Local historian Ahmed Shafeeg has been ordered to pay up to MVR 5000 (US$324) in compensation after the Civil Court on Tuesday found him guilty of defaming former President Mamoon Abdul Gayoom.
Gayoom sued Shafeeg for politically-motivated slander over a book he released in 2010, in which he claimed that 111 Maldivian citizens were held in custody and tortured under Gayoom’s administration.
The judge ruled in favor of Gayoom in the absence of Shafeeg, noting that the defendant had failed to present himself or a representative to the hearings despite the multiple court summons and attempts by the police to bring him to he court.
Shafeeg has to pay up to MVR 5000 withing one month from the date of the ruling, as a compensation for the damages caused to Gayoom’s character, according to the court.
Chronicles of torture
Shafeeg, now 83, was held in solitary confinement for 83 days in 1995 together with three other writers, including Hassan Ahmed Maniku, Ali Moosa Didi and Mohamed Latheef.
Shafeeg contends that 50 of his diaries containing evidence relating to the deaths of the 111 Maldivians were confiscated during a raid by 15 armed men. He was ultimately released by Gayoom with without charge, and was told by the investigating officer to write a letter of appreciation to the then-President for the pardon.
During the launch of Shafeeg’s book, titled “A Day in the Life of Ahmed Shafeeg”, then-President Mohamed Nasheed observed that he knew the events chronicled by Shafeeg very well.
“Back then, from 1989 and 1990 onward, I spent a very long time – three years in total – in jail. Of that I spent 18 months in solitary confinement, and nine of those months in the tin cell,” he said.
All Maldivian rulers had employed fear to govern, Nasheed said, and he had always believed that Gayoom had him arrested and tortured to serve as a cautionary tale as the former president and his senior officials were already aware of the intent of “a whole generation” to topple his government since the early 80s.
“So the decision to put me through every imaginable torture in the world from the very beginning as an example to all those people was made, in my view, not because of any animosity President Maumoon had towards me personally,” Nasheed said.
He added that Gayoom alone could not be blamed for all the human rights abuses that occurred under his watch.
Nasheed meanwhile also described Gayoom’s decision to take legal action against the historian Shafeeg, who has lasting physical and mental damage from his ordeal, as “going beyond the limits.”
Nasheed said: “I ask President Maumoon very sincerely and respectfully, don’t do this,” Nasheed said. “Go to Shafeeg. Go and ask for his forgiveness. This is not the time to come out and say ‘I’m going to sue Shafeeg.’ If you want to sue Shafeeg now, you will have to sue me. That is because I will repeat what Shafeeg is saying fourfold.”
Together with allegations of corruption in Gayoom’s administration, such as those flagged in audit reports, allegations of torture remain one of the most politically divisive topics in the Maldives.
Since Nasheed took office after beating Gayoom’s 30 year-old autocratic rule in 2008, public opinions – very strongly held – oscillated between a desire for prosecuting Gayoom and his close allies for the torture and corruption and a desire to move on and reconciliation. Nasheed openly supported the latter option to be magnanimous.
However, after his controversial resignation on February 7, which he insisted was forced by an opposition backed military-police coup, Nasheed told Time Magazine that allowing former dictator Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to live in peace following the 2008 election was a wrong decision.
“The lesson is we didn’t deal with Gayoom. That’s the obvious lesson. And my romantic ideas of how to deal with a dictator were wrong. I will agree with that,” Nasheed told Time, in a striking reversal of his magnanimity in 2008.
The court decision in favor of Gayoom also comes less than a week after the UNHRC called for the government to establish an independent commission of inquiry to investigate “all human rights violations, including torture that took place in the State party prior to 2008 and provide compensation to the victims.”