Amnesty International gave imprisoned activists credibility as political refugees: Zuhair

The world’s largest human rights NGO, Amnesty International, celebrated its 50th anniversary over the weekend, marking half a century since a British lawyer named Peter Benenson campaigned for the release of Portugese students sentenced to seven years imprisonment for toasting liberty.

The Nobel Peace Prize-winning organisation counts three million supporters, members and activists in 150 countries and territories all over the world, and produces 400-500 reports on human rights every year.

Amnesty adopted current Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed as a prisoner of conscience in April 1996 after he was sentenced to two years imprisonment on charges relating to his activities as a dissident journalist.

“Amnesty International considered his detention to be politically motivated and was concerned he would not receive a fair trial,” Amnesty said at the time. “Mohamed Nasheed attended several court hearings but the court did not come to a decision. Amnesty International is very concerned that despite release, Mohamed Nasheed’s ‘sedition’ charges have not been withdrawn “

In 2008, Amnesty issued a statement welcoming Nasheed as President of the island nation, and urged him to “make human rights a central part of his presidency.”

“The legacies of human rights abuses such as politically motivated arrests, torture, and unfair trials, will mar the Maldives’ human rights record if legislative reforms are delayed,” Amnesty noted, particularly the draft penal code which remains stalled in the parliament to this day.

“The new government must now end decades-long legacies of abuse of political power with no accountability for human rights violations such as politically motivated arrests, torture, and unfair trials,” Amnesty added, observing that human rights violations appeared to have “decreased significantly” in the last two years of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s 30 year administration.

Nasheed’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair said today that Amnesty’s campaigning on behalf of the then political activist was vital in establishing his credibility with embassies and other international organisations, such at the UN’s Refugee Agency, which subsequently issued temporary travel documents to five Maldivian activists.

Amnesty’s campaigning on Nasheed’s behalf became especially invaluable after the office of the then opposition-in-exile in Colombo was raided by the Sri Lankan police, Zuhair explained.

“There was information sent by the Maldivian government that the MDP was storing illegal firearms in Colombo seeking to transfer them to the Maldives,” he said.

“Our office and houses were raided and I was roughly handled in front of my wife and children. The Colombo CID interrogated me about reports that we’d apparently been talking to pilots about doing the job, and at last these were proven to be false.”

Following the raid, four of the five political activists expressed doubt over their continued safety in Colombo and sought asylum in the UK. Of the five, Zuhair elected to remain in Sri Lanka “because I had faith in the Sri Lankan legal system, which was later [justified].”

Nasheed was detained in 2001 days after being elected to parliament, Zuhair noted, “on charges brought against him for petty theft from the demolished home of the former president, Ibrahim Nasir. These were mementos that were being thrown out as garbage, but he was thrown in jail on the pretext. The Minister of Home Affairs later acknowledged that nothing of value had been taken, after we argued in court that a price be fixed to the items.”

Nasheed was detained “on and off” 12 times, Zuhair said, and like many prisoners at the time, fell victim to institutionalised methods of punishment.

“He was handcuffed to his shins, and placed in a pillory (a series of hinged wooden boards locking the head and limbs from movement). He was also handcuffed to a hot generator for 14 days. In one instance, the guards mixed shards of glass into his food,” Zuhair claimed.

The credibility given by Amnesty to Nasheed as political prisoner allowed the opposition to organise outside the Maldives, Zuhair recalled, and pressured the introduction of greater human rights in the country.

“We are very grateful to them,” he said.

Amnesty’s current entry on the Maldives, last updated in May 2010, acknowledges ongoing concerns about parliament’s delay in enacting the draft penal code, and concern over the use of flogging as a punishment.

“An 18-year-old woman received 100 lashes on July 5, 2009 after being accused of having sex with two men outside marriage. Local journalists reported the woman fainted after being flogged and was taken to hospital for treatment,” Amnesty wrote.

“The woman, who was pregnant at the time of sentencing, had her punishment deferred until after the birth of her child. The court ruled the woman’s pregnancy was proof of her guilt. The men involved in the case were acquitted.”

In July 2010, Amnesty chided Nasheed’s government for the extra-judicial detention of opposition People’s Alliance (PA) MP Abdulla Yameen – Gayoom’s half-brother.

“The Maldives Government’s proposed reforms do have the potential to improve human rights protection, but this does not give them the right to arbitrarily detain opponents of those reforms. Instead, the government should seek international assistance to resolve this impasse,” Amnesty said at the time.

“There are fundamental flaws in the Maldives criminal justice system, leading to unfair trials. There is no unified definition of a criminal offence in the Maldivian law, which consists of acts of parliament, Shari’a edicts, and regulations passed by the ministries.”

The Maldives has since ascended to a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. Yet human rights concerns remain in the country about the efficacy of the criminal justice system, the prevalence of human trafficking – resulting in the country being placed on the US State Department’s tier two watch list – and an ongoing “culture of torture” the government has at times acknowledged continues to pervade both the police and prisons system.


10 thoughts on “Amnesty International gave imprisoned activists credibility as political refugees: Zuhair”

  1. Of course it did. If it was not for Amnesty International political activists would receive very little recognition and even less support. It is a shame Amnesty cannot do more.

  2. Certain leaders continue to be dignified and glorified even after they are out of power. Others, despite best attempts at political engineering and PR stunts, their efforts to dignify themselves miserably fail and backfire as there is too much to hide and to fabricate and they find it is too late to rewrite the history to project themselves different from who they really are.

    Maldivian people do admire President Nasheed and they are likely to adore him in the decades to follow. He is risking his political gains for the future of Maldives and his economic decisions are not muddled with political shortsightedness, rather reflects actions of true statesman. Such a figure should have been in the Maldivian political scene long time ago, perhaps latest in 90s and todays campaign planks should have been entirely different from fundamental issues such as transport, housing etc.

    It is futile exercise to try to shine on borrowed robes. It is stupidity to waste ones energy trying to defend the untenable leader one never was. every passing day truth is dawning upon the Maldivian as to how well the country could have been governed. There is no beter policy than honesty. At least one should be able to pretend to be honest.History never forgives villains even though they acted in he guise of genuine persons. Sooner or later vilains are exposed as villains and trying to canonise them would be a battl destined to lose. Be true to nation and oneself, abandon the phoneys and join true statesman (not just politician) like President Nasheed. NAtional interest is the where line should be drawn to subdue partyline and political discord. We Maldivian's have a moral obligation not to fail this infant democracy and be supportive and critical of this governemnt depending the situation. The best well wishes and orchestrations fail, if not sooner, later if the whole thing is bereft of sincerity. Sufficient historical evidence to learn from. So none should fool a people for petty gains because ultimately the very thing boomarangs back.

  3. I am surprised Zuhair forgot to mention about Ismail Saadiq who lobbyied US congress to bring these changes we are enjoying today. Ismail was jailed for 5 years without any charges filed against him and Amnesty international declared him as a political prisoner of conscious.

  4. Zuhair would not forget Ismail Sodiq, who was his class-mate. But the topic was not on an anniversary concerning Ismail, but Amnesty. Zuhair was commenting on the organization's benefits for people currently in government. Mr Ismail Sodiq is a reticent and dedicated businessman, but had opted not to be in government. Tks.

  5. Z is right. Amnesty has lent moral courage, and its determined consistency as exemplary factors for reformists worldwide, including President Nasheed.

  6. Excellent report MV. we must never forget the sacrifices that were made to bring democracy here. Note how many dictators are available for work across the world now! Nasheed led the way!! We just have to reform the justice system now!!

  7. my dear salim, how come you get to drive around in a state owned car?

  8. i definitely support the idea of seeking international assistance to resolve the civil disputes and i think Maldives should consider establishing truth and reconciliation center or seek international court of justice to seek justice for all those who claim to have been tortured in the detention cells or during the interrogation face.

  9. @Abdullah’s points were interesting. He mentions that leaders should strive to be honest.

    I am reminded of Machiavelli’s advice that a true ‘Prince’ always has religious sentiment and golden words dripping from his lips like nectar, yet should never be moved by compassion or moral concern. It is the art of amorality, not IMMORALITY, that leaders perfect, that is, using morality and religion in the way that it propels them to power.

    The mask of morality.

    Yet I believe that a truly good leader actually is moved by deep moral concern, GENUINE moral concern. I don’t use morality in a fundamentalist religious sense. Morality means, self-realization sanctity of human life.

    Yet this does not mean that one can gain political power without a bit of cunning and deceipt at times, I AM sorry, but this world is a very power hungry place and if you actually observe it closely you would notice that with so many doing so much to gain power, to gain power, even for promoting good, you have to do what it takes. It it the cruel ethical paradox that every compassionate person has to deal with in order to actually gain the power to use their compassion.

    I hate self righteoussness.

    So how do you tell the difference between a person being deceiptful for the purpose of power for the sake of power between a person being deceiptful seeking power for the sake of humanity?

    I believe, it is the extent to which they are capable of enduring suffering, rejection, humiliation for their goals, as power for sake of it will only take you so far.

    I love the way the commenters here used the word sacrifice. yes, the extent of sacrifice, that is the KEY to discerning the truth of a person's motivations.

    Nasheed (President) passes the test of a true moral soldier in my eyes.

    I am priviliged to have met him.

  10. Sharia makes it very difficult to interpret course of justice in Maldives and there are many different schools of thought which goes sways between extremities and moderation. I don't think Maldives will ever a human rights based code of justice if we go on trying to integrate Sharia into laws. We should rather go for a system that upholds principles of humanity and then we will see that Sharia is naturally embedded in it. We will not go wrong then.


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