Former President Mohamed Nasheed has expressed concern over a regression in democratic gains, and claimed government’s attempts at intimidation and fear is intended to stall development.
Speaking at an August 12 commemoration of the tenth anniversary of Maldives’ first mass pro-democracy protests, Nasheed said August 12, 13 of 2004 was a “day Maldivians stood up against torture and called for what is rightfully theirs.”
“On that day, Maldivians gathered to realise their hopes. That day, Maldivians called for what they continue to call for today. Housing, education, healthcare, income generation, a dignified life,” he said.
In what would later be referred to as ‘Black Friday’, security forces teargassed and brutalised protestors and cut off all mediums of communication including messaging services and internet. President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom announced a state of emergency and suspended the constitution. Hundreds of protesters were detained for months.
The Maldives is once again seeing a return to its authoritarian past with the recent increase in death threats against opposition politicians, Nasheed said.
“Inciting fear is aimed at stalling development,” he said, alleging the death threats was a government attempt to stop the opposition from criticising and uncovering the truth behind its “cloud castle” policies.
“Torture in jails, killing Evan Naseem, or putting me in stocks is not aimed at torturing Galholhu Kenereege Mohamed Nasheed, or killing Evan Naseem, but to incite fear among the public. To let it be known criticising the powers that be is dangerous,” he said.
Criticising the dissolution of the ruling progressive coalition and President Abdulla Yameen’s flagship special economic zone (SEZ) bill, Nasheed said Yameen’s Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) had backtracked on campaign pledges after assuming power.
The PPM at the time had portrayed Maldives as a holy land, pledged to end foreign interference and uphold sovereignty. But the SEZs, Nasheed suggested, will allow foreign companies to plunder Maldivian resources without any oversight.
“In the special economic zones, there will be no duty, no immigration, no customs, no Maldivian laws,” he said.
Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party in a statement on Tuesday also said: “on the tenth anniversary of August 12, 13, we note, with great concern, we have slid back to the conditions of pre-2008.”
It listed Nasheed’s controversial ouster in 2012, police brutality of February 7 and 8 in 2012, the Supreme Court and police interference in the 2013 presidential polls, increased incidences of arbitrary arrest, government’s violations of freedom of expression and association, filing trumped up charges and murder attempts against opposition supporters and threats to freedom of the press as signs of regression.
Nasheed in his speech also criticised attempts at limiting the powers of councils, and what he claimed was the return of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s narrative that the Maldives is a resource poor nation.
The mantra allows the government to slow down development, at the pace of one harbour a year and harbors for the 196 inhabited islands in 196 years, he said.
The MDP has exposed the narrative as a falsehood as it increased government revenue, without a dramatic increase in national gross domestic product, by establishing a modern tax system, Nasheed said
He went on to claim the protesters gathered at the Republic Square in August 2004 could have overthrown Gayoom and replaced him with Gayoom’s brother in law Ilyas Ibrahim.
Ibrahim contested against Gayoom in 1993 for the People’s Majlis vote for the presidential candidacy, but narrowly failed and was subsequently jailed and banished for a number of years.
Nasheed also claimed senior military officers had told him Gayoom could be ousted in 2007 through a military coup d’état, but the MDP resisted.
“We do not want to overthrow the government through a coup. We want a system that facilitates development,” he said.