By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan
A surprise and path breaking judgement, an evasive and defiant President who is a tyrant and an enthusiastic and jubilant but angry population- these describe the current situation in Maldives.
On 30th January, President Yameen, in all solemnity, declared that the Police in Maldives is still independent and that it has been tasked only with law enforcement without room for political ideologies. He added that the Police are mandated to execute court orders without question. Should they “forget” their responsibilities, he said then the incumbent President is mandated by the Constitution to remind.
So stated Mr. Yameen who had to swallow his words within two days and order the dismissal of the Police Commissioner and later his deputy for declaring publicly that they would implement the Supreme Court orders.
Before we discuss the surprising judgement of the Supreme Court, and the crisis caused by Yameen in declaring an emergency, I would urge a reference to my paper titled “Maldives: A Tyrant next door- How does one deal with it?”in paper number 6251 dated 4th May 2017. (Given as an annexure in this paper). In concluding that paper I had said that India had made many mistakes in the past on Maldives and cited one such instance of ready of acceptance of the fall of President Nasheed who was actually thrown out in a coup.
The Supreme Court Judgement:
In the late hours of 1st February, the Supreme Court ordered the release of three convicted opposition leaders who were facing long sentences- former President Mohamed Nasheed, Jumhooree Party leader Qasim Ibrahim and Adhaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla.
In addition to these three, the Supreme Court ordered the release of former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim, Member of Parliament and son of former President Gayoom Faris Maumoon, former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb, former Prosecutor General Muhthaz Muhusin, Chief Magistrate Ahmed Nihan and local magnate Hamid Ismail.
The Supreme Court also overturned the Election Commission declaration that 12 MPs of the ruling party- the PPM disqualified after they joined the opposition. Three of the MPs are facing criminal charges of forcibly entering the parliament premises last July.
Re-instatement of the MPs would effectively result in President Yameen’s party PPM losing the majority in the Parliament and had the potential to unseat the President with a two thirds majority. This perhaps was the reason for Yameen to order the closure of the Parliament indefinitely for security reasons and subsequent declaration of emergency.
The Supreme Court decision actually said as follows: “After considering the cases submitted to the Supreme Court about violations of the Constitution of the Republic of Maldives and human rights treaties that the Maldives is a party to, to conduct politically motivated investigations followed by trials where the prosecutors and Judges were unduly influenced, the Supreme Court has found that these cases have to be retried according to legal standards.”
All that the Court order said was that these cases will have to be retired and till that time those convicted are to be set free.
In the same judgement the apex court ordered all State authorities to comply with the order and warned that the prosecutor General has been directed to separately investigate and indict any entities that obstruct and hinder the order’s execution.
Supreme Court Order Defied
The orders were loud and clear. Instead of implementing the order, the Prosecutor General convened a late night Press Conference along with Minister of Home Affairs, Minister of Defence and Chief of Defence declared that the Supreme Court orders will have to be “verified” whether the verdict is legitimate before implementation! This itself was violative of the Court orders and liable to prosecution for contempt of court.
In the same meeting, the Prosecutor General announced that the President has dismissed the Police Chief Ahmed Areef on the ground that he was not available. In actual fact his crime was that even before the press conference, he had announced that he would obey the Court orders. His deputy Ahmed Saudhy who was elevated to that post was also subsequently sacked after two days and no explanation was given.
President Yameen responded two days later that the government will approach the Supreme Court on the seriousness of releasing the convicted criminals.
The Attorney General too, instead of complying with the orders met the Chief Justice and conveyed the “concerns” of the government over the verdict the same day!
Delay in implementing the orders resulted in justifiable angry protests and clashes between the security forces and the demonstrators. The Police used tear gas to disperse the crowds in the capital. Force was used freely and arbitrary arrests were made.
President Yameen continued to be defiant and appeared to be in no mood to comply with the Supreme Court orders.
Instead of complying with the orders, he has declared an emergency for a period of fifteen days. This has given him sweeping powers and many of the articles of the Constitution have been suspended. The reasons for declaring an emergency were for obstructing the functioning of the government due to the Supreme Court’s ruling that ordered the release of political prisoners and reinstatement of members of Parliament! A strange reason indeed though the real reason was that there was a possibility of Yameen being impeached in the Parliament.
Following the declaration of emergency, the security forces stormed the court premises and have arrested the Chief Justice Abdullah Saeed, Judge Ali Hameed and Judicial Service Administrator Hassan Saeed.
Former President Abdul Gayoom and his son-in-law Mohamed Nadeem were arrested from their home. Earlier Gayoom’s son Faris Maumoon had also been arrested. Gayoom before being arrested released a video asking Maldivians to remain steadfast and assuring the public that he has not done anything unlawful to warrant an arrest.
Former President Nasheed has urged India to “act swiftly” to resolve the crisis. He said that the declaration of emergency, banning fundamental freedoms, and suspension of the Supreme Court is tantamount to a declaration of martial law in Maldives.
It is said that India is closely following the events. Soon after the Court orders, India was one of the first to urge the Maldivian government to respect the judgement. The US, UK, Australia and later the United Nations had also taken the same position. Instead President has responded with the declaration of an emergency and even arresting the very judges who passed the orders!
India has enough leverage in Maldives and short of sending troops, everything else should be done to bring normalcy in Maldives as instability in Maldives will have an adverse impact on the security of the region as a whole!
Maldives: A Tyrant Next Door- How does one deal with it?
By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan
Maldives is too close to India both geographically and strategically and therefore developments in that country though small will have a great impact on India’s national security.
We now have a leader in Maldives who is said to be ruthless, vindictive and ungrateful. He has been systematically jailing all the leading members of opposition on some ground or other and mostly under terrorism laws. It looks that he is making his way clear for his re- election in 2018 without any opposition. In this evil pursuit he has generously used (misused) the judiciary as well as the security forces.
In order to understand what is happening in Maldives- one should only see the documentary of Al Jazeera on Maldives titled “Stealing the Paradise.” This documentary has exposed the high level corruption with the accounts of eye witnesses. It should be an eye opener to all those who innocently believe that Maldives with its hundred percent Sunni population, after three decades of autocratic rule is now a model of democracy!
President Yameen, came to power on the shoulders of two influential leaders in Maldives- the former President Gayoom and the richest and most popular businessman Gasim Ibrahim. In the Presidential elections held in 2014, former President Nasheed was almost near the fifty percent mark. It was a crucial midnight meeting of Gayoom on behalf of his half-brother Yameen with Gasim Ibrahim, the third largest vote getter that tilted the scales in favour of Yameen by a narrow margin.
Today Gasim Ibrahim is in jail on trumped up charges of having bribed the voters (all he did was to appeal to his erstwhile party members to return to the fold of his party – the Jumhooree party). As usual, the Police have seized his cell phone also. By one count the Police must be holding thousands and thousands of seized cell phones!
Former President Gayoom has been stripped of his membership of the party he created-the PPM in 2011 all with the help of the civil courts and the appellate courts. Gayoom’s body guards have been withdrawn and he has been disallowed to fly the national flag in his residence. More humiliations could follow with the cancellation of his pension and one will not be surprised if he is put in jail if he does no behave at least now!
One Vice President Jamal is in exile as he was being threatened with impeachment for not being totally loyal to President Yameen. Another young Adheeb for whose election to the post of Vice President, the constitution was amended, is now counting cockroaches in the jail. He is being shifted from one jail to another as if he is a dangerous criminal.
Adheeb is undergoing imprisonment under terrorism charges. But the real reason is said to be the differences he had with President Yameen on the US $ 80 million scandal that broke out in the State tourist firm, the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation!
Most of the opposition leaders are either in jail or in exile. The fiery and active leader of the Adhaalath Party Sheikh Imran is in jail on terrorism charges- for participating in the May Day rally against the government.
The former Defence Minister Mohamad Nazim was sentenced to 11 years under terrorism charges for keeping a rusted pistol at his house. It had since been proved that the pistol was deliberately placed in Nazim’s house before search on the instructions of former Vice President Adheeb. Nazim must have been automatically discharged. He is still in jail and needs medical treatment. On 28th January the UN Panel had ruled that the continued detention of Nazim as illegal and called for his release. Now Nazim who was under house arrest has suddenly been shifted back to jail! UN opinion does not matter!
Another former Defence Minister Hameed Faisal has now been charged under terrorism laws for arresting Yameen (the present President) in 2010 for his involvement in distributing a scurrilous pamphlet against the then President Nasheed.
The list is endless. The misuse of terrorism laws is so open and blatant and there is no stopping of Yameen. Misuse of the government machinery and the courts has become a regular feature. One example of the way Gasim Ibrahim has been treated should do.
Gasim’s Villa Group is one of the largest companies in Maldives dealing with shipping, tourism, media, commercial establishments, transport and educational fields. He is also one of the leading philanthropists. His mistake was in opposing President Yameen politically.
In August 2014 the Government of Yameen seized the Kandehdhoo airport and downgraded Villa Group’s (Gasim’s own) Maamigili airport, when Gasim warned that the SEZ legislation would facilitate massive corruption. But both were reversed when Gasim’s party voted in favour of SEZ laws.
In 2015, Gasim went on to form an alliance against the government with other parties and soon the tourism ministry seized five properties leased to villa group for development. The Central Bank of Maldives froze over US $ 90 million of Gasim’s funds for alleged non-payment of rent etc. When Gasim Ibrahim announced retirement from Politics, the courts obliged and overturned the fine and the properties were also returned.
Again in March 2017 when Gasim Ibrahim was to join the MUO (Maldives United opposition) along with former Presidents Nasheed and Gayoom against Yameen, his properties were seized once again by court orders and the bank assets of 90 million dollars frozen. Now Gasim is in Police custody for fourteen days on charges of bribery! How the authorities forgot about the terrorism laws is a mystery.
In the face of blatant misuse of laws of the country, the opposition represented by former Presidents Gayoom, and Nasheed, Gasim Ibrahim of Jumhooree and Sheikh Imran Abdulla of Adhaalath signed a historic declaration on 24th March that said
* to protect the owner ship of the land, sea and natural resources
* find a solution to the political discord afflicting the country
* safeguard civil and political rights abrogated from citizens
* ensure elections held in Maldives are free and fair in which candidates of political parties are allowed to contest.
The four agreed to work together
1. To secure freedom for all individuals who have been arrested, under investigation, on trial or convicted of politically motivated charges.
2. Prevent Corruption, embezzlement within the government.
3. Seek the restitution of transactions and properties unlawfully seized by the government.
The way the no confidence motion against the Speaker Maseeh was conducted recently is another example of high handedness of the government. The motion was forced to be conducted by a roll call that was unprecedented and resorted to only when the voting machines were out of order. The idea of an open roll call was only to find out who were all voting against government and due action as expected was taken against the erring individuals.
Some of the acts of revenge taken by the government soon after the farce of the no confidence motion were
* Gayoom was expelled from the Ruling Party PPM, the national flag removed from his residence and the PPM logo removed from his residence all done by Government agents.
* Fresh charges under terrorism laws were brought against ex-President Nasheed for arresting Yameen in 2010.
* Abdulah Riyaz the Deputy Leader of Jumhooree Party and a former Police Chief had his mobile phone confiscated and placed under investigation on charges of spreading rumours and attempting to influence the security forces.
* Gasim Ibrahim, the leader of Jumhooree party was arrested and his passport seized.
* Rajje TV, the station which supports the opposition was fined MVR I million on flimsy charges.
Another incident that should cause concern is the killing of Yameen Rashid, a prominent blogger and an internet Activist in the early hours of 23rd April at his residence. Rashid was a fierce critic of Salafist-Wahhabi re Islamization that was making the face of Islam in Maldives. Rasheed had 16 stab wounds on his body.
There is no doubt that the Wahhabi-Salafi brand of Islam is slowly creeping into Maldives and this is what Rasheed had opposed. The present government was almost on the point of giving away the Faaful Atoll consisting of 26 islands to the Saudis for development and investment of over 10 billion Dollars. Only, the huge public outcry and supposed eviction of over 4000 villagers brought the project to a temporary halt. The Yameen government had already prepared the ground by amending the constitution in 2015 to allow foreign ownership of its territory.
It looks that India is aware of the troubled situation in Maldives. The Indian Foreign Secretary made a hurried visit to Maldives on April 13 and 14 and met everyone one but carefully avoided the opposition members. It is not clear as to why this was done. The High Commissioner there was perhaps given the task to meet the opposition leaders three days later on the 17th. President Yameen’s attempt to get closer to Saudis needs to be watched as the Saudis are now having an Islamic NATO led by a Pakistani General. Yameen is also seen to be an overenthusiastic supporter of the One Belt One Road economic offensive of the Chinese.
The Saudis and the Chinese are only waiting in the wings. They would prefer tyrants over genuine democratic leaders who are all in exile. It remains to be seen how India would react. India has made many mistakes in the past. Ready acceptance of the fall of Nasheed who was actually thrown out in a coup earlier was one such mistake!