Defence Minister forbids soldiers to publicly participate in politics

The Maldives’ Defence Minister has ordered soldiers to surrender their rights to political participation, despite allegations he has forming a political party.

Minister of Defence and National Security Colonel (Rtd) Mohamed Nazim said soldiers must forgo rights granted to civilians, refrain from politics, and limit their political participation to voting only, as stipulated in the Constitution and military law.

Speaking at an early-morning flag hoisting ceremony on Sunday (April 21) as part of the military’s 121 anniversary celebration, Nazim stated that there is “no room for politics in the military as long as I remain in this office”.

“Every soldier has to accept that some of the rights granted to a civilian in an open society are restricted to a soldier. One of these rights is the right to participate in political activities. I would like to tell you that the Constitution and the military law have curbed these rights from the soldier for a greater and larger purpose,” Nazim stated, according to local media.

“I would like to tell you today, that the role of a soldier is done once you exercise your right to cast your vote, entitled to every person above the age of 18. I would like to bid from all military personnel to refrain from partaking in political activities,” he added.

Nazim “assured” soldiers he will not issue political orders as long as he remains Minister of Defence.

He also stated that welfare benefits would be given to the defence forces once the government’s budgetary constraints are relieved, according to local media.

“Keep quiet and obey”

Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) Spokesperson Colonel Abdul Raheem reiterated that military personnel cannot take part in any political activities or gatherings at any time. This includes registering for, or being a member of, any political parties.

Asked why the rule applies to military personnel, Raheem emphasised that orders must be followed.

“The MDNF does not want any soldiers participating in political activities. They have to keep quiet and obey,” Raheem said.

He explained that political activities even in a personal capacity are not allowed.

“Soldiers are not seen as ever being off duty, even when they are on leave or in the barracks,” Raheem said.

“The only time military personnel can politically participate is when they go to vote. They can decide for themselves who to vote for. Around 7-10 years ago soldiers could not vote,” he added.

Nazim was not responding to calls at time of press.

Nazim already involved in politics: MDP

“Nazim seems to be swallowing his own words and reflexively wriggling back,” claimed Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor.

“Nazim had political ambitions and wanted to profit, but he is trying to cover that up now because the [Maldivian] people won’t accept it,” said Ghafoor.

“They pulled of a coup, but couldn’t sustain it. Now Nazim’s trying to look more mainstream,” he added.

Ghafoor alleged that Nazim had himself created an as-yet unregistered political party called the Maldivian Industrial Development Alliance.

He also accused Nazim of seeking to emulate Turkish and Pakistani history, whereby a military-affiliated political party gains political power in order to maintain the status quo and influence civil affairs.

“The forms were filled [to create the party] and he could then attract all the armed forces to his political entity,” said Ghafoor. “It would also be used to protect and sustain Waheed.”

“The MDP’s position is that uniformed civil servants and military personnel should be able to vote. Any citizen should have the right to vote, but it doesn’t mean your institution should be engaged in politics,” Ghafoor stated.

Anniversary celebration

Following a week of practice preparations, the MNDF celebrated the 121 anniversary of the security services Sunday (April 21) with the Commander in Chief’s Force and Fleet Review as well as a “show” for spectators.

Thousands of Maldivians gathered near Raalhugandu and the Tsunami Monument areas of Male’ – in addition to President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik, Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain, Defence Minister Nazim, and other senior government officials – to witness the spectacle.

“I wanted to bring my son to watch the baghee (traitor) show,” the father of a toddler told Minivan News.

The celebratory events began with an MNDF parade of soldiers carrying assorted firearms, a military band, as well as three armored vehicles, a tank, and firefighting vehicles.

Five Coast Guard ships of assorted size “steamed” by the east coast of Male’, with smoke billowing fromtheir decks in the national colors of red, green and white.

The MNDF also staged a “show” whereby terrorists hijack a local fishing boat.

“The MNDF made it a show so the public could enjoy [themselves] and get a feeling for how the MNDF conducts operations, it was not actually how a tactical operation would be run,” Colonel Raheem said.

Following a helicopter reconnaissance fly-by of the hijacked boat, six small coast guard vessels descended on the fishing dhoani.

The special forces, coast guard, and marine corps then “destroyed the terrorists” to gain control of the dhoni, followed by a casualty being airlifted out, Raheem recounted.

A portion of the special forces show also included “an attack of the terrorist hideout on land”.

“Dead” bodies accompanied by fake blood could be seen sprawled on the pavement.

“The parade was of no cost, since soldiers had the equipment and uniforms already. Additionally, coast guard vessels are in daily use anyway,” said Raheem.

“All of the MNDF’s units combined forces to take part in the anniversary,” he added.

Although the MNDF was not established in name until 2006 – two years after the National Security Service (NSS) was split to create the Police Service – the presence of Maldivian security forces has remained constant, according to Raheem.


Facebook shuts down anti-government protest page without notice

Facebook has shut down a prominent pro-Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Facebook page, ‘Kula Yellow’, without notice.

The anti-government page was first established in May 2010 and spread by word of mouth, attracting a strong following among Maldivian young people and reaching 23,000 ‘ likes’. Facebook did not contact the administrators before shutting down the popular social media news source, at approximately 6:30pm on Tuesday, March 5.

According to an analysis conducted by Kula Yellow on the site Social Bakers, the youth-run, self-described “name and shame” platform is one of the most popular social media news sources in the Maldives.

Kula Yellow is a reference to MDP’s political party color. The page promises a “source of information against President Mohamed Waheed regime and a tool to mobilise people against continued human rights abuses and police brutality.”

“MDP is fighting for freedom. Kula Yellow facilitates that by providing a platform for them to spread their views, organise protests and events, and it is very helpful if any message needs to be conveyed to supporters instantaneously,” a Kula Yellow co-founder told Minivan News.

“We are updating and uploading media of police and government brutality 24 hours a day. Our posts have revealed many, many, many government secrets and they can’t digest it. Kula Yellow is a threat to them,” he claimed.

“Additionally we have saved many, many, many lives through our social work. For example, if anyone – they don’t have to be an MDP supporter – needs a blood donation we post on the page to find a matching donor,” the co-founder added.

Although the page has never been shut down before, five of the most active administrators have had their personal accounts blocked or shut down since former President Mohamed Nasheed’s controversial resignation February 7, 2012, a Kula Yellow co-founder and administrator told Minivan News.

“Some of the most active administrators’ have been blocked several times following the coup. This was a problem for us on the release date of the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) as well. The current Maldivian government cannot digest anything we are reporting and they are subsequently blocking media freedom,” he contended.

“I’m sure it’s a government act. They are sending continuous complaint reports to Facebook saying Kula Yellow is ‘spreading lies and inciting violence’, but that is not true,” the co-founder stated.

“There are only two or three news media outlets, and newspapers Haveeru and Sun Online back the current government,” he added. “Kula Yellow fills a gap by trying to explain the coup and give a voice to Maldivian people. The government didn’t like what we were posting and cannot come down on us under Maldivian law. Of course they are trying to block us, I’m sure they formally complained to Facebook,” the administrator stated.

“Maldivian intelligence from the Police Services and Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) monitor [telecommunications companies] Dhiraagu and Wataniya calls and text messages. They are always trying to intercept communications,” the Kula Yellow administrator said, matter-of-factly.

A second Kula Yellow administrator explained there were many admins spread throughout the Maldives, and they took down inappropriate content, such as threats or misinformation.

“Kula Yellow is very open because it’s a social media platform for the public, so on the rare occasion someone puts inappropriate content on the ‘wall’ the administrators take it down immediately. We try our best,” he said.

“We are not like the many hate pages that supporters of Waheed’s government have up – all of which are up and running smoothly,” he said.

“We will interfere”: police

Police denied issuing complaints about Kula Yellow to Facebook, but admitted to telecommunications interference.

Police Spokesperson Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef told Minivan News that “so far we haven’t reported anything to Facebook”.

“We will interfere if any social network or internet site is not [run] according to Maldivian law and order,” Haneef added.

The MNDF also denied interfering with the Kula Yellow page, as Spokesperson Colonel Abdul Raheem explained to Minivan News.

“We have not asked anyone to take down Kula Yellow, not to my knowledge. Was it the communications ministry or something like that? They can say anything,” Raheem said.

President’s Office Spokesperson Masood Imad denied knowledge of Kula Yellow’s existence, as well as any government interference with it being shut down.

“I have never heard about this Kula Yellow thing that you are talking about. We [the government] do not worry about these pages. How do you know Facebook took it down? Facebook is too big to worry about small little pages. The fact that the page has been taken down has nothing to do with the government,” Masood said.

“Maybe they themselves took it down. If their page has been hacked, or shut down maybe the page owners can follow it up with Facebook,” said Masood.

In 2012, administrators of Kula Yellow claimed they had been “threatened” by police over their page’s content. Police officials denied the accusations.

Facebook activism

Kula Yellow contacted Facebook immediately to reinstate the page and say they remain hopeful their page will be restored quickly.

“Yesterday’s action seemed to be a targeted response to the regime’s arbitrary arrest of the Maldives’ first democratically elected president, Mohamed Nasheed,” stated Kula Yellow.

“Kula Yellow is disappointed by the action taken against the page by Facebook and calls for them to immediately reconsider and place their support with the people of the Maldives.”

A Kula Yellow co-founder lamented that the situation in the Maldives was very complex and contend that Facebook “clearly does not understand Kula Yellow.”

“Facebook did not check to verify what the government, or individuals from the government regime, were reporting. They were probably following their company policy to remove the page if they received numerous complaints.

“This happened in Syria also. Then journalists reported the story and helped get the page(s) reinstated,” a Kula Yellow co-founder stated.

Kula Yellow is exhorting diplomats and international actors to “understand that this is a violation of our human rights, particularly freedom of expression, and should support Facebook reinstating the Kula Yellow page immediately”.

“There are already many fake Kula Yellow Facebook pages going up and this will continue to spread like wildfire in the jungle. The government can’t stop us. We don’t give a damn. There are a thousand ways to move forward, so well will just find another way.

“In the interim our Twitter page is active,” a Kula Yellow administrator added.

The Maldives this year plummeted to 103rd in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Press Freedom Index, a fall of 30 places and a return to pre-2008 levels.

Additionally, the Maldives is one of two countries to be dropped from Freedom House’s list of electoral democracies, in its annual survey of political rights and civil liberties.

Facebook had not responded to Minivan News at time of press.