“Be strong”: President Waheed’s brother tells former President Nasheed

Naushad Waheed, former Deputy High Commissioner to the UK and brother of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan, has urged former President Mohamed Nasheed to “be strong” in a public message published yesterday (December 21).

The message came after Nasheed was prevented from the leaving the country to visit his ill father in Bangkok, Thailand.

“Be strong. Waheed will know you will be very sad when he stops you travelling [on] this trip,” he wrote.

While in jail under the autocratic rule of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Naushad noted that Gayoom had refused to allow him to attend his mother’s funeral.

“So Waheed is following all the footsteps from Golhaboa [derogatory term for Gayoom]. Revenge is the only word for them. Be strong,” Naushad wrote.

Naushad, a famous artist, was first arrested in 1999 following publication of a cartoon in a magazine called Hukuru. Two years later, he was arrested for criticism of the Gayoom administration and found guilty of treason.

He was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Naushad became Deputy High Commissioner to the UK following Gayoom’s defeat in the October 2008 presidential election.

He later resigned from the post following the transfer of presidential power on February 7 and called on his brother to follow suit.

Meanwhile, President Waheed met former President Gayoom at Muleeage on Wednesday night. Gayoom told local media that “nothing special” was discussed and that the meeting was “just a friendly visit.”

Gayoom reportedly claimed that the pair were “old friends.” PPM Deputy Leader Umar Naseer meanwhile said the party’s interim leader and figurehead met President Waheed “frequently” for “lunch or dinner.”


MDP commemorates ‘Black Friday’ anniversary

The former ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) commemorated the eighth anniversary of the brutal crackdown of the pro-democracy demonstration on ‘Black Friday’ August 12 and 13, 2004 with a special rally last night.

The rally featured video presentations about systematic torture under the regime of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and testimony of victims of the crackdown on the unprecedented 22-hour public gathering at the Republic Square.

Addressing a capacity crowd at artificial beach last night, former President Mohamed Nasheed said that Black Friday was the day that the Maldivian people started to believe that they could assert their will and power over the government.

August 12, 13
Black Friday gathering

“It was the day when the Maldivian people found courage,” he said. “It was the day when the people started to believe that they could come out and reverse the autocratic rule of this country and eradicate torture and brutality.”

The former Amnesty International ‘prisoner of conscience’ paid tribute to the hundreds of demonstrators and reformist MPs arrested and beaten by the former National Security Service (NSS) on August 13.

Nasheed urged reformists to “continue the journey” begun on August 12 and 13 with the lessons of the past eight years, vowing not to stop the fight “until true freedom and independence is established in this country.”

The hopes of the Maldivian people for a better future was “tied to forming a civilised security forces,” Nasheed said, adding that everyone in the police and army were not “bad and ruthless people.”

It was MDP’s “duty” to work with numerous youth and experienced officers “of a national spirit” in the security services to reform the institutions, he continued.

Nasheed said he was “certain beyond doubt” that the Commission of National Inquiry’s (CNI) report would note that a number of mutinous officers of the security forces committed crimes and unlawful acts on February 7.

“After CoNI’s report, we should only go back home after bringing them to justice,” he said.

He added that the nation could not be held as the “spoils of war by a few police and army officers.”

‘The hidden baton’

Speaking at the rally, former Male’ MP and first president of MDP, Ibrahim ‘Ibra’ Ismail, argued that the “biggest success for the people” on August 12 and 13 was to show the outside world as well as the Maldivian people “the culture of brutality concealed by Gayoom.”

“The hidden baton” was made exposed through the efforts of reformists, said Ibra, which was put away after Gayoom’s election defeat only to be brought out again on February 7, 2012.

“This is not something the Maldivian people will accept. You cannot tie the tongues of the Maldivian people again. Today, the Maldivian people no longer fear that baton,” he said.

In a video message aired at the rally, Naushad Waheed – brother of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik – spoke of torture in jails during President Gayoom’s 30-year reign.

Naushad, former deputy high commissioner to the UK, warned that those in power would not willingly relinquish it regardless of the conclusions of CNI’s report, urging MDP to remain vigilant and within legal bounds.

Former Special Majlis MP Mohamed ‘Nafa’ Naseem meanwhile said that the reformists drew courage from the months spent in Dhoonidhoo detention island following the crackdown on August 13.

“If I remember correctly, more than 300 people were put in jail for a long period,” he said. “I never saw anyone cry out of fear. Everyone was smiling. [We] crossed the threshold of fear.”

In a video interview, Mariyam Manike – mother of Evan Naseem, who was beaten to death in Maafushi prison on September 19, 2003 – recounted her treatment at the hands of NSS officers after her arrest outside her residence on August 13.

Manike said she was beaten by NSS officers after being taken to the main army barracks and was kept for hours with her hands cuffed behind her back.

NSS officers threatened to kill her while one officer told her that “this is the handcuff your son was wearing when we killed him,” Manike said.


Maldives debate intensifies in UK Parliament

Whilst the UK government professed its commitment to the India-brokered road map talks in the UK’s House of Lords this week, in less official forums MPs appeared to have reached a damning verdict on the current Maldives administration, discussing punitive measures and demanding apologies for perceived sleights.

Lord Howell of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) avoided any conclusive statements in the face of questions from the House regarding the legitimacy of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s government, promising only support for the work of the Commonwealth and the Commission of National Inquiry.

This followed a meeting the day before of members of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the Maldives who used offices provided by the UK Parliament to hold a meeting entitled “Democracy Derailed: Political turmoil in the Maldives”. A source present during the meeting has given Minivan News their full account of the discussion.

The source, who wished to remain anonymous, said that those who spoke about the current situation in the country were the MP for Salisbury, John Glenn; Queen’s Counsel, Sir Ivan Lawrence; former Foreign Minister for the Maldives government and current UN Special Rapporteur on Iran, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, and former Deputy Health Minister Mariya Ali.

Also said to have contributed to the panel were Helen Grant MP, Mike Gapes MP, and former Maldives High Commissioner to the UK Dr Farahanaz Faizal.

Dr Faizal has actively opposed the current administration since resigning from her position, shortly after the departure of former President Mohamed Nasheed. She has since remained in the UK, working on behalf of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in raising awareness of perceived human rights abuses and democratic failings in the Maldives.

The former Deputy High Commissioner and brother to President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan, Naushad Waheed, was also present as were Maldivian students and families from the UK. Representatives of civil society organisations including the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and Third World Solidarity were also in attendance.

Chairman David Amess reportedly opened the meeting by expressing his disappointment that the Maldives government had declined to send a representative from the UK High Commission, despite being offered the opportunity to do so.

This has been disputed by Acting High Commissioner to the UK, Ahmed Shiaan, who claimed that the UK High Commission had received no official invitation.

The MP from Salisbury, John Glenn, expressed “no doubt” that there had been a coup d’etat in the Maldives, our source reports.

“[The] democratic will of the people of Maldives has been tossed aside,” Glenn is alleged to have told the group before mentioning his distress at the comments recently aimed at both the UK and the Commonwealth by the Maldives’ new governing coalition.

Glenn’s Salisbury constituency served as the base for former President Mohamed Nasheed during his exile in the UK. The Friends of Maldives (FOM) organisation, responsible for a recent travel advisory which pleads with tourists to avoid any resorts associated with alleged coup conspirators, is based in Salisbury.

Strained relations

Perceived interference from the Commonwealth, whose Secretariat is based in London and whose figurehead remains Queen Elizabeth II, has attracted scathing criticism recently in the Maldives.

Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) MP Riyaz Rasheed accused the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) as having been “bought by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)” after it had urged the current government to establish its legitimacy with early elections.

CMAG released a strongly worded statement last week, arguing that the “the earliest possible expression of the will of the people was required to establish universal faith in the legitimacy of those who govern the country.”

That the group had seen a “lack of progress” in this respect caused it to express “disappointment and deep concern.”

Special Envoy Sir Donald McKinnon, who departed on Friday, attended the Opening Session of the People’s Majlis on 19 March, emphasised the need for parliament to “function effectively so that parliamentarians can return to debating issues of national interest.”

President’s spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza last week went as far as to suggest to Minivan News that the Maldives may consider its position in the Commonwealth, although the reporting of his statement was later dismissed by Abbas in other media as “politically motivated”.

Addressing the all party group, Sir Ivan Lawrence is said to have spoken of his lack of faith in the Maldives’ judicial system, based on his visits to the country during the Maumoon Gayoom era.

“It is now surely important for the same international community that helped to bring about the first democracy, to underline the importance to the new regime of holding speedy free and fair elections, so that power may be restored as quickly as possible to the people of the Maldives,” Sir Lawrence purportedly quoted from a letter he had recently sent to UK newspaper, The Times.

Mariya Ali is alleged to have discussed human rights violations in the Maldives as well as police brutality, before giving the floor to Dr Shaheed who is reported to have suggested that the Gayoom coterie lost their grip on power as a result of attempts to placate the international community.

Dr Shaheed apparently expressed his opinion that they were unlikely to repeat this mistake, citing Dunyha Maumoon’s comments regarding “civil war” as evidence of this resolve. Shaheed stated that the current government will not hold early elections, but rather will work to enfeeble the opposition MDP between now and the scheduled poll date.

Shaheed is also said to have expressed his concern that the independently minded Election Commissioner Fuad Thaufeeq would now be targeted by the current government due to his reputation for impartiality.

Insult and injury

The debate is also said to have included mention of the recent insults leveled at the Queen, the Commonwealth, and the UK government.

During DQP MP Riyaz’s diatribe on DhiTV, he argued that the British public had funded the MDP in return for the establishment of churches in the Maldives and also that they hated the Maldives for gaining independence from Britain.

“The English hate us. Why? Because Ibrahim Nasir saved us from slavery and brought us independence, since then what have the English done for us?” he said.

Riyaz then turned his attention to the Queen herself, “After 50 years, the English Queen, she is physically challenged. But she is still Queen, and if she wants she can remove the Prime Minister. Where is democracy? Where is democracy? That is not a democracy.”

In agreement with the opinion of a member of the public in attendance, David Amess is reported to have said that the government of Maldives should issue a full apology for Riyaz’s outburst and, in concurrence with the other members of the APPG, he argued that the issue should be brought before Parliament.

Additionally, Amess is reputed to have stated his feeling that the attendance of President Waheed at the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations this year would be inappropriate.

Minivan News has obtained video footage of this section of the discussion and can confirm an unidentified voice from off-camera suggesting an early-day motion regarding this topic.

Early day motions are a tool used by MPs in the House of Commons to introduce a subject for discussion. They are often used to publicise certain events or subjects and to gauge the level of parliamentary support for such motions.

Finally, the meeting is said to have moved on to punitive measures. The alleged consensus was that European travel bans had greater potential to damage those alleged to be behind a coup. The option of resort boycotts was dismissed as too damaging to the Maldives’ economic lifeblood.

The video footage received also includes Mr Amess’s concluding statements and so the following quote can be confirmed:

“Ladies and gentlemen, we started off our meeting asking has democracy been derailed, is there political turmoil in the Maldives? Well, listening to the contributors before us this afternoon, the answer to the first part is ‘yes’. Political turmoil in the Maldives? Again we’ve heard the answer, ‘yes’.”

Official comments

The validity of this meeting has been questioned by the Acting High Commissioner, Ahmed Shiaan.

“This was not a UK parliamentary initiated event. If this was an official APPG event, we should have been invited. It is very disappointing,” said Shiaan, “[If it were] they would have to get our perspective, even the Foreign and Commonwealth Office [FCO] wasn’t invited.”

Shiaan pointed out that the discussion initiated in the House of Lords on March 22, at which the FCO was represented, should receive more prominence as it better represents the official line of the government.

When Lord Howell of the FCO was in the Lords about the potential suspension of the Maldives from the Commonwealth, his response was that this decision was up to the whole of the Commonwealth to decide upon, not just one member.

“We must move to encourage democratic elections, and that is what is proposed in the India-brokered plan, which we welcome and support,” said Lord Howell.

One member of the House asked if Lord Howell felt the government was doing enough to ensure an independent international enquiry after what was regarded by some as a coup.

“We do not recognise this as a coup, although obviously there has been a change,” replied Lord Howell, “We still need to establish the full circumstances of what occurred and we hope that the commission of inquiry will do that.”

Lord Howell was also anxious to make clear the view of the FCO that the Maldives remained a safe tourist destination. “At the moment we do not judge that there is any danger in the tourist areas.”

Next, Lord Howell was asked what steps CMAG might take if they were not successful in pushing for early elections, to which he responded:

“If they are not, of course we would have a new and more difficult situation that would require further resolution and effort. For the moment, we concentrate on following the plan which the Indians have so helpfully brokered.”

Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) MP Riyaz Rasheed, part of the new governing coalition, accuses the Commonwealth of seeking to build a church in the Maldives, Special Envoy Sir Donald McKinnon of taking bribes from the MDP, and the Queen of being “physically challenged”:


Tourism Minister holds London press conference to reassure travellers

While the Maldives Tourism Minister hosted a press conference in London to soothe the fears of the tourism industry over the ongoing political instability in the Maldives, opposition activists distributed leaflets outside.

Former Maldives High Commissioner to the UK Dr Farahanaz Faisal distributed leaflets highlighting police brutality in the crackdown on demonstrators on February 8, while the Friends of Maldives NGO distributed its travel advisory highlighting the involvement of several politicians and resort owners in the change of government on February 7.

Monday’s professionally managed event was attended by 25 journalists from a host of prominent UK travel publications.

The Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) recently appointed Rooster Creative Public Relations Ltd as its official PR agent in the UK. MMPRC Acting Managing Director Mohamed Adam explained this decision.

“The purpose of having a full time PR and Marketing agency is to overcome the image that is continuously spoiling in the UK market due to the current political turbulence,” Adam said.

Adam’s aims were stymied somewhat by the presence of former Maldives High Commissioner to the UK Dr Farahanaz Faisal and the former Deputy High Commissioner, and brother of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan, Naushad Waheed.

MDP supporters Farahanaz and Naushad took the opportunity to distribute leaflets focussing on police brutality in the Maldives. The leaflet described the Maldives as undergoing “one of the most painful and brutal periods of its history”.

Business as usual?

Despite the demonstrations outside, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb Abdul Gafoor remained upbeat about the prospects of the Maldives tourism industry. The minister told Travel Weekly that he was expecting one million tourists to visit the country in 2012, breaking previous records.

He spoke of having visited tour operators during his trip who are eager to launch charter flights to the Maldives and begin new projects.

Referring to the demonstrations, he said, “The press conference was not affected by that. The journalists did not seem bothered. The press conference was a success.”

Former Tourism MinisterDr Mariyam Zulfa has expressed confidence in the sector’s durability, saying, “I don’t think that the political situation is actually affecting the tourism industry as such because Maldives is a well-established destination.”

This current government’s veneer of confidence, however, is belied by the hiring of the professional PR group to protect its image and by reports that bookings were down six percent  in February, according to Travel Weekly.

Speaking with Minivan this week, Dr Zulfa made clear the importance the MDP attributes to protecting the tourism industry.

“It has never been the MDPs intention and it will never be the MDPs intention to obstruct the progress that we have made in the tourism industry,” said Zulfa. “It’s not in our agenda to affect the traveller’s decision to choose Maldives as a destination at all.”

“But I think the tourist industry has a responsibility to provide correct information about Maldivian life in general.”

The awareness-raising efforts of the government’s opponents, indeed, do not appear to be registering with those travelling to the Maldives at present, supporting the views of Tourism Ministers past and present.

Asking the opinions of tourists at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport yesterday, the most common response was a vague notion that the Maldives had been in the news recently, without any specific details being recalled.

This was perhaps typified by the response of a couple from the UK who were asked how they felt about what was happening in the Maldives at the moment: “What is happening?” came the response.

Travel advisory

Also outside the press conference was David Hardingham, founder of Friends of Maldives (FOM), who distributed a second set of leaflets publicising his group’s travel advisory.

FOM is a UK based NGO focusing on the protection of human rights, the promotion of social justice and democracy in the Maldives.

The content of the FOM leaflet was interpreted by the Maldivian media outlet Sun Online as claiming that the Maldives was an unsafe travel destination. Newspaper Haveeru also reported that the NGO was advocating a “tourism boycott”.

Referring to Sun’s article Hardingham said, “Responsible journalism involves getting both sides of the story – so we were disappointed not to be asked by Sun for our views as their article is one sided, has factual errors and is somewhat misleading – however it’s not entirely surprising as its owners are known to be supportive of the recent coup.”

Hardingham forwarded the leaflet distributed by the NGO (page one, two), which lists resorts and businesses owned by Jumhoree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim’s Villa Group, and Bandos Island Resort and Spa owned by Vice-President designate Waheed Deen, and urges “responsible” travellers to avoid these resorts specifically.

“The current political turmoil in the Maldives has deterred people from visiting the islands. Friends of Maldives urges tourists to continue to visit Maldives, as tourism is the mainstay of the economy. We feel the situation is not so bad, as the airport and resort islands are not linked to any population centres,” the leaflet notes.

The leaflet goes on to recommend the travel advice of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), which currently has no restrictions in its Maldives travel notice.

The FOM leaflet continues to briefly outline recent events in the Maldives before asking that potential tourists “consider the idea of being a responsible traveller” by avoiding resorts that are allegedly involved in “the subversion of democracy, and human rights abuses in the Maldives”.


UK High Commission auctioning painting to help Japanese tsunami victims

Bids for a painting by Deputy High Commissioner of the Maldives to the UK, Naushad Waheed, have reached £5000.00 (US$8000).

Waheed auctioned the painting, entitled ‘Kyotsu – Hachi’, in an effort to raise money for victims of the March 11 tsunami in Japan. The painting was unveiled at a lunch in London attended by members of the All Party Maldives Group, including Lord Naseby, Lord Dholakia, Karen Lumley and David Amess.

Waheed explained that the painting depicts “several common elements from the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 that devastated my country, and the recent tsunami that devastated the east coast of Japan.”

The title of the painting, he noted, represented the total sum of the numeric dates of the two tsunamis: “Interestingly both dates equal eight (26-12-2004 and 11-3-2011).” ‘Hachi’ is Japanese for the number eight.

Waheed, who is the brother of Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan, was detained by the former administration in 1999 following the publication of a cartoon in a magazine called Hukuru. Two years later he was arrested for criticism of the then-government and tried for treason, and sentenced to 15 years imprisonment.

He became Deputy High Commissioner to the UK in 2008.