“Weakening faith” opportunity for foreign powers to influence Maldives: President Waheed

President Dr Mohamed Waheed has today spoken of his concern that the “weakening faith” of Maldivians was allowing unspecified “foreign powers” to increase their influence over the country’s  internal affairs.

Despite the number of differing political beliefs currently held by Maldivians, president Waheed called on the public to ensure that Islam and “national interest” were always their foremost priorities.

“Our national anthem, national flag, and national colours that symbolize the country should come first,” read an official statement quoting Dr Waheed that was posted on the President’s Office website today.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has meanwhile questioned President Waheed’s religious convictions, accusing him of being “double-faced” by trying to appeal to Islamists in the country for political gain, while claiming his comments more resembled the words of a “dictator”.

President Waheed made the comments today as he visited the island of Alifushi in North Maalhosmadulu Atoll as part of a tour to survey and break ground on a number of development projects in the area such as school and hospital constructions.

Speaking to local people on the island, President Waheed said that foreign powers would always seek to try and influence the country during times of conflict and instability.

Stressing the need for unity at both a national and community level, he therefore urged the public to try to prevent political views from coming between families.

President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad, who had not travelled with the president to Alifushi today, said he was not aware of the nature of the president’s comments when contacted this afternoon. Masood was not responding to calls for further clarification at time of press.

Unifying force

Meanwhile, MDP MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor today rejected suggestions that President Waheed stood as a unifying force for Islam in the Maldives, accusing him of politicising the nation’s faith for his own gain.

“It is the mark of his total weakness in politics that [President Waheed] has put himself in this position,” he said. “There is no currency among the public in what he says.”

Hamid claimed that many Maldivians were aware that the president had sought to “play Islam” for political gain since he took office following the controversial transfer of power in February 2012.

President Waheed, who served as vice president under the former government, came to power after the resignation of former President Mohamed Nasheed following a mutiny by sections of the police and military.

Nasheed later alleged he had resigned under duress in what both himself and the MDP contend was a “coup d’etat”, despite a Commonwealth-backed Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) later concluding that President Waheed had come to power constitutionally.

Hamid alleged that President Waheed remained a “coup leader”, who had been backed by key businessmen in the country linked to its lucrative tourism industry.

“What is most bizarre is that it was certain tourism oligarchs who brought him to power.”

Coalition agreement

Just last month, President Waheed announced he would be forming a coalition between his Gaumee Ithihaad Party (GIP) and the religious conservative Adhaalath Party (AP) ahead of presidential elections scheduled for later this year.

The AP, one of five parties in the country meeting a recently approved regulation requiring any registered political body to have 10,000 registered members, is part of the coalition government of President Waheed following last year’s change in government.

Both Adhalaath and GIP do not presently have any elected members in parliament.

The religious conservative party was previously a coalition partner in the government of former President Nasheed, later leaving the government citing concerns at what it alleged were the irreligious practices of the administration.

This led the AP in December 2011 to join then fellow opposition parties – now members of Waheed’s unity government – and a number of NGOs to gather in Male’ with thousands of people to “defend Islam”.

During the same day, Nasheed’s MDP held their own rally held at the artificial beach area in Male’ claiming his government would continue to practice a “tolerant form” of Islam, reminding listeners that Islam in the Maldives has traditionally been tolerant.

“We can’t achieve development by going backwards to the Stone Age or being ignorant,” Nasheed said at the time.

Shortly after coming to power in February 2012, flanked by members of the new government’s coalition, President Waheed gave a speech calling on supporters to “Be courageous; today you are all mujaheddin”.

“Extremism” fears

Earlier this week, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, former Foreign Minister under both the governments of former Presidents Nasheed and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, alleged that anti-semitism, racism, xenophobia and religious intolerance were “deeply entrenched” in political parties currently opposed to the MDP.

Dr Shaheed’s comments followed reports in local media summarising US Embassy cables first published by Wikileaks in 2009, and discussed during the then-opposition parliament’s efforts to impeach the foreign minister.

In particular, the Maldivian government’s engagement with Israel was the subject of a parliamentary debate November 9, 2009, in which Shaheed narrowly avoided impeachment following a no-confidence motion.

Opposition to the Maldives’ recognition of Israel was seized by then opposition groups in December 2011 as a sign of the Nasheed government’s “anti-Islamic” policies.

However, Dr Shaheed claimed that “Growing extremism hurts the Maldives rather than anybody else, because whenever a state is unable to deliver what is in the public interest due to intimidation from others, it is the state that suffers.”

Meanwhile, a recent report on extremism in the Maldives published in US West Point military academy’s Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) Sentinel has warned that growing religious extremism and political uncertainty in the country risk negatively affecting the country’s tourism industry.

“Despite its reputation as an idyllic paradise popular among Western tourists, political and religious developments in the Maldives should be monitored closely,” the report concluded.


Dr Shaheed’s report on Iran reveals six-fold increase in executions since 2003

UN Special Rapporteur on Iran and former Maldives Foreign Minister, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, has released an explosive report on human rights abuses in Iran.

Dr Shaheed, who was appointed Special Rapporteur in June 2011, reported that Iran had executed 670 people last year, 81 percent of them for minor drug offences that did not justify capital punishment under international law. 20 people were executed for offences against Islam, Dr Shaheed found, while a further 15 are awaiting death sentences for adultery.

Of these executions 421 were announced publicly, while 249 were performed in ‘secret’. Dr Shaheed expressed particular concern about the surge in executions in the last three months of 2011, from 200 in mid-September 2011 to over 600 by the end of the year – a six-fold increase on 2003.

Despite drug offences being the most frequently-cited reason for executions, Dr Shaheed told a press conference that there were “strong indications” that the arrests were political and drug charges added later.

Dr Shaheed found the Iran had not only executed more citizens per capita than any other country in the world, but had also detained the most number of journalists. 42 were current imprisoned, while a further 150 had fled since the 2009 election for fear of persecution. Journalists were also reportedly barred from appearing at their trials and were often informed of their sentences in prison.

The Iranian government refused to allow Dr Shaheed to visit the country in his capacity as UN Special Rapporteur, describing him as “incompetent”. The report relied heavily on first-hand testimonies, “the preponderance of which presents a pattern of systemic violations of fundamental human rights,” it noted.

Head of Iran’s the parliamentary commission on human rights, Zohreh Elahian, said the report was based on “politically tainted objectives and politicisation.”

“As was clear in Ahmed Shaheed’s draft document, the report is biased and serves political objectives since he had visited a number of European states and had meetings with the opposition and anti-revolution forces living abroad,” Elahian said.

Iranian MP Alaeddin Boroujerdi told media that Dr Shaheed was “a US agent”.

“From the first day that Mr Ahmed Shaheed was appointed as the UN [human rights] rapporteur, we suspected he was a US agent; but after he published a few reports [on the rights situation in Iran], we became certain he had been sent on mission by the Americans,” Boroujerdi said.

Dr Shaheed’s mandate for the post was narrowly approved in a UN resolution despite the opposition of Cuba, China and Russia. He told journalists he hoped the mandate would be extended.

“One of the most important aspects of this mandate is its capacity to give voice to those that believe themselves to be silenced by fear and lack of recourse,” he said.


Perpetrators immediate beneficiaries of new Maldives regime: Eurasia Review

“It was definitely a coup. Given the information that has come out, I don’t see how anyone can credibly argue otherwise,” writes Dr S. Chandrasekharan in the Eurasia Review, quoting former foreign Minister of the Maldives Dr Ahmed Shaheed.

Increasing circumstantial evidence that is surfacing in Maldives indicates that it was no “voluntary resignation” by former President Nasheed, but something forced on him by outsiders who were the immediate beneficiaries of the new regime. This includes the present Defence Minister, Col (Rtd) Mohamed Nazim.

One can blame Nasheed for his authoritative style of working or failing to understand the under currents of Islam pervading in the country, but he cannot be accused of telling a lie when he says that he has been forced to quit at “gun point.”


Video recordings now show that the present Defence Minister who was just a civilian then, and the present Commissioner of Police, Abdulla Riyaz, who was dismissed by Nasheed’s regime, entering the MNDF headquarters and then addressing the mutinous security forces in Republic Square, telling them over a loudspeaker that he has conveyed their demands that included President’s “unconditional resignation.”

Later, he was also seen with new Commissioner carrying the resignation letter of the President. How was he allowed to enter the MNDF barracks? On what basis did he carry the resignation letter? These are the questions that are likely to be asked when a serious investigation is made.

It now transpires that besides the retired Col. Nazim and the dismissed Police Commissioner Riyaz, former Chief Inspector ‘FA’ Fayaz was also present when the trio went up to Nasheed and demanded his immediate resignation along that of the resignation of then Commissioner of Police Faseeh and Asst. Commissioner Athees.

It is good that President Waheed has announced an “independent and impartial investigation” into developments in Maldives between January 14 and February 8. In his website he has said that the investigation would create ” factual and legal clarity” around events with a “direct bearing on the constitutional transfer of executive power that took pace on February 7.”

The issue is simple. Was Nasheed forced into resigning? If at all an investigation is to be done, it should only relate to the question whether the former President was forced to quit. By specifying the date of January 14, the hope of those in power is that the resignation and change of guard all began because of the unlawful arrest of the Chief criminal Judge.

If the idea is to examine the events that led to the forced/voluntary resignation of Nasheed, then the investigation should go back to the date of 23rd of December when the Islamists and the entire opposition joined hands in a mass rally against the government that eventually resulted in Nasheed being forced to quit.

The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) is sending an urgent ministerial mission to “ascertain the facts surrounding the transfer of power and to promote adherence to Commonwealth values and principles.” This action is in pursuance of a new mandate given to the commonwealth to consider “situations of concerns in member countries in a pro active, engaged and a positive manner.”

On the 12th the President expanded his cabinet with seven more members besides the other two involved in the “operation topple.”

Of these, five are said to be hardcore political supporters of former President Gayoom. The other non political ones are experts in political economy and public health.

In the disturbed situation that was seen, a few Islamic hardliners attacked the Maldives national Museum on 8th morning and destroyed several historical artifacts. The vandals targeted Buddhist relics and specimens retrieved from Buddhist monasteries that depicted the pre Islamic life in Maldives.

A coral stone of Lord Buddha of 11th century recovered from Thoddoo in Alifu Atoll was smashed to pieces. Other items destroyed included Bohomala sculptures, monkey statues, a broken statue of Hindu God “Makara.” Even the glass case housing the artifacts was not spared.

I am reminded of the open destruction of Bamiyan Buddha in Afghanistan, but what worries me is the shape of things that are likely come in the future. The religious extremists will have to be controlled but can it be done when the new regime owes it position to the very same perpetrators of wanton vandalism?

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Shaheed sidesteps Iran’s visa block with European tour

United Nations Special Rapporteur on Iran, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, will meet with Iranian activists living in France, Germany and Belgium this week to investigate alleged human rights abuses. Iran’s Majlis blocked Shaheed from entering the country upon his appointment as special rapporteur in June, arguing that the US, Britain and Zionist regimes should be investigated instead.

“A visit to the Islamic Republic of Iran would have allowed me to gain better understanding of the situation,” Shaheed said in a statement.

In July, the secretary general of Iran’s High Council for Human Rights dismissed “the western-engineered appointment” of Dr Shaheed as Special Rapporteur as “an illegal measure,” according to the Tehran Times.

“Iran has no problem with the individual who has been appointed as the special rapporteur, but the appointment of a rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran is unacceptable and Iran will not accept the decision,” Mohammad Javad Larijani was quoted as saying.

Undeterred by Iran’s rejection, Shaheed said he will overcome the obstacle by studying “a wide range of human rights issues by meeting activists within the Iranian diaspora, alleged victims of human rights violations, intergovernmental and civil society organisations.”

Speaking to Minivan News in July, Shaheed said it was common practice for country-specific special rapporteurs to have difficulty getting into their target country.

“Often the country itself feels unfairly singled out for scrutiny, or that they don’t have a problem,” he said. “This is always a challenge, but by and large they come around in the end. The last time a Special Rapporteur was in Iran was in 1996. Countries eventually come round, but it takes time.”

The tour will last from November 30 to December 8.

Dr Shaheed formerly served the Maldives as Foreign Minister under both the current and former Presidents. He assumed duties as special rapporteur in August this year.

Though unable to enter Iran, in September of this year he filed an interim report for the UN claiming “systemic violations of fundamental human rights” as understood by first-hand testimonies.

In his report, Shaheed provided evidence that the Iranian government had secretly executed hundreds of prisoners at the notorious Vakilabad prison in Mashhad. These and other executions were allegedly done without the knowledge or presence of family and lawyers.

Shaheed also noted that human rights defenders, civil society organisations and religious actors had been charged with offences including acting against national security, insulting the Supreme Leader and “spreading propaganda against the regime.”

Reports of detained media personnel and human rights violations in prisons have leaked to the press in the past several months. On November 21, the Third Committee of the United Nations General Assembly (GA) adopted a resolution calling for the Iranian government to reconcile listed violations.

Mohammad Javad Larijani, Iran’s highest human rights official, had spent the previous week defending Iran’s record.

Following his tour of inquiry Shaheed will report back to the Human Rights Council in March 2012.


Iran secretly executing hundreds of prisoners: Dr Ahmed Shaheed

The Iranian government has secretly executed hundreds of prisoners at the notorious Vakilabad prison in Mashhad, according to an interim report to the UN by Special Rapporteur on Iran, Dr Ahmed Shaheed.

Dr Shaheed was the former Maldivian Foreign Minister under both the current and former Presidents. As the Iranian government refused to allow him to visit the country in his capacity as UN Special Rapporteur, the report relies heavily on first-hand testimonies, “the preponderance of which presents a pattern of systemic violations of fundamental human rights.”

“The most urgent issues that have been brought to the attention of the Special Rapporteur include multifarious deficits in relation to the administration of justice, certain practices that amount to torture, cruel, or degrading treatment of detainees, the imposition of the death penalty in the absence of proper judicial safeguards, the status of women, the persecution of religious and ethnic minorities, and the erosion of civil and political rights, in particular, the harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and civil society actors,” writes Dr Shaheed.

“Several personal interviews revealed that individuals were often held in solitary confinement for long periods during the investigative phases of their cases. All of those interviewed with regard to their detention reported the consistent use of blindfolds when being transferred from solitary confinement, as well as during their interrogations.”

Human rights defenders, civil society organisations and religious actors had been charged with offences including acting against national security, insulting the Supreme Leader and “spreading propaganda against the regime”, Dr Shaheed noted.

“The majority of reports also highlight exorbitant bail requirements, reportedly totalling between US$10,000 and US$500,000, to guarantee the appearance before the court of those arrested for activities pertaining to civil, political or human rights.”

The report goes on to detail interviews with dozens of victims of the Iranian regime, including lawyers, students, artists, journalists and environmentalists as well as political activists.

In his report, Dr Shaheed raises particular concern over the use of the death penalty in cases where due process was denied to the accused, especially within the prison system.

“Secret group executions inside prisons, which reportedly occur in alarmingly high numbers, are often carried out without the knowledge and presence of families and lawyers,” Dr Shaheed notes.

“Capital punishment was also applied to cases regarding Mohareb or ‘enmity against God’, rape, murder, immoral acts or acts against chastity and kidnapping,” he added.

The report concludes with an appeal to the Iranian government to allow Dr Shaheed to visit the country so as to “develop dialogue with the authorities and either substantiate or lay
to rest allegations of human rights violations committed within its sovereign territory.”

In July, Iran’s secretary general of the country’s ‘High Council for Human Rights dismissed “the western-engineered appointment” of Dr Shaheed as Special Rapporteur as ”an illegal measure,” according to the Tehran Times.

“Iran has no problem with the individual who has been appointed as the special rapporteur, but the appointment of a rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran is unacceptable and Iran will not accept the decision,” Mohammad Javad Larijani was quoted as saying.

Dr Shaheed is to present his findings to the UN General Assembly on October 19.

Read Minivan News’ Q&A with Dr Shaheed following his appointment as Special Rapporteur


The Maldives will run for the UN Human Rights Council: Shaheed

Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Ahmed Shaheed, has lauded the progress of the Maldives towards human rights, in front of an audience of world leaders at the 13th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Speaking to the UN Council on 1 March, Dr Shaheed said although the situation of human rights in the country was moving in the right direction, it is “still very much a work in progress.”

Dr Shaheed added that the Council had played a very important part in the transformation of the Maldives, and this change could not have been possible without the “strong, mutually respectful and cooperative relationship with the Human Rights Council.”

In 2006, the first year the Human Rights Council met in Geneva, the Maldives was under constant criticism from international human rights NGOs.

“I have frequently addressed the Council since 2006,” said Shaheed, adding that, since then, the human rights situation in the country has become “unrecognisable” as so much progress has been made.

Dr Shaheed said it is “self-evident that much had been achieved” since 2006, thanks to the work the Council has provided for human rights in the country, the change in government and the ratification of the new constitution.

Dr Shaheed also announced the Maldives’ candidature for a seat in the Human Rights Council in the upcoming May elections to be held at UN Headquarters in New York.

“I am here lobbying for candidature,” said Shaheed. “We have very strong support and are very confident of winning [a seat in the Council].”

Besides the Maldives, Malaysia, Thailand, Qatar and Iran are also running in the elections for one of the four available seats in the Human Rights Council.

“The Maldives’ own positive experience with the international human rights system lies behind our decision to run for election” said Dr Shaheed. “We believe in the Council and the work that it does. We understand, through first-hand experience, its value and its capacity to bring about change”.

The minister also mentioned the new bills that are waiting for approval at the People’s Majlis, which he said will “enact a wide-array of crucial legislation in the field of human rights.”

These bills are: a bill on persons with disabilities, an evidence bill, a drugs and rehabilitation bill, a bill on the right to information, a prison bill, a bill on violence against women, and a new penal code.

Minister Shaheed acknowledged that “adopting new laws is not an end in itself” in making positive changes in society. He said the laws need to be enforced, perceptions need to be changed in the government, and the people need to be educated on what human rights mean in practise.

Dr Shaheed also informed the delegates of the Council of the government’s recent decision to withdraw the reservation on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which states that women can run for senior political office.

Dr Shaheed said today was the last day of the high-level address from dignitaries to the Council, and he will be joining the president’s delegation in Germany this Sunday for the rest of his European tour.