Q&A: Elections Commission Chairperson Fuwad Thowfeek

The 2013 Maldives presidential election is set to occur amid the political polarisation and institutional mistrust that has escalated since the controversial transition of power in February 2012.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed and his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) maintain that a coup d’etat had been orchestrated by loyalists to the former 30-year autocratic ruler President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and led by mutinying police and military officers. This was followed by the security services’ crackdown on demonstrators, months of MDP protests, and demands for early elections, as well as fears the judiciary may prevent Nasheed from contesting.

With the Maldives’ presidential election taking place on September 7, there is considerable national and international pressure on the Elections Commission to deliver. Minivan News discusses some of these key elections issues with Fuwad Thowfeek, Chairperson of the country’s first independent Elections Commission (EC), established on November 24, 2009.

The role of security services…

Leah R Malone: Is the Elections Commission (EC) document outlining the Maldives Police Service (MPS) elections mandate available?

Fuwad Thowfeek: For every election since 2008, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has been signed between the Elections Commission and the police service. The same document – containing more or less the same content – will be prepared and signed between the MPS and EC indicating the election duties of both institutions – when we need their services, how to approach them, what they will do for us, how we will greet them, etc. This type of understanding is there, it will help both institutions to stick to our duties.

Both institutions agreed on the prepared draft more than two weeks ago, it just needs to be finalized and signed. It’s very close to ready now. Because we have so much other work pending, and our deadlines are reaching, priority has been given to other activities, but very soon we will sign this.

LRM: Was the EC notified regarding MPS ‘Operation Blue Waves’? Were the parameters of the operation developed in collaboration with the EC?

FT: Yes, it will be our MoU in their mind. They gave us information that they will be having this operation and expressed the activities that they will be undertaking with our knowledge.

We’ve had a number of meetings with the MPS and even on our advisory committee we have an assistant commissioner of police who was present at all of our meetings. We’ve also had meetings with other branches of the police service – we are very much in contact with each other.

LRM: The MPS website states that the operational priority for ‘Operation Blue Waves’ includes “stopping campaign members from breaking any campaign laws” – is that an appropriate rule for the police to be enforcing, or should this fall within the purview of the EC?

FT: If anybody does anything that constitutes any criminal act the police are entitled to stop that activity, whether it is related to elections or otherwise. But we have not yet requested police to stop any [campaign activities].

If there are any complaints we give the specific details of that place and information to the police, and we request them to take actions according to the legal framework they have. [Stopping campaign activities is] not something specifically requested of the police [by the EC], but because the legal framework allows them to address any kind of law that’s being breached, if they’re choosing to focus on that, it’s still within their jurisdiction.

Almost the whole country is working on campaigning… We don’t request anybody to just focus [on those activities] to see if there’s anything going wrong. If anybody reports [complaints] to us then we request the police to look into it. That is our main target, not to look for any crimes, just to see how the things are going on.

LRM: The MPS has stated that police will remain 100 feet away from voting centres in “normal situations”. What will happen in an ‘abnormal’ situation? If a polling station head does request the MPS enter in the event of a disturbance, what is the protocol, how soon would they need to leave the polling station?

FT: If there is any disturbance on the day of voting, first the elections officials will try to control the situation. If the officials are unable to control it, then we will request the police to come in and take the person away from that ballot box area. In that case, once he or she or the group is taken out of that area, activities will again resume.

LRM: In July, former President Nasheed voiced concerns that police would try to influence the election by having individuals create a disturbances as a pretext for police officers entering the polling station. Additionally, Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) presidential candidate Abdulla Yameen has recently said that disturbances are likely on election day.

What type of training have the polling station heads received to address these kinds of situations? If the polling station head is a younger individual, are they going to have the authority to actually stand up to a Special Operations (SO) officer – particularly in the more disputed areas where there’s anticipated tension, such as Addu City, Thinadhoo [Gaafu Dhaal Atoll], Kulhudhuffushi [Haa Dhaal Atoll], and/or Male’?

FT: First, we have given a 10 day training to the trainers, which was completed last week. We trained 77 trainers. They will be going out to all the atolls and giving two day trainings to the polling officials. The two day training will be good enough for them to understand all the laws, rules, regulations, and procedures of the polling activities.

In each polling station there will be at least seven to ten officials and about 50 percent will have experience with previous elections. The head of the polling station will be responsible for the whole team and, on behalf of the team, the head of the polling station will make all the decisions, and even if required will call for police assistance. In the polling stations we will have young [EC] officials, but the polling station heads will be experienced officials over 30 years-old. But we are trying to place people over 35 years of age as head of each polling station. In general, we are trying to employ people with previous elections experience, [who are] not very young. We always prefer to take people, if available, above 30 years of age. In cases where we don’t get enough officials, then we go for some younger adults, but mostly you will find the average age is over 30 years.

LRM: What should the Maldives National Defence Force’s (MNDF) elections role be? Have they been in contact with the EC or have you been coordinating more with the MPS?

FT: We are coordinating more with the police services and, even in the previous elections, we have been in touch with the police to see to the security of all the ballot boxes and polling stations. The police will seek assistance of MNDF only if they find it necessary to ask for help, but it’s very unlikely.

The security of the presidential candidates and running mates will be looked after by the MNDF. That is the only role they should be playing.

Election preparations…

LRM: Police Commissioner Riyaz recently noted that a national coordination committee has been established with representatives from different political parties and relevant institutions, so the committee can address any election issues that may arise “using diplomacy rather than out on the streets”.

Is this a committee that the EC participates in? What is the committee’s purpose?

FT: I think he was referring to the National Advisory Committee. We have in this committee a representative from each of the presidential candidates, the Maldives Police Service (MPS), the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC), the Maldives Media Council (MMC), Transparency Maldives – representing all the local civil society organisations – plus five members of the EC.

The purpose of the committee is to facilitate communication between the different institutions. The representative from each candidate or institution will take our decisions or discussions to their organisations and/or the concerned people.

LRM: How many EC staff will be placed on smaller islands during the presidential election?

FT: On every inhabited island we will have a minimum of seven EC officials at each ballot box, even if the number of people [voting] is less than 500, or even 200. In the tourist resorts and industrial islands we are planning to send five officials to each ballot box [location], because there will be an average of 200 people to vote at each ballot box. There are 700 to 1000 people expected to vote per each ballot box on the inhabited islands. In Male’ also we have 103 ballot boxes. For example, there are 48 boxes for residents of Male’ voting in Male’ and 55 for people from other atolls living in Male’.

LRM: How do you plan on coordinating elections observers from so many different institutions, including the EC, HRCM, Transparency Maldives, media, and other individuals from the Maldives and abroad?

FT: Actually, our planning section will be dealing with all the observers, monitors, and all the [election] officials. We will hold a training session  – what they can do, what they should avoid and each individual will be given a photo ID pass, so with that ID they can visit any ballot box, whether it is in Male’, Hulhumale, Villingili, even Addu or Fuvahmulah – any place depending on their need, they can go and see it.

For the coordination [of these various individuals] we will keep some special staff for that, but we don’t have much to communicate with them. Once the training session is completed, the observers and the monitors will be very sure about their roles and work. And we are going to leave them very independent actually, so that it is their duty. That makes it very easy for us as well as easy for them.

After making their observations, they write their reports, we will like to receive all the comments and remarks from all the observers. That’s something that will help to develop our process for the next election.

LRM: Why is the 2013 presidential election being held September 7, when the 2008 election was October 8?

FT: We have to follow the dates and periods given according to the constitution, the presidential elections law and also the general election law. September 7 is the first round and then in three weeks time on September 28 we have to hold the second round if nobody gets over 50 percent of the valid votes. The president will be sworn into office in November.

In 2008, it was a special period given, as noted in the constitution. [This year] if the second round is going to be on the 28 of September, one week from that date on October 4 we will be announcing the final result. There will be over one month for the elected president to prepare to take office. I think that’s good because last time the period was too short. There was not sufficient time previously between when the president was elected and then took office. [This year] it’s only one month and one week [to prepare] or even if we count the date from the preliminary result there will be just six weeks for the president to prepare to take office.

LRM: To what extent have India and the US provided elections assistance as pledged?

FT: The Indian Elections Commission mainly and also the Indian High Commission in Male’, and USAID have been assisting. Last year, two batches of 10 people each [from the EC] were given a one month training in New Delhi in their elections institution. This year also two batches of six each received training, one batch in Bangalore and one in New Delhi. In addition, two commissioners have been given the opportunity to attend an observation tour and training program.

Also, the Indian Elections Commission has provided a team of IT experts, software developers, to produce programs for various activities of the EC, like maintaining a political party register, the dispatch of voting materials, result making of the various elections, and there are many other administrative requirements. The software will make the EC’s work simpler and help to maintain very transparent records.

For example, [regarding] the local council elections and parliamentary elections, in the Maldives people can live on any island, but they will be registered mostly on the island of their birth or their parents’ island. For example, I can live on Kulhudhuffushi for any period and there can be people lets say from 150 islands living on Kulhudhuffushi too, but for the local council election, if they are from 150 different islands then 150 different types of papers should go there. Sorting this out and sending the exact number of ballots manually – according to the law we cannot send more than 1 percent of the [islands] ballot papers, unless there are 100 voters belonging to that island – is kind of a nightmare for determining the results. Last time our staff were working day and night and found it so hard to make the appropriate packets for each island. A very powerful software [program] is needed [for this] process.

It’s very difficult and complex, but the presidential election is nothing compared to this. We are very comfortable with the presidential election – it is the same ballot paper we are sending all over the country.

Political party criticisms and next steps

LRM: The PPM has claimed that the EC has not provided adequate answers to their previous complaints/enquiries, and that the upcoming presidential election is not likely to be free and fair as there is a possibility voters’ information will be altered.

How did the EC respond to their concerns previously? Was it addressed in the Advisory Committee or was it addressed separately when speaking with their party representatives?

FT: A few times they have come and met me – twice a delegation from PPM came and met me and once a delegation met the Vice Chair of the Elections Commission.

Every time we have very clearly explained everything to them, answered all their queries and gave very detailed responses to them. But there are some demands that we cannot meet. For example, one of their demands was to see our IT section. They wanted to see the hardware and software of our network system, which we cannot do and we are not ready to do for the safety and security of our system.

Other than that we have attended to almost all their requests. We have given them very detailed answers. The interesting thing is that it is the same commission, the same five members have been in this commission for the last three and a half years. I was here for the last five years, but I was the only member during the interim period that is still with the commission – I have seen the entire progression.

We conducted local council elections – which were much more complex and complicated [than the presidential election] – without any problems we managed to do it. And we have also held three parliamentary by-elections and over 20 local council by-elections. In each election or by-election there were complaints [filed], but no one has ever complained about the members of the Elections Commission. [Now] suddenly they started questioning our competence and our ability, this is very strange.

LRM: Why do you think the PPM is putting so much pressure on the EC, since the commission addressed their concerns previously? Why do you think this is happening now, with less than 20 days to the election, when there were many months to file complaints?

FT: I don’t know actually, and regarding the questions they have raised, we have given really clear answers to them. We are not hiding anything, we are very transparent. Everything has been really clearly explained, so I don’t understand. President Mohamed Waheed and President Mohamed Nasheed are very confidant in this commission, they have no complaints at all.

We don’t hesitate to answer any questions from any party, whether it’s a political party, or media, or any social club or society. We are ready to meet each and everyone. We are willing to share our knowledge and experience. That is what even we have been hearing, that the public recognises our efforts and they have confidence in us. So it is very strange that suddenly PPM has found these types of problems with us.

LRM: What is the next step the EC will take to address these issues with the PPM, particularly if they pursue legal action? Do they have any legal grounds to stand on? If they do take these issues to court, given the need for judicial reform, do you think that could be problematic for the EC to hold the presidential election?

FT: They don’t have any grounds for legal action. That is why we are very comfortable. Even if they go to court we will have no problems at all. We will clarify everything to the court.

Today (August 22) we are trying to publish our voters list according to the ballot boxes, so this will be the list that will be used on the day of voting. A copy of this list will be given to all the presidential candidates and also to the political parties that are interested in obtaining a copy of the ballot boxes with the voters list. We have so much confidence in our work – we have done really good, professional work – that we are giving it openly [to the public] to see and tell the EC if we have incorrectly listed any person in the voter registry or if any person is missing.

If anybody is missing from the list, we will very clearly tell them why the person is missing. For example, during the last two weeks, we received complaints from 17 people that they were absent from the voter list, out of 239,593 people registered to vote. Only 17 are missing out of 239,593 [only .007 percent of registered voters].

This type of accuracy is kind of a world record. For this we did so much work. We produced a list on the government gazette website, we have been talking to the media, newspapers, radio, and TV, asking people to check their names and inform the EC if anybody’s name is missing. We have made it so easy for everybody that someone can sit at home and check our website, just enter your ID card number and if your name is not there you will get a message. Or call 1414 and one of our operators will answer, or send an SMS to 1414 and you will get an automatic SMS reply, or send somebody to the EC and ask the receptionist to check for the name in the voter list.

So much work has been done, but these are 17 people that for some reason ignored or didn’t hear our calls and they just realised it when it was too late. Another reason why some of them are not recorded [in the voter register] is that a lot of people go to Sri Lanka, India, Singapore, or Malaysia for delivery. Then after the birth of the child they don’t remember to put them in the local register, so this is one reason why some names are missed. But still we said if there is a second round we are going to include these people, because they have informed us we will take the necessary steps, however for this round there is nothing we can do.

We are not the people compiling the initial register, we are getting it from the island council offices and also the Male’ City Council office. So the primary source of the [voter] list is from all the council offices, then we have to communicate with them and also we have to check it with the Department of National Registration. It’s has been very hard work over the last five year to come up with a voter registry of this standard.

LRM: Is there any additional statement you would like to make or message you would like to give Maldivian voters and/or the international community?

FT: My request is kind of an advanced request to all the voters. Today we are uploading all the voters lists for each ballot box – make sure where you are going to vote. Please check it through our website, SMS, by making a telephone call to us at 1414, or sending someone here [to the Elections Commission] to check it.

On the day of voting, we are starting at 7:30am, so go to the ballot box as early as possible so you will not be standing in the queue for long – going early will avoid delays and facilitate all the officials. If you go at the closing hour at 4pm, the queue may be too long and you will have to wait.

Regarding the international community, we want them to observe all the [election] activities including the actions at the ballot box and also in the other areas, and to express their observations very frankly and very truly. That will help us in the future and give confidence to the world as a whole regarding how the election has gone, how good or bad it was. I’m sure we will get a very good result because we have worked very hard.


Police launch search for stabbing suspect

The Maldives Police Service (MPS) has launched a search for an 18 year-old suspect allegedly involved in the stabbing of a 21 year-old man yesterday, reports local media.

The victim was stabbed with a sharp object at approximately 10:30pm Wednesday (August 21) on Maaveyo Goalhi (alley) in Male’. He suffered two stab wounds near the right shoulder, according to the MPS.

The victim is currently undergoing treatment at Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) in Male’.

Meanwhile , the MPS Serious and Organised Crime Department is investigating the case, and searching for 18-year-old Shifan Zufrath from Rozendale house in Male’s Henveiru ward.

Police have requested members of the public with information about Zufrath contact either the MPS hotline at 332-2111 or the MPS Fraud and Financial Crime Department at 991-1099.

The MPS said those who provide information to police about the suspect will be given due protection, according to local media.


Maldives NGO Federation criticises political parties attacks on Elections Commission

Additional reporting by Ahmed Nazeer

The Maldives NGO Federation has expressed concern that political parties are attempting to discredit the Elections Commission (EC) by inciting hatred toward the institution in an effort to obstruct the holding of a free and fair presidential election.

The Maldives NGO Federation, representing over 60 local civil society organisations, issued a press release Sunday (August 18) that declared their confidence in the EC and noted the essential role the commission has played in holding free and fair elections over the past five years.

The organisation also highlighted concerns that some political parties have been trying to discredit the EC “so close” to the scheduled September 7 election.

“We are concerned about attacks by political parties on the Elections Commission,” NGO Federation President Ahmed Nizam told Minivan News today (August 19).

The organisation has called on all the political parties and government institutions not to do anything that will that will obstruct the EC from holding free and fair elections.

Furthermore, the NGO Federation appealed to everyone to cooperate with the EC to ensure the upcoming presidential election is free and fair.

Political party complaints, threats of legal action

The NGO Federation’s appeal follows a series of complaints about the EC issued by the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and the Jumhoree Party (JP).

The PPM has claimed their concerns with the EC have gone “unaddressed” and so are now seeking a legal resolution, PPM vice presidential candidate and former Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed told local media in Addu City yesterday (August 18).

While Jameel did not explain what the PPM’s specific course of action against the EC will be, he noted that the party was questioning the commission’s independence for three reasons.

“The first and the biggest problem is the questions surrounding the validity of the electoral register. In that regard, problems had been noted similar to what happened before. The reason is whether the IT system established in that place is secure enough to ensure that no one can alter the list. But they couldn’t give us that assurance,” Jameel said.

“On top of that, we hear that outsiders are active inside the elections commission. Such things create more apprehension. But so far it remains unclear what their purpose is,” he added.

Last week, PPM and JP filed a complaint against the EC’s Legal Director Haneefa Khalid, for alleged political tweeting ahead of the upcoming presidential election.

Mahloof singled out one he claimed had offended PPM President and former 30-year autocratic ruler, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

The EC is currently investigating the matter and said it will take administrative action should it find the need to do so.

PPM Spokesperson MP Ahmed Mahloof told local media the party’s main concern was that Khalid was the wife of Dr Ahmed Ashraf, who contested the by-election of parliament’s Ungoofaaru constituency on a Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) ticket following the murder of sitting MP Dr Afrashim Ali. The election was won by the PPM by a narrow margin of 81 votes.

On the same day, the Attorney General’s office began probing a disciplinary case concerning Khalid following a complaint filed against her by the Maldives Police Service (MPS). The MPS filed the complaint after Khalid “addressed the police disrespectfully” while she was inside a Male’ jail meeting a client whom she had been representing in court, according to local media.

In early August, PPM and JP lodged a complaint with the EC expressing their fears foreign nationals will have access to the Maldives’ voter database for upcoming polling, as it seeks assistance from Indian IT professionals to set up software to help oversee future council elections.

In response, the EC met with a “combined team” representing the JP and PPM to dismiss any fears, adding that only local EC staff had access to sensitive information and the commission’s security systems.

“We explained to them that the Indian team would not be working on systems being used for the upcoming presidential election. They will instead be providing assistance to help develop a program for future elections,” said EC President Fuwad Thowfeek.

The PPM and JP had challenged the possibility of holding free and fair elections scheduled for September 7 this year if foreigners could access the electoral database and other systems, local media reported previously.

Additionally, in late July the PPM requested the EC not reject voter registration forms missing details such as the name of a voter’s parents or a phone number, that could not be verified during random checks.

The EC rejected the request to make voter registration more “lenient” and noted at the time that no “official complaints” had been filed with the commission over its ability to capably oversee the upcoming presidential election, despite the PPM alleging in local media that it was incapable of ensuring a fair vote.

PPM Council member and Youth Minister Mohamed Hussain Shareef was quoted in local media the same week calling for “major reforms” to the commission, which he alleged lacked the capacity to oversee fair voting.


Maldives Police Service launch election operation

The Maldives Police Service (MPS) has begun sending large numbers of police officers to the islands in preparation for the upcoming presidential election.

The MPS launched ‘Operation Blue Waves’ at 6:00pm on August 15 and will continue it “until voting ends and the elected president is officially sworn in”. The stated objective of the operation is “making the presidential elections proceed peacefully”.

The second-ever democratic presidential election in the Maldives is scheduled for September 7, while the second-round runoff will take place (if necessary) October 28, followed by the newly elected president taking the oath of office November 11.

‘Operation Blue Waves’ priorities include “stopping campaign members from breaking any campaign laws as well as stopping any incident that may occur”.

The MPS has stated that a large number of police officers from Male’ and the atolls are participating in the operation.

While normal patrolling will continue in Male’, additional police officers will also be deployed under ‘Operation Blue Waves’ to “maintain peace” by patrolling the capital in two shifts.

The MPS has begun sending officers to the islands Saturday (August 17), with police teams sent to most central and southern atolls, including Faafu, Dhaalu, Meemu, Thaa, Laamu, and Huvadhoo Atolls, as well as Fuvahmulah and Addu City.

Additionally, police officers who have recently completed the Police Recruitment Training Course on Vaanee in Dhaalu Atoll, are to be deployed in the atolls north of Male’.

Meanwhile, police are to be deployed from Male’ to the northern atolls today (August 18).

Prior to launching ‘Operation Blue Waves’ the police had several discussion meetings with the Elections Commission (EC) regarding the “assistance police can offer”, Police Spokesperson Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef told Minivan News Thursday (August 15).

Haneef explained the proposed MPS elections assistance included: providing security for EC heads and officials, election offices, candidates and their running mates; stationing police officers on every inhabited island; making voting arrangements for incarcerated individuals; curbing criminal offenses; and establishing protocols for incidents that might occur during elections.

The MPS plans to maintain peaceful law and order and public safety during the election by “increasing the visibility of police actions during elections, as per the rules regarding the presidential election”, said Haneef.

There will be a “police presence on every island where vote boxes are to be kept”, he noted.

“Police teams will be stationed 100 feet away from the ballot boxes in normal situations,” Haneef continued. Officers will also “attend criminal offences whether they occur at the vote centre, or otherwise”.

Police have been trained for “various possible scenarios” and “units to act during emergency situations will be kept on alert,” he explained.

“[Additionally,] discussions have been held between the MPS and Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) to establish protocols for joint operations to bring back order,” Haneef added.

Elections Commission regulations

Currently the EC is drafting a document to articulate what the MPS’ mandate will be during the September 7 presidential elections, which is to be made public this week.

EC President Fuwad Thowfeek outlined some of the key regulations related to concerns regarding police interference with elections while speaking with Minivan News in July.

“Police cannot stand within a 100 foot radius of the ballot box,” Thowfeek confirmed.

“Police can enter the area only if the Head of Polling Station requests their assistance to control any criminal activity that goes beyond his control,” he continued.

“The role of the police will be to assist the Elections Commission in keeping peace and public safety,” he added.

Last week, EC Vice President Ahmed Fayaz further explained to Minivan News that while the commission has requested the MPS play a supporting role to help ensure peaceful, free and fair elections take place, police officers cannot intervene without a specific EC request.

“Police can intervene only at the request of the Elections Commission staff,” said Fayaz.

“The police are playing a support role and support will be requested [by EC officials] in case anything happens that would prevent a smooth election,” he continued.

“We have requested police provide assistance on every single island that will have ballot boxes,” he added.

The MPS mandate regarding elections is limited to enforcing law and order and monitoring the situation on each island, Fayaz noted.

MPS manipulating election: MDP

Meanwhile, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has continued to accuse both the government and senior police officials of trying to undermine free and fair elections, alleging the institution was actively seeking lists detailing the country’s deceased in an attempts to try and rig voting.

Earlier this month, MDP MP and Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor claimed that concerns about police trying to seek the details of deceased nationals reflected the party’s wider suspicions that senior figures in the MPS were trying to use their influence to manipulate the election.

Ghafoor said one key concern had been an announcement back in June that staff at the Department of National Registration were refusing to continue issuing national identity cards 94 days before elections, complaining of a malfunctioning air conditioning unit.

Yesterday (August 17) the EC revealed that 38 people’s names have been fraudulently re-registered to vote outside of their home towns in next month’s presidential poll.

However, earlier this month the EC rejected any possibility that the identities of deceased citizens could be used to fraudulently vote in the upcoming election.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed also emphasised his concerns about police influencing September’s presidential election results while speaking at an MDP campaign rally in July.

“According to information I am getting, [Police Commissioner] Abdulla Riyaz is instructing police officers to barge into polling stations upon his signal, after two individuals enter and create a scene,” Nasheed declared.

The second method by which the police will attempt to ruin the elections is intervening during the vote counting process, after claiming that difficulties are being experienced, such as the election being “rigged”, Nasheed alleged.

The MDP maintains that its presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed resigned on February 7, 2012 in a coup d’etat instigated by mutinying police officers of the Special Operations (SO) command.


Elections Commission to publicise presidential election mandate for police

The Maldives Elections Commission (EC) is drafting a document to articulate what Maldives Police Service (MPS)’s mandate will be during the September 7 presidential elections.

“We are in the process of drawing up a small document that will outline what the police will and will not do during elections, which we will make public,” EC Vice President Ahmed Fayaz told Minivan News today (August 14).

He expects the document to be completed before the end of next week.

Fayaz explained that while the EC has requested the MPS play a supporting role to help ensure peaceful, free and fair elections take place, police officers cannot intervene without a specific EC request.

“Police can intervene only at the request of the Elections Commission staff,” said Fayaz.

“The police are playing a support role and support will be requested [by EC officials] in case anything happens that would prevent a smooth election,” he continued.

“Police must maintain a 100 foot radius distance from ballot boxes,” he added.

Fayaz explained that regarding elections, the MPS mandate is limited to enforcing law and order and monitoring the situation on each island.

“We have requested police provide assistance on every single island that will have ballot boxes,” Fayaz said.

Police teams consisting of a “very small number of people” will be deployed to each island where voting is taking place, according to Fayaz.

“The assumption is that police will not be confined to their office headquarters the day of presidential election,” Fayaz noted. “They will be present on each island [where voting is occurring] and free to move around the island that day.”

In July, the EC President Fuwad Thowfeek outlined some of the key regulations related to concerns regarding police interference with elections while speaking with Minivan News.

“Police cannot stand within a 100 foot radius of the ballot box,” Thowfeek confirmed.

“Police can enter the area only if the Head of Polling Station requests their assistance to control any criminal activity that goes beyond his control,” he continued.

“The role of the police will be to assist the Elections Commission in keeping peace and public safety,” he added.

If voting is halted, not solely a police failure: Police Commissioner

Meanwhile, in an interview given to local media outlet DhiTV Monday (August 12) Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz emphasised that the police are working to maintain peace and stability and that if the September 7 presidential election is halted it would not be solely a police failure.

“Though the Maldives Police Service was, is and will be preparing to maintain peace and stability during the election days, the public should also do their part to maintain order,” said Riyaz.

“If for whatever reason, the voting process comes to a halt, it should not be seen as a failure solely on the Maldives Police Service’s part,” he continued.

“The aim of the police is to prevent conflict before, during and after the elections on an operational level,” he added.

Riyaz noted the importance of all relevant authorities and political leaders work together to ensure peaceful presidential elections and that the MPS would provide the support requested of them by the EC.

“I believe that political figures, political parties and relevant institutions must work together to ensure that the election ends peacefully,” said Riyaz.

Riyaz also noted that a National Coordination Committee has been established with representatives from different political parties and relevant institutions so the committee can address any election issues that may arise “using diplomacy rather than out on the streets.”

In regard to Commissioner Riyaz’s DhiTV interview, Minivan News contacted Police Spokesperson Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef today to clarify specifically how the MPS will assist the EC on September 7, how law and order will be maintained, and how near to ballot boxes police teams will be stationed.

While Haneef had not responded to these enquiries at time of press, he noted that “The police are releasing all information regarding their role during elections through public mediums,” such as on the MPS website.

Furthermore, Haneef said the police have already “revealed the story of Riyaz” in regard to his DhiTV interview.

The MPS website states that the “Peaceful Conduct of the Presidential Election 2013” is an operational priority.

“Following the change of government in February 2012, the society is highly polarised and fragmented on political affiliations. Therefore, it is imperative for meticulously plan and prepare for the Presidential Election 2013,” as noted on the website.

The objective of this operational priority is to “Create an environment conducive for the conduction of Presidential Election 2013 and effectively manage any possible post-election conflicts,” states the website.


Torture victims require redress, thwarted by institutionalised impunity

Maldivian victims of systemic and systematic torture that has been occurring for decades have yet to find redress, while the legacy of wide-scale human rights violations continues to be perpetuated by state institutions due to institutionalised impunity, government, state institutions and civil society organisations have said.

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has confirmed it is investigating three recent cases of detainees being tortured by Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation Services (DPRS) officers while in the Custodial Reception and Diagnostic Centre (Male’ Jail).

Officials from the HRCM visited Male’ Jail June 2, 2013 after the family of a detainee informed the HRCM on May 31, 2013 that the victim had been beaten by DPRS officers.

In March this year local media reported that the HRCM was investigating allegations of torture in Male’ prison, however due to authorities “not cooperating” with the investigation the HRCM team was forced to visit Maafushi Prison instead.

In response to the allegations, DPRS Commissioner Ahmed Shihan told CNM that thus far no warden was found to have been involved in the torture of detainees and if a prison warden was found to have acted unlawfully, action will be taken against the officer.

“We will keep monitoring to ensure that all wardens act according to the law,” said Shihan.

In May 2011, former Prisons Division Head of the DPRS Isthafa Ibrahim Manik was detained and questioned by police, after disturbing photographs of tortured victims in custody were obtained by the – now dissolved – Presidential Commission and leaked to the media.

While instances of Maldivians in state custody suffering human rights abuses remains problematic, it is symptomatic of a long standing history of torture that has yet to be remedied or seriously addressed.

“It is quite worrying that we keep hearing about accounts of torture in custody. These recent accounts are an indication of the consistence and continuing abuse in custody,” Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN)’s Executive Director Humaida ‘Humey’ Abdulghafoor told Minivan News yesterday (July 13).

“There is systemic and systematic abuse of detainees [in the Maldives], therefore the practice of torture is unlikely to just disappear over a short period of time,” she emphasised.

While the HRCM’s national preventative mechanism should protect people from the state committing human rights violations, Humaida believes this mandate has been inactive and not working effectively.

“The HRCM has a national preventative mechanism that legally obligates them to ensure mistreatment of prisoners is prevented from happening in jails,” she said.

“Monitoring and oversight is very important because of the history we have, but this mechanism is not working effectively,” she added.

Given the physical and psychological harm torture victims suffer that “cannot be dissociated”, supportive mechanisms that account for this trauma need to be established for Maldivians, explained Humaida.

“There must be an enabling environment for victims to come forward, which doesn’t seem to be there,” she said.

“Many families and victims are afraid and not willing to talk or report these violations because they feel intimidated [by the state] given the risks of revictimization and possible harassment,” she continued.

“Things on the surface may appear quiet, however that doesn’t mean everything is good,” she noted.

Humaida explained that without an enabling environment for victims to report the human rights abuses they have suffered, there is subsequently a lack of documentation and enquiries that would ultimately identify the root causes and/or perpetrators of torture in the Maldives.

“It is impossible for HRCM to know how this torture is happening without proper documentation and enquiries,” she said.

“The Torture Victims Association (TVA) is the only organisation doing such work,” according to Humaida. “The TVA [also] submitted torture victims’ testimonies to the HRCM February 6, 2012, which the victims were able to provide because they no longer felt afraid.”

“A report [by TVA and international NGO Redress] about ill treatment of prisoners was submitted to the HRCM in July 2012, containing the most concrete evidence produced regarding torture occurring while in detention,” she continued.

“Victims’ testimonies were also presented to the UN Human Rights Committee [July 2012 in Geneva], which made recommendations that the Maldives has not yet implemented,” she added.

Reports that included testimonies of police brutality, in addition to torture and ill-treatment of detainees in jail, were presented during the meeting held in relation the to International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, which the Maldives is a signatory.

It has been over a year since the reports were submitted and Humaida cited the “inactivity and apathy of authorities” as a possible reason there has not been any action to redress these past, wide-scale instances of torture.

“I’m very surprised the HRCM has not given updates on how these investigations are proceeding,” she said.

“[Additionally,] while they used to visit prisons regularly and produce reports, that is not something they seem to be doing anymore, which is also a concern,” she added.

HRCM mandate limited

The HRCM mandate specifies that the commission’s focus should be on incidents post-2000, however there is a clause that does allow investigations of past human rights violations if a case is “serious enough”, HRCM Vice President Ahmed Tholal explained to Minivan News yesterday (July 13).

“Torture occurs when state authorities function with impunity, which does not produce a society that is respectful toward human rights,” said Tholal.

He explained that the HRCM is coordinating a strategy to holistically approach past human rights violations on a wider scale.

“We have discussed as a commission how to address human rights violations on a wider scale and how to approach cases to systemically root out torture,” Tholal stated.

“It is very important to ensure absolvement of that feeling [state authorities function with impunity] amongst the people,” he continued.

“The Maldivian people need some sort of redress and closure,” he added.

In regard to the accounts of torture submitted to the HRCM last year by TVA and Redress, Tholal explained that if a human rights violation has occurred then the HRCM looks into the issue on a case by case basis and that allegations of torture submitted by the organisations are currently under investigation.

“We are currently looking into the complaints of each victim [from the reports]. However, some information and evidence is hard to come by,” said Tholal. “For example, we are not able to contact the actual people directly, we have to seek their contact information from the organisation. But we are trying to move as fast as we can.”

Institutionalised impunity

Meanwhile, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) was given an update on the current human rights situation in the Maldives this past April, by MDN in collaboration with the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).

The brief noted that while some steps have been taken in the past decade to reform institutions and investigate allegations of human right abuses, including torture committed by the security services, limited mandates, a lack institutional will, and senior officials publicly dismissing these concerns has prevented redress.

“A culture of impunity has been institutionalised for perpetrators of past human rights violations that… encourages the security forces to disregard the rule of law and commit further human rights abuses in impunity,” stated the brief.

In September 2012, FIDH released a report detailing the human rights situation in the Maldives, titled “From Sunrise to Sunset: Maldives backtracking on democracy”.

FIDH noted that the government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik has been accused of a wide range of human right violations, including violent harassment of street protesters, torture and harassment of pro-opposition media as wells 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.

Police station and prison torture

There are many accounts of the systematic and sustained use of torture within the state’s prisons and police stations perpetrated by military personnel, police, coast guard, and prison officers, according to the Redress/TVA report which included accounts of individuals who allege that they were tortured or ill-treated during former President Maumoon Gayoom’s regime between 1978-2008.

“Most victims were initially tortured or ill-treated during interrogation and questioning, either at police stations or at various detention centers,” stated the report. “Torture and ill-treatment continued in prisons and detention facilities, typically as a form of intimidation and punishment.”

“But until now, the victims of such treatment have not been provided with any justice for what has been done to them. Despite accepting that torture and ill-treatment occurred on a wide scale, the Maldives is yet to address its legacy,” the report noted.

The findings highlighted that “While there was no apparent limit to the forms of torture and ill-treatment used, many were quite specific to the island environment.”

Torture and ill-treatment of detainees was often inflicted outside the prison buildings, and guards appear to have been given free range to use whatever methods they choose, including: beatings, burning, being tied to palm trees, the use of high-pressure hoses, the use of stocks and other painful restraints as well as suspension, near drowning, being restrained and covered in sugar water to attract ants, subjection to noise and sleep deprivation, sexual abuse and sexual humiliation, etc., the report found.

The government of Maldives previously acknowledged that the use of torture was systematic in the country, as stated in its Universal Periodic Review report to the UN Human Rights Council in 2010.

However, current government officials deny torture and ill-treatment of detainees is problematic, and claim that human rights reports conducted by civil society organisations are subject to political bias in favor of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

Meanwhile, former President Mohamed Nasheed – a previous torture victim himself – pledged to institute structural changes to reform police and military institutions upon his re-election in September, during an MDP function held at the JW Marriott Hotel in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia July 13.

The Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation Services (DPRS) and Maldives Police Service (MPS) had not responded to enquiries at time of press.