Police cleared of wrongdoing in manhandling ex-president

The police watchdog has determined that police officers used proportionate force and acted legally when they escorted former President Mohamed Nasheed to the criminal court on February 23.

Nasheed appeared for the first hearing of his terrorism trial with his arms in a makeshift sling. Police officers had manhandled and dragged the opposition leader inside the court building when he stopped to speak with journalists.

However, citing testimony from police officers and video footage obtained for its inquiry, the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) said “Nasheed stopped near the gate of the justice building and refused police orders to go into the building.”

Minivan News journalists saw Nasheed repeatedly asking the the police to let him walk into the court, but police officers dragged him in by force, ripping his shirt open in the process.

The PIC launched an inquiry after the former president submitted a complaint alleging police brutality.

Nasheed was subsequently sentenced to 13 years in prison over terrorism charges related to the detention of a judge during his tenure. Foreign governments, the UN, and international human rights organisations widely criticised the 19-day trial over its apparent lack of due process.

The PIC said in a press statement today that police officers acted in accordance with regulations and used “force necessary in the situation.”

The office of former President Nasheed has slammed the PIC’s statement, noting that the oversight body had not sought statements from Nasheed or journalists who witnessed the incident.

Nasheed’s office accused the commission of defending police for political reasons, calling on the watchdog to act independently and to conduct impartial investigations into complaints of police misconduct.

Meanwhile, Nasheed was brought to the Malé from Maafushi prison this afternoon for a doctor’s appointment at the Senahiya military hospital.


“He was brought for medical examination several days after doctors in Maafushi Health Centre recommended for him to be examined by medical specialists,” read a separate statement from Nasheed’s office.

Doctors at the health centre had recommended on May 7 that Nasheed should have an MRI and consult a dentist, but the authorities had denied requests from his family and lawyers to provide medical care, the statement added.

The former president’s office noted that “Senahiya is not a tertiary hospital and the authorities have not given any reason why he is being treated at a health clinic and not a well equipped hospital in the Maldives.”

Hundreds of supporters gathered near the Senehiya hospital this afternoon, hoping to catch a glimpse of the former president who has not been seen since he was sentenced to 13 years in jail on March 13.

Police arrested Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Eva Abdulla’s husband Ahmed Shahid (Saabe) near the hospital for allegedly disobeying orders. He was released by the court within hours.


Judge may bar defence evidence in ‘airport protest’ cases

A criminal court judge overseeing charges against 15 opposition supporters accused of protesting at the airport has allegedly said he may bar the defence from calling witnesses if evidence by the state is sufficient to prove charges.

Some 14 women and one man were arrested on March 5 while carrying posters calling for former president Mohamed Nasheed’s release at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport.

The freedom of assembly act prohibits protests at airports. The penalty is a MVR150 fine or a six-month jail term, house arrest or banishment.

Lawyers claimed the women were not protesting, and requested the opportunity to present defence witnesses. But criminal court judge Sujau Usman said if the testimony by ten police officers proves charges, he may not allow the defence to present evidence.

Usman sat on the three-judge panel that sentenced ex-president Nasheed to 13 years in jail on terrorism charges, without allowing him to call defence witnesses.

The UN high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein described the move as “contrary to international fair trial standards.”

Former defence minister Mohamed Nazim was also not allowed to call the majority of his defence witnesses in a weapons smuggling charge. He was sentenced to 11 years in jail by the same bech that oversaw Nasheed’s trial.

The opposition has held nightly street protests and mass demonstrations on February 27 and May 1 over Nasheed’s sentencing, but it is rare for demonstrations to take place at the airport in view of international tourists.

Among those arrested were Malé City deputy-mayor Shifa Mohamed and MDP women’s wing vice-president Shaneez “Thanie” Saeed.

One woman, Yumna, says her passport has been withheld over the charges.

Meanwhile, MDP MP Ali Azim has been charged with obstructing police duty during a mass protest on February 27. The first hearing is scheduled for May 25.


Maldives judiciary hammered in UN human rights review

Countries across the world have blasted the Maldives for it’s politicized judiciary and expressed alarm over threats to journalists and human rights defenders at a UN periodic review of human rights in Geneva today.

The imprisonment of former president Mohamed Nasheed on terrorism charges was also noted with concern by Norway, Germany, the United Kingdom, Denmark, the United States, Canada and Australia.

But many countries welcomed new anti-torture laws and laws protecting migrant worker and women’s rights in the Maldives, and applauded progress in healthcare and education.

The UN’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) comes amidst heightened international scrutiny of the Maldives over political turbulence triggered by Nasheed’s arrest in February. Hundreds were arrested this weekend in a 20,000 strong anti-government protest.

Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon said the Maldives is training and building capacity of judges, and said criticism of Nasheed’s trial had “mainly focused on the process and not the merits.”

Many countries also slammed the Maldives for the Supreme Court’s decision to try members of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) for treason over a submission to the UPR.

Despite the strong criticism, the foreign ministry in a statement tonight said the human rights council had “praised Maldives for the tremendous progress it has achieved in the promotion and protection of human rights.”

Judicial reform

Expressing concern over a “lack of respect for the most basic principals of fair trial and due process” during Nasheed’s trial, Norway called on the Maldives to release the opposition leader immediately.

Germany noted a climate of growing fear in the Maldives due to increasing gang related violence, religious intolerance, and attacks and death threats faced by journalists, politicians and civil society groups.

The UK meanwhile called on the Maldives to ensure administration of justice is “fully consistent with international human rights standards” and take urgent action to protect journalists, NGOs and to investigate and prosecute individuals behind the threats.

The UK also expressed concern over arrests of opposition leaders during the mass antigovernment protest on May 1, and called for dialogue between the government and opposition parties.

Denmark noted irregularities and rushed processes in Nasheed’s trial, and recommended the “Maldives restore confidence in its legal system by ensuring the clear and unambiguous division of powers, including the indisputable independence of its judicial processes and judges.”

The United States urged the Maldives to end politically motivated prosecutions, including the Supreme Court’s prosecution of members of the human rights watchdog.

The US said it was concerned about fair trial guarantees and said Maldives must strengthen the independence of the judiciary by reforming the process by which the judicial watchdog – the Judicial Services Commission – selects and appoints judges.

Adding its voice to calls for Nasheed’s release, Canada said Maldives must reaffirm its commitment to democracy and rule of law, and institute an independent bar association.

Meanwhile, India said the judiciary must adhere to due process to maintain public trust and said the space for legitimate political dissent must be safeguarded.

Botswana, Brazil, Argentina, Slovenia, New Zealand, Ghana, Switzerland, Italy, Ireland, South Korea, Bangladesh, Liechtenstein, Netherlands, Trinidad and Tobago, Kenya and France also spoke on the need for judicial reform.

International spotlight

Responding to criticism of Nasheed’s trial, foreign minister Dunya said the case “has highlighted the profound need to work together and strengthen oversight institutions, including the judiciary and the need to bring urgent reforms to the judiciary.”

She censured Nasheed for his decision not to seek an appeal, stating appellate courts were set in place to address shortcomings by the lower courts.

Nasheed’s lawyers had decided not to appeal after the criminal court failed to provide the necessary documentation within a shortened ten-day appeal period. The opposition leader has instead appealed to president Abdulla Yameen to reduce his sentence and release him through special procedures in the Clemency Act.

On the Supreme Court’s prosecution of the human rights commission, the Maldives representative in Geneva, Geela Ali, declined to comment, stating: “as the matter is yet to be decided, we deem it inappropriate to comment on the matter just yet.”

The charges were brought in September last year under new suo moto regulations that allow the Supreme Court to prosecute and pass judgment. The case is still pending.

Dunya said the Maldives had formulated a judicial sector strategic action plan with new benchmarks for increasing efficiency, effectiveness and public confidence in the judiciary.

“Almost everyone seems to have something to say, about what they think is good for the Maldives. As a result, every baby step that the Maldives takes is fiercely debated all over the world, including in the corridors of power in key capitals,” she said.

“It is easy to criticize, but we urge you to not only do that: invest in us, bring about meaningful change.”

She insisted Maldives’ institutions must have the space to grow organically, and said meaningful democratic change cannot be imposed. Change “can only be sustained if the change is locally owned, locally driven and locally shaped,” she said.


Canada condemns May Day crackdown

The Canadian government has condemned a government crackdown on a mass anti-government protest on May Day.

“In light of clashes at recent protests in Maldives, Canada condemns the crackdown by the increasingly authoritarian government and its evident lack of respect for democracy,” said the Canadian foreign minister, Rob Nicholson, in a statement yesterday.

Tens of thousands of opposition supporters took to the streets on Friday over the jailing of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and government authoritarianism. Clashes broke out when protesters attempted to enter Malé City’s central square, an area where protests are banned, at dusk.

Opposition leaders and 193 protesters were detained in the largest number of arrests from a single protest in a decade. Scores were injured and two police officers were beaten.

The criminal court has remanded over 170 protesters for 15 days.

“Canada stands with the tens of thousands of peaceful Maldivians from across the country who have congregated to call for the release of political prisoners and the restoration of the rule of law,” Nicholson said.

“The trial and treatment of former president Mohamed Nasheed is appalling. An effective and thorough review of the investigation and legal proceedings is vital to ensure that international and domestic obligations related to fair trials and the rule of law are fully respected.

“We urge all sides to remain calm and exercise restraint in the face of violence. At the same time, we underline the need for respect for freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. We also urge the government of Maldives to reaffirm its commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”

Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years on terrorism charges relating to the arrest of a judge during his tenure. The trial was rushed and widely criticised by foreign governments, international bodies and human rights groups.

The EU parliament last week called on the government to free Nasheed immediately and has urged member states to warn tourists on Maldives’ human rights record.

The US secretary of state John Kerry added his voice to growing criticism on Saturday, saying Nasheed’s imprisonment is “an injustice that needs to be addressed soon.”

“We’ve seen even now how regrettably there are troubling signs that democracy is under threat in the Maldives where the former president Nasheed has been imprisoned without due process,” he said.

The government, however, remains defiant, dismissing Kerry’s remarks as “personal views” and saying the EU parliament’s resolution is no cause for concern.

Foreign minister Dunya Maumoon on Friday said President Abdulla Yameen’s government will not comply with demands from foreign governments to “meddle” in judicial affairs and release a convict.

Dunya has reacted furiously to statements by Canada in the past, saying they were biased and untrue.


Ex-president kept in ‘inhumane prison conditions’

Former president Mohamed Nasheed’s lawyer say he is being kept in an isolated and filthy cell at a maximum security prison, but the home ministry maintains Nasheed is treated as a VIP and given special comforts.

Following a visit with the opposition leader at Maafushi Island jail on Tuesday, lawyers said the ex-president’s cell is adjacent to the prison garbage dump and is infested with flies and mosquitoes.

Nasheed, who is serving a 13-year sentence on terrorism, is forbidden from exercising, while the food is “barely edible.”

“The cell is situated far from the main prison and other inmates –nobody would be able to hear President Nasheed should he call out for help,” lawyers said.

Nasheed’s family and the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party have repeatedly expressed concern over alleged plots by the government to assassinate the opposition leader. But the government has dismissed the allegations as slanderous and baseless.

Meanwhile, Nasheed’s international legal counsel Jared Genser described the conditions in which Nasheed is held as “cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment” in violation of international anti-torture laws.

President Abdulla Yameen and home minister Umar Naseer may be “held legally responsible for the use of torture – we will take all necessary measures to hold the government to account for this treatment,” he added.

Nasheed was transferred to Maafushi Jail, on an island three hours from the capital, last week from a minimum security prison. Lawyers alleged security officers threatened to use force against Nasheed when he asked for time to pack before the transfer.

Speaking to Minivan News, a home ministry official said Nasheed “is afforded benefits no other prisoner receives.”

The opposition leader is allowed to see seven members of his family for two hours every week and he is given a ten minute phone call with his family for ten minutes every week, spokesperson Thazmeel Abdul Samad said.

Other prisoners are only afforded one family visit a month and one phone call a month.

Nasheed is given a menu to choose mildly-spiced meals and include fruits on the doctor’s advice. The special apartment has a flatscreen TV, a refrigerator, he continued.

The former president is allowed to read books sent by his family, and there are always a team of security guards within eyesight if he needs any help, said Thazmeel.

Nasheed’s arrest has sparked international outrage, with the European Union parliament today passing a resolution urging the government to release the former president immediately.

The resolution also calls on European countries to warn tourists on Maldives’ human rights record on their travel advice websites.

The opposition is meanwhile planning a 25,000 strong march in Malé tomorrow over Nasheed’s jailing and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim’s imprisonment.

The government has labeled the rally as an attempt to overthrow President Abdulla Yameen, but opposition coalition insists the demonstration will be peaceful.


Ex-president transferred to jail

Former president Mohamed Nasheed has been transferred from police custody today to a low security jail an hour away from the capital Malé.

Nasheed is serving a 13-year jail term on terrorism charges relating to the detention of a judge during his tenure.

He was convicted on March 13, but was held at the Dhoonidhoo Island remand centre until the home ministry finished constructing a special apartment at the high security prison on Maafushi Island.

The Maldives correctional services today transferred Nasheed to Asseyri jail on Himmafushi Island temporarily, saying Nasheed will be taken to Maafushi jail when his apartment is completed.

The office said it is not yet certain when the apartment will be ready.

The opposition leader’s lawyers meanwhile expressed concern over the police’s alleged failure to inform them of the transfer.

“We continue to have grave concerns over his safety. The police should in any case inform lawyers before they transfer any prisoner from one place to the other,” lawyer Hassan Latheef said.

Former first lady Laila Ali in March appealed to President Abdulla Yameen to give her assurances of Nasheed’s safety, saying she had received information from credible sources that he may be assassinated in jail.

Home minister Umar Naseer has previously said the government “guarantees the safety, welfare and protection of former president Mohamed Nasheed while in custody.”

He was to be incarcerated in a 264-square foot furnished prison apartment in Maafushi jail with air-conditioning, a sitting room, a television and VCD player.

The special apartment would have a 1,087 square foot garden and Nasheed would be able to “live with other inmate friends,” Naseer said.

In response, the office of former President Nasheed released a statement claiming the cell being prepared to house the opposition leader was in an area of the jail deemed unfit for human habitation.

“The use of the cell being prepared in Maafushi jail was discontinued after the Human Rights Commission of Maldives and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent determined in 2009 that it was unfit to hold people,” the statement read.

“The toilet of the cell currently being prepared is inside the cell. It was built such that unclean odours and bacteria fans out to the whole cell. It is adjacent to the jail’s garbage dump. Germs, bacteria and unclean air constantly circulate inside the cell.”


Underwater protest for ex-president Nasheed

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One hundred divers staged an underwater protest in Malé today, calling attention to the imprisonment of former president Mohamed Nasheed.

Photos by Ismail Humaam Hamid and Mohamed ‘Sindhi’ Seeneen