The international community “will not find it tenable” if former President Mohamed Nasheed is excluded from elections in the Maldives later this year, Deputy Leader of the UK’s House of Commons Tom Brake has stated.
Brake was responding to a speech in British parliament on March 27 by UK MP for Salisbury, John Glen, who called for the British government to “acknowledge what is really happening” in the Maldives “and stand firm later this year”.
“The [Maldives] is now in a critical state. The free and fair elections that should happen later this year are in the balance. It is difficult to get clarity from the international community, and even from the British Government, on how assertive it is prepared to be to deal with the country,” Glen stated.
“There is systematic corruption among the judiciary, and almost every week new stories of human rights violations reach the press. Although the ousted [former President] Nasheed is expected to run in the forthcoming elections, it is difficult to say that he will have a clear pathway to the elections, given the legal machinations put up against him almost every week.
“As I have mentioned, there are the most vile human rights abuses in the Maldives. A 15-year-old girl has been sentenced to 100 lashes in public when she turns 18, and to eight months of house arrest. It is appalling that the international community can apparently do nothing about the situation. I stand today to generate some publicity, I hope, so that people are aware of the direness of the situation in the country,” he stated.
“We will only get changes in the Maldives if there is public awareness of what is going on. Similar things are happening in many countries across the globe, but I am not prepared to just stand back and let these things happen.”
Glen added that, “people often ask why the Member of Parliament for Salisbury is so concerned about the smallest Asian country.”
“I am concerned because the ousted President of the Maldives has a strong association with my constituency,” he said. “He was educated just outside it and has spent a lot of time in exile there. Since I came to the house, I have taken a great interest in the Maldives. The situation there is dire and appalling, and it deeply concerns me. I am also very worried by the reaction of the international community.’
The European Union (EU) has also earlier this month declared that it would be “difficult” to consider the Maldives’ upcoming presidential elections credible unless former President Mohamed Nasheed is allowed to contest.
Following the EU’s comments, President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad tweeted on March 16 that “it’s not proper for governments to discredit the independence and integrity of our judiciary. Doing so is undermining Democracy in Maldives.”
Masood added that the 2013 elections would be free, fair and exclusive, but would be “exclusive” of individuals who did not meet the legal criteria.
The Salisbury connection
Glen’s predecessor in the Salisbury seat, UK Conservative Party MP Robert Key, first brought the Maldives to the attention of British parliament prior to the country’s first democratic elections in 2008.
In an interview with Minivan News in 2010, Key described his first encounter with the self-exiled Maldivian activists, including Nasheed, who had established the Maldivian Democratic Party “in a room above a shop in Millford street in Salisbury.”
“[Nasheed] walked in through the door with his school-friend David Hardingham (Nasheed attended Dauntsey’s school with the founder of the Salisbury-based Friends of Maldives NGO), and said: ‘I have problems. I have problems with visas, I have problems with police, I need some advice from police about how to protect my little office in Salisbury’ – all these sorts of issues.”
“There were bigger problems: such as how to engage the British government ministers and the Commonwealth with what was happening in the Maldives. He quite rightly, as a good democrat, used the democratic system in the UK to pursue answers to his problems,” Key said at the time.
Unsettled by the political opposition growing overseas, the then Gayoom government in the Maldives commissioned private investigators to investigate Hardingham and the MDP’s Salisbury origins, in a project dubbed ‘Operation Druid’.
“When there was emergency rule here, there were a number of concerns as to who was funding the MDP. The government wanted to know who was behind it, and whether it was a foreign government,” Gayoom’s (and later Nasheed’s) Foreign Minister at the time, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, told Minivan News in an interview in 2011.
“The government may have wanted to see what was going on. What these operations did was try to see who was who. And a lot of the operations the government felt were against it came from Salisbury, and I think the government of the day felt justified in engaging a firm to look into what was going on,” Dr Shaheed said.
“We’re talking about people who they had deported from the Maldives for proselytisation, people involved in all sort of activities. They felt they needed to check on that, and what came out was a clean bill of health. Nothing untoward was happening, and these people were by and large bone-fide.”
After the investigators failed to turn up anything untoward, Hardingham and MP Key were vilified by Gayoom’s government as ‘Christian missionaries’ intent on building a church in the Maldives, on behalf of Salisbury cathedral.
“Well I recognised it as a political ploy. But we had to take it seriously as a threat because that was how it was presented – that Salisbury cathedral might become a target for some kind of activity. It was very specific,” said Key.
“The actual threat was that Salisbury and Salisbury Cathedral were trying to convert the Maldives to Christianity. Which was absolute nonsense but had to be taken seriously, because quite obviously in the Maldives that would be seen as a significant threat in a country that is 100 percent Islamic. I understood that straight away.
“It was not true, and therefore we had to say ‘It is not true.’ The Dean of Salisbury Cathedral understood the issue, she took it at face value, and we sought security advice as necessary. But it was never a serious threat. It was a juvenile political ploy.”
“It was just a mischievous suggestion,” said Dr Shaheed, in the subsequent interview. “At the time everyone was accusing each other of being non-Muslim, and this accusation that the MDP was non-Muslim was getting very loud.”
Meanwhile, following the controversial transfer of power on February 7, 2012 and the resignation of Nasheed, the Salisbury-based Friends of Maldives NGO reverted from health, education and sports development to advocating human rights and democratic restoration.
“FOM’s focus has been forced to revert to protecting human rights and promoting social justice until safety and democracy is restored,” the NGO states on its website.