The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has called for protests following the arrest of former President Mohamed Nasheed by masked riot police on Monday morning.
Nasheed was in the Dhoonidhoo island detention centre on Monday night, awaiting his trial on Tuesday.
“October 8, 2012 will be remembered as the day that democracy died in the Maldives,” said MDP spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor in a statement.
“The reality is it has been on life-support since February, but today the plug was pulled and the lights turned off,” Ghafoor said.
Thirty-four members of the MDP’s National Council met following Nasheed’s arrest and declared that they would present information about Nasheed’s situation at 8:00pm on Monday evening, before calling for protests.
Nasheed defied a travel ban and multiple summons from the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court, after his party disputed the legitimacy of the court and labelled the charges against him as a politically-motivated effort to sabotage the party’s southern atoll election campaign, and Nasheed’s candidacy in the next presidential election.
“There is huge contention whether Hulhumale’ Court has been granted powers by the law to try any case whatsoever,” wrote former chair of the committee that drafted the 2008 constitution, Ibrahim ‘Ibra’ Ismail.
“The Constitution says very clearly that trial courts will be defined and created by law. When Parliament created courts by the Judicature Act, there was no “Hulhumale’ Court” designated as a Magistrates Court. The Supreme Court itself is still sitting on the case of the validity of the Hulhumale’ Court. It was created by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), without authority derived from law,” wrote Ismail.
“Therefore the validity of any orders or judgements issued by this court is questionable, and the Constitution says no one has to obey any unlawful orders, ie orders which are not derived from law. Therefore, President Nasheed’s decision to ignore the summons has more than reasonable legal grounds,” he stated.
Ismail further noted that court summons were routinely ignored without consequence by political figures allied with the current government, observing that People’s Alliance (PA) MP and Deputy Speaker of Parliament Ahmed Nazim had defied 11 summons before appearing in court over corruption charges.
“Impunity can only be matched by impunity,” Ismail stated.
“The outlook appears to be rather bleak. There will be chaos. There already is. It may worsen. And then, if we are lucky, out of chaos will emerge order. But what kind of order it will be depends on which paradigm wins. At this point in time, I would tentatively suggest it may be religious extremism.”
Nasheed was arrested on the southern island of Fares-Mathoda, where he was reportedly scheduled to meet the Danish Ambassador, and was put on a speedboat bound for Male’ where he is due to appear in court on Tuesday.
Saleema Mohamed, a participant of the campaign trip, was inside the living room when the police entered the house, noted an MDP statement.
“They pushed their way in, hurting anyone inside the house. Minister Aslam asked them repeatedly to calm down and to not hurt anyone. He was saying: ‘this is my house’. The police shoved him and pushed him and he fell on the glass table and broke the table,” Saleema said.
According to the party’s statement, “the police forcefully entered Aslam’s house, barging onlookers out of the way. They used shields, batons as well as foul language at the people gathered near the house. Nasheed’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ahmed Naseem, and former Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair, were pepper sprayed by the police and violently dragged from the house, while the police also removed members of parliament from the scene.”
Police Spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef earlier stated that “there was no trouble. Nasheed was very cooperative,” but was unable to confirm whether police had used pepper spray.
President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad said the office wished to “stay clear of this matter.”
“We have asked the Maldives Police Service to notify media of any developments. We know as much as the [media] about developments,” he said.
Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim has meanwhile launched a second case against former President Nasheed, seeking MVR 3.75 million (US$243,506) in compensation for defamation after Nasheed called him a “baghee” (traitor).
Nasheed’s lawyer, former Human Resources Minister Hassan Latheef, said Nasheed would defend himself by proving that the allegations were true.
US Embassy statement
The US Embassy in Colombo has issued a statement urging “all parties to find a way forward that respects Maldivian democratic institutions, the rule of law and the Maldivian constitution, as well as protects human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
“We urge all sides to remain calm, reject the use of violence and to avoid rhetoric that could increase tensions. It is our expectation that former President Nasheed be given every due process that the law allows,” the embassy stated.
“In response to statements that somehow the United States was involved in the detention of former President Nasheed, the Embassy strongly denies that claim,” it added.
“We note that all US law enforcement cooperation [with the Maldives] includes activities that focus on professionalisation and professional development of the police and places special emphasis on the need to adhere to international standards of human rights and the strengthening of democratic institutions and the rule of law.”