Comment: Operation Anbaraa

This article first appeared on Dhivehi Sitee. Republished with permission.

A lot has been written about the music festival on the desert island of Anbaraa attended by local and international DJs, some tourists and 198 partygoers. According to the event organisers, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb and certain officials of the Yameen government allegedly approved the event in an unofficial capacity. Most of what has been said in the Dhivehi media is framed to make it appear that these young people at the music festival were engaging in an orgy of illicit activities on the island, and that the authorities acted rightly by raiding the event and arresting one female minor, 19 women and 59 men present at the festival.

Unfortunately, the susceptible majority of the Maldivian public do not see the political and unconstitutional underpinnings of these arrests, and most often than not, wholeheartedly accept such narratives. This proves beneficial for certain politicians in the Maldives, known for garnering support along ultra-nationalist and Islamist lines, as the Anbaraa incident provides an opportunity to generate just such rhetoric. Their understanding is that the youth are to be blamed for testing the limits of an increasingly conservative society. The awful truth is that people in positions of power indulging in similar behaviour, and much worse, are not subject to the same laws.

The Maldives Police Service claims it raided the island around midnight on Friday night. Detainees have described the operation as a hypocritical, aggressive and excessive display of brute force and psychological warfare. Many of the detainees claim the police used stun guns, grenades, tasers, taser guns, batons, guns and rubber bullets during this operation. Initially flares were shot and the authorities used amplifiers to announce – “you will all be killed if you don’t calm down” while charging at the partygoers. “They shot stun grenades at the centre of the dance floor in front of the main stage”, one of the detainees said. “Rubber bullets were shot in the air and a lot of people were tased with tasers and taser guns,” he continued.

Many detainees said they were all verbally abused and humiliated. Talking of the religious and cultural undertones of this operation, one female detainee said an officer yelled at her, “Are you a European?” A male detainee alleged that two officers grabbed him by the neck and called him an infidel. Another female detainee claimed she was pulled by the hair and ear, and hit on the back. Some of the male partygoers intervened when police resorted to sexualised violence against women – these men are now being detained separately from other detainees, although not in solitary confinement. Some detainees allege they were beaten and showed visible scars. Many detainees note disturbing police actions such as some officers allegedly stealing detainees’ belongings and, in the presence of some detainees, consuming illicit substances found on the island.

After the island came under police control, the detainees were rounded up and brought to the main stage. They were cuffed using plastic clips and kept kneeling down. The island did not have enough water and the Maldives Police Service did not bring any food or water with them for the detainees. When the detainees asked for water it was not provided to all, and some were humiliated for requesting for water. At this point, detainees were allegedly asked to go to sleep. On Saturday morning around 6-7am the police allegedly ordered the catering service to provide food for 198 detainees while the island was under police control. Even at this time, the Maldives’ police did not facilitate rights afforded to those accused or detained under Article 48 of the Constitution. Although police claim that the detainees were informed of their rights, the fact that these men and women were kept incommunicado for about 14 hours proves that the authorities failed to facilitate their inalienable fundamental rights to acquire legal counsel or information regarding the arrest.

Another factor that deviates from standard police practice in such cases is that, according to the detainees, belongings and persons on the island were searched on Saturday afternoon, and none of this was done in the detainees’ presence. Most detainees claim their tents were searched or dismantled while they were handcuffed. And, they claim, not only were their belongings rummaged but articles of clothing and money went missing after the police went through them. Article 161 of the 2011 Drugs Act requires police to split urine samples into two — one sample is to be tested by the Maldives Police Service while the other is to be tested by an institution stipulated by the National Drug Agency. This procedure was not followed, nor were the urine samples collected or processed according to the Urine Specimen Collection, Transportation and Testing for Illicit Drugs Regulation 2012, meaning that many detainees’ urine samples were taken after their remand hearings. Another irregularity is one that contravenes the Judicature Act – detainees were brought to the Criminal Court in Malé even though the alleged offences occurred in Vaavu Atoll. According to the male detainees, only female detainees were given lifejackets while they were being transferred to Dhoonidhoo Custodial Centre from Anbaraa.

During the remand hearings the police claimed that 119 people present at the island were released because they did not find any illicit substances on their person or belongings. This argument does not make sense as the police claimed that the entire island was a crime scene. The argument is further weakened by the fact that some of the detainees currently in custody did not have any illicit substances on their person and only have urine tests as evidence against them. Such contradictions in the claims made by the police suggest that the 119 were released because the police would not have been able to process all detainees within the specified time limit. Law requires all detainees to be brought before a judge within 24 hours of arrest.

These events are reminiscent of infighting among cabinet ministers during ex-dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s regime, which then spills over into the public sphere. If the Yameen government – even if in an unofficial capacity – gave assurances to the organisers of the music festival that it could go ahead, why has the Home Minister Umar Naseer vocally reacted to this incident as if to say the police were working under his orders? The feud between the current president Abdullah Yameen Abdul Gayoom; half brother of ex-dictator and Umar Naseer; the current Home Minister, has been at the forefront since the onset of the presidential election campaign in early 2013.

Some of the detainees are also of the impression that the government may have raided the event to create a distraction from the arbitration proceedings being held at the Singapore Court of Appeal regarding the cancellation of the GMR agreement during the coup appointed presidency of Dr. Mohamed Waheed, which ended in December 2013. In early 2010, the Indian infrastructure company GMR was contracted to build Ibrahim Nasir International Airport by the Mohamed Nasheed administration, which was toppled by his deputy Dr. Waheed and Gayoom loyalists. If the infrastructure giant GMR wins the arbitration case, the Maldives’ government will be subject to approximately US$1.4 billion in compensation.

All these factors create the public perception that current government is not fully in control of the security forces due to infighting, or that the security forces can be mobilised by the current government to carry out politically motivated attacks that have very little to do with morality, crime prevention, implementing the law, or protecting the youth from illegal drugs. Neither perception creates trust or confidence towards the current regime in power, but both highlight the human rights abuse and inconsistency of the implementation of law in the Maldives.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to edi[email protected]

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Civil society groups slam government for “failure to ensure conducive environment for elections”

Prominent NGOs have released a joint human rights brief accusing the Maldivian government of failing to create conditions conducive to free and fair elections, ahead of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) meeting to be held in London this Friday.

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) reported that with less than six months before the presidential elections “there are clear signs indicating that the coalition government in power since February 2012 has so far failed to set the conditions for free and fair elections in which ‘all parties and leaders are able freely to conduct election campaigns’.”

“The most critical matter in this regard is the continued interference of the executive on other branches of power, as manifested by the trial of several opposition members to prevent the opposition from running in the upcoming elections,” the brief reads.

Authorities have both failed to ensure a ‘free and fair’ atmosphere with respect to freedom of information or freedom to assembly, as well as made no efforts to inform and educate voters on electoral rights and responsibilities, the report claims.

FIDH and MDN highlight that promoting and protecting human rights has suffered from a “substantial lack of progress” and that a “culture of impunity for perpetrators of past human rights violations” has been institutionalised.

While “human rights abuses reduced drastically” following former President Mohamed Nasheed’s election in 2008, past and present police brutality, torture and impunity have gone unaddressed, states the brief.

Institutions such as the Police Integrity Commission (PIC), the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), and a Presidential Commission – created in 2009 and disbanded in 2012 – failed to investigate and address human rights abuses, including torture committed by the police services, given their limited mandates.

“The coalition government established in February 2012 has been accused of a wide range of human rights violations, from violent repression of street protests, arbitrary arrests, sexual harassment of female protesters, torture, harassment of pro-opposition media, to legal and physical harassment of members of the opposition,” states the brief.

“Since the HRCM made public its reports on these allegations in August 2012, no action has been taken for investigation or redress,” the brief continues.

Systematic omissions have been identified in the the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) “serious enough to raise fundamental questions about the accuracy of the report’s conclusions.” Furthermore, recommendations made by the CoNI on August 30, 2012 regarding human rights abuses, torture, and impunity “were immediately dismissed by senior government officials; this could only encourage the security forces to disregard the rule of law and commit further human rights abuses in impunity,” the brief reads.

“Uncertainties” have caused a “new phase of slowdown” in the country’s legal reform process as well.

“Women have suffered and still suffer from the absence of a strong legal framework… and women’s rights remain at risk of being curbed by religious parties influencing the governing coalition and pushing for the full implementation of Sharia,” the report states.

Rising tensions regarding interpretations of Islam is “particularly an area of concern” given the “fundamental views being introduced by the Adalath party and some religious groups, mainly those that are being linked with Shari’a and harsh punishments,” claims the brief.

“Bearing in mind that there is absolutely no public trust in the judiciary to have the capacity to deliver justice under these circumstances, those critical of these [religious] interpretations have faced violent consequences,” reads the brief. “To date, there are no reports of an investigation or any on-going effort to find the perpetrators of these crimes [of murder and attempted murder].”

Following Nasheed’s claim he was deposed in a coup d’état, the Commonwealth suspended the Maldives from the CMAG, and said it had decided to place the Maldives on its formal agenda in February 2012 because of “questions that remain about the precise circumstances of the change of government, as well as the fragility of the situation in the Maldives.”

In September 2012, CMAG decided the Maldives would remain on the agenda under the item “Matters of Interest to CMAG”, however its suspension from the international body’s democracy and human rights arm has now been revoked.

CMAG recommendations

FIDH and MDN emphasised that the newly reformed CMAG mandate includes “situations that might be regarded as constituting a serious or persistent violation of Commonwealth values”, and the “systematic denial of political space, such as through detention of political leaders or restriction of freedom of association, assembly or expression.”

“These situations have continuously characterised the political environment of the Maldives especially since the change of power of 7 February 2012.”

FIDH and MDN provided CMAG with five key recommendations in regard to the deteriorating human rights situation in the Maldives.

They compelled CMAG to raise concerns regarding human rights violations in the Maldives, especially allegations of police brutality and torture, and request government authorities take all necessary measures to prevent violence, respect the due process of law and prevent arbitrary arrests.

A review of CMAG’s position on CoNI report should be conducted, especially in reference to “later developments”.

CMAG should also advocate for the preservation and consolidation of democratic achievements and take all necessary steps to guarantee the conditions for free, fair and inclusive elections in September 2013.

Providing technical assistance to the Maldives’ government is recommended. This is necessary to strengthen the rule of law and support the development of public institutions, in particular the judiciary, as well as independent commissions such as the HRCM, the PIC, and the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).

Finally, provide support to civil society organizations to raise public awareness about the role of public institutions and the importance of separation of powers, develop human rights education programs, and play a key role monitoring democratic and independent institution building.

Maldivian government recommendations

FIDH and MDN also provided the Maldivian government with a list of 11 recommendations to improve the country’s human rights failures.

This includes strengthening independent commissions, such as the PIC, JSC, and HRCM, in accordance with CoNI report recommendations. Reforming the judiciary should also be prioritized.

The physical and psychological integrity of human rights defenders, journalists and members of the opposition must be also guaranteed in all circumstances.

Initiating a national campaign to address past human rights violations (1978-2008), including “accountability for perpetrators, acknowledgement, truth-telling mechanisms, reparations, and legal and institutional reforms to prevent occurrence of new violations” is recommended.

“Such mechanisms would also act as a deterrent to prevent any future form of harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrest or ill-treatment by State security personnel,” the brief states.

Additionally, the Majlis (parliament) should “urgently enact” pending legislation, ensure civil society is consulted, and that the bills “fully conform with international human rights commitments and obligations of the Maldives.” Furthermore, the death penalty should not be enshrined in those texts.

FIDH and MDN also recommend the government fulfill its various international commitments. This includes investigating allegations of torture, adopting implementing legislation for the International Criminal Court statute, as well as guaranteeing the human rights and protections enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Additionally, the scope of the Maldives’ reservation to Article 16 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) – which aims to eliminate discrimination in all matters relating to marriage and family relations, and ensures gender equality – should be significantly reduced.

Adhering to the recommendations of various UN Special Rapporteur’s, which have addressed some of the systemic problems within the judicial system and various human rights issues, is also recommended. As is arranging future Rapporteur’s missions regarding transitional justice and additional human rights challenges.

Government reaction

Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dhunya Maumoon told local media yesterday (April 23) that Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Abdul Samad Abdullah had left for London April 22 to participate in the CMAG meeting.

Maumoon highlighted that this marks the first occasion the Maldives has been invited to a CMAG meeting since its removal from the agenda.

“The opportunity for the Maldivian Foreign Minister to participate in a CMAG meeting was a great achievement, and one which resulted from the efforts by President Waheed’s government in cooperation with the Commonwealth,” said Maumoon.

“Now Maldives will have the opportunity to partake in discussions at CMAG. But the Maldives delegation will not be present when the group discusses the Maldives,” she added.

Maumoon also reiterated the government’s position that the Maldives should not have been on CMAG’s agenda and that “the move was prompted by a lack of understanding of the true events that transpired in the Maldives.”

“Some countries” had realized this error and accused Nasheed of influencing CMAG members, Maumoon claimed.

While Maumoon admitted “there was always a fear of instability in Maldives due to the rather infant democracy in the country,” she also highlighted that “international partners have acknowledged the positive strides the country has made brought about in a relatively peaceful manner.”

In April 2012, Maldives’ permanent representative to the EU Ali Hussein Didi criticised the Commonwealth’s involvement in the Maldives, telling the European Parliament that the Commonwealth’s Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) lacked a clear mandate to place the Maldives on its agenda.

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UK Foreign Office to “pressure” Maldives over tackling police abuse allegations: The Guardian

UK Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Alistair Burt is expected to “pressure” the Maldives government to tackle alleged abuses conducted by police during a visit to the country next month.

The UK-based Guardian newspaper reported today that Burt would be asking the government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan about efforts being undertaken to tackle “serious and persistent abuses” alleged to have been carried out by police – claims backed in reports on the country by a number of international NGOs.

These alleged abuses are reported to include: “attacks on opposition MPs, torture and mass detentions of democracy activists,” according to the paper.

President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad and Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed were not responding to calls from Minivan News at the time of press concerning the upcoming UK FCO visit.

However, the government and police authorities in the Maldives have previously questioned findings by a number of international NGOs, accusing their individual authors of acting with bias in favour of former President Nasheed and the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

Police probe

Reports of Burt’s visit follow The Guardian reporting earlier this week that senior UK government figures were set to be questioned by politicians over the role of a Scottish police college in training Maldivian officers accused of perpetrating human rights abuses.

Police authorities in the Maldives contacted by Minivan News yesterday played down the abuse allegations raised by a number of NGOs such as Amnesty International, questioning possible bias in the data gathered in their reports.

Just last month, the circumstances behind the arrests of then Jumhoree Party (JP) MP Abdulla Jabir and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor for their alleged possession of alcohol had been labelled “very worrying” by delegates from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).

The comments were made following a a three-day mission to the Maldives over alleged human rights abuses.

Philippine Senator Francis Pangilinan from IPU’s Committee on Human Rights of Parliamentarians said at the time that circumstances surrounding the arrests of Jabir – now an MDP MP – and Ghafoor were concerning and that the delegation found it “difficult” to believe it was not politically-motivated.

Both Jabir and Ghafoor – along with eight others – were arrested on the island of Hodaidhoo in Haa Dhaal Atoll for the alleged possession of alcohol and drugs.

The arrests were made days prior to a vote on whether or not a no confidence motion against President Mohamed Waheed could be voted with a secret ballot.

Transfer of power

Since February’s controversial transfer of power that saw former President Mohamed Nasheed resigning from office follow a mutiny by sections of the country’s police and military – a decision he claimed was made under duress – several NGOs have published reports addressing concerns about police conduct in the Maldives.

Minivan News observed violent clashes between police officers and anti-government protesters directly following the change of government. On February 8, Minivan News journalists witnessed Specialist Operations (SO) officers specifically target certain MDP activists by chasing and beating them.

Anti-government protests have continued on and off throughout 2012 resulting in both local and international media coverage of alleged police brutalityattacks by protesters on police and reporters, numerous arrests and the occasional, almost playful stand-off.

Amidst this backdrop, several NGOs have released reports into alleged rights abuses conducted by police.  These reports include findings by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) entitled “From Sunrise to Sunset: Maldives backtracking on democracy” and an Amnesty International publication entitled: “The Other side of Paradise: A Human Rights Crisis in the Maldives”.

FIDH noted in its findings that the government of President Waheed stood accused of a wide range of human right violations, including violent harassment of street protesters, torture and harassment of pro-opposition media as well as legal and physical harassment of the opposition.

“Practices to silence political dissent that had disappeared in the course of Nasheed’s presidency, have once again become prevalent under Mohamed Waheed’s presidency,” said FIDH at the time.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International’s report recommended that the Maldivian government “ensure prompt, independent, impartial and effective investigations into allegations of violence by officials.”

The NGO also called for the de-politicisation of the police, reform of the judiciary and enhanced training of security forces to meet with international standards of conduct.

Amnesty said that several of its human rights recommendations were reflected in the Commonwealth-backed Commission of National Inquiry’s (CNI) report which was released on August 30. The report concluded that President Waheed’s government had come to power legitimately and that there no evidence of any mutiny by the police and military.

Following the report’s publication, two international advisors to the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) – Judicial Advisor Sir Bruce Robertson and Legal Advisor Professor John Packer – criticised what they believed was an “alarming level” of street demonstrating.

“Some would want to call [this] an example of the rights of freedom of expression and assembly. In reality it is rather more bully-boy tactics involving actual and threatened intimidation by a violent mob,” they stated at the time. “This perpetual behaviour is sapping public life and hindering the Maldives’ development as a modern democracy.”

However, the CNI’s findings did nonetheless highlight the need for institutional reform within the country focusing on areas such as law enforcement and the judiciary.

Earlier this month, the Commonwealth announced it would be working with the Maldivian government to push ahead with strengthening and reforming “key public institutions” – issues raised in the CNI report.  The Commonwealth also said that it was reiterating calls for “inclusive and credible” presidential elections to be held next year.

Report “bias”

Following the publication of Amnesty’s report in September, Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed criticised Amnesty International for failing to seek comment from the government, accusing it of publishing a one-sided report.

Similar criticisms of the NGO were made by Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz back in April.  He expressed disappointed with what he perceived had been Amnesty’s failure to ask the police for its comments before releasing a report based on its findings.

“I don’t see that there has been any investigations done, none of our officers was questioned, interviewed – neither by them nor by the Police Integrity Commission (PIC), nor by the Human Rights Commission (HRCM). I don’t think that’s fair,” said Riyaz.

Amnesty International had previously denied it has taken sides compiling its report on the Maldives.

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State Foreign Minister Dunya attacks Amnesty report as “heavily biased”

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s daughter and current Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Dunya Maumoon, in a press conference today dismissed the international human rights NGO Amnesty International’s report on the Maldives.

The report titled “The other side of paradise – a human rights crisis in the Maldives” chronicled the human rights abuses in the country that took place following the controversial transfer of power.

The report detailed a number of incidents of police brutality on February 8, including attacks on Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs Eva Abdulla and Mariya Didi.

“The overall objective of these violent attacks has been to silence peaceful government critics and stifle public debate about the current political situation,” said the report.

“Based on Amnesty International’s interviews with survivors of these violent attacks, it appears that many were targeted by security forces because they were MDP ministers, parliamentarians or supporters,” it read.

The report recommended that the Maldivian government “ensure prompt, independent, impartial and effective investigations into allegations of violence by officials.”

“Those suspected of offences involving such violations, irrespective of rank or status, must be prosecuted in proceedings which meet international standards of fairness,” the report read.

Speaking to members of the press – who did not include opposition-aligned Raajje TV – Dunya  stated that the majority of the allegations stated in the “heavily biased” report were not true

“I am not saying that nothing happened. There were incidents that took place. But the report did not highlight on the arson attacks that took place in Addu City on February 8,” she said.

She further went on to stress that Amnesty must verify information that they receive before deciding its factual accuracy.

“Instead of just listening to just one party, Amnesty must thoroughly observe the happenings that take place in the Maldives,” she stressed.

Furthermore, the state minister stated that it was not the government’s wish to comment on “reports like that”, but “said it does not mean that government is dismissing all the reports that came out, concerning human rights abuses in the country”.

However, Amnesty’s researcher in the Maldives, Abbas Faiz, had a dissenting view.

“Without an end to – and accountability for – these human rights violations, any attempt at political reconciliation in the Maldives will be meaningless,” he said

Meanwhile, Minister of Home Affairs, Mohamed Jameel Ahmed earlier made similar remarks on the report as Dunya, criticising Amnesty International for failing to seek the comments from the government.

“They had not sought any comments from the Maldives government. I’m extremely disappointed that a group advocating for fairness and equal treatment had released a report based on just one side of the story,” Jameel told local media at the time.

“An international group of the caliber of Amnesty should have heard the other side as well. But they had failed to obtain our comments,” Jameel said.

The Amnesty report recounts sustained and pre-meditated beatings of protesters with a variety of weapons during the violent crackdown.

Some of those interviewed reported people being attacked in their hospital beds, whilst others recalled torture and further degradation whilst in detention.

Whilst Amnesty stated that several of its human rights recommendations were reflected in the Commission of National Inquiry’s (CNI) report, which was released on August 30, but Jameel argued that the CNI had highlighted misdemeanors of protesters which did not make it into the Amnesty report.

“CNI (Commission of National Inquiry) report had clearly highlighted the actions of demonstrators during protests in the Maldives. The foreign observers labelled the actions of demonstrators as cowboy tactics,” Jameel told Haveeru.

In their closing observations, Professor John Packer and Sir Bruce Robertson, advisers to CNI appeared critical of the anti-government protesters.

“Some would want to call an example of the rights of freedom of expression and assembly. In reality it is rather more bully boy tactics involving actual and threatened intimidation by a violent mob,” reported Packer and Robertson.

“The demonstrators undermine the peace and stability, carry out attacks while being inebriated, carry out attacks with sharp objects and damage private property. Even internationally such actions are regarded as violence. However, the Amnesty report has ignored all such things. It is extremely one sided and unjust,” said Jameel.

However, in relation to Jameel’s remarks, Amnesty International’s spokesperson rebutted the claims contesting its impartiality.

“Amnesty International is an independent and impartial human rights organisation without any political affiliation. We are not alone in highlighting the human rights violations since the transfer of power this year,” he said.

He also dismissed Home Minister’s remarks that the NGO had failed in getting the remarks of the government.

“In compiling our report we talked at length with government and police officials in Malé and Addu during our visit to the country in late February and early March. On the occasions they responded we have included their comments in our documents,” he said.

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Former president denies human rights abuses in 30-year rule

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has denied that human rights abuses and torture in prisons occurred during his 30-year reign.

Taking questions from listeners yesterday on DhiFM’s “One-to-One” live call-in show, Gayoom categorically denied that he ordered anyone to be tortured.

“No Maldivian citizen was unjustly punished that I was aware of or on my orders,” he said.

He added he was not aware of torture in jails or custodial deaths and it would not have taken place on his orders.

“When I received complaints, I looked into it. I did get complaints of torture in jails or unjust punishment in other ways. Every case would have been investigated,” he said.

In some cases, commissions were formed to investigate the allegations, he continued, while other cases were sent to court.

Responding to a question on whether he could prove his 30-year rule was not autocratic, Gayoom said he always governed in full compliance with the constitution and was re-elected in free and fair elections.

“I did not come to power or remain in power by using military force,” he said.

Appearing on the same show last week, President Mohamed Nasheed, a former Amnesty International “Prisoner of Conscience”, said he recently found a letter to the former president, also minister of defence at the time, from the officer-in-charge of police.

“It says in a lot of cases many citizens were taken before court without any evidence in the way the government wanted,” he said.

At the time, said Nasheed, such things were commonplace.

Asked about the letter, Gayoom said he could not recall a particular letter as he would have received thousands during the past 30 years.

“I might remember if it happened or not if that letter is shown to me and how I acted upon it or if I didn’t,” he said, adding he could not recall it off the top of his head.

If Nasheed showed him the letter, he continued, he would explain how it happened.

Although the pair has not met since the hand-over of power last year, Gayoom said he has had telephone conversations with the president and exchanged text messages.

Fielding questions

After thanking him for “getting rid of drugs in four months”, a caller asked Gayoom about a man from Fuahmulah who was “brought to Male’ on an allegation, punished and killed in Dhoonidhoo” in 1982.

Another caller asked, “Do you know that an island called Mandhoo exists?”

Gayoom addressed a number of issues ranging from tsunami reconstruction, his future in politics and the state of the nation.

The former president said he has not made a decision on remaining as leader of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party or contesting for the presidency in 2013.

“I am still thinking about it. God willing, the people will know my decision very soon,” he said.

Defending his record on island development, Gayoom said there was only one government school in the atolls when he took office in 1978, but there were schools now in all inhabited islands.

Moreover, he built island offices, atoll offices and atoll houses as well as mosques, health centres and harbours.

Infant mortality was reduced from 120 from every 1,000 births to 10, he said, while life expectancy rose from 48 to over 70 years.

International institutions and agencies have noted that of all the Asian countries affected by the tsunami, he said, Maldives made the best use of foreign aid.

Gayoom said about US$80 million pledged by the institutions and foreign nations was not delivered.

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