The President’s Office has declared that statements made to the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) concerning the legality of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s controversial ascension to power have been made confidential in order to protect those who testified to the commission.
Media Secretary of Presidents Office Masood Imad told local newspaper Haveeru that the CNI had agreed to protect those who gave evidence to the commission.
According to the government, President Waheed in March issued a presidential decree declared that all materials relating to the CNI would be declared a national secret and kept from the public.
“If the statements [given to the CNI] get published in public, [those who gave evidence to the commission] may face dangers and may be threatened. It is with the recommendation of the CNI panel as well that the statements had been made confidential,” claimed Masood.
Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim told the newspaper that according to the presidential decree, the documents will be kept confidential and safely stored for a period of 25 years.
The defence minister said that the decision was made in adherence to Sections 22(b) and 22(c) of the Right to Information Regulation.
According to Section 22(b) exceptions to Right to Information include information which if released could prompt a lawsuit against the government for failing to ensure confidentiality, while Section 22(c) states that exception can also be made to withhold release of information if it would lead to difficulty for the government in obtaining similar information in the future.
According to Nazim, the president had given the defense ministry the responsibility on making the information confidential and keeping the assorted documents, audio, videos and photographs in the ministry’s custody.
“It hasn’t come to our hands as of yet. But we are working on bringing into our custody,” Nazim said.
Change in management
In late January 2012, a 22 day continuous anti-government protests led by then opposition figures and religious scholars following the controversial detention of Chief Judge of Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed escalated into a mutiny by certain elements within the police and the military.
By midday of February 7, 2012, then-President Nasheed had exhausted all his options to establish a chain of command within the ranks of police and military, and was left trapped inside the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) barracks surrounded by rebelling police and military forces along with an angry mob of anti-Nasheed demonstrators which had been armed by the security services.
The current Defense Minister Nazim – who was a civilian at the time – entered the barracks and gave an ultimatum to Nasheed, “resign or face the dire repercussions”, to which Nasheed conceded and resigned.
Then vice President Waheed subsequently ascended to power.
The following day, Nasheed and the MDP along with thousands of supporters took to the street in protest of the new regime change, but were met with harsh crackdown by what the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) later described as an “emotionally charged” police and military.
The national inquiry
In June 2012, following strong local and international pressure – primarily from the Commonwealth – President Waheed was forced to reformulate the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) to include representatives from the MDP and international community. The national inquiry commission included three members handpicked by Waheed, a Singaporean judge and a representative of former President Nasheed.
The commission interviewed several individuals as well as reviewed photographs, videos and other documents relating to the transfer of power which Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) had alleged was a “bloodless coup d’état” that forced the first democratically elected president out of office.
Prior to the release of the commission’s findings, Nasheed’s nominee to the commission Ahmed ‘Gahaa’ Saeed resigned in protest from the commission contending that vital information concerning the power transfer was deliberately disregarded in order to achieve a certain outcome.
“I realised it was all going wrong,” Saeed said at a press conference held after his resignation.
In a letter he wrote to the commission’s co-chairs, Saeed cited concerns including the withholding of evidence, non-cooperation from crucial witnesses, non-examination of witnesses, witnesses being intimidated or obstructed, testimonies and evidence that was not reviewed, and organisation by the CNI secretariat.
The CNI went onto announce its finding in which it claimed there was neither a coup as alleged by the former ruling party MDP nor was there any substantial grounds to question the legitimacy of President Waheed’s ascension to power – much to the dismay of former President Nasheed and the MDP.
“In sum, the Commission concludes that there was no illegal coercion or intimidation nor any coup d’état. The Commission has received no evidence supporting or to substantiate these allegations. This disposes the main mandate of the Commission,” read the report. The report and the commission’s website were subsequently taken off-line.
CNI findings flawed
A subsequent legal analysis of the commission’s report on the request of the now opposition MDP by a team of high-profile Sri Lankan legal professionals – including the country’s former Attorney General – accused the commission of exceeding its mandate, selectively gathering and acting upon evidence, and failing to adequately address the fundamental issue with which it was charged: determining whether the former President resigned under duress.
“[The CNI] appears to have abdicated its duty to objectively and reasonably bring its collective mind to bear on whether or not there was duress involved in the purported resignation of President Nasheed,” concluded the detailed report.
The authors included two Sri Lankan Supreme Court attorneys – Anita Perera and Senany Dayaratne – and the former Sri Lankan Attorney General Shibly Aziz.
“The [CNI] Report offends the fundamental tenets of natural justice, transparency and good governance, including the right to see adverse material, which undermines the salutary tenets of the Rule of Law,” it claimed.
“Even by the yardstick of ‘coercion’ or illegal coercion which the [CNI] has incorporated for reasons one cannot fathom – given the clear mandate – ex facie the events accepted by the “[CNI] and without anything more, does strongly and convincingly establish the ‘coercion’ or ‘illegal coercion’, the yardstick chosen by the [CNI],” the report noted, in support for the claim of an illegitimate ousting of a legitimate head of state.
A review of the CNI report by Parliament’s Executive Oversight Committee – the parliamentary select-committee mandated with overseeing the government and its agencies – led to the announcement by the committee’s chair that the report was “flawed”.
The Committee Chair MP Ali Waheed told local media that many interviewed by the committee claimed it lacked “key information they had given to [the CNI panel]”.
“Some have even claimed their information was wrongly presented,” he said, while others who attended the committee [meeting] “have told us that key information they gave was missing from the CNI report, and said they did not accept its findings”.
Dozens of statements given to the CNI were leaked to local media. Among the statements included those given by former President Nasheed and statements from senior officials from the military and police.
In one of the leaked statements, MNDF Staff Sergeant Shafraz Naeem – who was commanding ‘Bravo’, one of the Bandara Koshi Battalion riot squads that confronted the mutinying police – told the CNI that he had “lost faith in the institution” after the events.
“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,” read his statement.
“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,” he said.
Former President Nasheed’s leaked statement read – “In essence, my statement is very small. I was forced to resign. I resigned under duress. I was threatened. If I did not resign within a stipulated period it would endanger mine and my family’s life. I understood they were going to harm a number of other citizens, party members. They were going to literally sack the town. I felt that I had no other option, other than to resign.”