Efforts to put Maldives on CMAG agenda unsuccessful, says foreign ministry

The Maldives is not on the agenda of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) despite “efforts made by some of the most powerful countries in the Commonwealth to place the Maldives on the group’s agenda and harm the nation,” the foreign ministry has said.

Some Commonwealth members have been pushing for the Commonwealth’s human rights and democracy arm to assess alleged violations of the organisation’s principles by the Maldives following the imprisonment of opposition politicians, including former President Mohamed Nasheed.

“Minister of Foreign Affairs Ms Dunya Maumoon gave a briefing to the CMAG Ministers today about the political situation in the Maldives and reiterated that there is no serious or persistent violation of Commonwealth political values in the Maldives,” the foreign ministry said in a statement yesterday.

It added that Dunya also stressed “the progress that the government has achieved in defusing political tensions in the country” and assured the Maldives’ commitment to “constructively engage with the Commonwealth”.

Signs of an end to a six-month long political crisis are emerging. Nasheed was transferred to house arrest in late June after the opposition backed a constitutional amendment to allow President Abdulla Yameen to replace his deputy.

At a second meeting between representatives of the government and the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party last night, home minister Umar Naseer said the government is open to exploring avenues to release jailed politicians and withdraw charges against opposition supporters.

Foreign minister Dunya said last week that  the Maldives “will seriously consider its membership in the Commonwealth” if the country is placed on the CMAG agenda for a second time.

Meanwhile, former foreign minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed has said that the CMAG only granted the Maldives further time to “sort out [the] mess Maldives is in.”

The UN special rapporteur on Iran also said that the group will convene again after the UN working group on arbitrary detention declares Nasheed’s imprisonment unlawful.

The opposition leader was found guilty of terrorism in March over the military’s detention of a judge during his tenure. The 19-day terrorism trial was criticised by foreign governments, the UN, and international human rights organisations over its apparent lack of due process.

The former president’s international legal team filed a petition at the UN working group in late April. The government has been asked to respond before the first week of July.

In a conversation last week with Commonwealth’s secretary general Kamalesh Sharma, Dunya said there are no serious violations in the Maldives and criticised Sharma’s alleged failure to follow due process before considering action.

The MDP meanwhile called on the Maldivian government to “stop being so arrogant.”

“Having to leave the Commonwealth for not abiding by its principles only isolate the Maldives from the rest of the world. And it will not be very healthy for the Maldives, but detrimental,” said MP Imthiyaz Fahmy.

CMAG agenda

The Maldives was placed on the CMAG agenda from March 2012 – March 2013 after President Nasheed resigned in the wake of a violent police and military mutiny. He later alleged he had been ousted in a coup d’état.

But a Commonwealth-backed inquiry found the transfer of power to be constitutional.

The Maldives was previously placed on the CMAG’s agenda “on an unfair basis, based on false allegations, and the country’s economy and democratic governance suffered significantly as a result,” Dunya said.

She also said Sharma had not raised questions over violations in the Maldives, or extended assistance for redress as required by the Commonwealth’s rules.

In mid-June Canada called on CMAG to “urgently put the deteriorating situation in the Maldives on its formal agenda.”

Dunya urged Sharma to take note of the positive changes in the Maldives in the last few weeks. She also accused Canada of exerting undue influence in the Commonwealth as a donor country.


Week in review: August 24-30

August 24-30, 2013

The week began with stormy seas across the Maldives – two boats were sunk around Male’ and a typhoon reported in Shaviyani Atoll. Maldivian bodyboarders competing in Australia found conditions far easier, however, impressing judges and winning prizes in the Jeff Wilcox Memorial. The PPM also enjoyed smooth sailing, winning the Nolhivaram island council by-election and predicting an easy ride to the presidency, barring “major incidents” on polling day.

The PPM were soon headed back into the choppy waters of the presidential election campaign. After repeated criticism of the Elections Commission (EC), one party member took it upon himself to file a case in the Supreme Court requesting an audit of the EC’s IT software, and a greater role for the military in the upcoming poll. EC commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek had previously given Minivan News a comprehensive analysis of how polling would occur on election day.

Insisting that the senior party official had filed the case in a personal capacity, the official business of the PPM campaign continued in the atolls, with candidate Abdulla Yameen asking the people of Kudahuvadhoo the value of development without peace. The head of the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) this week described state spending as “beyond appropriate”, despite having cancelled all state financed development earlier this year. Yameen’s comments were likely prompted by the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) unveiling of a detailed manifesto involving 137 development projects, with more than half focused on giving city status to Fuvahmulah – the country’s only one-island atoll.

The MDP were not without their own pre-election concerns, however, alleging that ongoing prosecutions against senior party members were tantamount to campaign obstruction. The party was equally suspicious of the ability of a Commonwealth’s security expert to control the police force. The Commonwealth also announced the names of its 17 member observer group this week.

It was the turn of the running mates to debate policy on Television Maldives as the state broadcaster’s election coverage builds towards the upcoming leader debate. Despite criticism of TVM’s recent interview style, the Jumhoree Party confirmed that leader Gasim Ibrahim would still be taking part. The journalist behind Gasim’s prior inquisition this week received death threats. Meanwhile, the JP was forced to defend itself from opposition claims that its leader was using his vast personal wealth to buy votes.

Tensions continued to rise in the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) this week, doing little to allay Transparency Maldives’ fears that the integrity of the country’s courts was being eroded. These fears will not have been allayed by the upholding of a former Civil Court judge’s sentence for having sex in public.

In Singapore, the GMR group won an early victory in the tribunal investigating the early termination of the INIA airport development deal. The practical impact of another terminated foreign investment venture – the Nexbis border control system – remained unclear. The future of four Palestinian refugees in the Maldives was resolved – the group passed through the airport and immigration for the final time after being granted asylum in Sweden.

Finally, former Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed was blocked from carrying out his role as UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights by Iranian officials. Dr Shaheed’s former position was left vacant this week after the death of Dr Abdul Samad Abdulla. President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan described the loss as a national tragedy.


Leaked report reveals PR firm Hill & Knowlton responsible for majority of pre-2008 democratic reform

New York-headquartered public relations firm Hill & Knowlton (H&K) was responsible for recommending – and in some cases implementing – most of the pre-2008 democratic reform in the Maldives, according to details in a leaked 2003 report commissioned by then-President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

The company – one of the two largest PR companies in the world, representing groups as diverse as IBM, the Church of Scientology and the Ladies’ Home Journal – has come under criticism for working to improve the reputations of governments accused of human rights violations, including Indonesia and Turkey.

However, H&K’s report on the Maldives, titled ‘Issues audit and communications strategy for the Government of the Maldives’, reveals that the firm was responsible for much of the human rights and governance reform that paved the way for the country’s first democratic election in 2008.

The vast majority of recommendations in the report were subsequently implemented, portraying Gayoom as mellowing in the lead up to 2008 following the autocratic excesses of his 30 year rule.

H&K’s recommendations included the separation of the security forces into police, military and correctional institutions, constitutional reform and the introduction of multi-party democracy, strategies for the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), reform of the Majlis, reform of the criminal justice system, including an end to the practice of flogging, and even the introduction of religious freedom.

The report opens acknowledging that the events of September 19, 2003 – unprecedented civil unrest sparked by the custodial death of Evan Naseem – were a “watershed” moment in Maldivian history, “and one after which nothing will ever be the same.”

“Perceptions of its significance are more diverse. Some believe it is a signal that the seal has now been broken and that further unrest could well follow. Others believe it was an understandable and genuine outlet of anger, yet one which can be avoided in the future, should meaningful reforms be introduced.  Yet others, point to an orchestrated event influenced by shadowy forces seeking regime change and which are backed by religious fundamentalists,” H&K stated, in 2003.

“Despite such divergences in views, what is clear, though, is that expectations have now been raised and presidential promises made; the delivery of meaningful reform is now required.”

The report, produced by H&K consultants Andrew Jonathan Pharoah, Timothy Francis Fallon and Biswajit Dasgupta following extensive meetings and consultations across Maldivian society, contains both a situational analysis of key issues and recommendations for Gayoom’s government on how to address them.

Human rights abuses

Stakeholders consulted by H&K were “almost unanimous” that human rights abuses were occurring in the Maldives. However, these abuses were in many cases believed “to be individual, not institutional.”

Outside the then nascent Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), complaints about arbitrary arrest and freedom of expression “were dismissed as being the hyperbole or outright lies of malcontents and trouble makers”.

H&K summarises the concerns of three institutions: Amnesty International, the UN Commission on Human Rights, and the US State Department.

“Critics of the Government continued to be detained, or imprisoned following unfair trials and should be regarded as prisoners of conscience. Government portrays convictions as being a result of criminal activities, but the real reason is as a result of political opposition,” H&K notes, citing Amnesty. The human rights organisation’s report is “littered with a number of individual case-study examples underpinning the accusations,” H&K adds.

The Maldives had meanwhile provided almost no information to the UN Commission on Human Rights, when challenged on issues such as racial discrimination.

“The Maldivian response had been to state that ‘no form of racial discrimination exists in the Maldives based on race or any other differences among the population’, and that ‘therefore, no specific legislation is required to implement the provisions of the Convention,” H&K cites.

The US State Department noted “unconfirmed reports of beatings or other mistreatment of persons in police custody during the year”, but noted that food and housing conditions at Maafushi prison were “generally adequate”.

The State Department’s opinion of the country’s media – which reflected few concerns other than politicisation of ownership – was “overly generous”, H&K suggested.

“Our own verdict was that the local media appeared to be uncritical, lacking any desire towards investigative journalism and averse to producing hard-hitting stories.

“Perceptually, the media was regarded by some as a Government mouthpiece and the close connections / ownership by the same did not help its cause in portraying itself as being an independent scrutineer. A kinder view may be that the media has limited resources and did not regard its job as doing the country down.

“ It was also suggested that negative perceptions were exacerbated as a result of the profession not being seen as a desirable career to enter. Consequently, the career did not attract the cream of the crop it is questionable whether there are many graduates in the profession.”

To address human rights issues, H&K recommended that HRCM be given a “clear and transparent mandate” with specific objectives and benchmarks, audited “by third parties such as Amnesty.”

“The Commission should play a key role in responding to the individual cases outlined by Amnesty International and others,” H&K suggested, and show a “clear and comprehensive communications structure” with “findings/initiatives widely publicised.”

Constitutional Reform

“Although the Maldives would like to be described as a young liberal Muslim democracy, the perception in the outside world perhaps not match this description,” H&K suggests.

“Critics have begun voicing disgruntlement. They describe an autocratic, six-term President, who does not allow any challenge to his leadership and who presides over a Parliament formed through bribery, corruption and fear.”

The agency urged Gayoom to allow multi-party democracy, stating that his existing position “is untenable, unsustainable and causing significant damage to perceptions of democracy.”

“To the external world there is an idealistic consensus that those who are willing to sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither liberty nor security. Moreover, the process gives the impression of a political elite which feels that it knows best,” H&K writes.

Parliament was meanwhile considered manifestly corrupt, as particularly on the islands H&K “got the impression that the process of candidates buying votes was commonplace and expected. Indeed, the agency heard some concern that the price of votes was going up and candidates had to spend way more than they did previously to secure the same votes!”

H&K urged “comprehensive reformation of the single candidate Presidential election system, with the adoption of a multi-candidate process”, and “a comprehensive reform of the Maldivian constitution to the extent whereby any political party can operate with complete freedom.”

The role of the Majlis was to be reviewed and given “more independence with greater powers of scrutiny”.

A further H&K recommendation – which was not implemented, and now seems somewhat prescient – was that “the office of an independent ombudsman should be introduced to investigate accusations of wrongdoing on the part of Majlis and Ministers.”

Criminal justice system

H&K called for “fundamental reform” of the criminal justice system, in which it said “there was little to no faith”: “Corruption is viewed as embedded, or alternatively justice is seen as being dispensed arbitrarily.”

“Structurally, there is concern at the signal sent out in having the President as the highest figure within the judiciary and also the executive. Similarly, there is also concern that the President has responsibility for the judicial appointments system and indeed the ages and experience of judges, who are all young and deemed inexperienced,” H&K wrote.

The consultants also noted that “despite his position, the President is not supposed to involve himself directly in the affairs of the judiciary. Yet, the President does review decisions – albeit through a three-man commission. Whilst this may have been established with the best of intentions, that the Commission has been described as ‘slow and lethargic’, ‘lacking in transparency and having no clear mandate’ only adds to the concerns.”

Basing the legal system on a combination of Sharia Law and 1968 Civil Law did not cause issues “in and of itself”, noting that it did not include punishments “which would be considered unacceptable in liberal democracies, such as stoning to death or amputations.”

Nonetheless, an end to the practice of flogging “would be an easy win”, H&K suggested.

As for judicial procedure, the accused “are often not given access to pen and paper and do not have enough time to prepare their case”, and “perversely, we also understand that neither are the police required to keep a police diary. It has also been claimed that the accused are not made aware of the full extent of the charges levelled against them (until they are in court) and that often they will not be informed of the date of their trial until the day itself. Anecdotal evidence also exists that prisoners have been in court charged with one offence and then convicted of another.”

The justice system was based on confession, “and the the police service believes that prisoners need to be held longer in order that they can extract a confession which is necessary to obtain a conviction – even when they believe forensic (and other) evidence may suffice.

“There is the perception that the police make clear to suspects that until they deliver a confession they will be held in prison indefinitely. There are also concerns that the need for a confession is one of the driving forces which leads to torture and or police brutality against prisoners.”

As a result, 90 percent of the prison population had confessed to their crime, H&K observed.

Recommendations for the reform of the criminal justice system included ending flogging and asking HRCM to review the practice of banishment: “Amnesty believes persons banished often have to undergo hard labour with an insufficient daily allowance for more than one meal a day. Women are also said to be easy targets for harassment and sexual abuse by village men.”

Furthermore, “the President must remove himself completely and permanently from any direct or indirect control or influence with regards to the Criminal Justice System, and that this position must be open to review/audit at any time by third party agencies.”

Police, NSS and correctional forces

There was, H&K said, “a common perception that the police considered themselves to be above the law – albeit, the general consensus was that abuses were considered individual rather than institutional. Moreover, that corruption exists amongst correctional guards was conceded at the highest levels.”

“In particular, there were a number of accusations of abuse of power. Amnesty, for example, points to a failure to return equipment after searches (which then leads to a loss of livelihoods), and also of widespread torture, ill treatment in prisons and the forcing of confessions.”

Joint training and the use of the same uniform at the time led to a crisis of identity among the security forces and, for the police, “a martial mindset which whilst suited to an armed forces, was felt not appropriate for policing.”

H&K recommended a “clear separation of duties and responsibilities assigned to the both the National Security Service and the Police Force”, with separate training facilities and “visible differences” in “look and operational style”. It also called for an “urgent review” of the competency of correctional officers.

Religious freedom

H&K’s most controversial recommendation was “that the Maldivian Government move as a matter of urgency towards a society and constituency whereby there is complete religious freedom.”

“One of the first – and most striking impressions – visitors to the Maldives receive is given to them when filling in the arrivals card. On the back, amongst hard hitting warnings about bringing drugs, spearguns and pornographic materials to the islands, stands further warnings forbidding ‘items of idolatry’ and ‘items contrary to Islam’,” H&K observed.

“The agency has seen reports in the media of bibles, effigies of Christ, Buddha and Krishna, being taken from visitors during baggage searches on arrival. Yet, through discussions we understand that, whilst the country is keen to preserve its Muslim traditions and forbids public worship of other religions, private worship is allowed. In this context, we were told, such items should not be being confiscated,” H&K stated.

The Maldives was in contravention of article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights concerning religious freedom, H&K noted, suggesting that “ordinarily [we would] make the recommendation that the Maldives change its laws and practices accordingly. However, we are aware that, regrettably, there is unlikely to be any appetite for this. Indeed, it could be argued that such a move could further encourage the Islamic fundamentalists who would regard as it as sign that the Government had sold out.”

Noting the US State Department’s concerns over freedom of expression, detention and counselling of potential apostates and detention and expulsion of foreigners for proselytising, H&K said it “ believes that this attitude is untenable and unsustainable alongside any claim to be in accord with human rights.”

“Notwithstanding the very clear infringement of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the situation is manifestly unfair to the citizens of the Maldives who may wish to practice other religions. Indeed, it is worth noting that the Maldives has not always been a Muslim country,” H&K stated.

“Whilst the agency can accept that the Maldives is keen to maintain its Muslim traditions, some form of compromise – perhaps along the current lines – should be adopted.”

Following the government’s unfavourable response to this suggestion, and noting “significant resistance”, H&K  subsequently offered supplementary recommendations, including replacing hostile warnings on boarding cards with a notice “that private worship is permitted” – noting that “these will only be seen by foreigners”, “Take steps to make clear to diplomatic channels and holiday tour groups and reps that private worship of other religions is permitted”, and “Encourage authorities to turn a blind eye to incidences of Maldivians worshipping other faiths in private – be it individual or group worship.”

Action plan

H&K outlines a strategic program “to achieve balanced coverage of the Maldives and recognition for the very real changes which are being made by the Government.”

“In this regard, we need to be prepared for people to be critical of what we do and we must recognise that there are a number of people who will be implacably imposed to whatever the Government does.”

H&K proposes a “reactive, rapid rebuttal” strategy, “to ensure that no inaccuracies are allowed to stand without an attempt at rebutting them having been made.”

“There is also undoubtedly also a need to change the culture of communications. At present, we have witnessed a desire to engage only on the Maldives’ own terms,” H&K observes.

“We acknowledge concerns that journalists may twist stories and perhaps include comment from critics. However, if the journalists are intending to do this – they will go ahead regardless of whether or not they are proactively engaged. Better then at least to have the opportunity to put the story across with our own messages.”

“Second, not giving interviews will not help in demonstrating openness and transparency which are prerequisites for messages communicated to be believed. Third, from our experiences we have seen that changing perceptions is a case of turning the proverbial oil tanker; it takes time and results are not immediate. In any event engagement will need to take place at some stage – at least if we start now, we can begin to draw a line and at least try tackling the issues on the front foot.

“Fourth, even if journalists were to misreport the story, it provides us with a platform with which to go higher up the ladder and take issue with managers or editors. In this way, even were stories not to be retracted, corrected or the Maldives given a chance to respond, it nevertheless helps to ensure that in the future greater care and attention will be given to reporting.”

H&K puts forward a number of journalists to specifically target, and offer press visits to the Maldives.

“In organising the itinerary for such a trip it is important that we enable those attending to get a balanced picture of what is going on and therefore we must be prepared for them to meet with people who are to some extent critical of Government,” H&K stated.

“This is often quite a difficult step for Governments to overcome but unless we do this we believe journalists may feel we are trying to hide the truth from them. We should not expect that a journalist will not ask us difficult questions nor have relations with others who are critical.”

The journalists included: Dilip Ganguly (Associated Press), Krishan Francis (Associated Press), Zack Ijabbar (The Island, Sri Lanka) Warren Fernandez (Foreign Editor, Straight Times), Sunday Leader, Sri Lanka, Scott McDonald, (Reuters Colombo), Lindsay Beck, (Reuters Colombo), Chris Lockwood (Asia Editor, Economist), Catherine Philp (Times South Asia Correspondent in New Delhi), Alex Spillius (South-East Asia Correspondent, Daily Telegraph/Sunday Telegraph), Randeep Ramesh (Guardian, Delhi), Kathy Marks and Mary Dejevsky (The Independent/Independent on Sunday), Tom Walker (The Sunday Times), Tracy McVeigh (Observer), Khozem Merchant (Financial Times) and Rita Penn with BBC World.

Minivan News was not among the media targeted. The edits of H&K’s inaugural ‘e-newsletter’ in 2005, also obtained by Minivan News, described Minivan News as a “clandestine newsletter”.

“The peaceful and positive tone of the President’s address was in stark contrast to the incendiary language of certain sectors of the Maldivian press over the past week, who were calling for and even encouraging violent demonstrations to coincide with our National Day,” H&K’s newsletter states.

“If we could rephrase this,” reads the edit. “Many locals do not attach legitimacy to Minivan News; they only recognise as press what is in circulation in the country under registration. Hence, it may cause an uproar. ‘Clandestine newsletter’ maybe, your call.”


The H&K report corroborates comments made by former Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed in a Q&A with Minivan News in June 2011, following his appointment as UN Special Rapporteur on Iran.

“I do not know the motives of Gayoom in hiring Hill & Knowlton,” Dr Shaheed told Minivan News at the time.

“But my links with them were on the basis that they would contribute to reform in the Maldives. So I agreed to be a liaison person with them, but only if they would work on a governance reform project,” he explained.

“Their first task was an audit of governance in the country: meeting various stake-holders, gauging public perception and making recommendations on what ought to be done. Their recommendation was that we needed to implement rapid political reforms, including political pluralism.”

Based on the 2003 report, Gayoom engaged H&K on a longer-term basis, Dr Shaheed explained.

“This entailed assisting him with reforms internally, and projecting those reforms externally. It was not purely a PR function and it did entail real policy prescriptions for Gayoom,” he said.

Dr Shaheed confirmed that H&K was not just making recommendations, but actively writing policies for Gayoom’s government.

“When you are in office for 30 years and your ministers and associates make recommendations to you, you don’t believe them. But if you have a posh firm from London making recommendations, you tend to believe them,” Dr Shaheed said. “And Gayoom did.”

“Things that Gayoom did on their recommendation included separating the army from the police, a whole raft of reforms on judicial function, prison reform, constitutional reform – all these things were done at their request.

“The only H&K recommendations he left out – Hill & Knowlton wanted [Gayoom’s half brother and STO Chairman] Yameen and the then Police Chief (Adam Zahir) sacked, and they also suggested that freedom of religion was something that was internationally demanded,” he said.

“Of course, there’s no way any government here can introduce freedom of religion, and H&K’s usefulness finally ended when they recommended Yameen be removed – at that point Gayoom stopped listening to them.”

Download the full H&K 2003 report (English)

Download the H&K recommendations (English)


Dr Shaheed’s report on Iran reveals six-fold increase in executions since 2003

UN Special Rapporteur on Iran and former Maldives Foreign Minister, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, has released an explosive report on human rights abuses in Iran.

Dr Shaheed, who was appointed Special Rapporteur in June 2011, reported that Iran had executed 670 people last year, 81 percent of them for minor drug offences that did not justify capital punishment under international law. 20 people were executed for offences against Islam, Dr Shaheed found, while a further 15 are awaiting death sentences for adultery.

Of these executions 421 were announced publicly, while 249 were performed in ‘secret’. Dr Shaheed expressed particular concern about the surge in executions in the last three months of 2011, from 200 in mid-September 2011 to over 600 by the end of the year – a six-fold increase on 2003.

Despite drug offences being the most frequently-cited reason for executions, Dr Shaheed told a press conference that there were “strong indications” that the arrests were political and drug charges added later.

Dr Shaheed found the Iran had not only executed more citizens per capita than any other country in the world, but had also detained the most number of journalists. 42 were current imprisoned, while a further 150 had fled since the 2009 election for fear of persecution. Journalists were also reportedly barred from appearing at their trials and were often informed of their sentences in prison.

The Iranian government refused to allow Dr Shaheed to visit the country in his capacity as UN Special Rapporteur, describing him as “incompetent”. The report relied heavily on first-hand testimonies, “the preponderance of which presents a pattern of systemic violations of fundamental human rights,” it noted.

Head of Iran’s the parliamentary commission on human rights, Zohreh Elahian, said the report was based on “politically tainted objectives and politicisation.”

“As was clear in Ahmed Shaheed’s draft document, the report is biased and serves political objectives since he had visited a number of European states and had meetings with the opposition and anti-revolution forces living abroad,” Elahian said.

Iranian MP Alaeddin Boroujerdi told media that Dr Shaheed was “a US agent”.

“From the first day that Mr Ahmed Shaheed was appointed as the UN [human rights] rapporteur, we suspected he was a US agent; but after he published a few reports [on the rights situation in Iran], we became certain he had been sent on mission by the Americans,” Boroujerdi said.

Dr Shaheed’s mandate for the post was narrowly approved in a UN resolution despite the opposition of Cuba, China and Russia. He told journalists he hoped the mandate would be extended.

“One of the most important aspects of this mandate is its capacity to give voice to those that believe themselves to be silenced by fear and lack of recourse,” he said.


Iran secretly executing hundreds of prisoners: Dr Ahmed Shaheed

The Iranian government has secretly executed hundreds of prisoners at the notorious Vakilabad prison in Mashhad, according to an interim report to the UN by Special Rapporteur on Iran, Dr Ahmed Shaheed.

Dr Shaheed was the former Maldivian Foreign Minister under both the current and former Presidents. As the Iranian government refused to allow him to visit the country in his capacity as UN Special Rapporteur, the report relies heavily on first-hand testimonies, “the preponderance of which presents a pattern of systemic violations of fundamental human rights.”

“The most urgent issues that have been brought to the attention of the Special Rapporteur include multifarious deficits in relation to the administration of justice, certain practices that amount to torture, cruel, or degrading treatment of detainees, the imposition of the death penalty in the absence of proper judicial safeguards, the status of women, the persecution of religious and ethnic minorities, and the erosion of civil and political rights, in particular, the harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders and civil society actors,” writes Dr Shaheed.

“Several personal interviews revealed that individuals were often held in solitary confinement for long periods during the investigative phases of their cases. All of those interviewed with regard to their detention reported the consistent use of blindfolds when being transferred from solitary confinement, as well as during their interrogations.”

Human rights defenders, civil society organisations and religious actors had been charged with offences including acting against national security, insulting the Supreme Leader and “spreading propaganda against the regime”, Dr Shaheed noted.

“The majority of reports also highlight exorbitant bail requirements, reportedly totalling between US$10,000 and US$500,000, to guarantee the appearance before the court of those arrested for activities pertaining to civil, political or human rights.”

The report goes on to detail interviews with dozens of victims of the Iranian regime, including lawyers, students, artists, journalists and environmentalists as well as political activists.

In his report, Dr Shaheed raises particular concern over the use of the death penalty in cases where due process was denied to the accused, especially within the prison system.

“Secret group executions inside prisons, which reportedly occur in alarmingly high numbers, are often carried out without the knowledge and presence of families and lawyers,” Dr Shaheed notes.

“Capital punishment was also applied to cases regarding Mohareb or ‘enmity against God’, rape, murder, immoral acts or acts against chastity and kidnapping,” he added.

The report concludes with an appeal to the Iranian government to allow Dr Shaheed to visit the country so as to “develop dialogue with the authorities and either substantiate or lay
to rest allegations of human rights violations committed within its sovereign territory.”

In July, Iran’s secretary general of the country’s ‘High Council for Human Rights dismissed “the western-engineered appointment” of Dr Shaheed as Special Rapporteur as ”an illegal measure,” according to the Tehran Times.

“Iran has no problem with the individual who has been appointed as the special rapporteur, but the appointment of a rapporteur on the human rights situation in Iran is unacceptable and Iran will not accept the decision,” Mohammad Javad Larijani was quoted as saying.

Dr Shaheed is to present his findings to the UN General Assembly on October 19.

Read Minivan News’ Q&A with Dr Shaheed following his appointment as Special Rapporteur


Work of Special Rapporteur will continue even without Iran’s cooperation: Dr Shaheed

Iran has said it will not allow recently-appointed UN Special Rapporteur on Iran, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, to enter the country.

The announcement that the former Maldives Foreign Minister was to take up the prestigious UN role was made last weekend. Iran’s state media outlet, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), reported yesterday that the Iranian Majlis had decided to block Dr Shaheed from entering the country.

Majlis representative and member of Iran’s Human Rights Commission Mohammad Karim Abedi said the decision was made “because the US, Britain and the Zionist regime are among the major violators of human rights in the world and the UN Human Rights Council should study their violations.”

“The United Nations studied the crimes and atrocities of the Zionist regime in 2010 during the 33-day war on Lebanon and the 22-day war in Gaza, and declared the regime’s army commanders as war criminals but could not take any action against them,” Abedi told IRNA.

“Accusing countries such as the Islamic Republic of Iran of violating human rights should be viewed as a part of their blame game,” Abedi said.

Dr Shaheed told Minivan News that the UN Human Rights Council had called on Iran to cooperate when the office of the Special Rapporteur was set up in March.

“The work will continue whether or not access is given, but will benefit from Iran’s cooperation,” he said, explaining that the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur required the permission and cooperation of the host country for field visits.

“Special Rapporteurs have a very comprehensive code of conduct – where field visits are not possible information can be gathered from a variety of sources,” he explained.

“At the same time the objective is to work with the government of Iran to ensure all the issues are covered.”

Dr Shaheed dismissed speculation that the objections of the Shiite-majority Iran were a reaction to the appointment of a Special Rapporteur from a 100 percent Sunni-Muslim country.

“What they are saying in Iran has nothing to do with me or the Maldives,” Dr Shaheed said.

The former Foreign Minister is preparing for a preliminary visit to Geneva later this week. The resolution passed by the Human Rights Council requires him to present interim findings to the UN General Assembly in September, and a full report to the Human Rights Council in March 2012.

Local newspaper Haveeru has meanwhile reported the Maldives’ conservative religious Adhaalath party as stating that Iran’s decision “brings disgrace to the Maldives’ foreign policy and weakens the country’s reputation among Islamic states.”

The Adaalath Party’s President Sheikh Imran Abdulla claimed that “Maldivians should be ashamed” by Iran’s decision.

“As far as I know this is the first time such a mission assigned to a Muslim country was returned. We, Maldivians, should be ashamed in front of the Muslim world,” Haveeru reported Sheikh Abdulla as saying.

“Tensions will rise between the Maldives and a state like Iran that has nuclear power. We, being a small Muslim nation, should take into consideration such matters before interfering in the matters of an Islamic state.”


Dr Shaheed appointed UN Special Rapporteur on Iran

Former Foreign Minister of the Maldives Dr Ahmed Shaheed has been appointed UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran, a high-profile post in the UN system.

The 47 Member States of the Human Rights Council unanimously endorsed the appointment of Dr Shaheed after he was selected from a list of candidates by the President of the Council.

Current Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Naseem said that only five years ago “it would not have been inconceivable for the United Nations to establish a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Maldives, such was the former government’s poor human rights record.

“Today, a Maldivian has been elected Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran, one of the most important human rights posts in the international system. This is, I think, indicative of the enormous strides we have taken over recent years and the high regard in which we are now held by the international community”.

Special Rapporteurs are endorsed by the Council to investigate countries and themes around the world, such as freedom of expression. Candidates are usually figures with a record of experience dealing with the international community and other nation states.

In a statement, the Foreign Ministry noted that Dr Shaheed’s appointment was the first-time a Maldivian had ever been appointed to hold a UN Special Rapporteur mandate.

The decision to establish a Special Rapporteur on Iran was made in 2011 after the deterioration of human rights in the country following the 2009 election, in which the Iranian government was found by the UN to have used excessive force, arbitrary arrests and detentions, unfair trials and “possible torture and ill-treatment of opposition activists in relation to post-election unrest in 2009.”

The UN called on Iran to cooperate with Dr Shaheed and permit his access to the country, as well as provide necessary information. He will present his findings to the UN General Assembly in September 2011, and produce a full report on the situation for the UN Human Rights Council in March 2012.


Adhaalath Party condemns ”false allegations” made by government officials to Indian magazine

The Adhaalath Party, led by State Islamic Minister Sheikh Hussein Rasheed, has hit back at unnamed government officials who described Sheikh Illyas and Sheikh Fareed as “hate preachers” in an interview with India’s magazine ‘The Week’‘.

The party claimed that senior officials of the current government, including former Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed and Home Minister Hassan Afeef, made false allegations against a number of the country’s religious leaders, including the vice leader of the Adhaalath Party’s religious council, Sheikh Ilyas Hussein.

Afeef is not acknowledged as a source in the current version of the  article, and Shaheed’s comments to The Week concern the potential involvement of Maldivians in the attacks of Mumbai by Pakistani terrorist group Laskar-el-Taiba (LeT).

In the article Ahmed Muneer, Deputy Commissioner of the Maldives Police, acknowledges that “our radical preachers are enjoying street credibility and radicalisation is visible at the street level. It’s a problem for us, but things would aggravate if the radicals get integrated into Maldivian politics.”

The Adhaalath party claimed that during the interview, “Dr Shaheed said that scholars were delivering lectures with the intention of earning money, and that only a few people attended religious protests because they wanted to go to heaven.”

The Adhaalath Party contends that is is moderate rather than extremist. It is in coalition with the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), and fills most of the ranks of the Islamic Ministry.

”As a result of this [article], religious scholars in the Maldives will face many obstacles locally, and it will also affect Maldivian families living in India,” said the Adhaalath Party.

”Sheikh Ilyas is one of the best scholars in the Maldives of recent ages, and many citizens enjoy attending his sermons.”

In retaliation, the Adhaalath Party accused the government of establishing and spreading extremism in the Maldives, and misleading the West in its desperation for money.

”Due to irresponsible comments by senior officials of the government, tourism in the country will also be affected,” warned the Adhaalath Party, accusing the President of “fabricating” earlier statements concerning scholarly freedom in the Maldives.

‘The Week magazine article reports that the LeT has been eyeing the Maldives since early 2000, when its headhunters travelled to Male’. India’s Intelligence Bureau estimated that there were more than 3,000 LeT facilitators and instigators in the Maldives, it reported.

In the article, Mohamed Hameed, head of the internal intelligence department of the Maldivian police, claimed that several hundred Maldivian youth had left the island nation “and their families have never heard from them since.”

”Hameed said ‘recruitment is taking place all the while.’ Radicals like Yoosuf Izadhy — a militant jihadi who is said to have ties with al Qaeda, according to leaked diplomatic cables prepared by then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice—are roaming free. Izadhy was planning to create a terrorist base in the Maldives with support from a Waziristan-based group. He and Hasnain Hameedh had operational aspirations,” the magazine reported.

“The spread of an extremist belief system is fueled by hate preachers like Sheikh Fareed and Sheikh Ilyas. Both are [under surveillance],” the magazine reported a “Maldivian intelligence official” as saying.

Speaking of the 2007 Sultan Park bombing in Male’, in which 12 tourists were injured, Dr Shaheed told The Week that “the ringmaster [prime accused] of the Sultan Park bombing was allowed to leave the country. The incident wasn’t fully investigated. The ringmaster was a young boy. We need to find out who was behind the ringmaster. I think there are unanswered questions.”


Maldives “tied acceptance of prisoners” to American help with IMF assistance

Secret US diplomatic cables obtained by Wikileaks reveal that the Maldives agreed to resettle detainees from Guantanamo Bay in return for American help with obtaining assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), according to the New York Times.

The paper reports that the cache of correspondence made public by Wikileaks reveals that “American diplomats went looking for countries that were not only willing to take in former prisoners but also could be trusted to keep them under close watch.

“In a global bazaar of sorts, the American officials sweet-talked and haggled with their foreign counterparts in an effort to resettle the detainees who had been cleared for release but could not be repatriated for fear of mistreatment.

It reveals that while the Bush Administration offered the South Pacific nation Kiribati an “incentive package” of US$3 million to take 17 Chinese Muslim detainees, “the Maldives tied acceptance of prisoners to American help in obtaining International Monetary Fund assistance.”

The EU observer meanwhile reported that Washington’s special envoy on Guantanamo resettlements, Daniel Fried, told ”politicians in the Maldives that other states had received US$25,000 to US$85,000 per detainee to cover temporary living expenses and other costs” and that ”the Maldives could expect something toward the upper end of the range.”

In December last year, President Mohamed Nasheed announced that the Maldives had offered to resettle two detainees from Guantanamo Bay.

“If a Muslim does not have a place to live in freedom, we will help in whatever way we can. We don’t want anyone to suffer any harm,” Nasheed then said. “We know that the Maldives, in helping just three people from Guantanamo Bay, does not mean that either the Maldives or the world would be free of inhumane treatment,” he said. “However this jail, Guantanamo jail, is very symbolic.”

Nasheed said at the time that as a result of resettling the detainees “the country will get a good name, honour and prestige. We will be noted as people who help in whatever capacity we can to help solve others’ problems.”

The decision was met with fierce opposition from the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party-People’s Alliance coalition in parliament, which conducted national security committee hearings on the subject.

Foreign minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed told Minivan News at the time that “the United States has not come with a bag full of money and said: ‘here’s your reward for doing this’, but because we work with the US on this and other issues, they will try to help us where we need help.”

He added that the decision was not made on a ”quid pro quo basis”.