UN advises Maldives to cooperatively seek resolution

A team from the United Nations (UN) brought in to observe the political crisis have now left the Maldives after stressing to all parties involved the need to halt further violence.

Speaking to reporters on Monday evening at the UN headquarters in Male’, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco said that he was officially concluding his brief visit to the Maldives and was satisfied that both the former and current administrations will now co-operate on solving the political crisis triggered when President Mohamed Nasheed was deposed on February 7 amidst violent scenes.

Fernandez-Taranco and the UN team were dispatched to the Maldives on February 9 in the aftermath of what the international media is now calling a “coup” and the UN team has been negotiating with all parties involved, “both publicly and privately”, to prevent further violence and end the political deadlock. The team’s work has also addressed the question of holding elections, and whether the Maldives will launch an investigation into allegations of recent human rights abuses.

“The UN has been involved throughout the whole crisis in advising how to solve some of these matters,” said Fernandez-Taranco.

“We have been engaged with President Mohamed Waheed and the former President Mohamed Nasheed and speaking to all other political leaders since very early on in the crisis,” he explained.

Fernandez-Taranco admitted that the UN was “alarmed” to hear reports of violence and allegations of human rights violations in the Maldives during the past week.

“We will be following the events and will be watching to see how the different leaders exert their opinions, in order to ensure that all differences of opinions will be demonstrated peacefully,” he said. “We condemn any acts of violence.”

However, Fernandez-Taranco stopped short of committing the UN to investigating the allegations of violence and human rights abuses, saying that his mandate on this occasion was simply to observe the situation and report back to the Secretary-General.

Instead, he advised that “There needs to be a credible and independent investigation by a national mechanism into the developments of the past week, and the events that led up to them. As I have emphasised throughout, only the people of the Maldives can find the way forward.

“We have not been given a mandate for an investigation into the traumatic recent events or to investigate alleged human rights abuses. I believe that an investigation that is credible, independent, impartial and that addresses the concerns of the Maldivians is important to the future of the country, and we can support the Maldives with whatever mechanisms it needs so that a national investigation can be formed.

“We did not come here on a fact-finding mission. I came here to inform myself as to the situation here in the Maldives, and what I have seen here I will use to inform the Secretary-General. He has been very keen to hear from us about the extent of our influence in our efforts to help provide national stability.”

Regarding former President Nasheed’s call for a prompt election, Fernandez-Taranco said that the UN respects the constitution of the Maldives and the issue should be decided by Maldivians; emphasising that all sides have assured the UN they respect the constitution of the Maldives and its directives on elections.

“The next election is scheduled for 2013,” he said. “The date of the next elections is something that the Maldives’ people must determine for themselves. We do not have any opinion as to when they should be held. The constitution of the Maldives regulates as to when and how the elections must be held. The UN has supported the Maldives previously in both local and national elections, on request, and can do so again.

“We are committed to the belief that the constitution of the Maldives needs to be respected, and that any government that is inclusive of all sides will be the best possible government for the Maldives,” he said, reinforcing the UN’s support of the Maldives in achieving this outcome. “All must work together, constructively, for the good of the nation,” he summarised.

Fernandez-Taranco stessed the need for all parties to restrain from committing violent acts and from encouraging others to do so.

“The Maldives cannot afford a descent into violence and protracted instability that would jeopardise the progress achieved by the country since 2008, and its economic future. While considerable controversy persists about the events of recent days, all actors I spoke with agreed on the importance of preserving the democratic gains that have been made. All said they were committed to the constitution, which is widely held up as a model of reform. There is also a broad consensus on the need to protect human rights and strengthen the rule of law throughout the Maldives, including the performance of the judiciary,” he added.

A divided public

The Maldivian public’s opinion on the UN’s involvement in their domestic affairs appears divided.

One man in his 40s who requested anonymity said, “The UN can come and can go, their reports and findings can be released, but they can’t actually give us a real solution to our problems unless they pass sanctions which would affect the economy.

“We don’t know if the Maldives now is going to become more fundamentalist now, and if so, these guys could do anything to our resorts, banning alcohol for example. The Maldives could turn into a very strict Islamic state, and I don’t think the UN can do anything about it.

Making reference to the suggestion that the Commonwealth expel the Maldives, he benignly said, “So what? These guys [in power] will continue to do whatever they want. They can’t really be bothered with the Commonwealth and the UN, whatever they have to say.”

A 24-year-old Maldivian woman who also requested anonymity said she hoped a UN investigation will be conducted in order to shed light on the week’s past events.

“Everyone’s so ethnocentric with their political parties right now. I hope the UN conducts an independent investigation on how the power was transferred,” she said.

A man in his twenties, who wished to only be identified as “Moon”, called for the UN to have more involvement in the political situation in the Maldives.

“All I know [of the UN] is they like to make reports, file them in boxes and give speeches on podiums using international mediums,” he said.

“As for the international community approving this taking of power, it doesn’t surprise me because it’s going to be easy for President Waheed to do a report and convince them it’s legitimate using his friends and experience through the UN. If only everyone would act independent, and not as puppets. My message to President Waheed is ‘control the politics’, to Nasheed ii is ‘play it smart this time, learn from your mistakes, and to Ban Ki-moon [UN Secretary-General], ‘please be more productive and progressive.’”

MDP has said it will continue to demonstrate until elections are held.

“Protesting and demonstrating is not for me,” said Moon. “Violence will not solve anything, just make things worse, like what happened with the MDP. That’s why I believe we should all act smart and get along with this present president’s cabinet.

“Politics is never fair anywhere in the world, and in the Maldives it’s always ‘propaganda’ as we are new to democracy. Most people are all about power in their own favour, as in human nature.”


Police fired gun in takeover of MNBC, video reveals

Video footage taken during the storming of Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) on February 7 reveals that a police officer used a firearm to break down the gates of the station headquarters in capital Male’, allowing dozens of police and military forces (MNDF) as well as some civilians in plain clothes to forcefully take over the station.

According to Maldivian law police officers are not issued firearms.

Approximately two hours before former president Mohamed Nasheed resigned from office “under duress” in what his government has called a “coup d’état”, a group of rogue security forces armed with batons, iron rods, wooden planks and evidently firearms “hijacked” the state media station, forcing it to change to Television Maldives (TVM), its title under former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

A video obtained from an unidentified source captured the event from an upstairs window within the MNBC compound, looking down on the television station’s locked gates.

The video begins as tear gas canisters are thrown at a group of MDP activists attempting to protect the building outside the gate, billowing yellow smoke and forcing then to retreat from the area. A woman inside the MNBC headquarters screams, “Oh Mother! Mother!” as another comforts her, asking to “stop crying.”

Riot police with shields charge the gate as the tear gas clears, accompanied by several men who are not wearing uniforms. As the scene unfolds, a male voice is heard saying,  “Look there’s the police coming, they have guns”, while another man exclaims: “Oh no! That’s the bad police”.

The mob then attempts to break the heavy chain on the gates while a man inside shouts, “Oh my God, they’re opening [the gates], they’re opening”.

At the height of the attack on the gates, a uniformed police officer sticks a gun through the circular hole on the right-hand side of the gate and fires. Smoke from the weapon’s discharge floats up into the air. The crowd then bursts through the gates into the courtyard. Some of the men throw stones and one of the men, who isn’t wearing a uniform, is brandishing an iron rod in his hand. The mob then advances towards the main entrance of MNBC before the video cuts out.

“We felt trapped, kidnapped”

Minivan News spoke to some of the then-MNBC staff on duty inside the headquarters that morning, who recounted the “frightening experience” of February 7 on condition of total anonymity.

“They just stormed into the building and broke the doors and windows to force their way in. Some slapped the paper stacks and equipment off the tables. The first guy who came into the newsroom was a protestor and he ordered us to stop all the work we were doing. He kept on stomping his feet on the ground to frighten us and threatened to ‘finish us’ if we didn’t listen. So we stopped. We were all so scared,” one reporter recalled.

“In just a few minutes the whole place was filled with protesters shouting at us, police and MNDF took over the main control room. There were shouts and cries of girls everywhere. We felt trapped, kidnapped,” the reporter added.

“A policeman shouted that we [MNBC] have brought enough of what government wanted. Now its time for them to broadcast what they want,” another station employee claimed.

The employee added that they were ordered to patch through the VTV channel, owned by minority opposition Jumhooree Party (JP) Leader and MP Gasim Ibrahim. The nation watched VTV on state TV before the feed was cut off and came back on, re-branded as TVM.

Another staff member said that the security forces let the staff that wanted to leave the building exit, and assured them, “No harm will come to the rest”.

Newsroom sub-editor Ahmed Muhsin was taken home under police custody, another staff member told Minivan News.

“But we were surrounded by armed opposition protestors. We were scared for our lives,” the source continued. “The first anchor who went on air could not continue even because of the intimidation. So someone else had to take over”.

Police sub-inspector Ahmed Shiyam said that President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan has ordered an investigation into the events of February 7, and that police will not comment on the events of that day until the investigation is concluded.

Dr Waheed’s alleged involvement

MNBC Managing Director Adam Shareef told Minivan News that he was “advised to hide to guard his life” when the protestors stormed in threatening to attack Muhsin and himself for alleged alignment with Nasheed and his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

“I was hiding inside the light room until the security forces assured me I would be given protection. When I came out Dr Waheed’s brother Ali Waheed was there. He shook my hands and said that he was there to take over MNBC on behalf of Vice President Dr Waheed. This was before Nasheed resigned.”

Shareef also claimed that Ali Waheed came earlier that morning asking to handover the state media but he refused. “I told him that MNBC had the authority to run the state media and we would not hand over it unless the security forces came. So that’s why they [police and MNDF] came with the protestors,” Shareef observed.

He said that he waited at the station to ensure the safety of his staff, while Muhsin was escorted home.

Several sources at the newsroom confirmed that members of Dr Waheed’s Gaumee Ithihaad party including Ahmed Faiz and Alim Shakoor, younger brother of newly appointed Attorney General and opposition-friendly lawyer Aishath Azima Shakoor, were in the news room “giving orders” that day.

Previously, Azima Shakoor represented parliament’s state broadcaster Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) in a drawn out tug-of-war with state owned MNBC for control of the assets of the state broadcaster, formerly Television Maldives (TVM) and Voice of Maldives (VoM).

Its also notable that after taking office, the first presidential decree passed by President Dr. Waheed was to transfer assets to MBC, although Nasheed’s administration had repeatedly contended that the MBC board is stacked with opposition supporters and that its attempt to control of MNBC is effectively a “media coup”.

Meanwhile, MNBC was criticised for favouring MDP.

State media liberated or hijacked?

The MNBC staff, who earlier spoke to Minivan News, insisted that “in the name of liberating state media, the police, MNDF and the protestors hijacked [MNBC]”.

“We know the lawful state broadcaster is MBC. But this is not the way they should take over. If the rule of law was respected as Dr Waheed promised in his first presidential address, he would not have let the security forces take control over us,” said a senior member of the MNBC staff.

Minivan News could not reach Maldives Broadcasting Commission at time of press.

The commission has however given a license to MBC, which is now preparing to take over management of the national broadcasting station’s assets, local media reports. President Waheed has replaced the MNBC board and tasked it with overseeing the transfer of assets to MBC, which the MDP has previously alleged has a board stacked with opposition figures.

Meanwhile, speaking to Minivan News, the Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) President Hiriga Ahmed Zahir claimed that the organisation has not reacted to the take over of MNBC because the police were “enforcing the law”.

“MNBC was operating the state media unlawfully, despite repeated calls from us and court orders to hand it over to the parliament-created state broadcaster,” Zahir continued.

He claimed that MNBC was “abusing the state assets, and tax payer’s money” to make the state media a “propaganda machine” of MDP, in the non-existence of a fair editorial policy.

“I am not saying it was done in the most appropriate way. It was a chaotic situation. But we will always welcome bringing unlawful actions within the legal bounds. Police is the body to enforce the laws and I see no reason to object to the police taking over the state media to hand over it to the lawful body,” Zahir said.

He added that it would have been a problem if they had destroyed MNBC’s equipment or intimidated the staff, but said the organisation had not received any official complaints although some concerns have been raised informally.

Former National Security Advisor and former Defence Minister Ameen Faisal meanwhile observed that it looks “very strange” to see the police in the video firing a gun outside the MNBC office.

“It’s very strange to see. It’s very clearly seen in the footage that they were firing from the main outside gate inside [the MNBC compound] and our police force has never been issued with guns. The big question is how they got the guns. Evidently it was from the MNDF because they are the only people authorised to carry guns.”

He further added that the Maldives witnessed a “police mutiny turn into an armed mutiny” on February 7, which forced a democratically-elected president to resign.

“Any democratic country will not accept a government which used the police force and mutiny to forcefully resign a democratically-elected president. They have to condemn [the new administration], with this video footage and with all the torturing by the police. They should not accept the legitimacy of the government and should ask the people of the Maldives to decide who their president should be,” Faisal contended.

A photo circulating on Facebook apparently showing defected police and MNDF celebrating in the courtyard of the state broadcaster, after taking it over on Tuesday.

“We want to kill you. Do not think you can behave like you do and get away. You will have to die today”

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s interim chairperson MP Moosa ‘Reeko’ Manik has for the first time spoken to the media after he was brutally beaten up by the Maldives police during what was meant to be a “peaceful march around Male’” after yesterday’s MDP National Council meeting.

Manik, who was in critical condition when he was taken to the hospital late yesterday afternoon but had regained some stability, spoke to local media Raajje TV about how violently the police had dealt with him while he was accompanied by the former president Mohamed Nasheed and former party chairperson and MP Mariya Ahmed Didi.
Moosa said that when the police started beating the protesters and spraying pepper spray without warning and using excessive force in dismantling the protests Nasheed, Didi and himself had ran into a tile shop in the east of the local market area.

“While we were in there the police came, sprayed pepper spray and started beating us. We ran into the road, to the east of the market, and hid in a shop… selling  tiles… if… if I remember correctly. I walked in first followed by President Nasheed and Mariya. We went into the back and stayed in the storage area”, Moosa said with a weak voice.

Moosa continued that police officers addressed them with foul language when Nasheed asked the officers not to hurt them. The officers openly said that Moosa was on their “hit list” and that they wanted to kill him, before taking three to four punches on his face, Moosa said.

“….When they police looked at me [to hit me] the President said, ‘Don’t hurt [him]’ and they… hurled abuse at the President. Maari said the same thing. I said, ‘If you want to beat us beat me first’ and by then they had already hit me on the face three or four times. They pointed their fingers at me and said, ‘You are a person we want to kill’…” Moosa continued.

Although the police were beating him, Moosa said that an MNDF person came to his rescue and tried to stop the police officers. “They did not let me go and continued beating me. And I saw an MNDF [army] person. He ran to me hugged me and said, “don’t hit, and don’t hit!’ ”, Manik said.

Moosa said that the officers enjoyed taking turns hitting his genital area and one police officer who was in plain clothes tried to stab something (a stick or a pole) into his head, and he was fortunate enough to have ended up with a two inch gash on his head instead.

According to local media, Moosa’s family has said he has been flown to Singapore for further medical treatment. The MP for Hulhuhenveiru constituency, Moosa has been a vocal critic of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom and the Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed. He has also been active in MDP’s campaign to reform judiciary.

Interview transcript

“While we were in there the police came, sprayed pepper spray and started beating us. We ran into the road, to the east of the market, and hid in a shop… selling  tiles… if… if I remember correctly. I walked in first followed by President Nasheed and Mariya [Ahmed Didi]. We went into the back and stayed in the storage area.

“Police came in after a while and asked the people at the counter where Maryia and them were. When the people at the counter did not respond the police charged into the back of the store and I said to the President, “They are coming to kill us and so I will just let them do what they want to do” and I walked out. The president followed saying, “Moosa don’t go alone”, followed by Mariya.

“When they police at me [to hit me] the President said, “Don’t hurt [him]” and they… hurled abuse at the President. Maari said the same thing. I said, “If you want to beat us beat me first”, and by then they had already hit me on the face three or four times. They pointed their fingers at me and said, “You are a person we want to kill”. The army person? It was police… they were police not army personnel.

“It was a very narrow path and they pushed me out, beating me. They threw me out on the doorstep and hit me in the groin with their boots. Two policemen were holding my hands, spread, and one person held me by the back, and everyone (police) was beating me. The people on the dhonis [boats] saw everything. One person hit me here… on the ribs… with his boots. By the time I had my wits about me I could not breathe and I begged them to stop…. I pleaded that I was dying. They said, “We want to kill you. Do not think you can behave like you do and get away. You will have to die today”. They did not let me go and continued beating me. And I saw an MNDF [army] person. He ran to me hugged me and said, “Don’t hit, and don’t hit”.

“We reached MTCC [a local company] by then and they continued to beat me… I was surrounded. They were hurling abuse at me and spraying pepper spray into my eyes. One person forced my mouth open and sprayed… I fell over, coughing. The MNDF person was trying to protect me. Then came a police person in plain clothes… he was wearing a pair of shorts and a T-shirt… I know him. He jumped… and he tried to… and he said I want to embed this into your brain (probably a stick or a pole). It broke open a gash of about two inches and it hit the shoulder of the MNDF person. He was hurt too. And then… the blood was gushing out… and I fell onto the road. And they stomped onto my hand. They all seem to really enjoy hitting me in the groin.

“Then I did not know where they were taking me, two persons were dragging me by the hands. Then they got into a dispute within themselves. One person was saying not to hit me. With my knowledge, a bunch of them in Star Force attire, some in plain blue and another bunch of them in the… the dark blue uniform continued to beat me.

When the blood started flowing [from the groin] they asked me to, “Cover it with your hand… and you will die in a bit”. Then… then I did not know what they were saying. After that I did not know what was going on. By the time we reached the bus I had nothing left in me. There was a brother [relative] in the bus and that’s why I survived. When I got here I was in a lot of pain. Now… now… my spine hurts… it hurts a lot. And when I relieve myself I bleed. I am in a lot of pain. Insha Allah, I will be well soon.”


350.org petitions for security of “friend and ally” Nasheed

Environmental NGO 350.org has joined international organisations and foreign powers in expressing their concerns over Mohamed Nasheed’s resignation from the presidency yesterday in what Nasheed’s government has called a military coup.

The organisation is founded by American author Bill McKibben, author of one of the first books on global warming for the general public. 350.org was also a key player at the 2009 Climate Conference at Copenhagen.

As of 2:00pm on February 7, the organisation had issued the petition “350 Friend and Ally Removed from Office in a Coup”, requesting world leaders to protect former president Mohamed Nasheed.

“President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives has been one of 350.org’s strongest allies, and friends, for many years. As the first democratically elected leader of the small island nation, he has been a tireless voice for climate action and strong advocate for getting us back to 350 ppm. ‘For us, this is a matter of life and death,’ Nasheed has said. Now it is he specifically who is at risk,” reads the statement.

The organisation urges world citizens to tell its leaders “that they must use diplomatic means to keep [Nasheed] safe in this time of turmoil. Assuring his, and his people’s, safety is crucial.”

In its first four hours the petition has received 21, 894 signatures. “This is an amazing response- it shows that environmental activists in every corner of the planet think of Nasheed as one of the most prominent leaders we have,” wrote McKibben in an email exchange with Minivan News. “People all over the world know the story of the bravery of the Maldives in this fight.”

Stating that 350.org perceives Nasheed’s resignation as the in-name only result of a coup, McKibben said “the international environmental community is deeply deeply worried first and foremost about Nasheed’s safety, and the safety of his associates.”

In 2011 the documentary film “The Island President” featuring then President Mohamed Nasheed drew global attention to the Maldives, and its role in the climate change movement.

At the time of the film’s Maldives debut producer Richard Berge identified Nasheed as the key to the documentary’s success. “If Nasheed hadn’t been charismatic, if we couldn’t see that there would be something interesting happening, we wouldn’t have invested the time and energy in the project. But he seemed like the guy who was going to put a face on climate change.”

“The Island President” received the People’s Choice Award at the Toronto International Film Festival.

According to McKibben, the Maldives’ current place on the climate change platform is a product of Nasheed’s distinct sense of leadership.

“Nasheed is the most forthright, honest, and engaged head of state on the climate issue–the most important issue facing the planet,” he said. “His predecessor [former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom] had very little profile on these issues. Certainly he did not create the kind of movement towards carbon neutrality, or the level of global political engagement, that captured the world’s attention.”

McKibben added that youth were a critical aspect the climate change movement–and a telling feature of Nasheed’s government. “Of course it wasn’t just Nasheed–it was so many of the (especially young) people who got involved in politics because of him. I remember the level of engagement I found during my last visit to Male–and how it contrasted with the silence and apathy when I’d visited during the Gayoom era,” he said.

Noting 350.org’s impression that “good policies of all kinds tend to wither in autocracies,” McKibben said he was unaware of any existing relationship with members of the current national unity government under former Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan.

Western followers and Maldivian nationals appear to be engaging in a dialogue over the matter in the petition’s comment section.

While one woman states “This is a situation that should not be allowed to exist in the 21st century,” a commentator with a plausibly Maldivian name retorted “[Nasheed] may be a hero or a champion for the West but he is a stupid zero in his own country,” offering his own summary of the events which have led to Nasheed’s resignation.

Another commenter with a Western name observed, “Maldives deserve democracy free of corruption and military takeover. They continue to be in a precarious environmental situation, not one of their making and are likely to be flooded over by rising water levels as a result of climate change. President Nasheed needs to be freed to complete his term of office.”

An Ahmed Hameed retorted, “hmmm.. thats your view… but we elected him to serve us maldivians… and it for us to decide who will govern our nation for us in that office… there is no need for him to complete his term in office because we dont want him or anyone like him to be our president… so please dont talk about him completing a term in office… but yes as a citizen of this country he needs to be freed if he is in any kind of detention which he is not…”

One self-identified Hulhumale’ Councillor wrote simply, “He will come back.”

Meanwhile, McKibben notes that some commentators and 350.org members have asked what they can do to help. “Some are even asking: ‘should I cancel my trip to the Maldives to show support for President Nasheed?’”


Government will not yield to “small groups who terrorise and vandalise public spaces”: President

President Mohamed Nasheed has said the government will always respect the people’s voice but will not cave under the pressures of small groups who terrorise and vandalise public spaces.

Speaking a ceremony informing islanders of upcoming development projects in Laamu Atoll Gan, the President declared that street violence will not bring down the government – a statement he claimed was especially clear to himself and his party (Maldivian Democratic Party/MDP).

Referring to the series of anti-government protests which have persisted on Male’ for nearly three weeks, the President said the protesters’ call to release Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed from Special Forces custody stemmed from their frustration with losing power.

He added that the opposition’s attempt to regain power by taking to the streets is a hindrance to national development, further stating that the protests are an abuse of the people’s constitutional right to free expression.

Instead, he requested constructive criticism from disgruntled parties.

Observing that many of the Maldives’ sectors are comprised of educated professionals, he regretted that the judicial courts had not been established along similar lines.

President Nasheed also indicated that all the institutions in every sector of the country comprised of well educated and trained professionals, but expressed his regret stating that he has been unable to elevate the judicial courts to similar standards.

“Our aim is to appoint qualified and responsible Judges to our court houses similar to the standards of the social and economic institutions in the nation,” Nasheed said.