Opposition politician, charged with terrorism, seeks asylum

An opposition politician who was charged with terrorism this week has sought asylum in a foreign country.

In a video message published on You Tube last night, Jumhooree Party (JP) council member Sobah Rasheed said he has obtained asylum in an unspecified foreign country, to avoid prosecution by President Abdulla Yameen’s adminsitration.

“I am currently abroad, under a foreign government’s protection. I have come here to further serve the Maldivian people. I had to come here to avoid being a sacrifice to Yameen’s tyranny, because I can only further serve the Maldivian people if I make this move.”

Sobah, the Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla and JP’s deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim are accused of inciting violence at a historic anti-government protest on May 1.

If convicted under the 1990 Anti-Terrorism Act, the three face between 10 and 15 years in jail.

Nearly 20,000 protesters took to the streets on May Day, demanding the release of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim, whose arrests sparked the ongoing political crisis.

Sobah pledged to launch an international campaign seeking sanctions against President Yameen’s government. He said he will inform the international community of Yameen’s tyranny, corruption and prosecution of political leaders, as well as the businesses who prop up the government.

“I will especially highlight the politically motivated trials conducted by the authoritarian, evil and corrupt judges in the criminal court, in partnership with Yameen and [the tourism minister] Adeeb, and the bribes these judges have taken.”

He also said he would reveal details of those who murdered ruling party MP Afrasheem Ali in 2012.

Sobah pledged to continue his campaign until the government releases Nasheed and Nazim from jail, and stops targeting JP leader Gasim Ibrahim’s businesses.

Sheikh Imran has denied charges at a first hearing on Sunday.

Sobah and Ameen’s trials were set to begin on Sunday, but were cancelled as they are out of the country.

Gasim has been in Bangkok since late April. The criminal court has reportedly issued an arrest warrant for Gasim for a charge of funding the May Day protest.

The tax authority in May froze Gasim’s Villa Group’s accounts claiming the company owed the government US$90.4million in unpaid rent, fees and fines.

Gasim insists the claim is unlawful and is contesting it at the civil court.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) chairperson Ali Waheed was also arrested on May 1, but the PG office has reportedly not made a decision on prosecuting the former MP.

The terrorism charges follow President Yameen’s invitation for separate talks with the three allied opposition parties. Imran, Ameen, and Ali Waheed are among the representatives of their respective parties.

The May Day demonstration was the largest anti-government protest in Maldivian history. Riot police cracked down on the demonstration with tear gas, pepper spray and baton charges after protesters attempted to enter Malé’s restricted Republic Square at dusk.

Nearly 200 people were arrested and scores of protesters and some police officers were injured during violent clashes.

The terrorism charges against Sheikh Imran also comes after President Yameen threatened to prosecute the religious conservative party’s leader over allegations linking the president to the murder of Dr.Afrasheem.

The opposition has called for a third mass protest on June 12.


Comment: Open letter from refugee Abraham Naim to people of Maldives

Abraham Naim is a Maldivian who claimed asylum in New Zealand last year for fear of persecution at home due to his homosexuality – a crime under the Maldives’ Shariah-based legal system.

Naim made international headlines last month after New Zealand media wrote about his prize-winning drag act, performed under the pseudonym Medulla Oblongata.

To the people of the Maldives,

There have been a lot of things said about me in the media back home, and I would like to say a few things in response.

Firstly, I am not a transgendered woman, I am a drag queen. What I do is performance art. I do not wish to live as a woman. I entertain people and talk about issues that have affected me while living in the Maldives and abroad.

I am not crazy and I am not a monster. I believe in human rights for all Maldivians, and for all the people of the world. I am exercising my right to self-expression. I care deeply about people no matter how they happen to present themselves physically. Human rights are for all people, no matter how they choose to live their lives.

Some of you think I am an example of what is wrong with Maldives’ society.

I am not what is wrong with Maldives’ society. Kleptocracy is what is wrong with Maldives’ society. Child prostitution is what is wrong with Maldives’ society. State sponsored drug trafficking and addiction is what is wrong with Maldives’ society. Poverty and corruption is what is wrong with Maldives’ society.

I am a Maldivian and proud. I ask all of you that you to take a good look at your situation in the Maldives, rather than at me. You may try and dismiss what I have to say, but try to see the truth: you live in the country that I fled. My asylum was absolutely legitimate. You live in a place deemed one of the twenty-five worst places to live in the world.

I refer you all to the Biological Behavioural Survey of the Maldives done in 2008. The survey was done in conjunction with the UN, WHO, and UNESCO.  It discovered the illness in our society. It exposed the truth that HIV rates climb as people fall victim to something so easily preventable through education, that drug use begins as young as eight in the Maldives, that injecting drug use starts as young as twelve in the Maldives; that prostitution also begins as young as twelve in the Maldives; and poverty and inequality hangs in the air like an odourless gas.

This is not the way society should function. The children of the Maldives, YOUR CHILDREN, are being terrorised and destroyed by this evil – and yet here you all are getting upset by one little drag queen.

Some of you have asked me if my friends and I have lost our minds.

We have not lost our minds, we are exercising our freedoms. I can’t tell if your comments imply disbelief in my lifestyle or a misplaced religious concern for my immortal soul, but let me explain something to you: I am doing nothing wrong by living my life the way I want to, the way that makes sense to me. The way that makes me feel happy.

I am an honest person; what you see on my pages is how I think and feel, and there is nothing in our culture that prohibits me from doing so. I believe you are making up the rules as you see fit, based on the ideas you have about the world and what you feel comfortable with. As the French political thinker De Tocqueville noted, ‘society has a network of small, complicated rules that cover the surface of life and strangle freedom’. These small, silly rules oppress you just as much as they oppress me. How are they serving you exactly?

To all the Maldivian people who are messaging me on social media:

Many of you have been messaging me just saying “hello” and do not know what to say when I message you back. I am a busy drag queen and I am not able to try and befriend all of you, particularly as I never know whether your intentions are hostile or not. If you have something that you want to say, something thoughtful to say, please say it. Otherwise you are free to read my posts to find out what I think.

Some of the messages I get from you have asked me to come back to the Maldives to be some sort of political activist and fight for your rights. If I go back to the Maldives I will almost certainly be killed. The request to come back irritates me no end. I have only just been granted asylum, I am only just settling into my new country and the upheaval I went through in becoming a refugee was enormously upsetting.

I had to leave knowing I would never see most of the people I truly care about ever again. I would not see the young children in my extended family grow up and become adults, and I would have to leave a part of my life behind forever.

If you want to change Maldives society, then change it. The old fat men in power who squeeze the life out of our country only have as much power as you give them. You can be the change that you are looking for.

It may no longer be my place to try and force new ideas on this country that perhaps cannot, or will not change before it slips back into the Indian Ocean, but I still believe all of you deserve so much better. I will not censor myself because what I have to say might make others feel uncomfortable. That I cannot control.

Although I am abroad I promise to keep fighting for what I believe in – civil and human rights. I am always happy to hear your stories. I am happy to talk about the oppression you are facing, my door is always open, and I will always support you.

Before I am a drag queen, before I am a gay man, and before I am even a man, I am human.

As the philosopher Kierkegaard once said; to label me is to negate me. It may make it easier for you to see me as the enemy, but I am simply a person trying to live my best life in peace and happiness, and I wish the same for all of you.

I promise to do everything I can to bring your voices to the international stage. I know how hard it can be. I have lived it.

Live the life you want.


Medulla Oblongata A.K.A.Abraham Naim


I would also like to address my winning performance at Miss Capital Drag this year, which many Maldivians were very upset about. It was reported in the Maldives as me winning a stripping competition. It was not. It was a drag competition. Nobody in the Maldives has ever seen the performance because only a snippet was uploaded on to the internet.

The Maldivian reaction to what I did thousands of miles away speaks volumes about the brutal outlook of the country. I am not saying that you are wrong because you don’t know, care, or understand what drag is; but what I am saying is that the government reacting to the performance by sending thugs around Malé to viciously assault anyone who seemed a bit too well dressed or sophisticated was disgusting and pathetic and hurt me deeply.

There are cultural aspects of what I did that may be lost in translation, but I will try to give you an idea of what it was all about.

In the West, drag is part of the rich cultural tapestry that reflects the diversity of people and outlooks. It is a vibrant part of the world’s cultural history, and has been an art form in one way or another going back since before ancient Greece.

I wanted to talk about myself through my performance. I wanted to show that I was from the Muslim world using an iconic piece of clothing, the abaya, a garment that is worn by both men and women. I removed it to reveal a tailored haute couture garment that I had been sewn into. I am not the first drag queen from the Muslim world to have worn Muslim attire.

Indian drag queens can wear divine hand painted saris, African drag queens can wear the most colourful tribal attire, but somehow because the outfit I wore was symbolically Islamic, it has taken on almost sacred qualities. Have any of you ever stopped to consider that the issue existed before I stepped on to that stage? I did not create it; Muslim women’s attire has been a battleground since before I was born. Yes, I was aware of that. I have been aware for some time that exploring many aspects of my culture holds implicit criticism, because they are things already bathed in controversy.

The mere concept of what appears to be a woman removing Islamic clothing and revealing western clothing has scandalised a nation all the way over in the Indian Ocean somewhere. You have surrounded women’s appearance in so much mystery that it has overtaken a deep part of the cultural psyche. I performed this for the benefit of the audience that was there on the night, not for Maldivians to choke on their breakfast reading the morning paper. The hang-ups of people in a society which ostracised and oppressed me, and ultimately caused me to seek asylum in a foreign country are no longer mine to worry about.

*This is an edited version of the original postscript which can be read in full here


Maldivian asylum seekers assured of prosecution upon return, says President’s Office

Maldivians seeking asylum abroad on grounds of religion or sexuality can be assured of prosecution should they return, says the President’s Office.

“The threat from the state they speak of is in actuality our law and regulations. That will not change,” President’s Office Spokesman Ibrahim Muaz explained.

Muaz’s comments come in response to a story in the New Zealand media that a homosexual Maldivian asylum seeker has become an prize-winning drag queen in Wellington.

Abraham Naim told the Dominion Post that he had been granted asylum in 2013 after facing persecution in the Maldives.

The article quotes New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment as stating that Naim was “at risk of serious harm from state agents” and that “there is a real chance of persecution if he returned to the Maldives”.

Naim also told the news website that he has been prey to numerous online threats and hate mail. “My entire existence is controversial,” he said.

Asked to comment on the matter today, Mushrif Musaid (Supervisor) at Ministry of Islamic Affairs Jannath Saeed stated that acts of homosexuality are clearly anti-Islamic and against the country’s laws, and thereby subject to legal action.

“Such acts of homosexuality are haraam in Islam. However, this ministry has not so far received any complaints from anyone claiming to be a persecuted homosexual,” said Jannath.

“We will need to check if the ministry has issued any threats or statements against a homosexual. The fact remains that such an act is without doubt against Islam,” he commented.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs Media Official Zaaid Ahmed stated that he would comment on the matter on a future date after consulting with the relevant officials in the ministry.

Speaking on the issue of Maldivian asylum seekers last month, President Abdulla Yameen referred to the act of leaving the Maldives as “treason”, though he suggested those who returned would be welcomed.

“If they want to leave the shelter of Maldives, we say, you are welcome, go somewhere else. But if they want to come back to the Maldives, we will again say, welcome back to the Maldives,” said the president.

“Too much to lose”

Spokesman Muaz told Minivan News today that instances of Maldivian youth committing criminal acts under the protection of foreign states had been seen before.

“No one can get away with committing such acts for as long as they are using a Maldivian identity card or passport,” he added.

In his interview with the Dominion Post, Naim – who performs under the name Medulla Oblongata – explained that he had been disowned by his father.

“I’m definitely in a better place now,” he told the paper.

Speaking with other Maldivians currently living abroad for reasons related to their sexuality, Minivan News was told that most preferred to refrain from publicly revealing their sexuality as there was “too much to lose”.

Some said it would be difficult to get employment, while others spoke of being ostracised from society, fearing the repercussion their families might face.

“I prefer to stay quiet about it in my country of origin and instead live elsewhere where I can live comfortably with my sexuality. I’d lose everything from my family connections to friends if I come out,” said 23-year-old Ahmed Matheen*.

Moosa Farih* suggested that the situation for gay Maldivians had deteriorated in recent times.

“Until now, Maldivian LGBT have been largely left alone, but I feel that the focus has gradually been shifting onto us lately, and this is because there is increasing number of people who are trying hard to create the platform for our voices to be heard.”

“I am glad that Naim is out there spearheading this change. In Islam, there is no compulsion in religion, but that is never practiced. If the government and the people of Maldives wanted LGBT to be out of their system, asylum seekers shouldn’t be threatened with extradition and prosecution,” said Farih.

One 28-year-old Maldivian man, still living in n the capital Malé said that only a few “trusted persons” were aware of his sexuality.

“I could easily seek asylum elsewhere, but the point is, my life does not revolve around my sexuality,” he said.

“Yes, I am homosexual. But that is just an unavoidable fact like the colour of my eyes or my skin tone.

I’d rather keep it secret and live here and achieve my dreams of working to make this country a better, more progressive place,” he said, on account of anonymity.

*Names changed on request


Palestinian refugee family to remain in Maldives while authorities assist with resettlement

Four Palestinian refugees who arrived in the Maldives on July 9 will remain on the airport island of Hulhule’ until authorities can resettle the group in another country, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has announced.

The Palestinian nationals, who Minivan News understands had previously fled to Syria, arrived in the country earlier this month on a flight from Dubai with a “questionable” travel document supplied by Syrian authorities.

The arrival of the refugees to the Maldives has been described by former Maldives Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed as a relatively unprecedented development for the nation, which has never previously entertained asylum seekers or refugees – mainly due to a lack of individuals seeking such a status.

“There does not appear to be an official mechanism to deal with such claims either,” Dr Shaheed explained today.

“However, those who have drifted into the Maldives by sea have been repatriated to their home countries, and it is only those whose nationality has not been identified who have remained in limbo in Maldives, sometimes under detention, as the case with some alleged Somali pirates.”

In a statement issued today, the foreign ministry said that under local laws, individuals travelling to the Maldives with false documentation were to be refused entry to the country.

However, the ministry said it had been informed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on July 14 that the Palestinian family were believed to be registered as refugees. The family has also told government authorities that they are listed with the United Nations Relief and Works Agencies for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).

The Foreign Ministry said it understood the Palestinian nationals had been living until recently in Syria, before seeking to leave the country due escalation of conflict between government and rebel forces.

“Upon receiving request from UNHCR, the ministry intervened and requested the Department of Immigration and Emigration to allow the family to remain in the Maldives, as returning the family from the same route as they came in would leave to high probability of the family being returned to war-torn Syria,” read the foreign ministry statement.

“[Returning the family to Syria] is not acceptable to the government of the Maldives.”

Citing involvement with the case “purely on a humanitarian basis”, senior officials in the government have since met with the family, who have said they had no intention of staying in the Maldives indefinitely.

According to the Foreign Ministry, the Palestinian nationals have sought relocation to Europe, where other members of their family are already believed to have settled.

“Deputy Chief of Mission of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Mr Hans Friedrich Schodder and Mr Abid Mohudin, Interviewing Officer, arrived in the Maldives on July 23 2013, and have met with the family,” the ministry stated.

“UNHCR officials have already gathered information from the family on refugee status determination and has assisted in the resettlement submission.”

Government authorities are now working with the UNHCR to try and help the family resettle in Europe in collaboration with the Palestinian Embassy in Colombo also assisting.

According to the Foreign Ministry, the embassy had already provided assurances that all necessary travel documents would be provided to the family once the UNHCR has resolved the process of their resettlement.

Meanwhile, the family continue to be held at an unspecified location on the airport island, with authorities pledging to provide food, medical assistance and other necessary facilities, the Foreign Ministry has said.

Immigration Controller Dr Mohamed Ali was on leave when contacted for a comment today, forwarding request for further information to department Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Abdullah Munaaz.

Munaaz was not responding to calls at time of press.

International rules

Former Former Minister Dr Shaheed, who has served in the role under the governments of both former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and Mohamed Nasheed, said international rules on refugees were governed by the 1951 Refugees Convention and the 1967 Protocol to the Refugee Convention.

He added that the Maldives was not a party to such treaties. However, Dr Shaheed said that certain requirements in dealing with refugees were included in customary international law, requiring all nations to abide by them.

“The most important such customary international law principle is that of non-refoulement, whereby an asylum seeker should not be sent back to a country where he or she would face threats to his/her life or freedom,” he said.


Comment: India an unreliable friend

On 7 February 2012, somebody in the Indian High Commission – located barely a few meters away from the scene where mutinying cops brought down the first elected government in Maldivian history – gave some astoundingly poor advice to somebody in New Delhi, and what followed was one of the worst diplomatic blunders by India in recent memory.

The tear gas clouds had barely settled when Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh sent his ‘warm felicitations’ and became the first country to recognise Vice President Mohamed Waheed’s newly installed government – a coalition of radical Islamists and far right nationalists led by former dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s party.

The United States and other Western powers would follow India’s lead in recognising the new regime, and – even as Maldivian democrats watched in disbelief – a major wrong that should have been straightened out was instead set firmly crooked.

The next day, the regime police continued targeted attacks on MDP leaders and activists. MPs were beaten half to death and lay unconscious on the pavements. Mohamed Nasheed, the first elected President of the Republic, was roughed up on the streets by uniformed men and was seen bleeding from the forehead. Scores of civilians were publicly brutalised and hundreds of pro-democracy demonstrators were arrested while India naively pursued relations with the new regime.

Over one year later, the cycle of violence and unrest continues on the streets of Male’, as pro-democracy protesters clash with regime police. The latest confrontations started after President Nasheed, in a dramatic turn of events last Thursday, sought refuge inside the Indian High Commission following the Waheed regime’s renewed efforts to arrest him and convict him in what is essentially a kangaroo court.

Once again, all eyes are on India, keenly observing if there will be a repeat of the ghastly diplomatic miscalculations of last year.

A series of unfortunate decisions

The gamble in 2012 was this: in return for the recognition of his regime, Waheed had pledged to honour major Indian investments in the Maldives, including the $500 million investment by Indian infrastructure company GMR in the country’s main international airport. As senior Indian diplomat G Parthasarathy confirmed in a recent televised debate, India had also been given assurances that there would be inclusive, free and fair elections.

Once again, somebody in India’s MEA should have easily flagged that Waheed, being a political nonentity, could hardly be held to his word. As the tinpot leader of a party whose very existence – with merely 3000 odd members – is an exercise in vanity, Waheed hasn’t a prayer of being nominated, much less winning an election, and is destined to be discarded into political oblivion before the end of this year.

And yet, India went with his assurances even as the the regime’s extremist allies took out motorcades around the streets of the capital, demanding GMR’s exit and, for the first time in recent Maldivian history, spreading radical anti-Indian propaganda over loud megaphones.

Sure enough, with the same belligerence and arrogance that characterised their early diatribes against the CMAG and EU, the regime thumbed their nose at India, and the GMR deal was scrapped without the slightest courtesy and amid a barrage of heavy anti-Indian rhetoric propagated by radical regime allies like the DQP and the Adhaalath Party.

India’s big gamble failed, and the aspiring superpower was left with egg on its face as Waheed’s spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza publicly slandered the Indian ambassador, calling him a ‘traitor’ and an ‘enemy of the Maldives’. Furthermore, the regime that was legitimised with Indian support would proceed to cozy up to rival power China, with regime actors going so far as to lambast India while on Chinese soil.

Eliminating Nasheed

In the bargain, India also lost favour with former ally Nasheed – whose government had gone out of its way to align with them. From plugging the Maldives into the Indian coastal security grid, to seeking Indian investments in his much celebrated environmental, energy and infrastructure projects, to unilaterally sharing intelligence on religious radicals operating in the country, Nasheed was thoroughly a friend of India in every imaginable sense until India, with remarkable urgency, dumped him and rushed to Waheed’s aid in 2012.

Having scrapped the GMR deal in an ugly fashion, the Waheed regime also backtracked on the second assurance of conducting early, inclusive elections.

Observers of Maldivian politics would recollect that Umar Naseer, Vice President of Gayoom’s political party, had specifically stated in an interview immediately after the February 7 coup d’etat, that Nasheed would not be a part of the next elections.

The regime’s Home Minister Mohamed Jameel has been unable to hide his deep frustration over the overwhelming international pressure that has so far thwarted his concerted attempts to eliminate Nasheed from the political scene ahead of the elections.

Mohamed Nasheed, the lifelong democratic activist, is easily the only MDP leader who commands popular nationwide grassroots support and absolute loyalty of his party activists, making him the last remaining obstacle for the Gayoom network – of which Waheed is the nominal puppet head – to permanently dismantle the country’s nascent democracy and reestablish the old order.

It would be pertinent at this moment to recall that the Waheed’s former Human Rights Minister Dhiyana Saeed, as well as former Military and Police Intelligence Chiefs have independently revealed the existence of opposition plots to assassinate President Nasheed while he was still in power.

With the change of guard on February 7 last year, that has become unnecessary. With the country’s runaway judiciary and security forces firmly under their grip, there is not much to stop the Waheed regime from eliminating him ‘legally’ and ‘by the book’. And this, evidently, is the plan that is currently in place.

Your friendly neighbourhood democracy

Simply put, there is a zero percent chance of an inclusive, fair or free elections being held in the Maldives with the current regime in power.

Faced with this conundrum, Maldivian democrats as well as Indian analysts appear to be looking towards India as the saviour to back Nasheed, who – in a frantic Hail Mary move – is now holed up at the Indian Embassy.

The question is: Why should Maldivian democrats trust India?

There is little reason to expect India to step into the internal affairs of the Maldives for the sake of grand concepts like freedom or democracy in the neighborhood.

One feels that despite the rise of nationalist and Islamist radicals, and the runaway judiciary, and the reversal of democracy in the neighbourhood, and the creation of a police state in the Maldives, what really inspired India’s change of heart about the Waheed regime was the loss of its economic investments. In other words, had GMR not been thrown out, India would have likely continued to turn a blind eye to the regime’s systematic dismantling of democracy in the Maldives.

Perhaps, having been rudely rebuffed by the Waheed regime that has now chosen to align with China, India is merely invoking the patron saint of lost causes by turning to Nasheed.

For the average Maldivian, however, the power struggles between the two large regional powers are a matter of less importance than having a working economy, a functioning judiciary, an expectation of justice, a representative government, and freedom from a familiar brutal police state that has reared its head again after a 3 year slumber.

The solution to these problems have to necessarily be local. Far from relying on foreign intervention, the MDP needs to campaign and educate and rally the public behind the goals of judicial overhaul and peaceful civil disobedience for change.

While one must acknowledge the invaluable assistance from theiInternational community in forcing the iron-fisted Gayoom to bow down before the people and ushering in the democratic transition in the last decade, the truth is that sustaining a democracy is a task that is best accomplished at home.

Not India’s war

The playwright George Bernard Shaw said in the early 1900’s, “Democracy is a device that ensures we shall be governed no better than we deserve”.

The harsh truth is that the Waheed regime has survived for over an year – despite the reckless trampling over citizens rights, the outright hostility towards the free media, the excessive brutality and the total impunity – only because the Maldivian public has allowed this injustice to take place.

Appearing on The Daily Show, President Nasheed quipped about the Americans following India’s lead in legitimising the coup: “I wonder if it is an intelligent thing to outsource your foreign policy”

Likewise, it is perhaps lazy and counter-productive for Maldivians to outsource the task of nation building to a neighbouring country that has its own vested interests. Indeed, this is perhaps one of the primary lessons that Maldivian democrats should take away from the experience of the February 7 coup. What has been stolen from the Maldivian citizens must be reclaimed by the Maldivian citizens. The responsibility for safeguarding our democracy remains ours and ours alone.

While India intervention could certainly make the task of restoring democracy exponentially easier, it nevertheless remains an objective that needs to be met regardless of India’s stand on the matter.

And yet, as a liberal, democratic Maldivian citizen, one hopes that New Delhi might one day realise that propping up military and Islamist backed anti-democratic forces in its immediate neighborhood will never serve India’s interests – either in the short term or the long term.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


India backs inclusive elections, as former President takes refuge in High Commission

The Indian government has confirmed that former President Mohamed Nasheed has requested India’s assistance after police sought to arrest him and present him to the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court this afternoon.

Nasheed had previously missed a court hearing scheduled for February 10, which was cancelled in his absence. His Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) maintain that the charges – based on his detaining Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed during his final days in office – are a politically-motivated attempt to prevent him contesting the 2013 elections.

Rumours of Nasheed’s imminent arrest began to circulate on Tuesday (February 12) ahead of a scheduled hearing at 4:00pm the following day, prompting his supporters to camp in the narrow alley outside his family home in Male’.

By this morning, Nasheed entered the Indian High Commission, purportedly to “seek advice” from High Commissioner D M Mulay.

Shortly after 1:00pm, riot police blocked off the street outside the High Commission, as Nasheed’s supporters began to gather at the barricades.

The former President subsequently tweeted: “Mindful of my own security and stability in the Indian Ocean, I have taken refuge at the Indian High Commission in Maldives.”

“As a close and friendly neighbour, India has expressed concern over the ongoing political instability in Maldives and called upon the government and all political parties to adhere strictly to democratic principles and the rule of law, thereby paving the way for free, fair, credible and inclusive elections,” the Indian Government said in a statement this evening.

“Following the arrest warrant issued against him by the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court, the former Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed, who is a candidate for the Presidential elections in Maldives scheduled for September 2013, is in the Indian High Commission and has sought India’s assistance. We are in touch with the relevant Maldivian authorities to resolve the situation,” the statement added.

“Now that the President of the Election Commission of Maldives has announced that Presidential elections would be held on 7 September 2013, it is necessary that the Presidential nominees of recognised political parties be free to participate in the elections without any hindrance. Prevention of participation by political leaders in the contest would call into question the integrity of the electoral process, thereby perpetuating the current political instability in Maldives.”

India’s Ministry of External Affairs concluded its statement by contending it was “not in the interest” of the Maldives or the region to prevent any candidate from contesting the country’s presidential elections later this year.

“India would call upon the government and all political parties in Maldives to avoid any actions that would vitiate the political atmosphere in the Maldives,” its statement read.

In a tweet this afternoon, Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel implied that India was  meddling in the Maldives’ internal affairs: “What’s happening now gives us an indication of the extent and level of interest some countries prepared to take in our internal matters,” he said.

“I would strongly urge everyone to let our institutions deal with the challenges, allow Maldives to uphold rule of law,” he tweeted.

The Home Minister – also formerly Justice Minister during the Maldives’ 30 year autocracy – recently urged the courts “to conclude the case against Nasheed before the approaching presidential elections, in the interests of the nation and to maintain peace in it.”

“Every single day that goes by without the case being concluded contributes to creating doubt in the Maldivian people’s minds about the judiciary,” the home minister stated at the time.

The Maldives Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement today in response to media reports that Nasheed had “sought refuge” in the High Commission, following the court’s issuing of an arrest warrant.

“Upon contacting, the High Commission of India confirmed President Nasheed’s presence at the Chancery and informed that he was present there for a meeting with the High Commissioner,” read the statement.

“The Ministry confirms that the government of Maldives will uphold and respect its obligations under international law with regard to diplomatic immunities and privileges granted to resident diplomatic missions. The Government is confident that all parties concerned, including the High Commission of India, will respect the laws of the Maldives and judicial independence as prescribed in the Constitution.”

Protests building

Minivan News observed crowds growing around the barricades at Sosun Magu. Shortly after 6:00pm, the crowd of around 700 people was charged and scattered by a group of 30 Special Operations officers in riot gear.

Former Minister of Housing and Environment in Nasheed’s government, Mohamed Aslam, has confirmed that the MDP’s National Council had today approved “direct action” against the government, notably a campaign of widespread civil disobedience.

“The whole situation is very fluid right now. Nothing will be ruled out,” he said. “What we are demanding is a transitional government, as well as free and fair elections that would include [former President] Nasheed.”

Aslam said that following a march of more than 10,000 in the capital on Friday (February 8 ) showed Nasheed had widespread popular support for contesting the elections.

Reports on social media meanwhile suggested that Nasheed’s luggage was being transferred to the Indian High Commission at time of press.

Disputed court case

Nasheed and his legal team have disputed both the charges against him, and the legitimacy of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court. The latter was created by the Judicial Services Commission (JSC). Nasheed’s lawyers have argued therefore that the court has no legal or constitutional authority.

Nasheed’s team raised these points in the first hearing of the case, stalling the process with a run of appeals and assorted injunctions.

Eventually the JSC asked the seven-member Supreme Court bench to rule on the court’s legitimacy, which it did in December 2012.  The court’s legitimacy was approved by four judges to three.

Former Attorney General Husnu al Suood observed at the time that Supreme Court Judge Adam Mohamed Abdulla should not have participated in the vote as he was also the President of the JSC, which therefore amounted to “presumption of bias”.

Meanwhile, the JSC appointed a three-member panel of judges to oversee the trial of the former president.

The Commission’s members include two of Nasheed’s direct political opponents, including Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid – Deputy of the government-aligned Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP) – and Gasim Ibrahim, a resort tycoon, media owner, MP and leader of the Jumhoree Party (JP), also a member of the governing coalition.

Numerous international organisations and reports have challenged the political independence of the JSC and the judiciary.

One recent report produced by local NGO the Raajje Foundation and supported by the UNDP and the US State Department, noted that the JSC’s mission under the 2008 constitution to ensure the new judiciary was was clean, competent, and protected from political influence, “has sadly gone unfulfilled.”

“The courts have essentially been able to capture the JSC so as to ensure that the old judiciary remained in place under the new constitutional order,” the report noted, predicting that the most likely scenario for the Maldives’ future was a cycle of failed governments.

Minivan News will continue live updates on the unfolding situation here