President Mohamed Nasheed was been forced to step down after weeks of opposition protests culminated in a mutiny by police, reports Andrew Buncombe for the UK’s Independent newspaper.
“Supporters of the President said he was the victim of what amounted to a coup.
The former political prisoner who some nicknamed the “Mandela of the Maldives” announced his resignation during a live television broadcast yesterday, saying he would rather stand down than use force against his own citizens. Foreign tourists who flock to the nation’s luxury resorts were not believed to be in any danger.
“I resign because I am not a person who wishes to rule with the use of power. I believe that if the government were to remain in power it would require the use of force which would harm many citizens,” he said. “I resign because I believe that if the government continues to stay in power, it is very likely that we may face foreign influences.”
The British-educated, former journalist was the first democratically elected leader of the Muslim Indian Ocean nation of more than 1,200 islands. But his opponents had recently been holding daily demonstrations and seized on the President’s decision to arrest and detain a judge – accusing him of acting undemocratically.
Among the protesters were members of the police force and yesterday they gathered outside the military headquarters where Mr Nasheed was seeking refuge, in the capital, Male. The mutinying police set fire to an office of Mr Nasheed’s party and seized control of the state broadcaster.
Soldiers fired tear gas at the police and demonstrators who besieged the military facilities, many of then chanting the name of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, the former President who served for 30 years and whom Mr Nasheed beat in a 2008 election. A number of reports have suggested the military persuaded Mr Nasheed to step down.
Last night, the country’s Vice-President, Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, was sworn into office. It is expected he will oversee a coalition administration until elections are held.
Mr Nasheed was apparently in protective custody, something disputed by his brother, who told the BBC he was being held against his will.
Mr Nasheed could not be contacted. But a source close to the former President told The Independent that police had taken control of all television and radio stations and that officials who worked for Mr Nasheed were not being allowed to leave. “It’s a coup. Elements of the former regime brought down the country’s first democratically elected President,” said the source, who asked not to be identified.
Sri Lankan newspaper The Island has published a two-part interview with Abdulla Luthufee, a Maldivian businessman once sentenced to death for his role in the 1988 coup attempt.
“I wanted to get rid of [former President Maumoon Abdul] Gayoom at any cost. As the election process in my country never gave a reasonable opportunity to the opposition, I felt an outside force should be used to oust Gayoom,” The Island reported Luthufee as saying, on the 23rd anniversary of the November 3 coup attempt.
“Due to my close association with the then PLOTE (People’s Liberation Organization of Tamil Eelam) leader Uma Maheswaran, I negotiated for the deployment of an 80-member strong PLOTE raiding party. In fact, we discussed the sea-borne raid since 1987 after the deployment of the Indian Peace Keeping Force in the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka in line with the July 1987 Indo-Lanka peace accord.”
Eighty Tamil mercenaries land on Male’ on November 3, 1988, and quickly took over the airport. However they were caught in a shoot out with military forces in Male’ and were forced to retreat after India deployed 1600 paratroopers to the Maldives on Gayoom’s request.
“Luthufee and another Maldivian had joined a heavily-armed PLOTE contingent on the night of October 29, 1988 on the Mollikulam beach,” writes Sri Lankan journalist Shamindra Ferdinando.
“They left the north-western shores at about 8.30am in two 40-foot long fishing trawlers. Luthufee had the support of several key persons in the Maldivian military, ex-Major Abbas Ibrahim, ex-Corporal Abdulla Shahid and Umaru Jamaal. The trawlers reached Male at 4:30am on November 3, 1988, and having secured the beach without a fight, the group divided into over half a dozen groups and moved to specific targets, including the army barracks, the President’s house and the Deputy Defence Minister’s residence,” Ferdinando writes.
Despite Luthufee’s professed confidence that the coup would be bloodless, nineteen were killed in heavy fighting after the plan fell apart when the PLOTE contingent tasked with taking over the army barracks opened fire on the base rather than entering through a lightly-guarded entry point.
“Had they entered the barracks, the majority [inside] would have thrown their weight behind us. We lost the group leader, and thereby the initiative,” Ferdinando reported Luthufee as saying.
“I didn’t want to kill anyone. I believed those loyal to Gayoom would give up quickly. They wouldn’t have been a match for the experienced PLOTE cadres. Unfortunately, due to hasty action on the part of the group tasked with seizing the army barracks, we gave the game away.”
Further support from rebels already in Male’ failed to materialise, “and the absence of their support made us vulnerable and automatically strengthened Gayoom’s position. But still we could have achieved our military objectives if those assigned to seize Gayoom had succeeded.”
Gayoom eluded the PLOTE team sent to his residence, and was able to contact the Maldivian ambassador in Colombo, Ahmad Abdulla “and Ali Manisha, his Singapore-based advisor.”
The-then Sri Lankan government offered elite troops to quell the coup attempt. Gayoom also reportedly requested assistance from both the UK and US governments.
Then US State Department spokesman Charles Redman told US media at the time that the Maldivian government had asked for assistance in putting down the coup attempt, prompting it to establish a working group to monitor the events.
“The United States and India want to protect the interests of the Maldives government because this is an elected government subject to attack and it has requested assistance,” Redman said at the time.
However eventually it was India that was able to quickly deploy paratroopers and force the rebels to flee.
“We didn’t have a way to escape as we allowed the trawlers to leave as we were confident of seizing control. There was total chaos,” Luthufee told The Island.
“During gun battles we lost two PLOTE personnel, while several received gunshot injuries. We retreated towards the Male’ harbour as Indian paratroopers landed in the capital. We didn’t have any other option other than to seize the Maldivian vessel, MV Progress Light. We got away at about 11am and left the bodies of two PLOTE cadres killed in action. Three PLOTE personnel trying to get away in a rubber dingy were captured.”
The retreating PLOTE group took a small group of hostages, including serving Transport Minister Ahmed Mujuthaba and his wife, and attempted to flee towards Java in Indonesia via waters between India and Sri Lanka.
“We believed the presence of hostages, particularly a minister and his wife, gave us an advantage over those pursuing us,” Luthufee told The Island. “An Indian military helicopter maintained constant surveillance, while we proceeded towards our target. But on the following day at about 4:30pm our radar picked up two objects, and we knew the Indian navy was on its way to intercept us. One of the vessels, subsequently identified as INS Gadavari fired at our ship, though it didn’t cause any serious damage. We kept on course. They contacted us over the ship’s radio and demanded the immediate surrender or face the consequences. A five-member Maldivian defence team, including Major Adam Saheer, was on the Indian warship.”
The pursuing vessel demanded that the fleeing rebels set course for either an Indian or Maldivian port.
“We refused to give in. We demanded mid-sea negotiations to settle the dispute. The Indians started firing at our ship at the behest of the Maldivians onboard their vessel. The PLOTE commander got in touch with their headquarters in Sri Lanka and sought instructions. They received instructions to execute one hostage and throw his body to the sea. In spite of the Maldivian minister in captivity making a desperate bid to avoid the execution of one of the hostages, the PLOTE took one person to the deck and shot him. They threw the body [overboard] and the Indians recovered it. The remaining hostages volunteered to come on the main deck in a bid to discourage the Indians from firing at us. But the Maldivians onboard the Indian warship wanted all of us killed,” Luthufee claimed.
INS Gadavari gave the rebels three hours to surrender unconditionally “or face the consequences.”
“We didn’t stop but proceeded towards Sri Lankan waters. We were about 30 nautical miles away from our position when the Indians opened up with big guns. The minister was among the persons hit during the initial fire. We didn’t fire back as Indian ships were out of the range of our guns. I directed the Filipino engineer to stop the engine. As I was watching him killing the engine, he was hit. We were ordered to jump into the sea and were rescued by the Indians immediately after we raised a white flag.”
Luthufee told The Island he was blindfolded and locked in a toilet on board the Indian vessel as the warships turned back towards Male’, leaving the MV Progress Light to sink behind them.
“It’s a little known fact,” he said. “A passing American vessel transiting in the area picked up the escaping ship and pointed [the pursuers] towards it. I had only just left the State Department but I heard about it. It was a pivotal moment in the country’s history, and its purpose was never quite clear.”
The INS Gadavari reached Male’ to a waiting crowd of Indian journalists a senior military officials, Luthufee recalls, and their presence “prevented Gayoom loyalists from harming us.”
According to The Island’s story, Luthufee was first taken before Gayoom and then to another island, where he was interrogated by Indian intelligence.
“I had an opportunity to tell Indian intelligence what was going on in my country. I have no doubt the Indians realized that the vast majority of people hated Gayoom and his cronies. I won the confidence of the Indians and I have no doubt those in charge of handling the Maldivian issue quickly recognized the need for reforms. Gayoom resented the Indian attitude and moved me to another prison on a different island, where I was held for 11 months,” Luthufee was reported as saying.
Once the Indian witnesses had departed he alleged he was tortured and humiliated in custody. He along with Ex-Major Abbas Ibrahim, ex-Corporal Abdulla Shahid, Ahmed Nasir and 12 captured Tamils received the death penalty, while three others received prison terms: Umaru Jamaal Sikka, Ahmed Ismail Maniku, and Mohamed Naeem.
“Under Gayoom the Maldivian judiciary was nothing but a farce. It was a tool in the hands of Gayoom and his cronies, who used and abused Maldivian law to pursue their agenda. They sought to consolidate their power at the expense of the freedom of the ordinary Maldivians, the vast majority of whom lived a simple life,” Luthufee was reported as saying.
Luthufee credited his survival to the intervention of Indian head of state Rajiv Gandhi, who reportedly summoned Gayoom to New Delhi on September 16, 1989, less than a month after the death sentences were passed, and demanded that they be repealed .
“All of us are grateful to those Indian intelligence officers for briefing the Indian political leadership regarding the Maldivian political crisis. Thanks to them, Gayoom couldn’t deceive the Indian leader,” Luthufee told The Island.
“Gayoom flew back to Male on September 17, 1989. Obviously, he was a dejected man. He declared that he didn’t want to shed anymore blood in Male and commuted capital punishment imposed on us to life imprisonment. We were moved to special cells, which were surrounded by a steel fence at the same facility where we were held. Gayoom’s men enjoyed torturing prisoners. They were rewarded by their masters for being beastly to their fellow countrymen.
Luthufee was reported in The Island as expressing no regret for his role in the failed coup.
“Even now, Gayoom is not happy being an ordinary Maldivian. The ousted leader wanted power at any cost and was trying to undermine the present leader. Maldivians should be cautious of those seeking to play politics at their expense.”
Read the article as it originally appeared in The Island:
The President’s Member on the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) and outspoken whistleblower Aishath Velezinee has vowed to continue pushing for a public inquiry into the activities of the JSC, despite what she has described as an “assassination attempt” on Monday January 3.
Velezinee was hospitalised after she was stabbed three times in the back, in broad daylight on the main tourist street of Male’, “right outside the Home Minister’s door.”
Many international organisations, including Transparency International and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), have expressed “grave concern that the attack may be politically motivated.”
Velezinee turned whistle-blower on the JSC in August 2010, after parliament failed to issue an injunction she had requested on the reappointment of judges before the conclusion of the constitutional interim period. Velezinee contends the reappointment of unsuitable judges – many largely uneducated and some with criminal convictions – was rushed through in collaboration with senior members of parliament.
Since then she has campaigned against what she alleges is a “silent coup”, an “alliance between parliament and the judiciary to subvert the rule of law, derail constitutional democracy and use the courts to bring down the executive.”
“I didn’t stop complaining. I realised this was a bigger thing, a conspiracy, and mentioned names. They were not interested in change – they are using all their powers, their status and the respect people have for them to subvert the rule of law.”
The public, she claims, is poorly informed on the matter as “there is a huge information gap because the JSC meetings are closed. If the JSC sittings were open to the media, the public would be able to put together what has happened.”
“I sit in the JSC and I see the Speaker of Parliament (Abdulla Shahid) and DRP MP (Dr Afrasheem Ali), also members of the Commission, do whatever they will. What is done in the JSC is done by parliament.”
For example, she explained on the last day of the final parliament session for 2010, the opposition-majority Majlis amended the Judges’ Act (13/2010) to award a Rf 53,250 (US$4140) monthly retirement package to former JSC Vice Chair and Interim-Supreme Court Justice Mujthaz Fahmy, despite a conviction for embezzling state funds in 1996.
“It was not an honourable discharge, he was not fit to be a judge. But they made an amendment to the judges bill solely for one man – only Mujthaz it applies to, and only Mujthaz it will apply to,” Velezinee explained.
MP Afrasheem observed at the time that judges are awarded high salaries and benefits to ensure their ethical and disciplinary standards, and that it is essential for them to continue to be able to uphold their dignity and impeccable ethical standards even after they leave office.
“If a retired Justice were forced to wheel a cart on the street after leaving the bench, it will not give them the respect and the love that they received in office, and still deserve,” Afrasheem said.
The entire amendment, Velezinee alleges, was “to pay Mujthaz his dues for his role as an instrument in the silent coup.”
Meanwhile the public, she stated, “ is misinformed as to the reality of the judiciary they have. We have high state officials using their status and their authority to confuse the public, and legitimise that which is unconstitutional.
“The public are helpless when it is the state that has dissented. We Maldivians have been taught to obey. Obedience is the priority – our religion is about obedience. It is a completely different culture for us to stand up for ourselves and demand things of our leaders.”
Days prior to being stabbed in the street, Velezinee had been trying to get the Majlis to distribute a 34-page letter to members of the JSC’s parliamentary oversight committee, without apparent success. On January 2, she delivered 250 posters to citizens around Male’, calling for a public inquiry into the JSC.
“The Constitution grants everyone a free and fair trial, but JSC’s treason has deprived the people of not only a right to a free and fair trial but thereby compromised all other fundamental rights,” she wrote on her website, the day before her stabbing. “The State can neither protect fundamental rights of the people, nor further human rights and practice democratic government without the institutionalisation of an Independent judiciary.”
At 10am on the morning of January 3, Velezinee was walking along the main tourist street of Chandhanee Magu near Islanker school, “when I felt this knock on my back.”
“I thought I had been bumped, I didn’t realise I had been stabbed,” she said. “When I looked back I made eye contact with a guy as he was turning around. So I kept walking and then he turned back and stabbed me a second and third time.”
Her assailant, whom she described as “a young kid, a teenager”, jumped on the back of a waiting motorbike driven by another and rode off.
“At that point I put my hand up and it was completely soaked in blood, and I realised I had been stabbed. If I had fallen I would have been dead, the second two stabs would have finished me off, as would the first if their aim had been correct. But I’m light and my bag got in the way. I think it was meant to be assassination attempt or else hit my spine and make me a vegetable for the rest of my life.”
While still upright she was, however, “bleeding everywhere. I was soaked through.”
“My fear was that I would easily I bleed to death. But I took a deep breath and realised I was alive. As soon as I realised this, the only thing I wanted to do was go and get the blood stopped and get to the Commission because this was the day of the High Court appointments, and I know they wanted me out of the way. I didn’t realise how serious the wounds were, I didn’t see them until two days later when I went for a dressing change.”
“I tried calling 119, it took four attempts to get through, I told them I was stabbed. Nobody stopped to help me, so I saw a neighbour from my childhood and didn’t give him a chance to say no and jumped on the back of his motorbike and said ‘take me to IGMH (Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital), I’ve been stabbed.”
“He took me round the corner to his home, where he could get a vehicle. At that point another man stopped and said “no, you can’t wait if you’re bleeding like that, get on my bike.”
“I got on the bike without thinking and then wondered, ‘who are you?’ He was really good, screaming at traffic to get out of the way, but I was bleeding very heavily. I had to hold on and he was afraid I would faint – it was dangerous on a motorbike.
“He came to Majeedhee Magu. He tried to get a taxi to respond, but I saw a police car and they took me to hospital.”
On the agenda at 2:30pm that day at the JSC was the decision over which applicants would qualify for appointment as High Court judges.
“It was very suspicious the way the Commission acted [after the stabbing],” Velezinee said.
“Not a single Commission member called or came to the hospital or made any effort to see how I was. Instead they hurried to organise an extraordinary meeting to discuss the assault, and then decided to hold a press conference – all of this without checking on me – and as I understand it, it was suggested by the Speaker of Parliament that the Chair of the Commission, who’ve I’ve previously alleged is suffering from a psychiatric disorder, be nominated to give a press conference.
“At the press conference they made very strange statements. They said that ‘Nobody should be attacked for having different opinions, or the way they express their different opinions’.
“The commission did not show me any respect, because after that press conference they organised a meeting on Tuesday to decide on the High Court judges. The Commission had previously agreed not to meet on Tuesdays because Tuesday is cabinet day.
“So I requested Commission members talk with the chair and make him postpone the meeting. The Speaker was leaving the country that night – I asked the Secretary General to speak with the Chair and delay the meeting until Wednesday, but the response I got was that they could not delay the meeting because it was ‘the right of the people to have the High Court’.
“I put out a rude statement accusing the Commission of trying to expedite things while I was incapacitated, and that persuaded them to cancel the meeting. But they did not say they were doing so out of concern for my wellbeing – instead they told the media that the meeting was postponed “because some members are busy.”
Velezinee says she does not believe last week’s attempt on her life will be the last.
“I don’t believe the State can actually protect me. Because it is the state that wants me silenced – the parliament and the judiciary. If you look at what happened in the days before the attack, there was a flurry of attacks in the media – including by the parliamentary oversight committee – criticising me, my character and my performance in the JSC. This has been a very organised effort to discredit me, and some people speak in different voices.
“There are honourable men in this country who are owned by others, and they may be put in a position where they believe they have to take my life. I knew there was a chance that I was risking murder, and I wasn’t wrong. It was only because of God’s grace that I survived.”
The police, she said, had been “very effective” in their investigation so far. However police spokesperson Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said that it was “very difficult” for police to release an update on the case, as it was “complicated”.
Police were, he said, collecting evidence and would release an update to the media “as soon as it is available.”
As to whether the attacks would dissuade her from continuing to campaign against the “derailment of democracy” by parliament and the judiciary, “if I close my eyes, I will have betrayed my country and people,” Velezinee said.
“I will have betrayed them by failing to inform people and give them a chance to change this. When the State fails it is up to the citizens to hold the State accountable. The state has failed here, and as a state official it is my responsibility to inform the public and give them the chance to make an informed decision.
“I know for a fact that rule of law has been subverted. I know for a fact that there is corruption at the highest level in parliament. And I know that if I join the majority in keeping silent, I have become a traitor.”