“We in the EU should apply maximum pressure to reverse this judicial coup,” says European MP

Charles Tannock, Conservative Member of the European Parliament (MEP) has told a plenary session of the EU parliament in Strasbourg that organisation should apply “maximum pressure”  to reverse what he described as a “judicial coup” in the Maldives.

“The people of the Maldives deserve better than this: they must have their voices heard, and their decisions respected. The constitutional crisis in Male which looms if a new President is not elected before the current President’s mandate expires could spell disaster for this small but dignified nation,” Tannock told the 766 member legislature.

The MEP went on to call for politicians to put the interests of their country ahead of their own careers and “a small band of disfavoured elites allied to ex-President Gayoom and Islamist parties, who determine the country’s future.”

“I believe the Maldives could face a very strong and unwelcome response from the international community if these failings are not mended, he told journalists following the session.

“I am sure that no regime there would find it comfortable if governments began advising their citizens not to visit as tourists because of the dire state of human rights including particularly women’s rights and the lack of basic democratic freedoms.”

EU High Representative Catherine Ashton said she was “deeply concerned” following the most recent delay in the Maldives presidential elections.

“The EU reiterates its confidence in the impartiality and efficiency of the Maldivian Election Commission. It recalls that elections cannot successfully be held if the process can be repeatedly brought to a halt through legal injunctions,” she said in a statement.


Court’s argument for annulling election “materially baseless”: Maldives Democracy Network

The International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and the Maldives Democracy Network (MDN) have issued a joint statement expressing concern over the Supreme Court’s 4:3 decision to annul the first round of the 2013 presidential election.

“The unjustifiable delay and judicially forceful suspension of the second round of the election, due on 28 September, indicates an encroachment of the judiciary over the powers of the Elections Commission, an independent constitutional body answerable to the Parliament of the Maldives,” read the statement.

The statement described the court’s verdict as being founded on “materially baseless arguments”, after the first round was “applauded as a success by the international community.”

“Maldivian authorities must swiftly bring the electoral process to an end, in a free and fair manner”, said FIDH President Karim Lahidji.

The 4:3 verdict hinged on a confidential police report supposedly claiming that 5,600 votes were ineligible due to errors such as address mismatches. The report has not been made public and was not shown to the Election Commission’s defence lawyers.

The court issued the verdict 13 days after it heard the concluding statements, issuing an injunction halting the election and missing the constitutionally-mandated deadline for the run-off.

International reaction

European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton said the EU had noted the verdict, and expressed continued faith in the EC.

“The international community recognised the outcome of the first round on September 7 as inclusive and credible. Under these circumstances, I urge that elections planned for October [19] take place in full compliance with national and international standards and that the Maldives democratic institutions are safeguarded and the will of the people respected,” Ashton stated.

“I urge that elections… take place in full compliance with national and international standards and that the Maldives democratic institutions are safeguarded and the will of the people respected. The EU restates its confidence in the ability of the Election Commission to ensure this [and] remains ready to support a democratically-elected government in confronting the major challenges that the country is facing.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon also “noted” the Supreme Court’s decision, in  a statement reiterating calls for a “peaceful, inclusive and credible process” for the re-scheduled vote.

“The first round of the presidential election was widely recognised as a success by international and domestic election observers,” the UN statement read, adding that Ki-moon “acknowledges the continuing efforts by the Elections Commission of the Maldives.”

“The election had been seen as an important step in the country’s democratic transition,” the UN stated, referring to the “contested circumstances” of 2012’s change of government.

UN Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco last week briefed the UN Security Council on the situation in the Maldives.

Local concern

MDN is the first local NGO to comment upon the verdict, expressing alarm at the conduct of the country’s highest court as well as the escalating tensions in the country.

“We call upon the Supreme Court and the judiciary to uphold the supremacy of the Constitution and the democratic will of Maldivian people, at all times,” said Shahindha Ismail, Executive Director of MDN.

“The elections must absolutely take place as soon as possible, given the arbitrary and unconstitutional deadline set by the Supreme Court, which ruled yesterday that the current government would remain in place should the elections not be held by early November,” she added.

Global criticism accompanied the Supreme Court’s initial decision to to delay polls on September 23, including statements of concern from the UN, Commonwealth, and the EU.

Local NGO Transparency Maldives (TM) – also the group behind the single largest observer mission conducted during the first round – expressed doubts over the integrity of the Supreme Court in late August, urging it to “maintain its actions in such a fashion that the court does not allow further diminishing of its integrity and to be transparent in its functioning and sharing of information to strengthen the public trust towards the institution.”

The Home Ministry this month announced that it would be investigating TM for its challenging of the Supreme Court, prompting the NGO’s international affiliate – Transparency International – to express its concern “grave concern” over potential intimidation of the Maldivian chapter.


EU concerned over escalating “political tension” while MDP commits to “direct action”

The EU has slammed an “escalation of political tension and violent protests” in the Maldives as police confirmed that 50 people – including a former cabinet minister – were arrested during the last two days during anti-government demonstrations.

However, with the arrest of 32 demonstrators in the last 24 hours, as well as a government decision to clear the MDP’s Usfasgandu protest site by July 30, some opposition figures have claimed the tension will likely intensify further.

Spokesperson for Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, has said there remained “deep concern” in Europe over the political unrest in the Maldives.

“The High Representative is convinced that continued political unrest, heavy-handed responses by security forces, and charges filed against political leaders will only lead to further deterioration of the political climate in the country and will adversely affect the lives of all Maldivian citizens,” stated the EU.

“The High Representative acknowledges the efforts of the Commonwealth Special Envoy, Sir Don McKinnon, to strengthen the Maldives Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) whose purpose it is to establish an objective account of the events which led to the resignation of President Nasheed and the transfer of power to the present Government on 7 February 2012. She appeals to all parties to refrain from any actions that could jeopardise completion of the Commission of National Inquiry’s work, including legal action against political leaders”.

The calls followed a statement released by the Commonwealth this week urging all parties to show “restraint and restore calm” as initiatives like the reconstituted Commission of National Inquiry (CNI).  The CNI, expected to be completed by next month, was  established to ascertain the truth between February’s controversial transfer of power.

In a statement released Tuesday (July 17), Commonwealth Secretary General’s Special Envoy to the Maldives, Sir Donald McKinnon called for dialogue among political leaders, urging all parties to show “restraint and restore calm.”

“Direct action”

During the last two weeks, the MDP has been carrying out what it has called “direct action” protests.

While the opposition party has continued to contend that its protests have been “largely peaceful”, the ongoing demonstrations have at times broken out into violent clashes. This violence has led to allegations of police brutality against demonstrators, and counter claims of protesters attacking reporters and security forces.

The MDP today said it expected its protests, stated to continue until the present government of Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan “topples” would continue indefinitely. The MDP alleges that the Waheed administration came to power in February through a “coup d’etat” and therefore had no legitimacy.

Party MP and Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor claimed that the MDP was committed to managing “peaceful, disciplined” protests, though he accepted that violent confrontations appeared to be increasing between police and protesters. He alleged that this violence was a result of law enforcement officials increasingly showing a “lack of discipline” on their part.

The Maldives Police Service has contended that to continues to use “minimum force” to protect its officers during the demonstrations.

Conversely, while police have said that none of its officers were hurt in the last 24 hours – there have been serious and minor injuries sustained by police during attacks by individuals suspected of being affiliated with anti-government demonstrators.

On July 12, an attack around Dhilbahaaru Magu in Male’ saw one officer having to fly to Sri Lanka for treatment for head injuries received from an assault with a pavement brick.

Minivan News has observed protests in recent weeks switching from heckling and mocking of officers at police barricades to violent confrontations as police have charged through protests lines, and demonstrators themselves broke through barricades to confront police.

Police have come under particular criticism by the MDP for using pepper spray directly in the faces of protesters – an accusation denied by law enforcement authorities.

“Maldives Police did not use any excessive force nor was pepper spray directed to anyone’s face,” police said in a statement at the time.

However a video released of the incident showed a riot police officer reaching over a crowd of people surrounding Nasheed and spraying him in the face. Nasheed turns away as the spray hits him, and is taken away by his supporters, but later returned to the protest.

In this environment, the government has itself called for “calm”, urging all political leaders to abandon the street protests, which have attracted international attention over the last few weeks, and sit down for “sincere dialogue”.

President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza was not responding at time of press.

Amid the calls for an end to protests and fresh talks, the Ministry of Housing has issued an ultimatum for the MDP to vacate the Usfasgandu protest area in the next nine days.

Housing Minister Dr Mohamed Muiz claimed the decision to evict the MD from the site was not linked to the current anti-government protests, but rather a reaction to how the opposition had used their land for partisan purposes.

Muiz told Minivan News that the land, which had controversially been leased to the MDP Male’ City Council, an elected body with a majority representation for the opposition party, belonged to the government.

“As far as I’m concerned there is no doubt of the legality [of clearing the site],” he said.

Amidst the current political tension in the capital, Dr Muiz said that the timing of the decision had “nothing to do” with continued protests being carried out by the party.

“We have already handed in our development plans for the area,” he said. “There is a clear mandate of what should have been developed on [Usfasgandu]. The MDP have ignored these rules and have developed it into their own party property.”

MDP MP Ghafoor responded that “there was no doubt” that the Housing Ministry’s decision was in retaliation for continuing its protests in the capital.

“Judging from the current mood of the people, the [housing] minister’s threats will be taken as irrelevant now. People just aren’t listening any more to what they see as a coup government,” he claimed.

Ghafoor also alleged that all ministers aligned with the present government were viewed as having no legitimacy among MDP members, from the State Islamic minister up to President Waheed himself.

However, with international organisations including the UN, the EU and the Commonwealth all calling on politicians to adhere to a peaceful resolution to the nation’s political upheaval, Ghafoor said that protests would continue as previously pledged by the party.

“I do not think the issue here is whether our protests are sustainable, it is more about the fact the whole political situation in this country unsustainable,” he claimed.

Despite the alleged incidence of violence linked to police and protesters alike, Ghafoor contended that the MDP remained committed to “disciplined, peaceful” protests.

“As long as the party keeps the foresight to try and manage protests, we are trying to channel the energy and dissatisfaction of people into something more positive,” he claimed.

Ghafoor conceded that it was apparent that protests were becoming more violent as peoples’ frustrations grew, a sign he claimed that was reflected in the amount of footage and photos of protests that were being found on social media sites like Facebook depicting alleged acts of violence by authorities.

“I think that protests show a direct correlation between the level of oppression and the resultant uprisings,” he added. “If you look at Bahrain , they have lived with repression all their lives, so have we. But we are seeing the kids coming out on the streets to show their anger,” he said.

Ghafoor alleged that police were failing to keep control of the present situation and may be turning to young inexperienced officers to try and control it.


More than 50 people are believed to have been arrested during two nights of protests in the capital – 22 were said to have been arrested in the early hours of Friday (July 20) morning, the first day of Ramazan.

Among those arrested were former Transport Minister Adil Saleem, who was detained on Thursday evening but later released under house arrest, according to the MDP.

The MDP also alleged that Saleem had sustained “abdominal injuries” during his arrest as a result of “excessive force” used to detain him by police. Ghafoor claimed that Saleem was eventually taken to Hulhumale’ hospital for treatment, though was advised that he should be transferred to Indira Gandhi Memorial Hosptial (IGMH) in Male’. Police were then reported to have opted against returning the former minister to the capital.

The MDP has also claimed that the protesters who had been arrested were not given food during breakfast whilst being held.

“Legal necessities”

In response to the 32 people confirmed to have been arrested following this morning’s protests, police claimed that detentions were made after repeated warnings to not to cross the police lines and to not to obstruct police duty.

“The protesters who came into the ‘no protesting zone’ claimed that they were there to call for early elections and voice against the government. But the protesters that came into this zone had resorted to using foul language and harassment to the police officers” read the statement.

Following the confrontations, those that were arrested were given the opportunity to breakfast and all other legal necessities were provided to them, according to police.

Among the legal necessities provided to the arrestees were, having a medical check up to see if there is any sort of physical harm caused to the arrestee and providing the opportunity to seek assistance of a legal counsel. The families of the arrested were also contacted.

Police have claimed that among 32 arrested, four were tested positive for drugs. Those tested positive were Ismail Abdulla, Mohamed Sabah, Aishath Laisha Abdullah and Hussain Mufeedh, police said.

Police claimed that Aishath Laisha was the only female arrested in today’s protests.


EU targets judicial reform discussions with President Waheed

The European Union has said it will continue trying to work with Maldivian authorities to reform the country’s judiciary following requests for assistance made by Mohamed Nasheed “shortly” before Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan became president this month in an alleged “coup d’etat”.

Nasheed was replaced by his Vice President Dr Waheed after “resigning” his presidency on February 7 – a decision he  later claimed had been forced upon him by opposition figures  and security forces unhappy, in part, with his commitments to reform the nation’s judicial system.

A spokesperson for Catherine Ashton, the Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, has said the bloc now hoped to open discussions with Dr Waheed’s government over judicial reform on the back of concerns raised by former President Nasheed about the conduct of the nation’s judges.

“Shortly before the events of February 6 to February 7, we were asked for assistance [with judicial reform], as were the UN and Commonwealth. We were ready to look into this matter and hope to discuss the matter further with the Maldivian authorities,” added the spokesperson for High Representative Ashton.

“The HR/VP’s spokesman has already reiterated the importance we attach to the correct functioning of the democratic institutions in the Maldives; we had previously offered the Nasheed government support under the Development Cooperation Instrument for the improvement of governance across the board.”

The country’s judges and their conduct became a major focus for President Mohamed Nasheed in the run up to him being replaced by Dr Waheed earlier this month.  Nasheed had raised concerns over allegations of perjury and “increasingly blatant collusion” between senior judicial figures and politicians loyal to the former autocratic President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

However, Nasheed came under criticism from some international bodies after detaining the Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, Abdulla Mohamed.  The former president claimed the detention was designed to prevent the judge from sitting on the bench whilst charges against him were investigated.

Last year, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) unveiled findings suggesting that the Maldives’ legal system was failing to serve its citizens despite many “positive developments” that have been made in an effort to depoliticise the courts; with many of judges found lacking in qualifications and independent attitude.


Nasheed’s government had eventually consulted international organisations like the UN, the Commonwealth and the EU after describing itself in a “Catch-22 situation” in terms of a lack of mechanisms to investigate the judiciary independently. In November, the national court watchdog, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), was ordered to cease an investigation into Judge Abdulla Mohamed by the civil Court under an action he himself instigated.

Amidst the violent upheaval and pro-government and anti-government protests that have taken place since President Waheed came to power, the EU has said the issue of the country’s judiciary was among a number of concerns foreign governments wished to investigate in light of the transfer of power.

Judicial interference

In an interview with local and foreign media on Friday, President Waheed confirmed that Judge Abdulla Mohamed had taken a month’s leave from his post for “personal issues”, but did not elaborate whether he had been reinstated to the bench.

“It is for the judiciary to decide what to do with him, not for me. I don’t want to interfere in the judiciary. I want our constitution to be respected, and work with everybody to make our constitution work. This is a new constitution, and it is the first time we are trying it out. And so there are difficulties in it,” the president claimed.

“We need to find ways of solving it. It is time for us to work together, and if there are problems with the judiciary we need to work together to solve them – they are intelligent good people in the judiciary and the Judicial Services Commission (JSC). We welcome assistance from the Commonwealth and United Nations to develop programmes and build the capacity of the judiciary.”

EU position

While currently preparing an official statement on the main concerns the EU holds over the ongoing political disputes facing the Maldives, the spokesperson for High Representative Ashton said the bloc hoped to see more consensus by rival political groups including the MDP to move forward democratically.

“It is essential that the business of government can continue and that multi-party democracy and the constitutional checks and balances are preserved,” the spokesperson added. “The army and police should exercise maximum restraint in the execution of their duties which must remain strictly within their constitutional mandate. Further violence must be prevented.”

The spokesperson claimed that the EU continued to support calls for an impartial investigation to ascertain whether President Waheed came to power legitimately or under a “coup”, though provided no details of how this may be achieved within the country’s highly partisan political arena.

“The EU supports an impartial investigation on this. In the mean time we hope there is a general understanding, following our Heads of Mission (HoMs’ ) visit to Malé, that all parties, including Mohamed Nasheed’s party, the MDP, need to cooperate to prevent the country falling victim to political factionalism, which can only lead to further unrest,” the spokesperson added.

In a statement released earlier this week by the European Parliament’s Delegation for relations with South Asia, “deep concern” was expressed by the group’s chair Jean Lambert over a “sword of Damocles” he said was hanging over ousted President Mohamed Nasheed.

“The European Union had deployed a team of experts to observe the first democratic Presidential elections held in the country in 2008; a sword of Damocles now hangs above the winner of these elections, with his arrest warrant already issued on unspecified grounds,” said a statement from Lambert.

“We understand a number of MPs and local councillors have also been detained or are in hospital following continued police violence,” Lambert added, further noting that several EU countries have issued travel advisories for the Maldives as “public resentment and violence are now spreading well beyond the capital.”

Since the statement was made, Dr Waheed has denied setting a deadline for the MDP to join with other parties in forming a “unity” government up until the next general election presently scheduled for 2013.  The MDP has maintained it’s belief that Dr Waheed’s government is “illegitimate” and called for power to be transferred to the parliamentary speaker ahead of early elections.


“Sword of Damocles” hangs above Nasheed: European parliamentary delegation

The European Parliament’s Delegation for relations with South Asia has expressed “deep concern” at the deterioration of the situation in the Maldives.

“The European Union had deployed a team of experts to observe the first democratic Presidential elections held in the country in 2008; a sword of Damocles now hangs above the winner of these elections, with his arrest warrant already issued on unspecified grounds,” said a statement from delegation chair Jean Lambert.

“We understand a number of MPs and local councillors have also been detained or are in hospital following continued police violence,” Lambert added, further noting that several EU countries have issued travel advisories for the Maldives as “public resentment and violence are now spreading well beyond the capital.”

Urging Maldivian security forces to act according to their position and the law, the Lambert regretted that “credible signs [of establishing a National Unity Government] have yet to be witnessed.”

The situation in the Maldives has also turned up in the Australian parliament, in reference to Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s own assumption of power from Kevin Rudd. Gillard’s office had prepared an acceptance speech two weeks before Rudd was deposed as leader of the party.

“While the new leader of the Maldives says he did not bring about the coup, reports have surfaced that he was involved in coup preparations that began weeks earlier,” said opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop.

“Does the foreign minister agree that the new leader should tell the full truth about his involvement in the coup?”
Rudd, who is now foreign minister and participated in the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAGS)’s urgent teleconference on the Maldives’ situation, reminded parliamentarians that “much is at stake” in the Maldives.

“Those opposite seem to think that this is a trivial matter, when hundreds of people are being beaten in the streets,” the foreign minister said.

“Those opposite trivialise the fact that hundreds of people have been arrested, that hundreds of people have been subjected to violence in the streets of the capital city of Male and on top of that, that we are likely to have seen the forced removal – under threat of armed violence with guns – of a democratically elected head of state.”

Rudd said he had spoken to the former president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, three nights ago and had been involved in moves to send a Commonwealth mission to Male to establish whether the coup occurred through violent means.

“If so, the necessary course of action would be suspension from the Commonwealth. We take these matters seriously,” Rudd said. “As foreign minister of Australia I do not regard them as trivial.”

In recent days the UK and Germany have also indicated that an independent investigation into the nature of the power transfer would be necessary to “consolidate [the new government’s] legitimacy.”

The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs has said it remains “too early” to judge what conclusions its Heads of Missions (HoMs) will draw from their visit to the politically turbulent Maldives.

Amidst calls from member states like the UK and Germany to hold an “independent inquiry” into the circumstances that saw President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik come to power last week in an alleged “coup d’etat”, the EU said it has not reached a decision on the current government’s legitimacy.

“The EU has not taken a definitive position on the events leading to the transfer of power, so we would wait for the conclusions of the investigation,” said a spokesperson for the Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton.

“In the meantime, we look forward to the establishment of a unity government, to dialogue among all political forces and for all parties to refrain from violence.”

In an interview with AFP news agency President Waheed gave assurances that he would welcome the visit of a nine-member Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) to ascertain details of the transfer of power in the country.

Several international human rights groups have nonetheless questioned the legitimacy of President Waheed’s government, which has faced widespread civil unrest and allegations of supporting violent crackdowns on members and supporters of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) by security forces tasked with securing the public.

Yet in an interview with The Australian newspaper this week, President Waheed called for Australia to support the legitimacy of his government amidst “untrue” claims he had come to power in a “coup”. He also pledged to push ahead with attempts at further democratic reform.

EU fact finding

According to the spokesperson for High Representative Ashton, last weekend’s visit of the HoMs was planned before the presidential turnover.

“However, in the current circumstances, the main focus of the mission is to assess the situation and meet with all major political parties, civil society and key institutions,” they stated. “It is yet too early to judge what the final findings of this HoMs fact-finding mission will be.”

When asked about allegations and reports emerging from across the country about violent crackdowns by some security forces and figures posing as police in areas like Addu Atoll, the EU said it would again be awaiting findings from the Maldives’ Human Rights Commission before making any statements.

“We welcome the role of the Human Rights Commission and other mandated bodies to investigate any possible wrongdoings by the government institutions,” added the bloc spokesperson.

Amongst criticism from a number of human rights organisations regarding the nature of the change in power, the UK Conservative Party’s Human Rights Commission insists that establishing the legitimacy of the Maldives new government is not just relevant, but crucial to any resolution of the current unrest.

Commission Deputy Chair Ben Rogers said that any government hoping to be recognised as legitimate ultimately requires a people’s mandate.

“I believe Dr Waheed should hand over power to the Speaker and an interim government, and then fresh elections, with international monitors, should be held in three months,” he said. “In the meantime he should guarantee Mohamed Nasheed’s security and liberty, and the safety and freedom of other MDP members.”

US talks, IPU walks

Foreign diplomats have so far backed the plans forwarded by Waheed, who claims he is trying to form a national unity government ahead of the 2013 presidential elections.

On a visit to Male’ over the weekend, United States’ Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake encouraged the coalition of “former opposition” political parties affiliated with the new government to “work with all parties to reform and improve the capacity of the judiciary, the police and the election commission to maintain a democratic transition.

Nasheed’s supporters have rejected Waheed’s government as a legitimate ruling body and have refused to participate in its administration.

Challenged by a foreign journalist over the legality of the transition, Blake stated that America’s commitment was to the new government of the Maldives.

“The United states remains committed to working with all Maldivian people to ensure a democratic and prosperous future for this important friend of the United States,” Blake said.

However, he added that there were “some questions regarding the transfer of power” and suggested that an independent Maldivian commission be formed to investigate the issue, before arriving at conclusions.

In a more aggressive move, the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), a close affiliate of the United Nations, is sending an urgent mission to the Maldives to address concerns over the reported beating and detention of lawmakers.

“I am very worried about recent news alleging harassment and beatings of members of parliament and the continued detention of one of them,” said IPU President Abdulwahad Radi in a statement yesterday.

MDP Parliamentary Group yesterday released a statement categorically describing the beatings and in some cases detention of 10 MPs by security forces on capital Male’. Accompanying photos lend credibility to the claims.

Urging authorities to exercise “restraint”, Radi advised that “inclusive political dialogue” was the only solution to the current crisis. “It is essential that an atmosphere of non-violence, restraint and stability be established,” he said.

Radi further requested Maldivian officials to respect their parliament’s mandate while assuring that the IPU mission would meet with “all political actors concerned” with the country’s crisis.

The IPU, a conglomeration of 159 member countries founded in 1899, connects elected representatives from different nations and regions.