Handover of state broadcaster “best decision I’ve made”: President Waheed

President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan today said the handing of the state broadcaster to the Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) was the “best decision I’ve made”.

Video footage on February 7 shows rogue police and military officers storming the state broadcaster’s compound prior to President Mohamed Nasheed’s resignation, using a firearm or some kind of explosive to break down the gates.

Nasheed subsequently claimed he was forced to resign “under duress” in a coup d’état orchestrated by remnants of the former dictatorship, and carried out by mutinous elements of the police and military.

Speaking at an event to mark World Press Freedom Day, Dr Waheed claimed the handing of the Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) to the parliament-created Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) had ended executive control of the media.

Nasheed had refused to hand control of state broadcasting to MBC claiming the then-opposition controlled-Majlis had appointed their supporters to the MBC board in “a media coup.”

Dr Waheed also announced today that the government would resume commercial advertising in privately-owned newspapers, marking a return to former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s policy of effectively subsidising private newspapers through government advertisements.

Advertising an “incentive” for newspapers

Ousted President Mohamed Nasheed ended the policy in 2008 and shifted government announcements to a free weekly in-house gazette, claiming the move saved Rf 32 million (US$2,077,922) annually.

The Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) had campaigned against Nasheed’s decision, claiming the move had bankrupted news outlets and led to the closure of several newspapers.

Speaking to the press at a function held to mark International Press Freedom Day, Waheed said, “I want to open up government advertisements instead of publishing them solely in the government gazette even today. I think that will help the newspapers”.

MJA President ‘Hiriga’ Ahmed Zahir also spoke at the function held at the President’s Office, and said government advertising had provided “an incentive” for newspapers.

“I am not calling for the gazette to be annulled. But I don’t believe announcements for jobs and tenders should come through this gazette,” he said.

Handover to MBC

Under Nasheed’s administration, the MBC and the MNBC were engaged in a long-running tug-of-war for the control of state broadcasting assets.

Video footage on February 7 shows rogue police and military firing an explosive device to open MNBC gates. MNBC staff told Minivan News the security forces cut off MNBC coverage and ordered the station to air private Villa TV station’s live feed.

Former MNBC Managing Director Ahmed Shareef told Minivan News that President Waheed’s younger brother Ali Waheed had ordered the handover of MNBC to him on the orders of then VP Waheed. After Shareef refused, Ali Waheed led the military takeover of the MNBC.

Shortly after President Waheed took office, he signed over state media to the MBC. He told reporters today that the “best decision I’ve made was handing over TV and Radio to MBC.”

“The executive does not own any TV or radio stations any longer. I think this is the first time in Maldivian history that the executive does not control radio, TV or newspapers. I met with the MBC board within my first week in office. Even among all the stress and turmoil, I ensured the handover of state radio and TV to MBC as stipulated by law,” Waheed said.

Waheed said the handover of state assets to MBC ensured independence for the media as the government no longer controlled the media. “Today, the executive does not want to try and make the government’s view to be the truth,” he said.

“I believe freedom of expression exists in the Maldives to its widest extent today,” Waheed added.

However, Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has accused the MBC of “blatant propaganda”, alleging the station produced biased content and did not give adequate exposure to all political parties.

Meanwhile, MBC has announced a temporary halt to all political programming until the TV and radio stations better understood their public service role and could provide “intellectually debatable programs”.

Former President Nasheed held a parallel press freedom lunch for journalists and MPs at Traders Hotel.


EU targets judicial reform discussions with President Waheed

The European Union has said it will continue trying to work with Maldivian authorities to reform the country’s judiciary following requests for assistance made by Mohamed Nasheed “shortly” before Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan became president this month in an alleged “coup d’etat”.

Nasheed was replaced by his Vice President Dr Waheed after “resigning” his presidency on February 7 – a decision he  later claimed had been forced upon him by opposition figures  and security forces unhappy, in part, with his commitments to reform the nation’s judicial system.

A spokesperson for Catherine Ashton, the Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, has said the bloc now hoped to open discussions with Dr Waheed’s government over judicial reform on the back of concerns raised by former President Nasheed about the conduct of the nation’s judges.

“Shortly before the events of February 6 to February 7, we were asked for assistance [with judicial reform], as were the UN and Commonwealth. We were ready to look into this matter and hope to discuss the matter further with the Maldivian authorities,” added the spokesperson for High Representative Ashton.

“The HR/VP’s spokesman has already reiterated the importance we attach to the correct functioning of the democratic institutions in the Maldives; we had previously offered the Nasheed government support under the Development Cooperation Instrument for the improvement of governance across the board.”

The country’s judges and their conduct became a major focus for President Mohamed Nasheed in the run up to him being replaced by Dr Waheed earlier this month.  Nasheed had raised concerns over allegations of perjury and “increasingly blatant collusion” between senior judicial figures and politicians loyal to the former autocratic President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

However, Nasheed came under criticism from some international bodies after detaining the Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, Abdulla Mohamed.  The former president claimed the detention was designed to prevent the judge from sitting on the bench whilst charges against him were investigated.

Last year, the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) unveiled findings suggesting that the Maldives’ legal system was failing to serve its citizens despite many “positive developments” that have been made in an effort to depoliticise the courts; with many of judges found lacking in qualifications and independent attitude.


Nasheed’s government had eventually consulted international organisations like the UN, the Commonwealth and the EU after describing itself in a “Catch-22 situation” in terms of a lack of mechanisms to investigate the judiciary independently. In November, the national court watchdog, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), was ordered to cease an investigation into Judge Abdulla Mohamed by the civil Court under an action he himself instigated.

Amidst the violent upheaval and pro-government and anti-government protests that have taken place since President Waheed came to power, the EU has said the issue of the country’s judiciary was among a number of concerns foreign governments wished to investigate in light of the transfer of power.

Judicial interference

In an interview with local and foreign media on Friday, President Waheed confirmed that Judge Abdulla Mohamed had taken a month’s leave from his post for “personal issues”, but did not elaborate whether he had been reinstated to the bench.

“It is for the judiciary to decide what to do with him, not for me. I don’t want to interfere in the judiciary. I want our constitution to be respected, and work with everybody to make our constitution work. This is a new constitution, and it is the first time we are trying it out. And so there are difficulties in it,” the president claimed.

“We need to find ways of solving it. It is time for us to work together, and if there are problems with the judiciary we need to work together to solve them – they are intelligent good people in the judiciary and the Judicial Services Commission (JSC). We welcome assistance from the Commonwealth and United Nations to develop programmes and build the capacity of the judiciary.”

EU position

While currently preparing an official statement on the main concerns the EU holds over the ongoing political disputes facing the Maldives, the spokesperson for High Representative Ashton said the bloc hoped to see more consensus by rival political groups including the MDP to move forward democratically.

“It is essential that the business of government can continue and that multi-party democracy and the constitutional checks and balances are preserved,” the spokesperson added. “The army and police should exercise maximum restraint in the execution of their duties which must remain strictly within their constitutional mandate. Further violence must be prevented.”

The spokesperson claimed that the EU continued to support calls for an impartial investigation to ascertain whether President Waheed came to power legitimately or under a “coup”, though provided no details of how this may be achieved within the country’s highly partisan political arena.

“The EU supports an impartial investigation on this. In the mean time we hope there is a general understanding, following our Heads of Mission (HoMs’ ) visit to Malé, that all parties, including Mohamed Nasheed’s party, the MDP, need to cooperate to prevent the country falling victim to political factionalism, which can only lead to further unrest,” the spokesperson added.

In a statement released earlier this week by the European Parliament’s Delegation for relations with South Asia, “deep concern” was expressed by the group’s chair Jean Lambert over a “sword of Damocles” he said was hanging over ousted President Mohamed Nasheed.

“The European Union had deployed a team of experts to observe the first democratic Presidential elections held in the country in 2008; a sword of Damocles now hangs above the winner of these elections, with his arrest warrant already issued on unspecified grounds,” said a statement from Lambert.

“We understand a number of MPs and local councillors have also been detained or are in hospital following continued police violence,” Lambert added, further noting that several EU countries have issued travel advisories for the Maldives as “public resentment and violence are now spreading well beyond the capital.”

Since the statement was made, Dr Waheed has denied setting a deadline for the MDP to join with other parties in forming a “unity” government up until the next general election presently scheduled for 2013.  The MDP has maintained it’s belief that Dr Waheed’s government is “illegitimate” and called for power to be transferred to the parliamentary speaker ahead of early elections.


President Waheed must form new cabinet: DRP Vice President Mavota Shareef

Islam will not be at the center of the current National Unity government’s agenda in the coming months, however judicial reform should proceed in close alignment with the constitution, opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Deputy Leader Mavota Shareef has said.

DRP has pledged to support President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan, who was sworn in today following Mohamed Nasheed’s resignation at 1:00 this afternoon under pressure from security forces. Opposition parties have formed the National Unity government under President Waheed.

While unable to provide details of the government’s plans, Shareef emphasised a need for cohesion.

“There is so much distrust among political parties, we cannot allow for further divisions,” Shareef said, adding however that the party does not expect any serious problems to arise as the new ‘national unity’ government moves forward. “We will have to heal these wounds.”

Shareef is also a member of the 23rd December Coalition’s steering committee, which organised a protest on that date in 2011 calling for the the defence of Islam in the Maldives. Although international media has reported today’s events – described by Nasheed’s party as a military coup – as a sign of growing fundamentalism, “those values [of 23 December] are not really a central concern right now,” Shareef told Minivan News.

Opposition-led protests began on January 16 when Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed was arrested by the military, after blocking his own police summons. Former President Mohamed Nasheed was criticised by the opposition for ordering the judges’ “unlawful” detention, while the government requested international legal assistance from the United Nations’ (UN) Human Rights Commission to resolve the growing judicial crisis.

That UN delegation was due to arrive in the Maldives on December 9, along with “technical expertise” from the Commonwealth. Representatives from the UK High Commission, the Commonwealth and the UN now due to arrive in the Maldives for related discussions this week.

However in a sudden shift, a detachment of police last night assisted opposition demonstrators in an attack on the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) camp. Police subsequently clashed with the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) early this morning, triggering violent riots, an assault on the MNDF military base in Male’, and an overthrow of the state broadcasting station.

By late morning the government had declared the situation a military coup.

Stating that he would have to use military force and possibly open the Maldives to international intervention in order to stay in power, Nasheed said those terms were against his values and resigned from office.

The MDP subsequently issued a statement this evening that the opposition had taken control of the police and army, and “offered an ultimatum to President Nasheed: step down or be faced with a bloodbath in the capital. President Nasheed thus resigned in order to protect the public from further violence. His resignation was involuntary in that he had no choice.

Shortly after his swearing-in, Dr Waheed addressed the nation saying he was grateful to the police and MNDF who had made “great sacrifices” to defend the constitution.

“Today is the day the rule of law has been established in the country perfectly,” Dr Waheed said.

“I will not order the police, military or any person to do anything against the law – I promise it to the public. Everyone will have the protection of constitution and laws.”

According to the constitution, Waheed must appoint a new Vice President to be approved by Parliament. Elections may be held within six months, or Waheed may complete the remaining two years of Nasheed’s term.

Shareef said he was confident that no elections would be held, and advocated that the new President “will have to form a cabinet as soon as possible.”

Although no members of Nasheed’s cabinet have resigned, Minivan News understands that the names of 57 individuals from the cabinet and the parliament, as well as the recently replaced chiefs of police and military forces Ahmed Faseeh and Moosa Ali Jaleel and former President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair, have been forwarded to immigration for no-travel restrictions. The list is said to be growing.

Shareef believes judicial reform will continue to be at the forefront of the government’s agenda, however he said it “should be done lawfully”. Nasheed, he said, “made several mistakes. The [MDP] party called for chaos and anarchy, using well-known gangs and thugs in Male’ to lead to armed forces’ frustration,” he alleged. The government at the time made similar claims against the opposition.

“If there is an issue with the judiciary, please use legal means- such as parliament and passing new laws- to reform it. For two years we have waited for a criminal justice policy, a penal code and other amendments to be passed but they haven’t been done. Instead we’ve had three attorney generals in the last three years, and none could get those things done,” he said.

“Since we changed to a new constitution, we need supporting laws to become functional,” he added.

Minivan News inquired whether the international legal delegations would be consulted in spite of the change of power.

“Foreign expertise is necessary to enact judicial reform,” he said, noting that many laws are pending Parliament’s approval.

Opposition leaders on January 30 met with the Vice President, pledging allegiance and urging him to assume control of the executive.

Following that meeting, Vice President of the PPM Umar Naseer said all the parties in the opposition alliance had agreed to “pledge support to the Vice President.”

“After these discussions we are now calling upon the nation’s security forces, on behalf of our ‘December 23 alliance’ of all the opposition parties in the country as well as the NGO coalition, to immediately pledge their allegiance to the VP,” Naseer said.

“I repeat, all members of the December 23 alliance are now calling on the security forces to immediately pledge allegiance to Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik and, as Mohamed Nasheed has violated the constitution, to not obey any of his orders and to pledge allegiance to the Vice President.”

Members of PPM could not be reached at time of press.


UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon has issued a statement expressing “his strong hope that this handover of power, which has been announced as a constitutional step to avoid further violence and instability, will lead to the peaceful resolution of the political crisis that has polarised the country in recent months.”

Ki-Moon “calls on all Maldivians to refrain from violence and engage constructively in addressing the challenges their country is facing and to protect and build upon the important gains the Maldives has made in recent years in establishing democracy and rule of law.”

The Secretary-General acknowledges the important contributions of President Nasheed, the country’s first democratically-elected president, to the establishment of democracy in the Maldives and his role in raising international awareness of the dangers of climate change and rising seas. The United Nations will remain a close partner of the Maldives and will continue to extend its support in the period ahead.”=Indian High Commissioner Dynaneshwar Mulay told Minivan News that India was “in dialogue with all stakeholders n the aftermath of the day’s events.”

“All parties are committed to peace,” he said, adding that he had been “assured things are handled in a mature fashion.”

He did not comment on whether Nasheed’s government had requested or been offered Indian intervention.

The Commonwealth said it was “gravely concerned about the political and constitutional developments in Maldives.  At the request of the Chief Justice and Government, a Commonwealth Secretariat team of five officials arrived in Maldives on 6 February, to explore how the Commonwealth can respond to the country’s urgent priorities, including strengthening the judiciary and the separation of powers. The Secretariat team includes political, legal and human rights officers.

“The Commonwealth team is consulting with the full spectrum of stakeholders to assess the current situation and the Commonwealth’s possible contributions in the short, medium and long-term.

“All Commonwealth member countries have committed themselves to the Affirmation of Commonwealth Values and Principles, including a commitment to constitutional democracy, peace, the rule of law, and human rights.

“The Commonwealth stands ready to continue to support Maldives to uphold its constitution, strengthen its institutions and reinforce the culture of democracy. We urge all to respect the rule of law and the constitution, and to refrain from acts of violence.”

Travel warnings

Several countries have issued travel warnings for Male’ after today’s surge in political turmoil.

The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth advised against “all but essential travel to Male’ island. There are political demonstrations in the capital Malé, which have resulted in violent clashes between government and opposition supporters, and later the police and defence forces. The situation remains uncertain. If you are in Malé, or choose to travel to Malé, you should exercise caution, avoid demonstrations and beware of spontaneous gatherings.”

There are currently no reports of social unrest or demonstrations at Malé International Airport, or at the tourist resorts and other islands, the FCO said, asking tourists to check the situation with travel and tour operators.