Protests erupt after Nasheed claims resignation was ‘under duress’, and calls for Dr Waheed to step down

“I call upon Dr Waheed to immediately step down from the seat he is sitting in and call for immediate elections,” said former President Mohamed Nasheed during a Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) National Council meeting at Dharubaruge this afternoon.

The council further rejected the now-forming national unity government’s invitation to join forces, and declaring Nasheed’s former government the only “legitimate” government said it would not negotiate with the opposing ruling body.

Nasheed spoke to hundreds of party supporters packed into the entire top floor of Dharubaruge, along with the sitting members of the national council. MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik chaired the meeting.

Declaring that “I will never back down until a lawful legitimate government is sworn in,” Nasheed called upon the chief justice to investigate the yesterday’s coup “and bring those responsible to justice.”

“We will never allow the national defense forces and the police to be hijacked by the opposition,” he said. “We will assure our key pledges of affordable housing, transport networks, closure of the doors opened towards narcotics, and bringing down the commodity prices.”

According to MDP, Nasheed was yesterday forced to resign by the military, which forced the state broadcasting station MNBC to revert to its identity Television Maldives (TVM) and threatened “a bloodbath in the capital” if Nasheed did not step down from the presidency.

The alleged coup arose out of three weeks of opposition-led protests calling for the release of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed who was arrested on January 16 after attempting to block his own police summons. Protesters declared the arrest a violation of human rights while members of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s opposition Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) accused Nasheed of acting unlawfully.

Following an all-night protest on February 6, under 100 police officers defected from their position as state security and assisted protesters in an attack on the then-ruling MDP camp, triggering a larger clash between police and Maldives National Defense Forces (MNDF) last morning which left many injured.

Following Nasheed’s resignation at 1:00 pm, former Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan was sworn into office yesterday at 3:00pm with the support of several opposition parties. He said he intends to fulfill Nasheed’s term until the scheduled presidential elections in 2013.

Meanwhile, members of Nasheed’s government have said they did not attend work today and are awaiting political appointment.

Gathering for the council meeting today at Dharubaruge, throngs of MDP supporters and members of the former government chanted for Nasheed upon his arrival, filling the building’s top floor and screaming in support as sitting council members declared resistance to Dr Waheed’s national unity government.

MP Alhan Fahmy, former Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem and several party MPs said MDP would not negotiate with Dr Waheed’s government and declared that Nasheed “is still the legitimate president.”

Party President Dr Ibrahim Didi, who last night said on television that he supported cooperation with the new government, told the council, “I was misinterpreted by the media stating that I was open to the idea of a unity government but I only stated that I would decide after consulting the party council.”

Speaking from atop her chair at the front of the council MP Mariya Ahmed Didi declared yesterday’s events a coup and called on the council to accept that Nasheed’s administration had been elected by popular vote, but was overturned by a minority of the nation’s security forces.

Former State Minister for Foreign Affairs Aslam Shakir next proposed a resolution that the MDP rally for judicial reform, which was earlier scheduled for February 17, would proceed as planned. Many party supporters are due to arrive from islands for the event.

The council unanimously voted in favor of both resolutions.

The council further asserted that it does not recognise yesterday’s change of government, and that Nasheed and his ministers are still the legitimate ruling body in the eyes of MDP.

As the meeting drew to a close Nasheed said, “I call upon all of us to march to ‘Haruge’ [MDP camp] after this meeting and open it for it was the place where freedom of speech and expression originated.” Supporters exited the building chanting “long live Nasheed!” and made their way to the party camp.

Shortly after, MDP members clashed with some opposition supporters near the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA). MNDF forces were on their way to the scene at time of press, after the crowd had been four times pepper sprayed.

Nasheed was reported to be on the protest’s front lines.


State Minister briefs US envoy on Maldives’ extremist rhetoric

Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Aslam Shakir met with Deputy Assistant Secretary of the US Department of State, South and Central Asia Affairs Dr Alyssa Ayres to address the “ongoing extremist religious rhetoric” currently at play in the Maldives political arena.

During the meeting State Minister Shakir highlighted the need for judicial reform, claiming that the current judicial system “has not lived up to international norms and obligations”, a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs read.

Shakir further stated that “powerful, rogue judges” had undermined accountability, effectiveness and independence in the judicial system.

Citing a report from the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) released in February 2011, State Minister Shakir specified a lack of standard evaluation mechanisms and the strong lack of transparency at the Judicial Services Commission (JSC).

The Maldives government has unconditionally accepted the ICJ recommendations for reform, however the judiciary has yet to formally accept them.

Addressing the pamphlet lately circulated by minority opposition Dhivehi Quamee Party (DQP), termed “hate speech” by the government, the Minister noted that the contents incited religious hatred and violence, particularly against Jews and Christians.

The State Minister expressed concern that the “extremist rhetoric” would lead to Maldives’ alienation in the international community.


“Torture should not be happening in a democracy,” says Shakir

Torture is a principle area of concern for the Maldives, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Aslam Shakir has said, appealing for support from the international community.

Shakir delivered his message at the closing ceremony of the National Dialogue on the Implementation of the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT), held last Thursday in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Shakir emphasised that the country needed to improve existing policies for torture elimination, and find new methods to sustain a torture-free Maldives.

Torture was considered a byproduct of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s government, Shakir alleged, stating that the practice “has no place in the Maldives today.”

“In the past it happened, but we got rid of that government. We are now in a democracy, and in a democracy torture should not be happening,” he said.

The minister called on the international community to provide support: “We don’t the either the funds or the experience to implement the systems we need to improve the issue of torture. The international community  could help us by providing money, personnel and guidance,” he said.

Shakir claimed that the international community had been hesitant to engage with the Maldives on the question of torture.

“Part of the international community thinks that as a Muslim country, we have a tradition of violence and doing things our own way. But we would like them to let us explain our position,” he said. “We are struggling to build a democracy, and we would like the guidance of the international community.”

Former President of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, Ahmed Saleem, told Minivan News in an interview last year that the Maldives continued to have a pervasive “culture of torture”.

Former State Minister for Home Affairs, Mohamed Adil, who previously handled the Department of Penitentiaries and Rehabilitation, told Minivan News today that the government was successfully improving human rights issues.

“I would say, compared to the previous government, that we have reduced the issue of torture in the Maldives by 80 percent,” Adil said.

Adil said that even though the number of torture cases in the Maldives had fallen in recent years, it was important to continue working towards a torture-free society. He noted that the communication system between the public and the police had been improved.

“With the help of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), the public is very much aware of what is happening in the prisons,” said Adil.

Concerns over prison and custodial torture were recently raised when President Nasheed appointed a special commission to re-investigate the 2003 shooting at Maafushi Jail. A source who was present at the time of the shooting told Minivan News that torture was a daily activity for prison guards.

Three of the Maafushi officers, who were convicted in the original investigation but released in 2004, have been put back in jail.


Household expenses survey concluded

The third and final round of a nation-wide household expenses survey has been completed by the department of national planning.

According to Voice of Maldives, 440 households in 11 islands were maintaining expenses diaries for the last stage of the survey.

State Minister for Finance and Treasury Aslam Shakir, currently in charge of the planning department, said the purpose of the survey was to track changes in the price of goods and services for the consumer price index. The survey would also reveal levels of poverty and national productivity.

The results of the study will be compared to a baseline of five years ago. The final report is due in December this year.