Comment: A Jumhoree Maldives?

This article was first published on Republished with permission.

I went with a friend to the Jumhoree Maalan on Majeedhee Magu last night to get a copy of the Jumhoree Party manifesto.

The Maalan is a vast space of two floors, on a piece of land well over 2000 square feet. Part of it, towards the back, is cordoned off with a big red banner saying ‘Voting Booth’. Two men sat at a table to the side – they looked the closest thing to receptionists we could find. We asked them for a manifesto.

For some reason, the request surprised them. They called over a harried looking man, ‘Ahammadhey’. He agreed to give us a copy and walked over to a room at the back with a big bunch of keys. JP manifesto is kept under lock and key, like a tightly guarded trade secret. He brought us each a little leaflet, a six page summary of the People’s Manifesto: Development Certain.

The frontpage is an illustration of JP’s vision for Maldives. There’s a small island to the far right, connected to an ‘Islamic city’ rising from the sea. The entire shoreline is dominated by a mosque which itself dominates a university standing adjacent, to the left. There’s one or two trees, a crane busily constructing more buildings in a concrete jungle.

A father and son are at the forefront of the picture, walking into the mosque together. They are the nucleus, the centre of the universe as imagined by JP. A woman is somewhere in the distant background, attending to a little household chore, as women do. The only other person is a figure of non-distinctive gender, standing on a bridge. S/he looks about to jump off it. A Maldivian flag is the tallest of all things, rising above everything except the minaret. Not one but two suns shine down on this JP idyll.

There’s quite a few things—eighty three to be exact— that JP promises will happen to make this vision a reality. It begins with the promise to build an Islamic university, followed by the promise to include Nationalism as a separate subject in the national curriculum. Four regional institutes for ‘Arab Islamic learning’ will be established across the country. Next to religion is crime and punishment. Better forensics, more surveillance, better trained police with its own ‘world class’ Police Academy and an all powerful Anti-Drug Agency that will ‘completely stop’ Male’s thriving drug trade.

We asked Ahammadhey if he could talk us through some of the pledges. ‘I am a masakkathu meeha [handyman],’ he said. ‘I don’t know what’s in it.’Ahammmadhay went to fetch us a man more familiar with what JP wants to do for us people. The resident expert turned out to be Umar Bey [Mohamed Hameed], who used to teach in Majeediyya School and is a familiar figure to thousands, like us, of Male’ voters.

‘Can you tell us a little bit more about the pledges here?’

‘It’s pretty straightforward, is it not?’

‘Can we have a copy of the full manifesto?’

‘I don’t have it. To be honest, I haven’t seen it yet.’

‘It does exist? You have one?’

‘Yes, there’s a big manifesto, it’s printed and everything.’

‘So where is it?’

‘I don’t have access to it.’

‘Who does?’

Umar Bey summoned another person who confirmed there is a manifesto the party can give us, but ‘not right now.’ He asked us to come back another time.

We continued our conversation with Umar Bey.

‘There’s a manifesto published on Scribd by Hassan Saeed, promoted on his FB page. What’s that about?’

‘Haha. That’s not a JP manifesto. That’s Hassan Saeed’s.’

‘Oh? Hassan Saeed has a different manifesto?’

‘He must do. I haven’t seen it.’

We had. A few days ago it appeared on running mate Hassan Saeed’s Face Book page.

The summary we got last night is a summary of Hassan Saeed’s manifesto on Scribd: build an Islamic state where religion, together with nationalism — taught as a subject in the national curriculum — will inform all socio-political and juridical decisions and conduct of society and individuals. It also speaks of ‘maintaining’ this traditional Islamic state, as if this is not an imagined place yet to be created but the way we have always lived.

I wonder how many people intending to vote for Gasim Ibrahim know the Maldives they are voting for.

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]


Comment: This is not a dictatorship

This article was first published on Dhivehi Sitee. Republished with permission.

Since the 7 February 2012 coup that was not a coup, a disconcerting dissonance between what people witness with their own eyes and what they are officially told they see has become a regular part of life.

Last week, thousands of voting Maldivians watched the X-Rated video of Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed having sex with three prostitutes at a high-end hotel in Colombo, Sri Lanka. It was not just his clothes that Hameed shed in front of the people but also his dignity along with the ethical and legal right to sit on the bench. Ethical, because he so carelessly flouted the values of his profession, and legal because the Maldives defines unmarried sex between consenting adults as the crime of fornication.

Yet the official reaction has been like a ticker-tape running across the entire length of Hameed’s sexual marathon saying, ‘This is not sex. This is not zinah. This is not Hameed.’

Gasim Ibrahim, the presidential candidate for Jumhoree Party, has been one of the most vocal defenders of the judge. He asks us to ponder the infinite possibilities of why it was not Hameed in the video: “Anyone can dye their hair red.”

No one can argue with that – not in these days of L’Oréal.

Adhaalath, the self-appointed ‘religious leaders ’ – and the last Maldivian political institution one would expect to favour an informed decision over an ignorant one – has announced it cannot say “Hameed is fornicating” or “Hameed is not fornicating” unless the Judicial Service Commission says “This is Hameed” or “This is not Hameed”.

Until then Adhaalath — or any other government entity — will not see what it sees, nor must we believe our own eyes.

In November last year, 38 MPs in the Majlis agreed that President of the Civil Service Commission, Mohamed Fahmy, was more likely than not to have sexually harassed a female servant as she alleged. They voted to have him removed from the CSC.

Fahmy, though, is still there in the CSC, accompanied by a subliminal government-issue caption designed to appear under every image of Fahmy we come across: “This is not a sexual harasser” or “Sexual harassment is not a crime.”

Back in April this year, pictures emerged of Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim and Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb hob-nobbing with the Artur Brothers – Armenian gangsters who were chased out of Kenya in 2006 for heroin trafficking and involvement in the country’s troubled political scene.

Initially the official line was to say it was neither Nazim nor Adeeb hanging with the gangsters. Then came a very Gasim-esque defence: “It is possible that the Ministers and the Brothers were in the same place at the same time. That doesn’t mean they were together as in together together.”

Soon after, pictures emerged of the Brothers at the gala event organised by Nazim and Adheeb to re-open Olympus theatre. This was followed by evidence that one of them was staying in Farukolhufushi, a resort under direct control of Adheeb at the time. Still, the official line was: “This is not happening.”

It was the same with the leaked draft Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the United States. Nazim and others denied they saw the leaked version on ‘social media’, but were able to confirm “this is not the SOFA”.

So it was not.

A similar story with the PISCES system gifted by the United States: “This is a border control system” said both governments, and so it is; even though controlling borders is the least of PISCES’ concerns.

Then there were reports of the forged ‘extension’ of the agreement to extend the lease of Farukolhufushi resort, a copy of which was shown on Raajje TV. The authorities have stuck the “This did not happen” label on the incident, so it hasn’t.

Latest in these series of events occurred yesterday, the day marked on the calendar as ‘The Independence Day’. Two events were held to confirm this: one at the museum and one at the Republic Square.

The event at the museum was a reception hosted by Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik and his wife Ilham Hussein for local and foreign dignitaries. It was held in the hall usually reserved for the most precious of national heritage artifacts. Their storage requires specific conditions, their care and handling needs highly trained hands. This is the expert opinion.

The official line, however, is different. In direct contradiction of results of years of study, the President’s Office put out a statement saying: having the party at the museum, or having untrained labourers move the priceless artifacts would not damage them. So it won’t.

Male’ watched as Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was given the highest national award of respect. For 30 years, Gayoom ruled the Maldives without respect for either human freedoms, dignity or the rule of law. It was a dictatorship that stalled economic, social, cultural and intellectual development for an entire generation.

But, the national honour, the shining thing around his neck, screams “This is not a dictator”. So he must not be.

This is a democracy.

Dr Azra Naseem has a PhD in international relations

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]


Transcript: MNDF Staff Sergeant Shafraz Naeem’s CoNI account of Feb 7 mutiny

This article was first published by Dhivehi Sitee. Republished with permission.

On 7 February 2012, MNDF Staff Sergeant Shafraz Naeem was commanding Bravo, one of the Bandara Koshi Battalion riot squads that confronted the mutinying SO police in front of the military headquarters. He resigned five days later.

“I have lost faith in the institution,” he told the Commission of National Inquiry [CoNI] later. This is Shafraz Naeem’s account of what occurred during the mutiny, reconstructed from the transcript CoNI’s interview with him on 7 July.

I was commander of the riot squad of the Bandara Koshi (BK) Battalion from the time the protests began. We were supporting the MNDF riot squad.

We were on standby till 11:30 p.m. [6 February], when we were dispatched to Artificial Beach. The police were withdrawing when we arrived. My squad placed three cordons in the area. Nobody was violent, but there was much verbal abuse.

I received an order to withdraw to Sawmill. “If we withdraw, there will be trouble,” I said to my senior, [Lt.] Ali Ihusan. We withdrew.

Shortly afterwards, we were ordered to return to the scene. Protesters on both sides—the Coalition and MDP—were hurling stones and verbal abuse at each other. We put the cordons back up.

I heard some vehicles arriving. I saw police officers screaming at everyone, the protesters, the MNDF, at everybody. They began running after MDP protesters.

“We will kill you all!” they were shouting.

We restored order, moved the media away. After thirty minutes, the police returned. They were singing patriotic songs. One officer approached me. He put his baton under my chin and let forth a string of profanities.

“You must withdraw to BK”, we were told fifteen minutes later.

“Clear the area. Get the media out. Remove everyone carrying iron rods from the scene,” Captain Amanullah ordered.

We arrived at Bandara Koshi in the early hours of the morning. About 40-50 SO officers, I am not sure exactly how many, were staging a sit-in at Republic Square. I dispatched squads to cordon off designated areas, MMA [Maldives Monetary Authority] and other spots.

Around 2:30 a.m., outside MNDF [Headquarters], I met General Shiyam. He stood watching the Republic Square.

“Why aren’t you giving orders to arrest them?” I asked.

“Go away!” he responded.

I had to ask. We had received intelligence of an intended police mutiny. After being at the Artificial Beach, I knew it was happening.

Half an hour later, all of us squad commanders received orders that no one—be it police or media—was to be allowed inside the cordons.

Some VTV or DhiTV journalists refused to leave. After an argument, we pushed them out.

“Let them in. And, let in the police once they show their ID card,” one officer,  [Major] Adil Rasheed said.

Every minute, five or six of them came in, filling up the cordoned off space. SO Officers were allowing gangsters inside the cordons, too. I saw Firusham allowing a few of them in at around 5:30.

We dispersed the crowd as far back as the Metro cafe’.

“Get the cordons inside and withdraw to HQ”, we were ordered at around 6:30.

“Why?” I asked Captain Amanullah and Major Adil. I always question orders that do not feel right to me.

“Mind your own business,” [First] Sergeant Amir Hussain said. I was told not to question orders.

“Get some sleep,” Lieutenant Colonel Fayaz told everyone once we were inside. All our armour was removed, my chest guard, everything except my shield. We had breakfast.

“The President wants to meet you,” we were told.

At the same moment, I heard police saying their Azum [pledge]. I heard screaming. And I heard the President shouting to us, “Go outside and arrest them!”

I, with about ten special forces personnel, went.

Those of us with shields were at the front, those without came behind. I was commanding from the front.

“Do not fire!” we were shouting. There were riot guns, rubber bullets, tear gas grenades.

“Do not fire until they fire!” I heard the police shouting. Each side waited to see what the other would do.

A gas canister flew towards the police.

It was fired from our side. I saw who threw it. It was Tholath, the Defence Minister.

“Do something!” he said. The canister landed. All hell broke loose.


Police charged. I ordered my men to do the same. I don’t recall how many canisters we threw. Stones, all sorts of things came at us. I was hit many times. I did not give up, I stayed until I was dragged in. I was the last person in.

I was not the main lead but one of several. There were sergeants, I was a staff sergeant. I saw my lead, Lieutenant Hamid Shafeeq only inside the HQ. He was the only person I heard issuing instructions. There was no plan, all orders were ad hoc.

When President Nasheed shouted at us to go out, all command and control was lost. Nobody took charge. I don’t think anybody even cared.

We went out when the President ordered us, but once we were outside, nobody gave us orders. The Ground Commanders, who were outside with us, should have commanded. They did not. About 3-4 minutes is enough time to analyse the situation and issue orders. There would have been enough time for a plan of attack. If the canister had not been thrown.

Around 9:30, I saw a large group of men gathered near the Communications Room. “Nasheed is a criminal. Do not obey unlawful orders,” I heard them say. I reported it to my senior.

“I will handle it,” he said.

“Collect all guns!” I heard a commander saying soon after. All weapons were taken away.

Outside, I could see Riyaz, Fayaz and Nazim. Shiyam, Fayaz (Papa) and were inside.

“Tell the president he has no choice but to resign!” I heard Fayaz say to Shiyam.

“I will”, Shiyam said. He had a weird smile on his face.

I was attending to some injured soldiers when I heard joyful shouting. [Mohamed] Nazim was being hoisted up by some football coaches.

Shiyam had let Nazim in, I know.

Nazim was in the forces before. I cannot remember now, but I think he was a Colonel. He was my instructor.

“This won’t go well,” I thought. I knew Shiyam was aware of what was happening. Once, while training with Shiyam, we had a conversation about an intended naval base.

“Where are you going to get the money for it?” I asked him.

“Gasim Ibrahim will give unlimited funds for the base. He will help MNDF grow,” he replied. The naval base is Shiyam’s dream project.

I don’t know what happened after Nazim went inside.

A rumour started soon that MDP was about to torch MNDF homes. Some people began to get worked up. They wanted to go outside. Shiyam and Zayed got them into a squad, and sent them out. There was nothing, no MDP people, no thugs.

It was past 11:30 then, and we heard Nasheed had resigned.


The next day, I returned at about 8:30 p.m. Nothing much was happening.

“If there is any rioting,” Papa told Shiyam, “Give me two minutes. I’ll have it all under control.”

I was in Bravo when I saw police charging the demonstrators.

“Why are they doing this?” I asked my senior [Lt. Col] Nasrullah. Even he did not know.

“Shut up,” Papa said to me.

I got a lot of flak and warnings for asking questions, for following President Nasheed’s orders. 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.

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.

I really don’t know what [Moosa] Jaleel, Chief of Defence, was doing. He was walking around, smoking, as if in a trance, unaware of what was going on around him. I had admired Jaleel, but in that situation, his mind was somewhere else. General Nilam, too. Had I not pushed him to the ground inside MNDF, he would have been hit by bricks. I am not saying that he, too, was in a trance.

Perhaps they were in shock over the mutiny.

UPDATE: In communications with Dhivehi Sitee since the above post was published, Shafraz Naeem has said the CoNI transcript is inaccurate. Among the clarifications he would like to make are the following:

  • He arrived back at Bandara Koshi the following day [8 February] at 2:30 p.m., not 8:30 p.m. as recorded in the transcript.
  • He stated that he was not a fan of how President Nasheed handled the MNDF, not that he was ‘never a big fan of Nasheed.’
  • Parts of his conversation with General Shiyam about the naval base have been left out.
  • A heated exchange between Shafraz and Co-Chair, Ismail Shafeeu, on command and control–who was responsible for its loss and how it happened–has been omitted from the transcript.

Comment: Justice has little to do with the impending prosecution

This article was first published on Dhivehisitee. Republished with permission.

With former President Mohamed Nasheed taking refuge at the Indian high Commission in Male’, the international community’s strange apathy towards the ongoing fight for democracy in the Maldives has been stirred, if not entirely shaken. As Male’ waits to find out how India will respond to the Maldivian government’s request to hand Nasheed over to the police today, it is worth looking at the intricacies of small island politics where personalities loom large. What is at stake, and equally importantly, who are the players?

Mohamed Nasheed, the first democratically elected president of the Maldives, is holed up in the Indian High Commission in Male’. Seeking refuge in Indian diplomatic premises was a smart move by the former president, a veteran democracy activist. It not only provided him sanctuary and forced India’s involvement, it also provided India – smarting from Male’s recent insults and shabby treatment of GMR — with the opportunity to do a policy U-turn without embarrassment.

Nasheed has now been at the Indian High Commission for a week. If he leaves, his next long-term residence is most likely to be the prison island of Dhoonidhoo. The current government is prosecuting Nasheed for arresting Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, Abdulla Mohamed, in January 2012, a month before the coup. The pursuit of Nasheed through the courts began in July last year. Several summons and arrest warrants have been issued, cancelled and enforced since. In October last year, the police made a deliberately high profile arrest of Nasheed while campaigning on an island far from Male’. The last arrest warrant, issued on Monday, five days after Nasheed took refuge at the High Commission, expires at 4:00pm today.

Nasheed, an Amnesty prisoner of conscience who spent several years in jail for dissent, has said the prosecution is politically motivated. The purpose, he says, is to ensure he cannot run in the presidential elections scheduled for 7 September. Any sentence will disqualify him from the race. If Nasheed is prevented from running, there will be unrest like the country has never before seen. He is loved by many, more than he is loathed by coup-makers and their supporters. His Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has over 47,000 members, and they are all ardent supporters.

Since Nasheed sought refuge, several ‘delegations’ from various constituencies have presented him with bouquets, some wrapped in silk, almost on a daily basis. Yesterday they brought him bouquets, or at least tried to, until the police blocked their way with barricades.

Nasheed had been ‘the people’s president’, mingling with the young, the old, the rich and the poor with equal ease. When he takes to the streets, they follow him. Now, sensing he is in danger, they march on the streets of Male’ every evening, calling for his protection. Several have stated — with all seriousness — that Nasheed can only be taken into custody over their dead bodies. At an MDP press conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka, yesterday, former Foreign Minister Mohamed Naseem announced the party would boycott the elections if Nasheed is prevented from running under any pretext. That is close to 50,000 people, a large chunk of voters among the 350,000 population who would not participate in the election.

Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, the current president, along with a group of nameless men “all… of the same level” who now rule the country, meanwhile, are depicting Nasheed’s presence at the Indian High Commission as a ploy to avoid facing the charges against him. Waheed said he was “dismayed” Nasheed remained at the Indian High Commission, instigating “street violence”, his view of the nightly demonstrations by Nasheed’s supporters.

Waheed used to be Nasheed’s Vice President but, when offered the presidency by coup-makers in January, promptly betrayed Nasheed and hastened to take oath as President of the Maldives. A PhD graduate from Stanford University with a long career in the United Nations, he was seen by the international community as someone who would ‘stabilise’ the volatile atmosphere created by the coup.

He has since aligned himself closely with the ideologies of the Islamist Adhaalath Party, overseen curtailment of several fundamental civil and political rights, disregarded blatant human rights abuses by security forces, and partaken in the xenophobic and nationalistic campaign to oust India’s GMR. Waheed loves Twitter, has intimate personal chats in public with his family on various social media and, although seemingly composed and calm most of the time, can surprise with fist-pumping, rebel-rousing speeches when excited.

Unlike Nasheed, Waheed has very few supporters. His party has just over 3000 members with no representation in parliament. It is a common joke that his supporters consist of his wife Ilham, his children, and one loyal advisor (among two). He recently launched his presidential bid at his wife’s house, but is yet to reveal whether he will compete as an individual or form an alliance with someone else. With so few supporters, and lack of potential allies, he has very little hope of winning, especially with Nasheed in the race. Based on past and present behaviour, it is clear that he would gladly participate in any political prosecution of Nasheed.

Waheed is not the only one. All of the presidential candidates would like to see the back of Nasheed. Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who returned to the political centre-stage after the coup, has said he is “embarassed” by Nasheed’s decision to take refuge at the High Commission. He must also feel frustrated. Gayoom and his fellow authoritarians’ control over the Maldives’ judiciary is now well exposed and often discussed. If Nasheed can be brought to court, all three judges, hand-picked from among the worst on the bench, would arrive at a guilty verdict with ease. They would impose a hefty sentence.

With Nasheed inside the Indian High Commission, international law has got in the way. Gayoom’s party, PPM, has not yet decided on their presidential candidate. Would it be Gayoom the septuagenarian? His politically active daughter, currently State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dunya Maumoon? His brother Abdulla Yamin, against whom there are corruption charges amounting to US$800,000? One of Gayoom’s two sons? With Nasheed in the race, the times ahead will be tough for any member of the family. With him gone, the field is wide open.

Gasim Ibrahim and Ahmed Thasmeen Ali are also in the running. Gasim is one of the richest men in the country. He has shares in almost everything that makes money from five star hotels to the humble onion. He owns not just several resorts but a fleet of assorted vessels, an airport, and a hefty reputation for being a womaniser. Gasim never attended school (and is one of the country’s worst public speakers), but was recently awarded an honorary doctorate in entrepreneurship from the Open University of Malaysia in recognition of his mega-tycoon status.

Gasim invests heavily in education, although his reasons for doing so are often far from altruistic. Attending one of his schools means towing his Jumhooree Party line – student and staff alike. He provides scholarships and loans for university education abroad for many, several of whom then enter into a life-long relationship of patronage with him. He recently described the power relations between him and the people as that of “master and servants.” Although without any training or experience in law or even a remotely related discipline, he now sits on the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), the chief overseer of the judiciary. Many of Nasheed’s supporters have asked: how can Nasheed have a fair trial when Gasim, his rival in the presidential race, sits in the JSC with its control over the judiciary?

Thasmeen’s party, the DRP, was Gayoom’s party before Gayoom split and formed PPM. While some maintain that DRP is ‘more democratic’ than PPM, with Thasmeen at the helm, the party participated in — and condoned — events of 7 February that ended democratic governance. Unlike his competitors – Nasheed, Gasim, Gayoom (or whoever Gayoom anoints from the shortlist) all of whom generate intense emotions among people – Thasmeen is mostly regarded with indifference. He rarely makes headlines, and is often discussed among rival supporters and democracy activists in relation to unpaid debts of millions owed by a family business.

DRP itself, however, still has a significant number of supporters. Last December Gayoom’s PPM overtook DRP in numbers to become the second largest party, but two days ago, DRP once again became the second largest party with 22,687 members. But, there is only a difference of 64 members between the two parties. The truth is, there is little that differentiates members of the two parties — some support PPM because it’s Gayoom’s, and others support DRP because it was Gayoom’s. Unlike Gayoom’s embarrassment and Waheed’s dismay, Thasmeen was “saddened” by Nasheed seeking refuge. Just like them, however, he sees Nasheed’s act as “unnecessary”, and a ploy to evade justice.

Apart from the candidates, there are also several petty chiefs who would like Nasheed behind bars. Several of them, frighteningly, work in law enforcement. The Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim, Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz, and Minister of Home Affairs Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, for example. All of them would love it if Nasheed simply disappeared.

Jameel, the Home Minister (also present during the police mutiny on 7 February), is from the island of Fuammulah, an atoll unto itself, located furthest south of Male’. Jameel has a PhD in Law from London’s SOAS University, but has a shockingly tenuous grasp of the fundamentals of democracy, even rule of law. Jameel is known to have a vicious temper, having flown off the handle in public on several occasions, earning him the nickname Angry Bird. It would not be an exaggeration to say Jameel hates Nasheed.

In a pamphlet he co-authored with Hassan Saeed (with whom heads the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP), another small party of little consequence) he accuses Nasheed of attempting to undermine and destroy the Islamic faith in the Maldives. Saeed is Jameel’s long-time friend (they live in the same apartment building) and he is also one of Waheed’s special advisors (the disloyal one). Nasheed had Jameel arrested for defamation after the ‘hate-pamphlet’ was published, but Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed (the same judge for whose arrest Nasheed is currently being prosecuted for), released him.

For Jameel, it is payback time. Having Nasheed arrested and prosecuted before the elections is imperative, he has said. On Monday, Jameel told Times of India that “I would be the happiest person to see Nasheed contest and lose.” Jameel’s two fantasies are mutually exclusive, but will end with the same desired climax: Nasheed will not be President again.

Nazim the Defence Minister and Abdulla Riyaz the Police Commissioner fear that should Nasheed be re-elected they, and not Nasheed, would be heading to Dhoonidhoo. Nasheed has called them traitors and openly declared his intention to prosecute them, if he is re-elected. They, with the current state minister for Home Affairs Mohamed Fayaz, commandeered the security forces during the police mutiny on 7 February 2012. To avoid jail time, they must imprison Nasheed. All three lost their positions during Nasheed’s government, and all bear personal grudges.

Is Nasheed’s life in danger?

Yes, says all Nasheed’s supporters. Last week, pro-MDP TV channel, Raajje TV, aired a video that was all the confirmation they needed. Nasheed, less then 24-hours after he resigned, was being brutally manhandled by a squad of about twenty policemen. They are all dressed in full riot gear. One of them has the former President, their Commander in Chief only a few hours previously, by the collar, hand across throat. In a move that supporters have likened to the movements of Neo, the protagonist in Hollywood hit movie The Matrix, Nasheed is seen sliding away from their grasp and fleeing for his life.

The policemen after Nasheed are members of an ‘elite’ squad named Special Operations or SOs. These are the same men who led the police mutiny on 7 February. According to the CoNI testimony of Nasheed’s police Commissioner, Ahmed Faseeh, the SOs’ origins explained their present: They were the ‘Star Force’, put together in a rush to control the uprisings in 2004 against Gayoom’s dictatorship.

To sum up his description of the squad, most SOs are men recruited into the police straight from the streets, given muscle enhancing substances (suspicions focus on steroids), made to pump iron, taken to intensive training in a foreign country, and brought back home for the sole purpose of ‘crowd control’. Then, as now, according to Fasyh, they were a tough squad to control. Back under Nazim and Riyaz, the SOs have happily reverted to form, taking up pre-democracy tactics of violence and brutality with ease and abandon. And, as seen in the video, they have no respect for Nasheed, or his life.

All things considered, is Nasheed’s prosecution politically motivated? Yes. Apart from all the reasons above, the current regime has failed to implement any steps recommended by the international community to reform the judiciary. Judge Abdulla Mohamed, whom Nasheed arrested citing national security, and against whom their are many allegations of misconduct and criminal activities, not just remains on the bench as the Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, but is also a part of the regime’s inner circle, attending government functions and officiating at various events.

Questions remain over the legality of the Hulhumale’ Court where he is to be tried, and all calls to redress Article 285 of the Constitution have been willfully ignored.

Justice appears to have very little to do with the impending prosecution.

Dr Azra Naseem has a PhD in International Relations

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]


Comment: And the killer is…

This article first appeared on DhivehiSitee. Republished with permission.

The government knows who killed MP Afrasheem Ali.

The Minister of Home Affairs Mohamed Jameel Ahmed has appeared in the media twice in the last week to repeat the claim. Both times he stopped short of sharing the knowledge with the public.

The first time was on 24 November, when Haveeru reported Jameel as saying “MP Afrasheem’s murderer has been found”. The only thing he shared with reporters, however, was his incredulity that the murder had been premeditated in great detail. He observed gravely:

This is a matter of serious concern.

In another Haveeru piece, on the same subject the same day, Jameel also implied that the murder involved  politicians with money and violent gangs of disaffected youth, all with the potential to be hired hit men. Again, he chose not to reveal who was involved in the suggested assassination.

Although Jameel said the killer has been found but, according to Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz, the investigation is ongoing. He was on-message with Jameel, though, when it came to government policy for sharing information with the public:

…details will be revealed as soon as it is time to reveal them.

From the very beginning, the murder of MP Afrasheem has been more than about the murder of MP Afrasheem. Within hours, he was being eulogised as ‘one of the greatest scholars we have ever seen’. His funeral was a State sponsored spectacle, aired live on ‘TVM’. Afrasheem’s family was invited to the Majlis so he could be honoured and his beneficiaries financially compensated.

When investigations began, the FBI was reported to be helping. Until now, however, the only visible sign of FBI’s involvement has been a typical ‘information leading to the arrest’ reward worth MVR50,000.

This is not to say the FBI has not been of any use to the government. President Waheed is holding up FBI involvement as the reason people should believe in the impartiality of the investigation.

“When agencies like these are involved, you can be sure it’s all very professional,” he said recently. Good for Waheed that not many Maldivian government supporters have heard of General Petraeus, or of the FBI  and the Patriot Act.

With or without FBI help, the police took into custody six people in connection with the murder. Several were MDP activists. None of them have been charged, but their detention period continues to be extended every 15 days. Only one person arrested after the murder, Mariyam Naifa, was released. The police never gave a reason for her arrest, and imposed extra-legal conditions on several personal liberties before freeing her.

Then followed a period of almost complete silence about the murder. It was ‘broken’ in late October, with this  news briefing which revealed:

…200 items are being investigated in the forensic lab and more than 300 hours of CCTV footage have been collected as evidence.

Apart from this, the only things police could confirm with certainty were that Afrasheem had been murdered, and that the body was really Afrasheem’s.

The police also used the news conference to announce a change of approach to their investigations. Whereas previous cases had emphasised speed—as in lawyer Najeeb’s case—now the emphasis would be on caution. This was an emphatic sign that police were going to take their own sweet time telling the public what happened.

Then, on 11 November, former President Mohamed Nasheed very publicly criticised the investigation. MDP followed Nasheed’s speech with a request for a parliamentary review of the investigation. It was as if a sleeping dog had been kicked in the balls. Jameel quickly deviated from the official line of ‘this can take forever’ to declare ‘the killer has been found.’

This also when his press conferences began to sound like a promotional gig for a Hitchcock movie. He has since appeared several times to tell the public he knew, but was not telling, who killed Afrasheem.

This morning, Haveeru  ran a new update of the non-story. Jameel is very ‘disconcerted’ by former President Nasheed’s remarks that he thinks police are biding their time in order to pin the murder on an MDP member. Nasheed also said he suspects that ‘the right time’ will be as close to the by-election on 1 December to elect Afrasheem’s replacement as possible.

Jameel dismisses Nasheed’s accusations as dangerous impediments to justice. Here is in the words of Haveeru, what Jameel said next:

Jameel further added that the people of Ungoofaaru must secure Afrasheem’s seat in Parliament to a member of his party and described it as a duty of the Ungoofaaru constituency people.

Did he really say that it was ‘the duty’ of the people of Afrasheem’s constituency, his home island, to make sure PPM retained its seat? Straight after dismissing Nasheed’s allegations that he is attempting to influence the election?

As always, Haveeru lent support to the government line with an opinion piece asking people to see MDP’s accusation of bias in the investigation in the same light as their accusations of bias against CoNI. That is to say ‘baseless’.

This is part of the government’s plan all along to pre-empt any criticism of the results when they are finally rolled out. Waheed had begun preparing for just such an eventuality by referring to the FBI presence as ‘proof of integrity’. Any criticism of the investigation from now on could and would be labelled as ‘the unreasonableness of MDP.’

Whatever about the motive of Afrasheem’s killer, it has been clear from the beginning that it is politics dictating the official response to his killing.

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]


Comment: Master or puppet?

This article first appeared on DhivehiSitee. Republished with permission.

The Maldives does not have a leader and is currently under the control of an unidentified shadowy ‘group of leaders’, according to… the President. It is an astonishing statement for any leader to make.

There is much to suggest Waheed is as helpless as implied by his public whingeing. He does not, for instance, seem to have any authority to keep his own house in order. There are several examples.

Very early on in his presidency Waheed’s Special Advisor Hassan Saeed was secretly recorded describing Waheed as: “politically the weakest person in the Maldives.”

In the United States, decorated Army General Stanely McChrystal had to resign after his aides were reported mocking Vice President Joe Biden. In the Maldives, Saeed, with his Jekyll and Hyde personality, remains in position.

Same with Abbas Adil Riza, the President’s Spokesperson. Riza’s ‘emotional outburst’ against the Indian High Commissioner left Waheed with diplomatic egg on his face. Yet, Riza remains authorised to speak for the President.

Would Waheed get rid of them if he had a choice? Judging from how quickly he fired his Transport Minister and Human Rights Minister, the answer is ‘yes.’ Abbas and Saeed made Waheed look an even bigger fool than did Shamheed and Dhiyana.

Waheed is a man particularly fond of his reputation. He recently wrote:

If he had a choice, it is unlikely Abbas and Saeed would ever be gainfully employed again, let alone be his closest aides.

When Waheed fired Shamheed and Jamsheed, supporters cheered the President’s ‘decisiveness’. But firing them exhausted the extent of Waheed’s authority. This is why: after February 7, like generals divvying up the spoils of a war, each party in the so-called Unity Government claimed for itself ‘slots’ in the Cabinet.

This dodgy power-sharing agreement is what has come to be known as the Coalition Government and appears to be the cabal of equal leaders Waheed was referring to.

Under the new system, cabinet portfolios can only be given to individuals nominated by a particular party. If a close aide or a cabinet minister offends the President beyond his tolerance, he is free to fire them (depending on which party’s nominee it is). But he cannot hire the replacement. Only Party Greats have the authority to do so.

Party Greats, the elected leaders and leading personalities of various parties in Waheed’s Unity Government, are also beyond Waheed’s influence. This applies regardless of how often they mock, patronise or harm Waheed’s presidency.

Among these petty generals, Sheikh Imran Abdulla stands out. Imran is currently heading one of the stupidest political campaigns in history—a ‘Jihad’ to take back the ‘Maldivian Airport for Maldivians’. For God’s sake.

Imran is the President of the Islamist Adhaalath Party and runs a lucrative Rent-a-Sheikh business. That is, in exchange for the right sort of political or financial returns, he agrees to bring his religious ideology to bear on whatever issue is causing headaches for his paymasters.

In the last two weeks, Imran has given the President not one but two ultimatums. Currently, the President has until the end of the month to fulfil Imran’s demands, or else.

Even under such circumstances, Waheed poses for pictures with leaders and nationalistic paraphernalia of Imran’s ‘Airport Jihadists’.

Hard to believe any President would willingly look such a fool.

Maldives Police Service also seems well beyond the reach of Waheed’s leadership. In the early hours of last Friday the 16th, it ran what has been named an  ‘Intel-led Drug Bust Operation’ resulting in the arrest of two MPs and several senior members of MDP. It involved scores of officers swimming onto a desert island in the dark to ambush the targets at a weekend getaway.

Police found a hefty stash of alcohol on the island, and kept the arrested in handcuffs for hours. Family members are alleging they were badly beaten up in custody.

Waheed appeared as ambushed by police behaviour as were the targets of their Operation. Commissioner of Police Riyaz Abdulla said:

Such operations are not carried out by Police after informing the President or the Home Minister. This institution does not have any political influence.

For a president with any real authority, there would have been at least a courtesy call from the police, not a flippant explanation like Riyaz’s.

Is the President a puppet? Not according to…the President. In the same letter cited above, he wrote:

Nasheed accuses me of being a puppet of the former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. This is an accusation I reject.

There is currently a no confidence motion pending against Waheed in the Parliament. Last monday, MPs were due to decide whether or not the impeachment vote could be kept secret. The general opinion seems to be that if MPs are allowed to vote secretly, they will choose to get rid of Waheed.

MPs were ambushed in Operation Alcohol just two days before the vote. With the desert island debacle still fresh in everybody’s minds, the motion to put the impeachment to a secret vote failed narrowly.

The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) has said it is difficult not to see the arrests as politically motivated. It really does not take a conspiracy theorist to link the arrests with the no confidence motion.

If Waheed is pulling the strings, then he ordered the arrests. And, if the arrested MPs’ families are telling the truth, he also ordered them humiliated, intimidated and beaten up. No puppet can pull strings like that.

There are more ways to see Waheed than suggested by Waheed. He is neither puppet no master but the curtain behind which the show was planned. He was the fig-leaf that gave the appearance of legitimacy to a coup. In return for ‘ascendency to the Presidency’, Waheed promised he will not resign until 2013, not matter what. Even if it means looking like a right puppet.

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]


Comment: Extremism affecting the daily lives of every Maldivian

This article originally appeared on DhivehiSitee. Republished with permission.

Islamic extremism is very real in the Maldives. It affects the daily lives of every Maldivian, and is gaining in scope, intensity and violence every day with the pseudo-democratic government that came to power on 7 February.

This is not to say that Islamic extremism did not exist during the three short years in which the Maldives was a democracy. On the contrary, it was during democratic rule that extremism gained its strongest foothold in Maldivian society.  It is a myth that democracy is an antidote to extremism, as is widely proposed in much of the existing anti-radicalisation literature. Democracy, with its many freedoms, provides a much more conducive environment for radicalisation than does an authoritarian regime, as has been seen in the Maldives.

When Islamic extremism began to be imported into the Maldives in the late 1990s with the advent of the so-called international ‘religious terrorism’; and when the export of extremist ideologies intensified globally with the War on Terror, the Maldives was under the dictatorial regime of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Although in recent times Gayoom has aligned himself with the ideologies of the hardline Islamist Adhaalath Party, during his rule, he presented himself as a moderate Muslim who believed in freedom of religion and advocated religious pluralism in the Maldives.

What he did not tolerate was extremist ideologies spread in the name of Islam. His methods of suppressing such beliefs – imprisonment and torture – cannot be condoned, nor are they compatible with the values of democracy. It cannot be denied, however, that they held Islamic extremism in check in the Maldives for over a decade.

The transition to democracy in November 2008 opened the door for Maldivian Islamists to push their agenda forward.

A confluence of events had helped them consolidate support even under Gayoom’s repressive policies: the 2004 tsunami which literally put the fear of God into many a Maldivian living on remote islands, and which the Islamists exploited as a means of spreading their ideology by depicting it as punishment from God for man’s ungodliness; and the War on Terror, which was used by Islamist states and movements to intensify their efforts to fund and spread their ideology to Muslim populations across the world.

Despite a tourism industry worth billions of dollars, three decades of authoritarian rule in the Maldives left behind a population that was mostly on the poverty line, had extremely low levels of education, and contained tens of thousands of disaffected youth with few prospects for social mobility or economic success. All are factors that have been shown to facilitate the spread of extremist ideologies.

Added to this was the supposedly inescapable need for the newly democratic government to form a political alliance with the Islamists, and a democratic president who believed in freedom of expression in absolutist terms, and who failed to fully appreciate that such freedoms are not always exercised with responsibility by those who enjoy them.

While during the War on Terror most democratic governments everywhere sought to find a balance between freedom of expression and the need to curb incitement to violence in the name of religion, under Mohamed Nasheed’s government Maldivian extremists enjoyed absolute freedom of expression.

Bookshops came to be laden with publications that spread their teachings; their message was constantly transmitted in mosques, on air, and on the Internet. The success of their efforts are now there for all to see.

Of course, under Nasheed’s government it was not just the extremists who had the freedom to express their views. Those who disagreed with their ideology, too, enjoyed the same freedom. This was, in fact, Nasheed’s strategy and hope: that the civil society would counter extremism without requiring any intervention from the government.

It was a huge mistake. The civil society was not strong enough to take on the Islamists, especially in the face of the institutional support that the Islamists enjoyed under the MDP (Maldivian Democratic Party) government with its politically expedient alliance with the Islamist Adhaalath Party. Nasheed also underestimated the power of the label of ‘un-Islamic’ or anti-Islam as a tool for suppressing dissent.

The fight against extremists was thus left to individuals who worked alone or in very small groups. Their discourse was easily slapped down and condemned by the extremists using the ‘anti-Islam/un-Islamic/heretic’ label. As it turned out, this label was also the most powerful tool used against Nasheed himself to help facilitate the downfall of the MDP government, demonstrating just how much power such a designation wields in a rapidly radicalising society.

Despite the knowledge that Nasheed was a firm believer in freedom of expression, few dared to take on the extremists openly then, or now. When they did, the MDP government utterly failed to support them. The lack of any assistance or support for Mohamed Nazim, who in May 2010 dared to publicly declare his disbelief in Islam, and of Ismail Mohamed Didi in July 2010 who felt persecuted for his lack of belief and committed suicide at the age of 25, brought into sharp relief the absence of any serious commitment by the MDP government to fighting extremism.

Instead of tackling the oppression that the Islamists were imposing on Maldivians, the MDP – beleaguered by continuous authoritarian attempts at a reversal – often chose to ignore the problem, or worse, sided with the Islamists.

With the regime change of 7 February, the problem has grown acutely worse. Not only did the new caretaker President Dr Waheed enthusiastically demonstrate a previously unknown affinity with Islamists, his Coalition Government has, from the beginning, continued to deny extremism even exists in the country.

This deliberate denial, coupled with the appointment of Islamists to top positions in government and society, has resulted in the opportunity for extremism to grow unchecked. It now has deep roots within all state institutions including the executive, the parliament, the judiciary and most worryingly, within the security forces.

Recent events of extraordinary violence and their aftermath have gone a long way in demonstrating the truth of this claim.

The attempted murder of Hilath Rasheed

Hilath Rasheed is the only openly gay human rights activist in the Maldives. He, along with fellow blogger and writer Yameen Rasheed, were among the very few Maldivians who dared to voice their anti-extremist opinions publicly. Most bloggers and other writers used pseudonyms. Such caution was not without reason. Death threats against such writers were common.

On 4 June 2012 extremists carried out their threats and attempted to murder Hilath. I met Hilath a few weeks after the attack. There was a scar about 10 inches long  running across his throat horizontally. His voice was only just coming back, and his whole being appeared shaken.

Hilath told me that the last words he heard from the man who cut his throat were:

This is a present from Shaheem, Mutthalib and Imran.

The three men referred to are: Sheikh Shaheem Ali Saeed, the current Minister of Islamic Affairs; Ibrahim Muththalib, an MP who is the most ardent advocate of the death penalty in Parliament; and Imran Abdullah, president of the Adhaalath Party and one of the main actors in the Islamists’ contribution to the change of government on 7 February.

Hilath also made the allegations openly on his blog (banned in the Maldives since November 2011), and they were also reported in Minivan News, although the latter stopped short of identifying the politicians by name.

There has been no official response bar an attempt to mislead the international community by portraying Hilath as a violent criminal caught up in gang violence.

While it is a fact, related by Hilath, that the man who cut his throat named the said politicians, it is quite possible the attacker may have been lying about their involvement. It is also possible that the attackers (there were three altogether) decided to act on their own, motivated not by direct orders but by the ideologies perpetrated by the named politicians.

In the absence of a proper investigation by the Maldives Police Services (MPS), it is hard to know for sure.

In the four months since the attack, and despite existing evidence such as CCTV footage of the incident, the MPS has made no progress whatsoever in their investigations. Without police protection and fearing, instead, persecution by them, Hilath now lives in self-imposed exile. And the MPS has, for all intents and purposes, abandoned the investigation.

This failure by the Maldives Police Services to investigate the attempted murder of Hilath is not simply the incompetency one can expect from a heavily politicised police force. It also implies the existence of dangerous connections between law enforcement leaders and Islamists that go to the very heart of the increasing extremism in the country.

This is a proposition I make on the basis not of Hilath’s case alone – a similar failure has plagued the MPS in the most recent attack associated with Islamists: the murder of MP Dr Afrasheem Ali.

The murder of Dr Afrasheem

Dr Afrasheem Ali was among the increasing number of politicians in the Maldives who also act as religious scholars and pundits, blurring further the already thin line between politics and religion. He was a staunch Gayoom loyalist, an MP for Gayoom’s Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) who played a key role in the successful authoritarian attempts to hijack judicial independence in the Maldives.

Although some of Dr Afrasheem’s views on women and their role in society was far from liberal, he is reported to have spoken against forcing women to cover-up and also said that a believing Muslim cannot be declared an unbeliever simply for their failure to grow a beard or display other such ‘religious’ trappings – apparently daring statements for a religious scholar and what passes as ‘moderate’ (or ‘un-Islamic’) in the Maldives these days.

Dr Afrasheem’s killing was no random act of violence. It was a targeted assassination, carried out without mercy within the premises of his own home. He had been the victim of previous attacks, targeted for his beliefs that contradicted those of extremists. In conservative religious circles he was often referred to as Dr Iblis (Dr Satan).

The last major activity he participated in before his death was to appear on television, reportedly at his own behest, to “ask for forgiveness from citizens if he had created a misconception in their minds due to his inability to express himself in the right manner.”  The Islamic Ministry has denied reports that it pressured Dr Afrasheem into making the apology. And, Islamic Minister Shaheem has stated that, contrary to reports, there had been no disagreement between them.

And, just as with the attempted murder of Hilath, the government’s immediate response was to mislead the international media. This time it implicated Nasheed, with the President’s Office spokesperson sending an SMS to international news agencies reading:

Nasheed’s strongest critic Dr Afrasheem has been brutally murdered.

And again, just like with Hilath’s attempted murder, the investigation of Dr Afrasheem’s death appears to be going nowhere.

Not only has there been zero progress, the MPS has also been busy making political use of the murder—a trend which started with the murder of a policeman on 22 July 2012.

So far, a total of six people have been arrested in connection with Dr Afrasheem’s murder. Two weeks later, no charges have been brought against any of them, lending much credence to the allegation by MDP and other democrats that some of the arrests are intended more as a means of persecuting MDP/democracy activists rather than solving a murder. One of them, a young MDP activist, Mariyam Naifa, was released without charge, explanation or apology – but with many conditions – just yesterday, after 15 days in jail.

The MPS is not the only institution where murder is regarded as a political opportunity. Within days of Dr Afrasheem’s death, the Islamist-led push for the death penalty has received new vigor in parliament while the government has moved rapidly to revoke licenses for twenty-four hours shops and cafes citing ‘national security’.

The fact of the matter is that extremist ideologies have taken root within the national security apparatus as much as it has in political institutions. This is evident from the role that religion played in motivating the police and army personnel who refused to obey the ‘heretic’ Nasheed’s orders on 7 February.

It appears that crimes committed in the name of Islam are being pushed to the side by law enforcement personnel who are more interested in turning such atrocities into political battlegrounds, and/or see them as religious duties that do not deserve punishment.

If this continues to be the case, there is little doubt that the Maldivian people stand to suffer even more serious civil and political repression in the not too distant future as the Islamists continue to turn their extremist ideologies into government policy.

Is there a solution?

Islamism in the Maldives is a fact. It may not be the sort that blows people up and turn buildings into ash, but it is rapidly changing the Maldivian society into one of religious intolerance, xenophobia, and a place of violent punishments for those who refuse to follow its ideologies.

If extremism and its associated hatred and violence are to be stopped, or at least held in check, the MDP must start standing up to the politicians and ‘religious scholars’ who propagate such views, and it must stop giving into their demands for the sake of political expediency.

Nasheed has promised that MDP would refrain in the future from forming political alliances that require it to sacrifice its ideals. If he keeps his promise, this is indeed good news. Despite the corruption manifest among many members of its upper echelons, MDP is the only political party in the Maldives right now that has shown a strong commitment to reinstating democratic governance in the Maldives. And, Nasheed remains a beacon of hope for most Maldivian democrats who firmly believe in his commitment to democratic governance despite past mistakes.

The MDP is also the only such body in the country with the clout to push for anti-radicalisation measures without losing the support of a majority of its members. Many of MDP’s supporters are secularists and/or those committed to religious tolerance – values of democracy that are said to be universal.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee stated categorically in July 2012 that there should be no reason for the Maldives to cling on to its current reservation on Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Under the circumstances, it makes no sense for MDP officials to back down when confronted with militant beliefs as it has done in the past.

Even if the MDP does find the courage to stand up against extremism, however, the Maldives needs the support of the international community in fighting the phenomenon. It failed miserably in coming to the aid of the Maldivian democracy in its hours of need, choosing instead to support the pseudo-democratic government of Dr Waheed. But, it cannot afford to be so blasé about the growing extremism in the Maldives.  A failure to properly understand the current Maldivian malaise poses a danger not just to the people of the Maldives, but to its neighbours and the world at large.

Even the most realist of international actors should, therefore, pay close attention to the activities of Maldivian Islamists and refuse to take the new government’s word that ‘there is no extremism in the Maldives’ like it accepted the government’s declaration that ‘there was no coup on 7 February.’

Azra Naseem holds a doctorate in International Relations.

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]


Comment: The spy who came in from the coup

Law and order appears to have gone a bit schizophrenic in  the Maldives in the last few days. First the Maldives Police Service (MPS) arrested its intelligence head, Chief Superintendent (MC) Mohamed Hameed, on charges of ‘endangering internal security’ by disclosing classified information.

Hameed is alleged to have co-operated with the co-authors of ‘The Police and Military Coup’, an MDP-affiliated investigation into the events of 7 February 2012. The report was released in response to the current government’s ‘findings’ into the events, published so prematurely as to be available for public feedback even before investigations began.

The MPS says drafts of the Coup Report, along with commentary, were found in MC Hameed’s gmail account. Nobody has yet answered the question of why the MPS was snooping around in the man’s private email account in the first place. Is it normal for the MPS to spy on their officers?

Then the Criminal Court granted the MPS a five-day extension to Hameed’s detention. He was promptly taken to Dhoonidhoo, the Maldives’ most famous prison island.  Hameed’s lawyers lodged an appeal at the High Court on the same day but he was not granted a hearing until the fifth and last day of his detention. Three Justices agreed unanimously that he should be detained for five days, just hours before the five-day detention period expired.

Now, is it just me, or is it a bit difficult to get your head around the question of why the High Court would deign to deliver that judgement at that particular time?  Three more hours, and the detention order would no longer be valid anyway. So what was the eleventh hour High Court ruling for?

The High Court’s behaviour becomes all the more inexplicable in light of the fact that shortly afterwards the Criminal Court released Hameed. It saw no grounds to detain him further. All told, the judiciary does not seem to know quite what to do, with itself or with a problem like Hameed.

What is to be done with Hameed? Was he ‘spying for the enemy camp’ as some are alleging? Or is he a heroic whistle-blower? Is he to be jailed for life, or celebrated as a voice that stood up for democracy?

National security violation or whistle-blowing?

The MPS is alleging that by talking to the authors of the Coup Report, Hameed had facilitated an ‘intelligence leak’. Here’s a Tweet by pro-government blogger endorsed by  Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz.

Was it an intelligence leak?

The Coup Report does not name any names that are not in the public domain already as having been involved in the events of 7 February; nor does it reveal information a third party had not been privy to previously. What the report seems to have done, for the most part, is gather together scattered evidence already available on various platforms on the Internet and other media into a coherent single narrative.

It appears the authors shared their drafts with Hameed, and he acted as some sort of a proof-reader or a fact-checker. Double-checking what was in the report against what he saw and knew as the Intelligence Chief on 7 February. The MPS says it saw evidence of this in Hameed’s gmail account.

In the absence of an Official Secrets Act or whistle-blower legislation (any lawyer wanting to stop practising the art of silence is welcome to contradict or complement this), what is the most likely legal instrument that would be used for prosecuting Hameed?

The Police Act is a likely resource. It is what the MPS says Hameed violated. The Police Code of Conduct says:

4. Confidentiality

Information obtained during police duty should be confidential and not shared with a third party. Information about police operations and information contained within official police records should not be made public unless their exposure is lawfully ordered.

So, technically, Hameed was acting against the Police Code of Conduct when he liaised with the authors of the coup report.

But, what if he was co-operating in revealing a crime? In such a scenario, Hameed cannot be regarded as guilty of misconduct or any other offence, but becomes a whistle-blower. In the absence of a Maldivian legal definition, let’s go by the dictionary definition:

whis·tle·blow·er or whis·tle-blow·er or whistle blower (hwsl-blr, ws-)


One who reveals wrongdoing within an organisation to the public or to those in positions of authority: ”The Pentagon’s most famous whistleblower is . . . hoping to get another chance to search for government waste” (Washington Post).

whistle-blowing n.

What the Coup Report alleges, and is the opinion shared by tens of thousands of Maldivians, is that the elected government of the Maldives was illegally overthrown on 7 February with the help of police mutiny. If so, providing information on how the police mutiny occurred is not a crime.

Besides, information relating to those events should not be an official secret or classified information. What could there be of more grave public interest than knowing how a government most voted for ended so suddenly and in such questionable circumstances?

Would Hameed not have given the same information to the Commission of National Inquiry if it had bothered to ask him? Would he be not sharing the same information with CoNI now that it’s work has begun at long last? Or is this a way of making sure Hameed is not able to freely speak to CoNI?

If the State were to go after Hameed, there is also Section 29 of the Penal Code:

Whoever attempts to commit or participates in or facilitates the commission of an act against the State shall be punished with imprisonment for life or exile for life or imprisonment or exile for a period between 10 years and 15 years.

An ‘act against the State’ is a term so broad that the act does not necessarily have to amount to an offence to be deemed punishable. The State, meanwhile, is defined as:

the Cabinet existing in accordance with the Constitution, People’s Majlis and collectively all agencies that are entrusted with the administration of those entities. This definition shall also include all property belonging to the State.

So, anyone who does anything about anything to do with the State, which the state deems to be ‘against’ it, can be jailed for life, or banished for life?

Then again, the above definition defines the State as ‘the Cabinet existing in accordance with the Constitution.’ Which means that, if this government is found to be illegitimate, the Cabinet cannot be seen as existing in accordance with the Constitution, and therefore, Hameed could not have committed an ‘act against the State’.

Which brings it all back to the Mother Question upon which all other questions depend: is Waheed’s government legitimate?

Should that question not be answered first before pursuing people who talk about it for espionage and/or defamation? Shouldn’t any information made public for the purposes of answering that question be deemed valuable rather than criminal? Shouldn’t holders of such information be regarded as vital witnesses to be protected rather than traitors to be prosecuted?

Every question that depends on ‘if this government were legitimate’ should take a back-seat to that of how the first democratically elected government ended on 7 February. Especially the question of who is the hero and who the villain.

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]


Comment: Stop the charade, this is no longer a democracy

Stop this nonsense, you can only push propaganda so far.

The people confronting the police on the streets of Male’ everyday are not ‘thugs’. They are people from all over Maldives, they are young they are old. They are rich, they are poor. They are pious, they are indifferent. They are liberal, they are conservative. They are educated, they are fishermen. They are students, they are teachers, husbands, wives. They all believe in one thing: their right to elect their leader as citizens of a democracy.

These are the people who are out on the streets, fighting with the police and kicking up a riot. Because their right to be governed democratically has been taken away from them.

Stop this nonsense about ‘what of the poor police’? There is a fundamental flaw in the argument that ‘they [police] are just ordinary people, too.’ Vast differences exist between a civilian and a policeman on duty. Police are trained to control their impulses, to withstand anger, to repel provocation, to use weapons. Ordinary people are not. The public pays the police not to hurt them but to protect them.

Within twenty four hours of the new regime’s assumption of power, people were being brutally beaten by the police. The force of their violence has been a constant presence since 8 February. It is a threat that hovers in the air, unspoken. Always present.

With every mass protest on the streets of Male’, the police have come down harder, their violence more ruthless. Using pepper-spray and tear-gas has become the norm. The police charge at people with all their might, and without warning shoot tear-gas canisters into the people. They have put one woman’s burugaa on fire, smashed the head open of another and choked plenty.

Stop this nonsense about using ‘minimum force’, there is nothing minimal about the force with which the police come at you. You only have to feel their batons pointed at you and hear the filth they shout at you to know the level of violent force aimed at you by these men in uniform. They come in hordes, they pepper-spray at random, often pausing to take people’s sun-glasses off before spraying them straight in the eye. They crack open skulls without hesitation.

There is wanton cruelty, gratuitous violence. And there is a feeling of ferocious rage emanating from them as they hunt people down. These are not police running after an out-of–control people, these are police charging into people with the intention of intimidating, hitting, hurting, violating. The police are seeking to break them in, make them docile and prime them to be subjects of a dictatorship.

Like in all situations of conflict, women have been heavily victimised and subjected to gender-based violence. Police have partially undressed women on the streets, revealing their flesh in ways that compromise their privacy and mock the Islamic modesty her buruga is meant to convey.

There have been reports of women’s breasts being violently molested, or specifically targeted for physical assault. Unarmed women have been handcuffed and dragged to the island of Dhoonidhoo and detained without charge. ‘Unity Government’ MPs, like Red Wave Saleem, pontificate on television equating the women protesting with ‘women working in brothels.’

Stop the nonsense about this being a democracy, it cannot be one with an authoritarian government in power.

There can be no democracy where senior officials are being purged from government because they belong to a particular political party. There cannot be a democracy where the president is publicly campaigning, using state funds, for a parliament contender that is not even a member of his own party. There is no democracy where the president uses military force to pave his path to the parliament; where the president can only travel within the country by clearing off all streets everyone except his supporters.

Most importantly, there cannot be a democracy where questions remain unanswered about how the first democratically elected government of the country came to an end.

Stop this nonsense about colour, about ‘MDP people’, about whether it is unladylike for women to shout on the streets. The choice Maldivians face today is much bigger, stark. Democracy or autocracy. If early elections are held, it may put the transition back on track back on track, but if we let this government continue in its campaign to legitimise itself until 2013, by hook or by crook, there would be no going back. It will be too late for democracy.

At the rate the new government is reversing all policies that released people from the system of patronage built over a thirty-year dictatorship, people will soon be caught yet again in the same shackles of abject dependency on the Dear Leader that kept us subservient for those three decades.

If people don’t want this to happen, we must join the struggle to ensure this robbery of our fundamental right to govern ourselves is not covered up through false legitimisation. We shouldn’t let political colour blind us to the truth: democracy is in danger in the Maldives. If we believe in it, we must fight for it.

If dictatorship is what you want, don’t do anything. If not, do something.

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