My life was under threat, says former vice president

Accusing President Abdulla Yameen and MPs of treachery and destroying the constitutional order, impeached vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed said he had received threats to his life when he refused to resign.

“Every move in this campaign was organised. Every act was planned at driving a wedge between myself and the people who elected me. My reputation was threatened and finally I started receiving threats to my life. A message was sent to my family saying the president wanted me to resign. Otherwise, they were told, my family members and I could be framed as others have been,” he said, in an 18-page statement shared with the media ahead of the successful impeachment.

Jameel is currently in London. He left abruptly in late June within a day of the People’s Majlis approving a constitutional amendment that will allow President Yameen to replace him with the tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb.

Jameel’s lawyer was barred from responding to charges on his behalf before today’s vote. He is accused of incompetence and disloyalty, and was removed with overwhelming support from the opposition.

In his statement, Jameel accused MPs of ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) of betrayal. Reminding them of his efforts to elect them, he said they have now succumbed to lucrative gifts of islands and plots of land, offered illegally from the state coffers.

Soon after the ex vice president’s family members received warning messages, Adeeb sent a message with the words “Let’s talk.” The meaning was very clear, Jameel said. Intelligence reports can be fabricated and evidence can be fabricated, he said, referring to the jailing of ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim on weapons smuggling charges. Nazim maintains he was framed by rogue police officers on Adeeb’s orders.

Jameel also accused President Yameen of undermining democracy.

“The president promised to strengthen democracy. But his actions indicate otherwise, the state of the independent institutions and the public broadcaster indicate otherwise. What has happened to dissidents and their properties is a joke. Licenses can be withheld all of a sudden, bank accounts frozen and agreements can be annulled. But they can be reinstated as quickly through opaque political negotiations.

“This is testament to the state of the rule of law in the Maldives. It is as if [President Yameen] has forgotten how weak he was when he assumed the presidency, and as if he has forgotten the great responsibility of his powers. It is as if the president now represents those who dare to act as they want, to accuse others without any basis and violate rights without any fear,” he said.

Aspiring politicians can now be jailed and their voices silenced on false accusations, he said. The opposition, instead of upholding the rule of law, is more interested in government’s promises of commuting sentences, withdrawing charges and ceasing investigations, he alleged.

All 20 MPs of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) voted to impeach Jameel today. Negotiations are ongoing between the MDP and the government. The party has suggested jailed opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed will be freed soon. Since negotiations began, the government also removed a freeze on opposition Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim’s businesses.

Clemency for two ex defence ministers, and the leader of the religious conservative Adhaalath Party are also on the table.

Champions of individual rights have now sacrificed the constitution and democratic principles for personal gain, Jameel said.

Reminding MPs of accountability in the afterlife with Quranic verses, Jameel said that MPs have no right to abrogate the electoral will of the people on baseless allegations of incompetence and disloyalty.

The former vice president said he was sidelined and isolated, while any attempt at carrying out the duties of his office was seen as a move to create an independent power base. He was forced to stop calling on the public and the sick at the hospitals.

Every move was viewed with suspicion and reported to the president. Ultimately, it was seen as dangerous for others to keep up relations with him. Anyone who spoke up on his behalf was sidelined too, Jameel alleged. Finally, even the cutlery at the vice presidential palace was taken away, he said.

“The treatment I received was worse than that any other vice president has received. The staff of the president’s office will bear witness,” he said.

“Since I was elected the vice president of the Maldives, it is as if I have been on the blade of a sharp sword. If I attempted to promote the government, it was deemed an illegal activity. My silence is now seen as even worse,” he said.

Correction: This article previously stated the vice president had said his family had received messages saying they will be tried and sentenced as others have been. The correct translation would be “framed as others have been.” Minivan News apologizes for the error in translation. 


Vice president’s lawyer barred from impeachment proceedings

The People’s Majlis has barred vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed’s lawyer from responding to charges on his behalf before an impeachment vote at tomorrow’s parliament sitting.

Jameel is currently in London, and had appointed former attorney general Husnu Suood to read out a response on his behalf. However, in a letter addressed to Jameel today, Speaker Abdulla Maseeh said the vice president himself must be present at the sitting, according to the Constitution.

A lawyer can only accompany Jameel and provide him with legal counsel at the sitting, the letter said.

Article 100 (d) states that the vice president shall have the right to defend himself in the sittings of the People’s Majlis, both orally and in writing, and has the right to legal counsel.

MPs of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) have accused Jameel of incompetence and disloyalty. The vice president abruptly left the Maldives within a day of parliament approving a constitutional amendment that will allow President Abdulla Yameen to replace him with the tourism minister.

A two-thirds majority or 57 votes of the 85-member house is required to remove the vice president. The motion alone gained 61 signatures.

Jameel was asked for a response in early July, but did not respond within the 14 day period. PPM MPs have previously said he refused to comply with the president’s orders to return to the Maldives and answer charges.

The pro-government majority in the parliament has since amended Majlis standing orders so that an investigation is not required before impeaching the vice president. MPs have also set just 30 minutes for the vice president to respond to charges.

Suood told Minivan News today that the 30-minute response period was insufficient. He said he had been preparing a defense based on statements made by PPM MPs in the media as the parliament is yet to inform him or Jameel of details of the charges against him.

The Majlis secretariat told Minivan News that a copy of the impeachment motion had been provided to Jameel with the letter notifying him of the 14-day notice.

The motion, obtained by Minivan News, accused Jameel of incompetence, dereliction of duty, links with the opposition and failure to defend the government. The vice president is also accused of excessive expenditure from the state budget.

“No substantial evidence has been made public. I do not believe that president Yameen’s alleged lack of confidence in vice president Jameel is sufficient grounds for impeachment,” Suood said.

PPM parliamentary group leader Ahmed Nihan, however, said the president’s confidence in the vice president is crucial as he is to assume the responsibilities of the president in his absence.

Nihan said PPM MPs had gathered a large amount of evidence and information regarding Jameel’s alleged incompetence for over a year.

“Projects assigned to Jameel in sectors such as education and health had been stalled for about ten months. He also attempted to divide MPs by taking some of them on trips and making statements that may affect their confidence in the president,” he said.

“We also have evidence of Jameel’s official and unofficial involvement in the opposition protest on May 1,” he added.

Some 20,000 people took to the street on May 1 over former president Mohamed Nasheed’s imprisonment. Some 200 people were arrested in violent clashes.

Jameel has denied allegations of incompetency. In an interview with the New Indian Express, he said that he had been carrying out his duty as the President Yameen had ordered him to.

Opposition politicians have meanwhile claimed President Yameen is fatally ill and wants a more loyal deputy ahead of a life threatening surgery. The government continues to deny rumors of the president’s health.

The parliament in late June passed the first amendment to the constitution with overwhelming multi-party consensus to set the new age limits of 30-65 years for the presidency and vice presidency. Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb is now 33. The constitution previously stated that candidates must be 35 years of age.


Ex president’s lawyer denied work visa

Jared Genser, a member of former president Mohamed Nasheed’s international legal team was denied a business visa upon his arrival in the Maldives today.

Genser, the founder of Freedom Now, an organization that works for the rights of political prisoners, entered Maldives on a tourist visa when he was denied the three-month work visa. He departed to Colombo after a few hours in Malé.

Genser is representing Nasheed along with Amal Clooney, the wife of Hollywood actor George Clooney, and Ben Emmerson, a UN rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights.

The three helped the opposition leader file a petition with the UN working group on arbitrary detention, requesting a judgment declaring Nasheed’s 13 year jail term on terrorism charges arbitrary and illegal.

Genser is expected to return to the Maldives to meet with Nasheed at a later date, a source familiar with the matter said. Nasheed was recently transferred to house arrest.

The government in the response to the UN working group insisted judges followed due process in Nasheed’s trial.

Diplomatic pressure has been mounting on President Abdulla Yameen’s government to release Nasheed and other jailed politicians, including two former defense ministers, a former MP of the ruling party, and the leader of the religious conservative Adhaalath Party.


Quitting Commonwealth will be “a huge mistake,” says vice president

Appealing to lawmakers to support the Maldives’ continued membership in the Commonwealth, vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel has said that quitting the intergovernmental body will adversely affect the Maldivian youth, women and business community.

The People’s Majlis, at the request of president Abdulla Yameen, is set to debate the benefits of Maldives remaining in the Commonwealth today.

Some member states are lobbying the body’s democracy and human rights arm, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), to take punitive action against the Maldives over alleged repeated violations of the organization’s principles, including the jailing of former president Mohamed Nasheed.

Quitting the Commonwealth will be a huge mistake, Jameel said in a statement issued from London today. “We should never allow the heat of politics to cause long lasting damage to national interests.”

The vice president noted that many of Maldives’ important partners are Commonwealth member states, including India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Singapore, Malaysia, the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

Continued good relations with Commonwealth member states is vital for the Maldives’ economy and security, he said. “It will be extremely naïve to think that snubbing an association in which our neighbours and partners play a leading role will not undermine our relations with them,” he said.

“It will be particularly foolhardy to quit the Commonwealth to spite the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group at a time when regional countries like India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan are sitting on CMAG,” he added.

Jameel is meanwhile facing impeachment by the People’s Majlis. A vote is expected on July 21. He abruptly left the Maldives within a day of the parliament approving a constitutional amendment that will allow President Yameen to replace him with the tourism minister.

The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives’ attempt to impeach Jameel is the latest in a series of dizzying turn of events in Maldivian politics. The opposition backed the constitutional amendment in exchange for opposition leader Nasheed’s transfer to house arrest. Subsequently, the opposition and the government began talks in late June, raising hope of an end to a six-month long political crisis.

Diplomatic pressure has been mounting on President Yameen to release Nasheed and other jailed politicians, including two ex defense ministers, a former ruling party MP and the leader of the religious conservative Adhaalath Party.

The Maldives was first placed on the CMAG agenda after Nasheed’s ouster in 2012. A Commonwealth backed inquiry found the transfer of power to be legal.

As efforts to place Maldives on the CMAG’s agenda for a second time intensified in July, foreign minister Dunya Maumoon threatened to leave the Commonwealth, claiming the “country’s economy and democratic governance suffered significantly” as a result of the events of 2012.

The CMAG, however, decided not to review the Maldives at a recent meeting in London.

Jameel today praised Dunya for her “policy of engagement” and said her efforts had prevented the Commonwealth from taking punitive steps against the Maldives.

Calling on the Maldives to foster existing relationships, Jameel noted that many of Maldives’ students study in Commonwealth countries and benefit directly or indirectly from opportunities linked to the Commonwealth.

As a developing country, Maldives also benefits from various capacity building programmes in the Commonwealth, he said. The inter-governmental body plays a vital role in supporting the integration of small states into the global economy.

While maritime security is an important priority for Maldives, the partners it relies on for operational capacity and effectiveness are mostly from the Commonwealth, he said.

“At every major challenge the Maldives had faced over the past 30 years, the Commonwealth has proved to be a vital partner, supporting, guiding and assisting us to attain success. These include strengthening national sovereignty through the small state security initiative in 1989, claiming a vast portion of the Indian Ocean and its seabed to expand our national wealth in 2010, or in supporting democracy-building as in 2005-2008, and facilitating national healing through supporting the work of the Commission on National Inquiry in 2012,” he added.

President Yameen in November 2014 had declared a foreign policy shift to the East, claiming that economic cooperation with China does not involve the same challenges to remaining an Islamic state as posed by some Western powers.

The Maldives joined the Commonwealth in 1985.


President requests Majlis counsel on leaving Commonwealth

President Abdulla Yameen has requested parliamentary counsel on leaving the Commonwealth amidst lobby efforts by some member countries for an assessment of Maldives’ alleged violations of the organization’s principles following the imprisonment of opposition politicians, including former President Mohamed Nasheed.

The president’s letter will be read out and put up for debate at a People’s Majlis sitting tomorrow.

The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) parliamentary group held a meeting this afternoon with President Yameen, Attorney General Mohamed Anil and tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb to assess the pros and cons of the Maldives staying with the Commonwealth.

PPM parliamentary group leader Ahmed Nihan told the press the attorney general and the tourism minister briefed MPs on the legal and economic aspects of leaving the Commonwealth. He declined to comment further.

The cabinet on Thursday also called for a review of how Maldives benefits from being part of the Commonwealth.

Earlier this month, foreign minister Dunya Maumoon said the Maldives “will seriously consider its membership at the Commonwealth” if it is placed on the agenda of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) for a second time in four years.

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

The CMAG in early July decided not to review the Maldives.

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

Dunya maintains there are no “serious and persistent violation of Commonwealth political values in the Maldives.”

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

A Commonwealth backed inquiry found the transfer of power to be constitutional.

In mid-June, Canada had called on CMAG to “urgently put the deteriorating situation in the Maldives on its formal agenda.” The Commonwealth’s democracy and human rights arm can recommend measures for collective action to restore democracy and constitutional rule.

Diplomatic pressure has been mounting on President Yameen to release Nasheed and other jailed politicians, including two former defence ministers and a ruling party MP.

Photo: Opposition supporters carry Commonwealth flags at a protest in 2012


‘Drug trafficker’ acquitted on lapses highlighted in former president’s trial

Citing severe procedural irregularities, the Supreme Court on Thursday acquitted a man sentenced to life in prison over drug trafficking charges.

The unprecedented ruling deals with similar lapses noted by former president Mohamed Nasheed and former defense minister Mohamed Nazim, who were sentenced to jail on terrorism and weapons smuggling charges, respectively.

In acquitting Abdulla Unais, the Supreme Court said he was not given access to a lawyer or the opportunity to call defense witnesses.

Unais was arrested in Addu City in May 2012. Police officers found more than 46 grams of heroin in envelopes on the ground at the time of his arrest and in his trouser pockets.

Unais had denied charges and claims he was framed by police officers.

The Supreme Court said the lower courts should have investigated Unais’ claims of a police set-up by verifying if the accused police officer had left any fingerprints on the envelope. The ruling went onto question the validity of the police officer’s testimony.

The criminal court’s sentencing of Unais without providing access to legal counsel contravenes the constitution, which states that the government must set lawyers for individuals accused in serious crimes, the ruling said.

Unais, who had remained in police custody throughout the duration of his trial, had repeatedly told the criminal court he was unable to hire a lawyer, the Supreme Court said.

Nasheed, in a petition to the UN working group on arbitrary detention, noted that he was denied legal counsel at a first hearing. Then, when his lawyers recused themselves in protest over the criminal court’s refusal to provide sufficient time to prepare defense, judges proceeded with hearings, despite Nasheed’s repeated request to hire new lawyers.

The government maintains due process was followed. A ruling is expected in September or October.

Nasheed’s 19-day trial was criticized by foreign governments and UN rights experts. The UK Prime Minister David Cameron, the EU parliament and high profile US senators have called for his immediate release.

Nazim, meanwhile, contends rogue police officers had framed him by planting weapons during a midnight raid. The criminal court, however, did not allow the former defense minister to call witnesses to prove his case.

Nazim’s lawyers also contend anonymized statements provided by the police officers involved in the raid are inadmissible in court.

Appeal hearings in Nazim’s case have been stalled after the Supreme Court transferred two of the five judges on the panel to a newly created branch in Addu City.

Nasheed and Nazim’s imprisonment triggered a political crisis with daily protests and historic antigovernment marches. The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party is now negotiating with the government for the pair’s release. Nasheed is currently under house arrest.


Afrasheem murder suspect’s departure to Syria under investigation

President Abdulla Yameen has ordered an investigation into how a suspect in the murder of MP Afrasheem Ali was allowed to leave the Maldives in early January and travel to Syria.

“I have now ordered the police to investigate this. Azlif Rauf, who is said to have information on the murder, left the country while the case was ongoing,” Yameen said at a press conference at Muleeaage tonight.

“I want to raise the question as to why he was allowed to leave the country? Immigration officials and the defense minister who was in charge of immigration at the time must be accountable.”

Azlif is reported to have left the Maldives along with a suspect in the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan in the first week of January. His family claims he was killed in battle in May, and have publicised pictures of him in military fatigues carrying guns.

The police had forwarded accomplice to murder charges against Azlif to the Prosecutor General’s Office, but charges were never filed due to insufficient evidence.

At the time of Azlif’s departure, the criminal court told Minivan News it had not issued any order to withhold his passport, as there were no pending charges.

Azlif left the Maldives in the same week that the defense ministry was temporarily handed over to tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb. Defence minister Mohamed Nazim was on leave at the time.

Soon after Nazim returned, the police raided his apartment and found a pistol and three bullets in a bedside drawer. He was dismissed from the cabinet and jailed in March on weapons smuggling charges.

President Yameen’s announcement comes after local media reported today that the police had brought back a Maldivian man from Malaysia last week, after his family reported that he was attempting to travel to Syria to join the civil war.

The police in January brought back four Maldivians from Malaysia on the same charges. The government has recently submitted to parliament an anti-terrorism bill that hands out a jail sentence of up to 20 years for Maldivians who leave the country with the intent of fighting in a foreign war.

Meanwhile, several opposition politicians and Yameen’s own home minister have accused the president of involvement in Afrasheem’s murder. Home minister Umar Naseer made the allegations after he lost the ruling party’s presidential primaries to Yameen in 2013. He retracted the allegations after assuming the cabinet portfolio.

Yameen in May vowed to file criminal charges against Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla over statements linking him with the murder. Imran is currently in police custody facing terrorism charges over an anti-government protest.

Reiterating concern over “unfounded allegations” tonight, Yameen censured journalists for “biased reporting,” claiming the media had failed to seek comments from the president’s spokesperson over the murder allegations.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) is negotiating with the government for Nazim, Imran and former president Mohamed Nasheed’s release.


Comment: Special laws must not pre-empt general criminal law

On 6 July 2015, a new anti-terrorism bill was submitted to the People’s Majlis that aims to replace the existing Anti-Terrorism Act 1990. Drafted by the Attorney General’s office, the bill was submitted by the President’s Office and is yet to come up for discussion in the parliament.

According to media reports, the bill defines offences and actions that constitute an act of terrorism and bestows additional investigative powers to state authorities. If passed, the bill will expand the legal framework to deal with terrorism.

This gives rise to several concerns. First, any new anti-terrorism law must abide by the 2008 Constitution. At present, Maldives is working to finalize its Penal Code, Evidence Act and Criminal Procedure Code to revise basic criminal law to align with the 2008 Constitution. Special laws are based on an assumption that a distinct legal framework, beyond general criminal procedures and standards, is needed. There is no basis as yet for this assumption in the Maldives. Laws like on anti-terror are legitimised under the pretext that “special circumstances require special procedures” but are often an excuse to let the inefficiencies of the state continue at the expense of civil liberties. Across the world, they have been used to reduce the rigor required by the standards of fair trial and have made it easier to put away dissidents and other people inconvenient to the ruling regime of the day. Once a specialized security regime is put in place, it is very difficult to rollback powers vested with the authorities as well as mitigate impact on civil liberties.

The government must, therefore, clearly articulate reasons behind introducing this bill. What is the level of terrorism threat in the country? What are the factors including socio-economic causes leading to its purported spread, and why is general criminal law (as being finalized) considered ill-equipped to address the threat? These concerns must be addressed now if Maldives is to avoid a legal regime where exceptionalism prevails over constitutional principles and accepted legal standards of criminal justice as embodied in general laws.

Moreover, the definition of terrorism provided in the bill, as indicated through media reports, is likely to be misused particularly in the absence of a penal code. The definition, for instance, includes activities carried out with the intent of promoting ‘unlawful’ political ideologies among others but what constitutes unlawful is not defined anywhere. This leaves space for subjective interpretation. Who gets to define an ideology or what is unlawful, or at what stage an ideology becomes unlawful?

Such drafting appears designed to curtail rights of Maldivians to freely associate and to establish and participate in the activities of political parties guaranteed under Article 30 of the Constitution. It also has the potential of being used arbitrarily to target and suppress political opposition, particularly when seen in light of additional powers of surveillance vested with the authorities. Even if left unused the very presence of such laws lying on the books creates a chill that shrivels the democratic impulse.

These concerns are amplified in light of the continued attempt to restrict constitutional rights through legislative action. Under the bill, those suspected of terrorism can have their right to remain silent and access to lawyers restricted. In November 2014, the Majlis amended the Law Prohibiting Threatening and Possession of Dangerous Weapons and Sharp Objects which restricts the same rights for arrested persons in case of violent assault. These rights are fundamental features of a fair trial and need to be protected for proper administration of justice.

Given the serious ramifications of the bill, a process of public engagement on the subject matter is crucial. The government must use this as an opportunity to galvanize a national debate on whether an anti-terror law is needed at all in the Maldives, and if so, how best to ground it within the framework of democratic freedoms, human rights and international norms. Parliamentary committee review, which is likely to follow once the bill is accepted at the floor of parliament, is important but not sufficient.

The government is urged to make the bill public at this stage, invite public comments and hold wide-range consultations, as is now the accepted practice in several democracies. The benefits of such an engagement are manifold, from building public confidence, creating a more informed citizenry to generating a sense of ownership among the public. It is also imperative that legal experts are involved to ensure that any new legislation is necessary and if so, that it is drafted in strict accordance with the 2008 Constitution.

Ultimately, unless the government makes sincere efforts to inform and involve the public before laws are enacted, restrictions being proposed through such laws are likely to lead to unrest and deep dissatisfaction among the public. The process of democratisation which began in 2008 is ill-served by processes which take no account of public opinion when drafting legislation; it is time this gap is addressed and this seems a good moment to make a new beginning.

Devyani Srivastava is a Senior Program Officer (South Asia) at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. She can be reached at [email protected].

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 [email protected]


Two attempted suicides reported on Saturday

Two cases of attempted suicide were reported in Malé and Meemu Atoll Muli today.

A woman in Malé stabbed herself in the stomach after her husband left to Syria, local media report. The 28-year-old woman was hospitalized at 1:30pm today and underwent a surgery, police said.

According to Haveeru, the woman’s husband left to Syria last week with a second wife. He was a suspect in the Sultan Park bombing of 2007.

Scores of Maldivians have left the country to fight with radical Islamist groups in Iraq and Syria. Some include women and children.

In Meemu Atoll Muli, a 26-year old man attempted to commit suicide at 12:40am after a quarrel with his family. When police officers broke down his door, he had already inflicted harm to some areas of his body, the police said.

Attempting to commit suicide is a class one misdemeanor in the new penal code and is punishable by up to a one year in prison.