Aishath Velezinee was formerly the President’s Member on the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), the watchdog body assigned to appoint and investigate complaints against judges. Two years ago she turned whistleblower and alleged the JSC was complicit in protecting judges appointed under the Gayoom’s government, and was colluding with parliament to ensure legal impunity for senior opposition supporters. In January 2011 she was stabbed twice in the back in broad daylight.
JJ Robinson: What do you think of the international community’s initial reaction to the events of February 7?
Aishath Velezinee: I think they fail to see the dynamics behind this country – it is all very personal and based on individuals.
[Maldivians] have a very deep understanding of this – the actors involved. The international community does not. So the international community is taking much at face value, and they are measuring what they see against the standards they hold.
These are not our standards – what I’ve seen in the Judicial Services Commission (JSC) is far below the standards of what you would expect from ordinary people in any democracy. An ordinary person would not act like the duty bearers here have done. It is absolutely unbelievable.
JJ: You have often spoken about a ‘silent coup’ – a collusion between the judiciary, the JSC and opposition-aligned members of parliament to preserve the pliability of the judiciary as it was under former Justice Ministry and President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. What do you mean when you said ‘the silent coup has become the armed coup’?
AV: The heart of the silent coup was the Criminal Court. The former regime wanted to maintain their influence on the criminal court.
You can see that a number of powerful and influential politicians and businessmen – and businessmen who are politicians – have cases pending against them. This gives reason as to why they would want to keep a hold on the criminal court.
Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed was the man facilitating them to carry on with that, giving cover to the very serious corruption that has been continuing for a number of years in this country. This is highly entrenched corruption – state corruption.
When Abdulla Mohamed went missing – as they say – I believe the opposition feared they were losing control over the judiciary, and that is why they came out on the streets. If you look at the so called public protests, it was opposition leaders and gang members. We did not see the so-called public joining them – they were a public nuisance really.
For nearly three weeks they were going around destroying public property and creating disturbances. It wasn’t a people thing – we can say that. We locals – we know who was there on the streets. There is footage and evidence available of it. We’ve seen the destruction they were causing in Male’ every day.
To the international community it’s a crowd of people – and to them that’s the public. It’s a public protest to them. But it was not.
Then we need to consider who was involved in the free Abdulla Mohamed campaign. These are the same people I have previously accused of covering up and being conspirators in the silent coup. Amongst them was Independent MP Mohamed Nasheed – currently the chair of the parliamentary oversight committee on independent commissions – who has a duty to investigate the JSC.
On 6 February 2012, I finally got in writing from the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) their response to my complaints about the JSC in May 2010.
They said that the matter of Article 285 and the JSC’s high treason was forwarded to Parliament for further investigation on 9 September, 2010.
Where is it? We haven’t heard anything of it. So why was MP Nasheed not doing his duty and investigating this? Why was he out on the street campaigning to free Abdulla Mohamed when this question is before him and he needs to look into it? Why was MP Abdul Raheem bragging on VTV – immediately after the national security committee meeting – that he had deliberately disrupted the meeting to prevent me from speaking? It’s a huge cover up.
JJ: Why do you think the international community is unaware of this?
AV: The international community is not fluent in the Dhivehi language. And all of the evidence I have – on tape – is in Dhivehi. I cannot get them to listen to that. All they hear is me talking, and as you know, nobody else has dared to come out publicly and take this up.
JJ: Where does this place you now? Considering you have all this evidence you must have some concern for your safety?
AV: All I have is with the police, the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), the ACC, and with parliament. So I don’t know. They could easily destroy it. It’s not being shared with the parliament. I have asked MPs in the independent commissions committee if they are aware of this letter from the ACC – they are not. Since 2010 we have been working with the judiciary whose legitimacy is actually in question.
The issue was not taken up by anybody. The issue of Article 285 and JSC’s high treason was taken up by myself, as a sitting member under oath, and I think that should be enough reason for them to investigate. But the only response I get from people is: “There were 10 people in there. Why just you?”
In a conspiracy where a majority of the people join together to commit a crime, why would they come out and speak about it? High treason was committed in the JSC with the confidence that there would be no investigation.
I believe the Speaker sitting there has been the cover for the JSC to cater to their old masters. They are very confident that the silent coup will remain uninvestigated.
JJ: On paper, the reappointment of the judges in 2010 occurred before parliament had passed the requisite legislation determining the educational, moral and ethical criteria for a judge? Does that not undermine the legitimacy of all verdicts issued after that period?
AV: Article 285 is not tied to any law. It is to prevent politicisation of the judiciary. The JSC is supposed to be working independently as an institution, and although it includes people from various parties – MPs and the Attorney General – each of us had a conduct of conduct under which we were supposed to be impartial. But that’s not how the JSC was functioning.
Everyone assumes because I was appointed by the President that I was colluding with the President. But if anyone bothered to look at the evidence – the recordings of the meetings – they would find the reality is different.
JJ: This evidence you have – are people just not bothering to look at it, or are they unable to do so because of the language barrier?
AV: Nobody has looked at the evidence. It has all been based on weight – nine to one. Woman to nine men. I feel very insulted.
JJ: Some of the visiting media expressed an interest in the situation with the judge and the lead up to the judicial crisis which precipitated these events. But how can you explain that in a two minute soundbite?
AV: You can’t. It is too complex. All of this is very complex and we can’t take anything at face value. We need to access available documentation, and we need people to access the other evidence available. But all the fact finding missions and investigation teams are based on just talking to people.
If you just talk to people, the story you get depends on who you talk to. The facts are the evidence.
People have asked me why I did not take it up with groups like HRCM. There is no place I have not taken it to – and I could not access the international community when I did not even have an office. I was under oath as a JSC member, but the commission put me out on the street to work. I was working like an activist – and alone.
JJ: On the bright side many people must be feeling they should have listened to you a long time ago?
AV: Yes. But it seems we missed the chance to fix it – to fix Article 285.
Now it’s politics that will solve this. In 1957 we had a constitution for seven months. Now we have had one for three years and failed again. We have to do what we failed to do and focus on strengthening judiciary. But when a serious national security issue being examined in parliamentary committee is disrupted and it ceases to continue with investigation, what does it say?
The Maldivian Democratic Party needs to focus on 285. They need to start talking constitution, about how they got into this. They need to back me – I submitted these cases and President Nasheed was still waiting for a response. You can’t run a state without a judiciary – and the judiciary is still under the control of the former regime
JJ: Even if early elections are called, that would not help the judicary?
AV: There is no judiciary as guaranteed to the people under this constitution.
JJ: What do you make of the new Attorney General, Azima Shukoor?
AV: I know her from primary school. We were in the same class until grade 10. I know her quite well – and I also know what she’s been doing in recent years.
I also know Gayoom’s government because I worked in that government for 19 years and six months. I know all of the individual players in this game, very, very well.
Gayoom had this practice of moving around people he found difficult, so I had the opportunity to work in a number of government departments and ministries, and to get to know quite a lot of powerful players in the opposition today. I know how they operate – their modus operandi. I know how they function.
My mistake was to trust. I trusted members of the JSC to uphold the constitution. I trusted the Speaker to uphold the constitution. And where I saw they were acting against the constitution I found it really hard to comprehend. It was happening every day. But I couldn’t believe it until the last moment.
JJ: Where to from here? What do you think happens now?
AV: Article 285 is going to be buried in history. I do not think we have the willingness or capacity in any of the state institutions to fully investigate exactly what happened in the JSC.
But what happened in the JSC must be haunting some of its members, if, months after I was stabbed, they are still discussing in a recorded sitting about how to silence me. On 17 Janurary 2011, two weeks after I was stabbed, MP Dr Afrashim Ali said I was “dangerous”, and the high court appointee was saying “We have to think about our future, our security. We have to silence her.” I have audios clips of that meeting on the 17th. I have the whole 1.5 hour recording – it’s there, you can hear it. A friend helped me do cuts and I have circulated it on Facebook. I put it on YouTube (Part one, two, three).
They fear an investigation because if there is an investigation, what I have said will be proven. All they are betting on is using their political weight to prevent an investigation.
JJ: You are making copies of the evidence?
AV: When Nasheed resigned I put everything away – I have nothing in my home any more. These are probably the only copies we have now.
Considering that the JSC actually tampered with and edited the audio recordings when they submitted them to parliament in 2010, they have shown they will destroy the evidence.
I have copies of audio tapes of proceedings in the JSC during Article 285 – and after. As well as from when their focus was on covering it up.
JJ: It is interesting that they continued to record the meetings, given all the other procedures not followed.
AV: They were not recording meetings when I initially joined the commission. They were working completely unconstitutionally.
The JSC refused technical assistance from the International Committee of Jurists (ICJ) and others. Instead they were themselves talking about strengthening the judiciary. What judiciary was there to strengthen when it was unconstitutionally appointed? It’s actually the people who have lost, not President Nasheed or the so-called President Waheed. The people have lost.
JJ: What do you make of Dr Waheed? Given his UN background and benign demeanour, he seems an unlikely leader of a coup d’état.
AV: He might have thought it was a power grab and that he was the man who was going to lead this. But he may be realising that he too is being played, is a tool of the opposition – of Gayoom’s family. I think he found out too late. He’s either an idiot or a tyrant. Right now it looks like both.
Let’s say President Nasheed did resign under duress. Is it the man who resigns, or is it the government who resigns? If it is the government, then Dr Waheed should be walking out with the President. Then it is the Speaker who takes over for the interim period.
This national unity government should be formed with the Speaker leading it. You can’t have a politician from a party that does not have a single seat in parliament or in a Council, heading a national unity government.
If he would step aside and permit the Speaker to form a national unity government, that would have more credibility. That would also bring this whole situation back into alignment with the constitution.
Right now we seem to be in a gap. We have a man who was put there by the police and military to lead a national unity government. We haven’t seen the public supporters – the so-called people behind him – anywhere. So what national unity government are we talking of here? Just because the cabinet seats a shared across a number of parties, is it a national unity government? No.
I think it is time the Speaker took charge and led a national unity government, and organised elections, and let the people speak again. Just because the international community is upset with Nasheed’s behaviour, doesn’t mean that they should legitimise a government that the people do not support.
We are talking about the government of the Maldives. And that government should be one that the people of the Maldives want and trust.
JJ: There is a lot of public baiting of police officers at the moment. How helpful is this?
AV: Waheed’s first public statement was to praise the police mutineers. How could he?
What happened on February 8 – that peaceful walk – that was absolutely uncalled for. And we haven’t seen anybody talking about it. Not Waheed, nobody. Why was that? What was the reason for such a violent and brutal attack by the police? Why were they picking on certain people? Why did they chase me saying they would kill me? Why?
JJ: The police chased you?
AV: The police, yes. Why did they spray me at close range?
JJ: They pepper sprayed you?
AV: My eyes – I could not open them – it took me 24 hours to clean myself of it. There was a police commander – I was walking in the middle of the crowd. When they chased us I ran with the people. There was this lane – I went in and I think President Nasheed was there. I pulled him by the shirt, then I ran in front and his men came and surrounded him. I passed the shop where he had gone in for cover. Then I came face to face with the police. There was a commander – he screamed out: “That’s the bitch, kill her!”.
Someone stepped in front of me and pepper sprayed me. I grabbed someone running away and said “I’m blinded, they’re going to kill me. Take me, take me.”
Somebody helped me across the street and took me to a safe place.
JJ: Are you concerned for your safety now?
AV: I’m very scared. You have seen their whole approach to my allegations. To deny it – not by arguing over the substance, but by slandering me, and ignoring it. They either slander or ignore.
I’m afraid that considering their approach, they are not going to make a big deal of taking me to court and trying me. They will find other ways of silencing me. It was scary.
This is not about Nasheed or Waheed. It is about the constitution. I really wish the international community would see beyond the obvious. What the opposition is afraid of is separation of powers, and the institutuion of a democracy. It is not Nasheed – Nasheed they can defeat in an election, if they have the people power. But they are afraid of a democratic system where they cannot carry on high level corruption, where they cannot control the judiciary or the independent commissions – and the media. That they fear.
A lot of the younger politicians who have played different roles in covering this up I don’t think are aware of the depth and dirtiness of this coup. It sounds like a conspiracy novel – but it is reality. And people are finding it hard to believe becasue of that.
JJ: To what extent is this about people power? What happens if police or the army are given an order they don’t want to comply with?
AV: I don’t think Waheed is controlling them. We’re seeing [Defence Minister Mohamed] Nazim – Nazim is from the National Security Service (NSS) of before [under Gayoom]. The police and the military were separated in 2005. Nazim is pre-2005. Nazim probably controls the police though [Police Commissioner] Abdulla Riyaz, while he controls the MNDF. Jameel’s role, as Home Minister, is the judiciary. He is the former justice minister. He knows individually all the sitting judges – he wrote the handouts they learned from.
JJ: Do you think people played politics too long with the judiciary – including the MDP side? People are asking why, if this was the issue, Nasheed did not act earlier?
AV: He would know. For one thing I think it was very difficult for him when his own Attorney General [Husnu Suood] was not taking up the matter. Suood was sitting in the JSC with me. But it was only me and Sheikh Shuaib Rahman – the member appointed from among the general public – who went to the ACC.
The Attorney General removed himself from the JSC at the time. I think he realised the politics of it, and took the safe road.
I put myself in danger, taking this up, knowing quite well the politics behind this. But I didn’t feel I had a choice. I was required as an office bearer under oath to work in the interest of the people and the constitution. And my interest in bringing it out to the public was to give them a chance to get their judiciary.
JJ: Will things get worse when the international media and the diplomatic community move on?
AV: Everyone is going about their daily business and to the outside world it looks normal. But the moment they leave, I believe we are in danger.
It is scary – the hatred. These men – the men in action on the 8th – it was their emotions that came out. This was something they carry inside. The hatred. What I fear is that it seems like the police, since their mutiny, can act with impunity. Individual police officers can take up their own greviances against individuals with impunity.
JJ: Do you think the military is in a similar situation?
AV: No, I think the military have largely managed to keep themselves outside the politics. But the leadership of today – which we see has not gone according to rank – is politicised, and part of the conspiracy.
JJ: Have you considered moving somewhere safer?
AV: I don’t see a real solution to this. I think I owe it to people to write this down. I should seriously sit down and write. But it is too heavy at the moment; being amongst events here and the people, fearing for my own safety, I cannot comfortably sit down. But I need to write the story of the silent coup – of how the constitution has been killed without changing a single letter. They have managed to commit high treason under the cover of the constitution.
Today we are in a far more dangerous situation than we were pre-constitution 2008. Then everyone knew it was autocracy, and that all the powers of the state were constitutionally given to one man. Today it is taken at face value that there are separation of powers.
I have policemen bragging on my Facebook page: “We brought down this government. Next time we see you in a rally we are going to kill you.”
Policemen on Facebook. They don’t seem to mind doing it publicly. Before they might have been more subtle – now there seems to be no order at all.
JJ: While the new government is seeking to establish its legitimacy – and the resorts are losing money – do you think there is risk of further crackdowns?
AV: There is no public support for government. And the international community wants to legitimise it. I would like to see Dr Waheed hold a rally, with his 12 parties. Let’s count numbers.