – including the deceased members of Dr. Remote Controlled Waheed’s GIP and the Adhaalath with its recent drive to enlist 10,000 members – does not come close to the MDP’s party strength.

Despite the money (whether black or white is not known) Gasim and Yameen are prepared to spend to increase their voter base at the last minute, the ground reality is the combined forces of these two parties’ membership strength cannot compete with the MDP either.

The Adhaalath, at the moment part of the GIP coalition, is too factionalised and have lost the people’s support due to the fact that they have been promoting religion as a tool to woo the voters. Moreover there is no one in the party charismatic enough to swing the voters behind them despite their promotion of a religious agenda targeted at MDP’s Presidential candidate President Nasheed in order to denigrate him on religious grounds.

In fact the strategy has backfired on them. The people were too shrewd and saw threw their machinations. This can be gauged by the number of people attending Adhaalath’s rallies. According to certain reports, even the Majeediyya School band commands a larger following than the Adhaalath Party at present.

Blinded by power, the Sheikhs’ biggest blunder was the fact that they backed the wrong horse in the form of Dr Waheed and a few-die hard Gayoom loyalists in the military whose criteria for loyalty to Islam and the oath taken by them was dependent on the amount of money deposited in their bank accounts.

Dr Waheed, their professed spiritual leader, himself is under controversy over whether he knows how to recite Al-Fatiha, while his children are very much inclined to Hinduism and Christianity. As for Waheed’s religious leanings, while championing the Adhaalath’s hardline Islamic views, his personal beliefs are for anyone to guess.

This leaves the DRP led by Thasmeem – Waheed’s running mate – and the PPM led by former trade minister Yaameen alleged to have stolen millions of dollars of worth public funds – allegations believed by most Maldivians. Their combined strength of party members is again inadequate to challenge the MDP.

The MDP also controls the majority in parliament. The MDP’s biggest asset is the deposed President Nasheed, whose integrity has never been called into question. He has been personally denigrated by all sorts of dirty name calling, but even his most erstwhile enemy former President Gayoom is said to have acceded that Nasheed will not steal from the public coffer.

Whereas all other Presidential candidates, from Yameen to Gasim to President Waheed whom most believe is only warming the seat on behalf of Gayoom loyalists, are all tainted by the brush of corruption. Given half a chance, these people will swallow the entire economy of the Maldives as a whole leaving the middle and lower classes to live in abject poverty.

This has been evident during the past year when Gasim secured Maamigili airport for 99 years for tuppence through the back door, while Yameen’s backer Champa secured the Gan airport. The amount spent on the money for the coup, the alleged US$30,000, has already been recovered, albeit on a long term basis, by the backers of the coup.

The last year has also seen the economy take a nose dive, despite one of the biggest budgets in Maldivian history to be passed so far. Where the money has gone no one knows, but what is certain is the government is on the verge of bankruptcy. Even the police have run out of urine-cups.

When the coup government came in, according to Gasim Ibrahim it raised a billion dollars in selling treasury bills. The interest payable of these comes to US$100 million a year, leaving zero for development projects.

This leaves the silent majority on whom the election is truly dependent upon.

While the election campaign unfolds, certain facts are evident. Gasim, blinded by his hatred of Nasheed, is defaming him in public little realising it only calls attention to his personal shortcomings. Even his loyalist parliamentarians whose loyalty was secured by money no longer wish to associate with him.

Furthermore there are rumors circulating that President Waheed is going to file a case against Gasim for having been once lashed by the courts on grounds of fornication, which makes him ineligible for a Presidential candidate.

“Hate-mongering is counter productive,” says MP Abdul Raheem, former MP for Qasim.

Gasim and Yameen share a common trait: the belief that everyone has a price. When I first met Gasim after several long years, his first question to me was: “how much do you want?” I kept my face deadpan but inside I was seething with anger. Of course there are those who canbe bought but anything that can be bought has no real value. None of these people seem to have grasped this universal fact. Anything of value that can be acquired in this world is through love and struggle.

I’m quite sure the silent majority of the Maldives understands these basic truths. They may take Yaameen’s and Gasim’s money and contend with Waheed’s blackmail and threats of jail, but ultimately when it’s time for the vote to be cast, they will abide by their conscience and decide which is the only viable option for the Maldivians as a whole.

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 [email protected]


Comment: Egypt, the Maldives and the democracy experiment

As in the Maldives the Egyptian people lived under a 30 year dictatorship which favored the few against the wishes of the majority.

This dictatorship nurtured and helped build a military industrial complex which in turn helped the dictatorship to remain unchallenged. until the internet revolution that brought President Nasheed and the voice of the majority to power through the ballot box.

In Egypt President Morsi was ousted and arrested by the military, the Muslim Brotherhood targeted, its media outlets closed; policemen with Kalashinkovs dancing on the street.

In the Maldives, the ‘deep state’ nurtured by Gayyoom bought key figures in the military. A 30 million dollar cheque signed by the magnate Gasim Ibrahim was supposedly the key that unlocked whatever inhibitions the military or anyone else may have had against the popular policies of the then democratically-elected government of President Nasheed.

Nasheed was forced to resign but managed to keep himself from getting arrested. However, his party supporters and activists were getting picked up by the police on various charges as happened with Egypt’s Muslim brotherhood.

The future of the democracy experiment is yet to unfold. In Egypt it seems to be heading towards violent confrontations. In the Maldives, some may think a peaceful transition back to a democratically elected government is possible but these very same people should ask themselves the question: would those who would be charged with treason which carries the death penalty in Islamic Shariah be willing to face the consequences for their crimes?

The top brass of the military and the police are peopled by pro-dictatorship Gayyoom forces and the only guns in town belong to them. The only way to ensure that the military do not revert to the use of force on some trumped up terrorism charge – the fact Defence Minister Nazim recently alluded that terrorist elements trained in different war zones are in the country should be taken as a hint of what these renegades plan to do – is to ensure a timely visit by a naval presence by a country friendly to the Maldivian peoples’ will. Then – and only then, can the outcome of the ballot box be fully realised.

The Egyptian democracy experiment is unlikely to favor the Muslim brotherhood anytime soon despite the fact they reflect the will of the majority. The armed forces are far too organised and well entrenched and unless a massive bloodbath ensues the present status quo is unlikely to change.

Unlike the Egyptian military, the Maldives military is not strong enough to circumvent the will of the people should they be prepared to make the sacrifices that the challenges will bring. Only a few die-hard figures from the Gayoom era does not carry the necessary moral weight – especially since the fact that they were paid off have come to the fore – to push the armed forces to align with their thinking.

The biggest miscalculation by the ousted President Nasheed was his failure to cleanse the system of the Gayoom era viruses. The same corrupt forces of the ‘deep state’ put in place by Gayoom. He did get the opportunity but he failed to act until too late. President Morsi too made the same miscalculation.To build up a loyal following one needs to catch them while young and then groom them and place them in key positions.

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 [email protected]


Comment: When Humpty Dumpty falls

When a traffic policeman raises his hand, encased in neat white gloves, all traffic automatically comes to a halt.

Obedience is ingrained in us. We barely stop to think why. Had it been otherwise we would no doubt be in the middle of a perpetual traffic jam.

When a policeman raises his hand, it is not a simple gesture of someone lifting his hand. Behind the gesture lies the authority of the people, a functioning system, an elected government and the goodwill of the masses. The combined moral authority of the people are reflected in that simple gesture.

Today, life is no longer simple anymore. Until February 7, 2012, the Maldivian people lived with the assurance that their interests were represented by a government elected by the majority; that the people’s will was reflected in the way they were governed. Everything turned topsy-turvy on February 7, when President Nasheed resigned office and his Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik assumed the mantle of government.

The transition of power would not have caused ripples or raised eye-brows unless the very next day President Nasheed claimed that he had resigned under duress. His resignation had been forced.

In the light of President Nasheed’s statement and after a clear look at the events leading to his ‘resignation’, it wasn’t difficult to believe that indeed Nasheed’s resignation was coerced. What followed afterwards – the appointment of Nazim as the Defense Minister and Abdulla Riyaz as the Police Commissioner – removed any reservations to the contrary.

The security forces – comprising of the Maldives Police Service and the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) were instrumental in forcing the President’s resignation. All the circumstantial evidence combined with the data compiled by the media further confirmed Nasheed’s allegations.

All doubts were removed when former police sergeant and Acting Deputy Leader of the PPM, Umar Naseer – known to friends and foes alike as a weapon of mass destruction –  blatantly confirmed his active involvement in the overthrow of Nasheed’s government on national TV – “spilling the beans”, as CNN aptly defined it.

During his three years in office President Nasheed worked hard to deliver on his election pledges. He was a symbol of hope for the downtrodden masses whose cause he championed. For 30 years the Maldivian people had lived a hand-to-mouth existence, brutally repressed by the dictator Gayoom. According to the UN 42 percent of the people lived below the poverty line.

Given the role played by the security forces in ousting a vastly popular government, the police and the military have become villains overnight. When the policeman lifts his white-gloved hand he is no longer able to covey the moral authority to instill obedience amongst the masses.

Up until February 7, the military were looked up to by the people for their professionalism and generally enjoyed the respect of the population. Even the youth who sought a career in the armed services were proud to be a part of this elite corps. The military, as a rule, upheld high ethical standards.

Except for a few among the military high command and the police services, the security forces were uninvolved in the intrigue that brought down Nasheed’s government. There was little doubt that the top brass were bought; they had sold not only their souls but had betrayed the confidence and trust of their subordinates, the rank and file of the armed forces.

Those youth, who had pledged their lives to uphold the tenets of Islam and defend the country were being labeled ‘turncoats’, a title they did not deserve as they were as much in the dark as everyone else. The greed of a few commanders who defiled the military’s code of honor had put the stamp of betrayal on the entire armed forces.

The coup has had certain unforeseen influences on the public psyche too. The MDP, led by the ousted President Nasheed doubled in membership overnight. Quite suddenly, public involvement grew by leaps and bounds.

Consequently, civil disobedience has taken root in the public psyche. The security forces are openly scoffed at by the public – the label ‘rebel’, ‘turncoat’, now precedes any description of the police and the military.

Maldivians, as a rule, are apt to shy away from violence. Even under the present trying circumstances violence has yet to be a part of the equation. Even though there have been isolated incidents of violent behavior both on the part of the police and the public, violence is frowned upon by all parties concerned.

There is a very clear demarcation line between civil disobedience and civil war. Unlike Syria, Egypt or other Muslim States where the freedom movement has escalated into unbridled violence and civil war, the Maldives is unlikely to go the same route.

Even if the worst case scenario is considered – let’s say Waheed’s regime refuses to set an early election date – with the security forces unable to contain a public uprising and the use of force becomes mandatory, the decision is likely to result in the fall of the government.

A limited population ensures a close-knit society. Members of the security forces and the general public are bound by close family ties making it virtually impossible for any member of the security forces to implement a ‘shoot order’ even if President Waheed were dumb enough or desperate enough to issue such an order.

Any member of the security forces taking aim on a member of the public will in all probability find his colleague’s gun aimed at his own head. Who else but a madman will aim at a crowd, when the likelihood of shooting a brother, sister, cousin or a close relative is almost a dead certainty?

Civil disobedience, led by the MDP, is here to stay. The protests are gaining ground day by day; each day resulting in the increase in members on the streets. The cycle has taken on a natural life of its own and the pace is being set by the members arrested on a daily basis.

It is only a matter of time before push comes to shove. Waheed’s regime, tottering on the brink, is clearly headed up the creek without a paddle. For Waheed, there is but a single option. Like Humpty Dumpty, he can only fall.

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 [email protected]


It’s About Justice…

“It’s about justice. It has always been about justice,” said Jennifer Latheef, member of the Governing Council of the Maldivian Democratic Party and human rights activist, tossing back her head in a gesture of defiance.

Miss Latheef was charged and sentenced to ten years imprisonment on charges of terrorism on October 20, 2005, for allegedly having hit a policeman with a stone when a large percentage of the capital’s inhabitants took to the streets in a spontaneous fit of rage on September 20, 2003.

The incident which resulted in acts of arson directed at the High Court, the office of the Elections Commissioner and several police vehicles and a police sub-station were sparked by the brutal killing of Evan Naseem by the security forces, an inmate of the Maafushi jail, on September 19, 2003. The subsequent jail riots took a further toll on innocent lives the following day when the same security personnel in Maafushi jail opened fire on unarmed inmates, killing four and seriously injuring seventeen others.

Surprisingly deviating from the hard-line stance taken by President Gayyoom, the regime has of late begun to make conciliatory gestures towards the opposition. Several MDP activists arrested during street demonstrations were recently released. Yet – even more surprising was the fact that Gayyoom had apparently decided to issue a Presidential pardon for Jenny Latheef.

“I’m not about to get all excited over some comments made by Gayyoom’s mouthpiece,” said Jenny, presently under house-arrest, referring to the recent remarks publicly made by Shareef, the government Spokesperson.

“I have not been informed of anything officially.”

“I could have evaded going to jail by remaining in Colombo. Despite the terrorism charges lodged against me by the regime, and well aware of the way the judiciary works here, I still came back to Male’ because I believed in justice.”

Further responding to Shareef’s announcements about a Presidential pardon for herself, said Jenny:

“Gayyoom has publicly acknowledged there are shortcomings in the justice system. He has said that justice ought to be meted in accordance with the wishes of the people.”

“Initially when the Attorney General built his case against me, he stated that we – meaning Xia, Shabir, Alex and Ikulla, Ahmed Moosa and myself – would be tried together. Assuming he has decided to release me, it is only just that what applies to me should apply to the others as well.”

“Anyway – the investigation and the trial itself was a travesty of justice.”

As part of the pre-conditions to all party talks, the MDP had proposed that all political prisoners be released unconditionally. Jenny, who remains unperturbed at having to spend ten years in jail, echoed the same sentiments.

“Only a few of the detainees were released. The majority are still under arrest – whether it be Male’ arrest, house arrest or jail – and their liberty is equally important to me as my own freedom.”

“I’m definitely not interested in a pardon. I am innocent. I am not a terrorist. I went out on to the street to protest against a grave injustice. All I am interested in is seeking justice and I am prepared to face any eventuality to achieve my goals.”

“I cannot talk about justice and turn my back on injustice.”

When questioned whether if she had a message for President Gayyoom, she responded:

“I pray to Allah that Gayyoom does the right thing by my people.”