The Maldivian Foreign Ministry has asked the Indian High Commission to hand former President Mohamed Nasheed to police ahead of his trial on Wednesday.
Police requested the Foreign Ministry to approach the High Commission on Tuesday, after the Hulhumale Magistrate Court ordered them to produce Nasheed for his court hearing at 4:00pm on February 20.
President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad said “I wouldn’t call it an arrest warrant. It’s a court order for police to summon him to court.”
Asked whether this order would involve police using force to produce Nasheed, Masood stated that “I’m not a policeman but presumably they will ask him to come with them, and if he does not they will put him in a police vehicle. The actual strategy is a police function. I hope they don’t do anything excessive.”
“As far as the police are concerned, we will make sure they do not break the diplomatic rights of the embassy. Having said that, police may not have to use force to take him out,” he said.
“Police have asked the foreign ministry to advise the high commission that they have a warrant to present Nasheed in court. If [Indian High Commissioner] Mr Mulay does not budge, they will report back and it ends there,” Masood said.
Nasheed would be free again after Wednesday 4:00pm when the current warrant would expire, “until another warrant is issued”, he added.
The High Court also on Tuesday ordered the Foreign Ministry deliver a court order to Nasheed, concerning an appeal hearing of the first – now expired – arrest warrant for the February 13 hearing. The High Court appeal is scheduled for 1:00pm on Wednesday, three hours before his second hearing.
Nasheed sought refuge in the High Commission – which is protected diplomatic territory under the Vienna Convention – after the court earlier issued a warrant for his arrest and presentation in court on February 13. The scheduled hearing was canceled in his absence and the warrant expired.
Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) issued a statement slamming the arrest warrant issued by the “kangaroo court”.
“The MDP believes that the Hulhumale Magistrate Court is, de facto, controlled by Dr Waheed and his allies, and that the sole purpose of the court case against President Nasheed is to prevent his candidature in the upcoming presidential elections,” the party said.
“Waheed, in collusion with allies in the judiciary, has established a kangaroo court to convict President Nasheed. The Judicial Services Commission that set up the court comprises Waheed’s appointees as well as Nasheed’s political rivals, including those running for president. Waheed hides behind so-called judicial independence but his fingerprints are all over this trial,” said MDP Spokesperson MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor.
“India, the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, the United Nations, and the Commonwealth have all called for free and fair elections in which all candidates are freely permitted to stand. Waheed is defying the world by continuing his political persecution of President Nasheed,” he said.
The President’s Office Human Rights Ambassador Ahmed Ibrahim “Sandhaanu” Didi told a press conference yesterday that the MDP “shouldn’t be allowed to exist” as it was an “unlawful organisation which commits terrorist activities”, and called on the Elections Commission to dissolve it.
The Indian High Commission has so far made no indication that it intends to hand over Nasheed to the Maldivian police ahead of his scheduled trial.
Indian Minister of External Affairs Shri Salman Khurshid said on Monday that the former President “is a guest in the mission. He came and we extended courtesies and that’s it. This was explained to the [Maldives] foreign minister. We are not taking sides with anyone. We are not engaged or involved in the internal politics,” he said.
“As friends of the Maldives, our only expectation, and this is the expectation of the democratic world, is that elections which have been announced will hopefully be free and fair. As friends we obviously have advised anything that detracts from the perception of free fair elections is obviously not good for Maldives,” Khurshid said.
“The people of the Maldives have India’s support. Whoever the people of the Maldives elect will have India’s support. The Maldives can’t change its history. The Maldives cannot deny the history of somebody who was President of Maldives. And we cannot deny the Maldives’ present by saying that whatever there is at present is not to our liking. It’s the people of Maldives who decide and whoever they decide as their elected leadership, we will respect,” he added.
Meanwhile, the website of the Indian High Commission in the Maldives was hacked and a message displayed stating “Give us Nasheed or we kick the embassy!”
High Commission officials confirmed the website had been targeted twice in the past week, but was quickly repaired.
Ten arrested as protests continue
Demonstrations continued last night in the captial Male’, with a crowd of almost 1000 people beginning a march around the city from near the tsunami monument.
Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef said ten people were arrested, including one minor, for throwing objects such as glass bottles at police.
No police were injured, and no force or pepper-spray was used to control the crowds of 250-500 people at the barricades, Haneef said.
Police have meanwhile released a video of demonstrators throwing objects at police lines during the recent protests, and requested public assistance in identifying the five people highlighted.
“Police request public assistance in identifying the five individuals marked in the video who have committed various felonies which have caused varying degrees of property damage and injured officers and media personnel,” police said in a statement.
“Anyone with any information about the identity or the whereabouts of these five individuals, please contact the Maldives Police Service Hotline at 3322111 or the Criminal Investigation Department at 9631696,” the statement added.
Whilst the UK government professed its commitment to the India-brokered road map talks in the UK’s House of Lords this week, in less official forums MPs appeared to have reached a damning verdict on the current Maldives administration, discussing punitive measures and demanding apologies for perceived sleights.
Lord Howell of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) avoided any conclusive statements in the face of questions from the House regarding the legitimacy of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s government, promising only support for the work of the Commonwealth and the Commission of National Inquiry.
This followed a meeting the day before of members of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the Maldives who used offices provided by the UK Parliament to hold a meeting entitled “Democracy Derailed: Political turmoil in the Maldives”. A source present during the meeting has given Minivan News their full account of the discussion.
The source, who wished to remain anonymous, said that those who spoke about the current situation in the country were the MP for Salisbury, John Glenn; Queen’s Counsel, Sir Ivan Lawrence; former Foreign Minister for the Maldives government and current UN Special Rapporteur on Iran, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, and former Deputy Health Minister Mariya Ali.
Also said to have contributed to the panel were Helen Grant MP, Mike Gapes MP, and former Maldives High Commissioner to the UK Dr Farahanaz Faizal.
Dr Faizal has actively opposed the current administration since resigning from her position, shortly after the departure of former President Mohamed Nasheed. She has since remained in the UK, working on behalf of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in raising awareness of perceived human rights abuses and democratic failings in the Maldives.
The former Deputy High Commissioner and brother to President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan, Naushad Waheed, was also present as were Maldivian students and families from the UK. Representatives of civil society organisations including the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and Third World Solidarity were also in attendance.
Chairman David Amess reportedly opened the meeting by expressing his disappointment that the Maldives government had declined to send a representative from the UK High Commission, despite being offered the opportunity to do so.
This has been disputed by Acting High Commissioner to the UK, Ahmed Shiaan, who claimed that the UK High Commission had received no official invitation.
The MP from Salisbury, John Glenn, expressed “no doubt” that there had been a coup d’etat in the Maldives, our source reports.
“[The] democratic will of the people of Maldives has been tossed aside,” Glenn is alleged to have told the group before mentioning his distress at the comments recently aimed at both the UK and the Commonwealth by the Maldives’ new governing coalition.
Glenn’s Salisbury constituency served as the base for former President Mohamed Nasheed during his exile in the UK. The Friends of Maldives (FOM) organisation, responsible for a recent travel advisory which pleads with tourists to avoid any resorts associated with alleged coup conspirators, is based in Salisbury.
Perceived interference from the Commonwealth, whose Secretariat is based in London and whose figurehead remains Queen Elizabeth II, has attracted scathing criticism recently in the Maldives.
Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) MP Riyaz Rasheed accused the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) as having been “bought by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)” after it had urged the current government to establish its legitimacy with early elections.
CMAG released a strongly worded statement last week, arguing that the “the earliest possible expression of the will of the people was required to establish universal faith in the legitimacy of those who govern the country.”
That the group had seen a “lack of progress” in this respect caused it to express “disappointment and deep concern.”
Special Envoy Sir Donald McKinnon, who departed on Friday, attended the Opening Session of the People’s Majlis on 19 March, emphasised the need for parliament to “function effectively so that parliamentarians can return to debating issues of national interest.”
President’s spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza last week went as far as to suggest to Minivan News that the Maldives may consider its position in the Commonwealth, although the reporting of his statement was later dismissed by Abbas in other media as “politically motivated”.
Addressing the all party group, Sir Ivan Lawrence is said to have spoken of his lack of faith in the Maldives’ judicial system, based on his visits to the country during the Maumoon Gayoom era.
“It is now surely important for the same international community that helped to bring about the first democracy, to underline the importance to the new regime of holding speedy free and fair elections, so that power may be restored as quickly as possible to the people of the Maldives,” Sir Lawrence purportedly quoted from a letter he had recently sent to UK newspaper, The Times.
Mariya Ali is alleged to have discussed human rights violations in the Maldives as well as police brutality, before giving the floor to Dr Shaheed who is reported to have suggested that the Gayoom coterie lost their grip on power as a result of attempts to placate the international community.
Dr Shaheed apparently expressed his opinion that they were unlikely to repeat this mistake, citing Dunyha Maumoon’s comments regarding “civil war” as evidence of this resolve. Shaheed stated that the current government will not hold early elections, but rather will work to enfeeble the opposition MDP between now and the scheduled poll date.
Shaheed is also said to have expressed his concern that the independently minded Election Commissioner Fuad Thaufeeq would now be targeted by the current government due to his reputation for impartiality.
Insult and injury
The debate is also said to have included mention of the recent insults leveled at the Queen, the Commonwealth, and the UK government.
During DQP MP Riyaz’s diatribe on DhiTV, he argued that the British public had funded the MDP in return for the establishment of churches in the Maldives and also that they hated the Maldives for gaining independence from Britain.
“The English hate us. Why? Because Ibrahim Nasir saved us from slavery and brought us independence, since then what have the English done for us?” he said.
Riyaz then turned his attention to the Queen herself, “After 50 years, the English Queen, she is physically challenged. But she is still Queen, and if she wants she can remove the Prime Minister. Where is democracy? Where is democracy? That is not a democracy.”
In agreement with the opinion of a member of the public in attendance, David Amess is reported to have said that the government of Maldives should issue a full apology for Riyaz’s outburst and, in concurrence with the other members of the APPG, he argued that the issue should be brought before Parliament.
Additionally, Amess is reputed to have stated his feeling that the attendance of President Waheed at the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations this year would be inappropriate.
Minivan News has obtained video footage of this section of the discussion and can confirm an unidentified voice from off-camera suggesting an early-day motion regarding this topic.
Early day motions are a tool used by MPs in the House of Commons to introduce a subject for discussion. They are often used to publicise certain events or subjects and to gauge the level of parliamentary support for such motions.
Finally, the meeting is said to have moved on to punitive measures. The alleged consensus was that European travel bans had greater potential to damage those alleged to be behind a coup. The option of resort boycotts was dismissed as too damaging to the Maldives’ economic lifeblood.
The video footage received also includes Mr Amess’s concluding statements and so the following quote can be confirmed:
“Ladies and gentlemen, we started off our meeting asking has democracy been derailed, is there political turmoil in the Maldives? Well, listening to the contributors before us this afternoon, the answer to the first part is ‘yes’. Political turmoil in the Maldives? Again we’ve heard the answer, ‘yes’.”
The validity of this meeting has been questioned by the Acting High Commissioner, Ahmed Shiaan.
“This was not a UK parliamentary initiated event. If this was an official APPG event, we should have been invited. It is very disappointing,” said Shiaan, “[If it were] they would have to get our perspective, even the Foreign and Commonwealth Office [FCO] wasn’t invited.”
Shiaan pointed out that the discussion initiated in the House of Lords on March 22, at which the FCO was represented, should receive more prominence as it better represents the official line of the government.
When Lord Howell of the FCO was in the Lords about the potential suspension of the Maldives from the Commonwealth, his response was that this decision was up to the whole of the Commonwealth to decide upon, not just one member.
“We must move to encourage democratic elections, and that is what is proposed in the India-brokered plan, which we welcome and support,” said Lord Howell.
One member of the House asked if Lord Howell felt the government was doing enough to ensure an independent international enquiry after what was regarded by some as a coup.
“We do not recognise this as a coup, although obviously there has been a change,” replied Lord Howell, “We still need to establish the full circumstances of what occurred and we hope that the commission of inquiry will do that.”
Lord Howell was also anxious to make clear the view of the FCO that the Maldives remained a safe tourist destination. “At the moment we do not judge that there is any danger in the tourist areas.”
Next, Lord Howell was asked what steps CMAG might take if they were not successful in pushing for early elections, to which he responded:
“If they are not, of course we would have a new and more difficult situation that would require further resolution and effort. For the moment, we concentrate on following the plan which the Indians have so helpfully brokered.”
Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) MP Riyaz Rasheed, part of the new governing coalition, accuses the Commonwealth of seeking to build a church in the Maldives, Special Envoy Sir Donald McKinnon of taking bribes from the MDP, and the Queen of being “physically challenged”:
The sudden resignation of President Nasheed in Maldives on February 7 took many by surprise, writes A. K. Banerjee, former Indian High Commissioner in the Maldives, for the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA).
The media in India reported it as a coup, a military takeover, the President was forced out, etc. Nasheed’s description of the change as a coup gave it a particular flavour. India is allergic to coups in its neighbourhood. It has had to get used to them in Pakistan and is wary of them in Bangladesh. This reflex is rooted in its deep seated commitment to democracy with a supreme civilian authority.
Coups also imply surprises and India does not particularly care for them. In the instant case the association of the word coup with Maldives set off a reflex and a chain reaction set in thereafter. India remembered the coup attempted in Maldives in 1988 when it had to rush its forces there to restore the government’s authority. An implied threat to its own security from an unstable situation in Maldives caused the Government to take the line of least resistance ie, accept the newly sworn in President, Dr. Waheed and assure him support and treat the matter as an internal issue of Maldives, to be sorted out by them.
Overall, the message that went out of New Delhi was that while it cannot be unconcerned about happenings in that country, it is prepared to work with whoever is legitimately in power there. However, the issue of legitimacy has now come to the fore and many feel that this needs to be looked at closely. Also, by being the first country to accept the developments there as an internal matter, India set an example for others to follow [witness the US position].
Democracies are however notoriously unstable to begin with and need patience and commitment all round. Maldives is no different and its institutions have not worked properly so far. The President was getting increasingly frustrated and the opposition confronted him at every step. Nasheed, long used to agitating for change and clamouring for power, did not, it seems, grow in office and his style was quite un-presidential. One could say that he was being democratic and had the zeal of a reformer. But holding office and leading street demonstrations require different hats.
Nasheed and his supporters faced opposition from a rich business class which controlled the mainstay of the Maldivian economy, i.e., the tourism industry. The downturn in the European economies, which sends the bulk of tourists to Maldives, has negatively affected this sector, which, in turn, impacted on the domestic political dynamics.
In describing his ouster as a coup, perhaps Nasheed wanted to indirectly involve India which he felt he was justified in doing given his attempts to bring the two countries closer, apart from his genuine democratic credentials. Yet at the same time he did not want armed conflict in his country or a civil war like situation. Since his ouster he has been loudly proclaiming his democratic credentials and wants India to hear him. He has repeated that he handed over power under duress and as a democrat he hopes India will see his position and, literally, rescue him. Not only that, he wants to bring forward elections to challenge the opposition and test their legitimacy at the hustings.
What should India do? Having made the point that Maldives is a major security issue for us and bearing in mind the overall international scenario prevailing now, we should bat for a friend. Knowing how slippery the democratic playfield can be and having a sense of who actually has fouled, as a sort of friendly referee, we should award a free kick to the player who has been knocked down.
How can we do that? We should work for a unitary government and persuade all to agree to early elections. But since there are no free lunches, we should recommend that Maldivians agree to long term strengthening of democratic institutions and resolve their differences peacefully; different factions must talk to each other and work towards a modus vivendi. Above all, authorities in Maldives must be encouraged to respect human rights and avoid use of force to deal with political dissent.
Outgoing Deputy UK High Commissioner for the Maldives and Sri Lanka, Mark Gooding, speaks to Minivan News about three years of observing dramatic changes in the country. His successor will be Robbie Bulloch.
JJ Robinson: What are the most dramatic changes you have seen in terms of the country’s transition to democracy, and have old habits died hard?
Mark Gooding: I’ve been covering the Maldives for just over three years. My first visit was in the middle of 2008, and we were discussing with the government the passing of the new constitution and the passage to multi-party elections. There was real uncertainty then.
The Maldives passed the new constitution and held successful elections – which were considered credible, free and fair – and is now in the process of consolidating democracy. That means establishing the institutions of democracy and passing legislation necessary to implement the new constitution. Clearly the process has been smooth at times and not smooth at other times. That’s democracy.
There is important legislation that needs to be passed by the Majlis – such as the penal code, the tax reform bill, and these are issues of significant national interest. These need to be addressed by both parties.
JJ: As somebody who has observed the corridors of power in the Maldives for three years, how much political will have you seen towards consolidating democracy, and do you think that this political will is necessarily unanimous across the country’s senior leadership?
MG: Honestly I think there is a large degree of political will. All of the parties participate actively in the democratic processes that exist, and I think that is very important. All parties recognise the need for legalisation to be passed to implement the constitution and broaden existing legislation to make it reflect the challenges of the day.
I think there is cross-party support for this – for the need to enact the legislation and broad support for functioning democratic institutions – be it parliament or police. People understand these are big challenges and that it is in the national interest for them to function effectively.
There are obviously questions that arise in parliament while the details get sorted out. But by and large people agree on the overall objective which is a functioning democracy.
JJ: As an outsider with a perspective on the Maldives both now and how it was three years ago, to what extent do you think that new democratic freedoms – such as those pertaining to human rights, and freedom of expression – to what extent have these freedoms ‘trickled down’ to the average citizen, as opposed to remaining buzzwords paraded at a diplomatic level?
MG: I think to a large extent. One very obvious change is that people can go out and vote now, and there are election campaigns. There was a huge amount of voter awareness work done in 2008. People are increasingly aware of the freedoms they now have – from voting to access to different kinds of media, and an increasingly active civil society.
People’s awareness of their democratic space has increased, and it certainly has in the time I’ve been working with the Maldives.
JJ: What is the extent of the engagement the UK High Commission has had with the government here?
MG: We have very close cooperation with the Maldives government on a range of issues. Obviously the history of the Maldives’ and the UK means we have enjoyed a close relationship this government and the last government. We have a lot of cooperation on global issues such as climate, trade and combating terrorism. There a lot of political dialogue there, also on domestic development in Maldives. The UK was a strong supporter of democratisation in the Maldives.
Practical assistance over the last few years has included the funding of economic specialists to advise the government on dealing with the financial and economic challenges faced, funding of police officers and specialists to develop the police, and we have funded capacity-building of the judiciary and the UN project in that respect.
We would like to build more contact between the Majlis and our own parliament.
JJ: In terms of future involvement with the Maldives, the country has graduated from a least developed country to a middle income country, and other countries reviewing their engagement with the Maldives perhaps now regard it as better able to fend for itself as a result. Does the graduation affect the UK’s engagement with the Maldives?
MG: We don’t have a bilateral development program in Maldives, and in that respect the project work hasn’t changed. In fact we increased project funding in the Maldives, although that had nothing to do with LDC status. There is no short answer. Clearly part of our dialogue with the government is that we strongly supported and the EU co-sponsored a UN resolution on the transition for LDC countries. This was a priority for [the Maldives] government and we were very happy to support it in an international forum.
JJ: Regular comments on Minivan News suggest a great deal of interest in why countries not just in the region, such as India, but those on the other side of the world such as the UK and US, have such an interest in a small island nation of 350,000 in the Indian Ocean that has existed in relative isolation for hundreds of years. Why do you think there is such strong international interest in the Maldives?
MG: There are a number of clear answers from the UK perspective. The UK has a close historical relationship with the Maldives and we regard the Maldives as our friends, and we want to support democratisation here. It is important that succeeds.
There are also 120,000 British tourists visit each year. We look after British nationals who are in the Maldives and we want them to have a positive experience. We also have very close cooperation with the government on climate policy – a serious issue for the Maldives, as climate change clearly could have a devastating impact on the country.
JJ: Concerns are sometimes aired locally that the government’s climate leadership in the international community has not resulted in much impact or change in local communities – many beaches are still routinely used as waste disposal sites, for example. Do you think climate leadership is being passed on locally?
MG: You have to realise that international climate negotiations are incredibly complex and that every country has its own unique situation, and opportunities to introduce low carbon technology. It is not a straight-forward negotiation.
If people are feeling the effects of climate change, extreme weather and beach erosion – rather than just rubbish on the beach – I would say that is a reason to keep arguing for an ambitious global deal on climate change. It would be counter-intuitive to suggest the government should be doing less to secure a climate deal.
The Maldives is an important player both because of its political position on climate change, but also because of its vulnerability. It does have a unique geography, and the potential impact js quite extreme. The Maldives is a significant player in international climate debate.
JJ: While there is a feeling pride in the Maldives’ new democracy, people associated things like rising crime and economic instability with new the democracy and that seems to risk affecting support for democracy as a concept. What do you see as the key challenges for the country, going ahead?
MG: Of course people are absolutely aware of the challenges that exist. They include criminality, drugs and gang violence. There are issues with radicalisation, and economic challenges that the Maldives has faced, like many other countries. Those are challenges that exist already, before implementing the legislation required by the new constitution. So of course there are big challenges and there is a need for national debate.
The interest here is making institutions function effectively as per any democracy. If a country has an effective police service, then action against gang violence is possible. If institutions fail, clearly the situation becomes worse.
JJ: The executive, judiciary and parliament have been busily testing the boundaries of the new constitution. Based on three years of watching this happen, do you think they are showing signs of settling into their functions and working together?
MG: It certainly remains a challenge, and it has not always been smooth. The institutions identify how much power they have and how it is exercised. We had problems last year between the Majlis and executive, but those were overcome. The parties have shown that at times they can work together and make institutions function.
JJ: The Maldives has a traditional and persistent culture of patronage, a society structured around senior figures who provide things such as medical treatment, scholarships, education and so on, be it a katheeb or an MP. In fact MPs quite openly admit to spending their salaries on funding financial demands from their constituents. Given that the culture is so deeply rooted in patronage, do you think there is hope that principles such as equality necessary for democracy can be applied in the Maldives?
MG: In a democracy it’s up to the people how they are governed. What you’re asking really is what level of power should be appropriate at island, regional and national level. Absolutely that is a debate that happens, and that is a debate people need to have. What is true in democracy is that power structures need to be held to account in both their decision making and their expenditure. Those are important principles to emphasize.
JJ: The recently changing of party affiliations parties among MPs has seen parliament be unfavourably compared to a “football transfer market”, and the MDP in particular seems to have embraced a new pragmatism in search of a parliamentary majority. Do you think there is a risk that by importing the odd skeleton in the cupboard that the party risks disengaging from the idealistic roots that made it into a political force capable of changing an entrenched government?
MG: I think there is a reality that when you are in government you need to focus on the ability to make decisions and exercise authority in an accountable way. I think it is possible to do that in a way that upholds principles. Certainly in our meeting with the President this morning he was very clear about this. There was no doubt about those principles. Clearly people in positions of power should be subject to public scrutiny.
JJ: The Maldives has been quick to use its platform in the UN Human Rights Council to denounce war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Middle East committed by countries such as Libya, but has taken a much gentler stance with Sri Lanka despite UN allegations about such crimes committed in the closing days of the civil war. What is the UK’s view on Sri Lanka, and how can the Maldives contribute to secure and progressive Sri Lanka in the future?
MG: The UK’s position on Sri Lanka is very clear: the need of the hour is reconciliation. In Sri Lanka reconciliation requires a number of things – humanitarian relief is one, but also progress on a political settlement. We believe there are serious allegations which are contained in the UN Panel report that need to be looked into – for us this is a very common sense position.
The Sri Lankan government has set up a reconciliation commission which is looking into a variety of issues in the later years of the war. We think it is important that do that and we encourage the government to do that.
JJ: There is the possibility that an internationally-sponsored investigation would require backing from the Human Rights Council. Does this place Maldives in a difficult position if it comes to a vote?
MG: There are a number processes in train in Sri Lanka, such as the lessons learned reconciliation report due in November. I think the world is watching in terms of what these processes will produce. At that point, we able to see whether other options are necessary. We encourage the government to look at these issues.