One Hundred Days in Gayoom’s Jails

Hundreds of pro-democracy activists – in prison, under house or under Male’ arrest – will wake up this morning having spent one hundred days in detention.

The issue of the pro-democracy detainees is a combustive one. It divides the country and divides the country from the rest of the world. One just needs to look at the reaction of the Europeans – who continue, privately, to chatter about imposing sanctions – to see just how far Gayoom has travelled down the road to becoming an international bogey-man and the Maldives a pariah state.

However, when one thinks of it dividing the country, it is not down the middle, with one half of the population supporting the incarceration of innocent democracy campaigners and the other opposing it, it is more a division between the ruling elite – Gayoom’s family and friends – and everybody else.

More than just dividing the country though, the issue of the detainees also exposes just how fragile Gayoom’s rule really is. How many Maldivians, if you asked them in private, would actually support Gayoom’s polices on the detainees? How many support Gayoom at all? All the evidence – the opposition’s showing in the Special Majlis elections, the popularity of the reform meetings, the popularity of independent media, and of course 12,000 people on the streets in August – leans towards the conclusion that Gayoom is profoundly unpopular.

This entrenched unpopularity – some might say loathing – of Gayoom and his regime shifts the balance of power in the Maldives away from the regime and into the hands of the people. Although many may not realise it, the most powerful force in Maldivian politics today is not Gayoom, nor his supporters, nor even the NSS. It is the people.

As Fathimath Shimla argues in her peice “the limits of foreign intervention in the Maldives”, the power of mass public protest in the Maldives is enormous. Can anyone remember a time – the coup attempt aside – when Gayoom has looked so fallible? Can anyone remember a time when his own cabinet were divided, when his own family members were conspiring against him, when his own security services were dangerously split, and when 15% of Male’ rose up against him? However, there is still a key missing ingredient for real change to occur – a belief by ordinary Maldivians in their own ability to achieve that change.

As key opposition figures spend their one hundredth day in detention, some must wonder why they are still held captive and why Gayoom is still in power. For it is not wishful thinking but the simple truth to say: if enough Maldivians believed tomorrow they would bring down the dictator, tomorrow they surely would.

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Left behind: Minivan News takes a closer look at Abdulla Rasheed

Abdulla Rasheed, better known as ‘IC’, has been held in solitary confinement – without charge – for 98 days following his involvement in the peaceful pro-democracy rally of 12-13th of August. Whilst the majority of those arrested following the August rally have been transferred to house or Male’ arrest, IC remains behind bars in Dhoonidoo. Minivan News spoke to his family and friends to discover why this 35 year-old man from Addu Atoll is so threatening to the Maldivian regime.

IC first attracted public attention during the 1999 parliamentary elections. As the campaign manager for Mohamed Nasheed in Male’, IC quickly garnered a reputation as someone who had both the organisational and leadership skills to pull off political victories against the odds. His ability to ‘get out the vote’ especially among Male’s’ large and disenfranchised youth population made him a key player in winning the seat for Mr. Nasheed. As Nasheed puts it “without IC…I couldn’t have taken Male’.”

As a co-founder and owner of the popular Haruge’ Café, on the eastern shore of Male’, IC gained further attention – particularly with corrupt government officials – as the businessman who refused to pay bribes. However, his ethical stance against corruption did not do him many favours in business, he soon lost his stake in the Haruge’ enterprise.

This ethical stance seems to be the main driving force behind IC. During his days as a resort manager for Villa Hotels, IC became popular with his employees. “He was always kind to his staff. He would never just fire someone indiscriminately as others did.” a family member commented. In fact, IC’s refusal to budge on issues he feels strongly about appears to be the cause of his current incarceration.

A week before his arrest, IC received a tip-off that both he and Fulhu were to be arrested. IC caught the next flight to Colombo but after spending a couple of days there he felt he had to return home, regardless of the consequences. “I begged him not to go back to Male’” said IC’s ex-wife Tanya, who remains a close friend. “I knew he might get taken, but IC said he had to go back and continue the fight for democracy, he said he couldn’t just hide in Sri Lanka. I knew there was no point arguing with him.”

After Fulhu was arrested on 12th August, IC was one of the first to protest outside the NSS Headquarters in Male’. If the regime didn’t know it already, they knew then the threat IC posed. Several hours later, twelve thousand people had joined him.

“He’s had to sacrifice everything dear to him for his beliefs – his business, his family, and his freedom” says Tanya. With more reports of NSS brutality being exposed daily, IC has certainly suffered for his democratic values. On the 15th August, just hours after his arrest, he was taken from prison to hospital in Male’. He was reportedly suffering from vomiting and temporary paralysis of the legs, caused by the beatings he received at the time of his arrest.

Despite this, his family and friends remain strong and increasingly supportive of IC’s prominent stance against the government. “His family are behind him. They love him and will always support him” says Tanya. “A friend of his saw him last week when he was on hunger-strike. They conveyed messages of support to him. IC said he felt stronger than ever.”

The recent outpouring of support for IC – from his family, from the opposition movement and from the hundreds of young people who look up to him – perhaps most poignantly comes from his son. “I know they were protesting for democratic laws, I know they were campaigning for democracy, I know my father has been arrested but I know he’s not a criminal. Protesting for democracy is not being a criminal” said ten-year old Thaim.

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MDP regrets Maldives regime insults of eminent and brotherly Sri Lankans

The Maldivian Democratic Party expresses profound regret that the Maldives regime officials and their sponsored publications have insulted eminent and brotherly Sri Lankans who organized the peaceful demonstration of 14th November in the vicinity of the Maldives High Commission in Pamankada, Sri Lanka.

Maldives High Commission officials were reported to have foul-mouthed high profile Sri Lankans who were among the organizers of the demonstration, including film maker Manik Sandarasagara, and his colleagues.

A group of about 25 Sri Lankans carrying placards gathered in front of the Maldives High Commission in Sri Lanka on Sunday and voiced concern for political detainees in Maldives. They called for the restoration of electoral and civil rights of would-be candidates being barred by the government to contest general elections for which the application deadline is November 15. The Sri Lankan traffic police dispersed the group as the street leading to the Maldives High Commission was a narrow lane and vehicles carrying invitees to Eid (Ramazan festival) there were having difficulties accessing the road, a Sri Lankan news reporter on the scene told MDP officials.

The demonstrators later regrouped in front of the Euro Cinema in the vicinity of the Maldives High Commission. “By then the group was about 70 strong. They stayed there about an hour and a half before peacefully dispersing”, a journalist said.

“They (High Commission officials) called us impotent idiots and coup-plotters and kept saying it was Sri Lankans like us who sponsored the attacks in Male in 1983”, a spokesperson for the organizers complained to the MDP. Maldives regime sponsored publications described participants of the demonstration as “People who were barefooted, wearing sarongs and chewing puak or betel leaf, ….. riff raff- the equivalent of partey’s (a Maldivian jargon for drug dealers)”

An eminent Sri Lankan who called the MDP offices in Beddegana explained : “The demonstration was not planned to coincide with any national or religious functions but with November 14th, (a Sunday) which was the last day of forwarding applications to stand for the forthcoming general elections. It was deplorable that they would revile Sri Lankans in such a manner”.

Many would-be candidates for the forthcoming general elections are being barred from their civil and electoral rights, pending trials or release from arrest, a spokesperson for the organizers noted. “The government is thereby depriving the constitutional rights of thousands of their supporters” he said.

The Maldivian Democratic Party extends its gratitude for the sympathy expressed by the demonstrators for political detainees and their solidarity with us for condemning violations of human, civil and electoral rights by the Maldives government.

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For real reform, the reform meetings must go on

On the 9th June 2004, President Gayoom launched his democratic reform programme. Since then, pro-democracy meetings have been banned, peaceful rallies have been brutally suppressed and pro-democracy activists imprisoned and tortured. The Maldives has become markedly more authoritarian and markedly less democratic. To Maldivians and international observers alike, the reform programme rings hollow. Allowing reform meetings would be a real step to get it back on track.

Democratic reform needs to be conducted in a democratic way. Listening to the demands and concerns of the public about the way they would like their country to be run is essential to make change a success. Democracy is, after all, about the will of the people.

Outside the Male’ elite, there is little understanding of concepts such as democracy and human rights, let alone constitutional change and political pluralism. This is why the reform meetings are so important. They provide forums not only for democratic participation but also for education.

The experience of the last meetings are testament to this. Not only was the turnout exceptional but the quality of the debate and the feedback from participants was also extremely positive. People said it was great to be able to express their views. They also felt that they really learned something.

President Gayoom appears to have banned the meetings because he did not like the criticism his government was receiving. This is hardly mature politics. One only needs to see the abuse hurled back and forth in the British House of Commons each week to know that whining about insults isn’t going to cut much ice with foreign observers. Nor does it demonstrate the President’s commitment to freedom of expression.

Allowing the reform meetings however, would give the President’s battered reputation a much needed boost. He has been mauled by the international media in the last two months and his popularity in the Maldives has hit new lows. This would be a way to try and repair some of the damage. It would also counter the opposition’s charge that the President is just tinkering with the existing system.

The reform meetings are an essential pre-condition for real democratic change in the Maldives. They must be allowed to continue.

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MDP Welcomes Minivan News

Following the success of Minivan Radio, which broadcasts to the Maldives each evening, the online news channel Minivan News has been launched.

Minivan News is committed to bringing its readers objective news coverage and high quality analysis. Using credible sources, Minivan News will be updated with daily news from the Maldives and abroad and commentary and opinion from its panel of independent columnists.

The Maldivian government continually dictates what the state-run press in the Maldives can and cannot publish. Moreover, the Maldivian government continues to ban independent media channels and attempts to block independent radio and news websites.

The MDP, by contrast, is committed to freedom of expression and as such strongly encourages the establishment of a free press in the Maldives. The MDP further believes that for press to be genuinely free, it needs to be free from all political interference. In this regard, the MDP will have no control – nor will seek to control – the editorial content of Minivan News or any other news channel.

The MDP welcomes the addition of a new independent news channel for the Maldives, complementing existing e-newspaper Dhivehi Observer and e-newsletters Fassangu and Sandhaanu.

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Escalating dismay over official disregard of detainees’ hunger strike

Family members and friends of pro-democracy detainees have expressed escalating dismay and anguish over what they describe as politically motivated disregard by the regime over the deteriorating health of those on hunger-strike. The detainees are protesting their prolonged and unnecessary detention.

The Maldivian Democratic Party is following up on all practical means available in addressing appeals to prevail over the Maldives government and the international community for intercession over this alarming situation.

Of increasing concern, from appeals brought forward by family members and friends are the weakening health of Hon. Ilyas Hussein Ibrahim MP, Mr.Shuaib Ali, Mohamed Ziyaad MDP Councilor, Abdulla Rasheed, Ismail Asif and Saaz Waleed. Their failing health is reported to be causing distress to their families as they have not taken any food the past four days.

On 7th November 2004, the warden at the interrogation center Staff Sergeant Ibrahim Manik, requested the wives, relatives and friends of those on hunger strike to go to the interrogation center on Dhoonidhoo Island. Five close associates of the detainees did speak to them. Sources quoting the detainees say that the detainees believe that it is up to the detaining authority to normalize the situation.

The continued detention of those protesting, friends believe, is to thwart their opportunity to participate, some to contest, in the forthcoming general elections, for which the application deadline is the 15th November.
Hon. Ilyas Hussein, member of the peoples Special Majlis (constituent assembly) for North Ari Atoll is much respected people’s representative. Writer, publisher and activist, Hon Ilyas Hussain is a people’s politician, a proudly proclaimed slogan on all his correspondence.

Mr.Shuaib Ali, a pro-democracy activist of repute and a would-be candidate in the forthcoming general elections, is believed to be alternating between unconsciousness and fainting spells. His worsening health is causing much distress to family members and friends.

Mr. Mohamed Ziyaad, Mr. Abdullah Rasheed, Mr. Ismail Asif, and Saaz Waleed www.maldiviandetainees.net are much respected and successful activists of the Maldivian Democratic Party. Relatives believe that their continued detention is an unconstitutional punishment by the regime for their very visible efforts in recent days on behalf of the Maldivian Democratic Party. Sources from their families claim that their investigations were over, that there was nothing going on, and that they are just being kept to annul their rights to participate in the general elections. Family members have alleged personal animosity by the regime, especially of certain police officers towards these detainees.

Over eighteen other inmates are reported to be on a hunger-strike the past four days.
Pro-democracy prisoners in the Maldives began a hunger-strike on 4th November in protest against their continued detention by the government of President Gayoom. The prisoners, who have been in jail for over 70 days without charge, are refusing to take food because of what they believe is the political motivation behind their continued detention. Detainees have continued to refuse food throughout from the respective times of beginning their protests in hunger.

At least five of the detainees on a water-only existence are now believed to have resolved to refrain from taking anything to drink, should official disregard for their situation continue. Serious health-risks are of major concern as the detainees, deprived of basic nutrients are also susceptible to hypothermia or heat stroke. Other health risks include damage to muscle and bone tissue, dementia and fainting spells, potentially permanent brain damage, damage to internal organs, potential failure of internal organs and death (which could happen at any time, depending on the state of the detainee’s health.).

Initial reports indicated that 23 prisoners were on hunger strike, which started on the evening of November 4th in Dhoonidoo and Maafushi Jails.

The prisoners were arrested along with 500 others – including 14 MPS – following a 12,000-strong peaceful pro-democracy rally in the capital island, Male’ on 12-13 August, 2004. President Gayoom also imposed a State of Emergency and night-time curfews in the crack-down that followed the protest.

Although the State of Emergency was repealed by President Gayoom in October and many of the detainees have had their detention transferred to house arrest, over twenty-five detainees remain in prison, in solitary confinement. Amnesty International and the Maldivian Human Rights Commission have expressed deep concern after reports of some of the prisoners being tortured and sexually abused whilst in jail.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) shares the concerns of the detainees about the political motivation for their continued detention. President Gayoom called parliamentary elections for the 31st December, 2004. In May 2004, the MDP shocked the regime by winning over 70% of the seats in the elections to the constituent parliament. Many of those in prison are would-be MDP candidates for the upcoming election.

The MDP calls on the government of President Gayoom to release all political prisoners in the Maldives immediately and unconditionally. President Gayoom continually exult the international community on his commitment to democratic reform in the Maldives. The MDP feels the continued imprisonment of pro-democracy campaigners is an affront to the President’s much talked-of reforms.

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Pro-democracy prisoners on hunger-strike in the Maldives

The Maldivian Democratic Party
PRESS RELEASE
Colombo, November 5th, 2004

Pro-democracy prisoners in the Maldives are staging a hunger-strike in protest against their continued detention by the government of President Gayoom. The prisoners, who have been in jail for over 70 days without charge, are refusing to break their traditional Ramzan fast because of what they believe is the political motivation behind their continued detention. Initial reports indicate that 23 prisoners on hunger strike, which started yesterday evening (November 4th) in Dhoonidoo and Maufushi Jails.

The prisoners were arrested along with 500 others – including 14 MPS – following a 12,000-strong peaceful pro-democracy rally in the capital island, Male’ on 12-13 August, 2004. President Gayoom also imposed a State of Emergency and night-time curfews in the crack-down that followed the protest.

Although the State of Emergency was lifted by President Gayoom in October and many of the detainees have had their terms of detention reduced to house arrest, over twenty-five detainees remain in prison, in solitary confinement. Amnesty International and the Maldivian Human Rights Commission have expressed deep concern after reports of some of the prisoners being tortured and sexually abused whilst in jail.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) shares the concerns of the detainees about the political motivation for their continued detention. President Gayoom called parliamentary elections for the 31st December, 2004. In May 2004, the MDP shocked the regime by winning over 70% of the seats in the elections to the constituent parliament. Many of those in prison are would-be MDP candidates for the upcoming election.

The MDP calls on the government of President Gayoom to release all political prisoners in the Maldives immediately and unconditionally. President Gayoom continually tells the international community he is committed to democratic reform in the Maldives. The MDP feels the imprisonment of pro-democracy campaigners is an affront to the President’s much talked-of reforms.

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