By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan
Events in Maldives are moving at a very fast pace that it is getting difficult for analysts to keep track of the developments.
Sri Lanka in one of its exchanges, mentioned that events in Maldives are likely to cause instability in the region. This was over the arrest and deportation of an innocent Maldivian national as requested by the Maldivian government. What is important to note is not about the arrest of an individual but on the overall developments in Maldives which should be of concern to the region.
If one has to see objectively, Maldives can be compared to any country in medieval times, with a ruthless and powerful King, fawning courtiers, palace intrigues, assassination attempts, resultant purges and even witch hunting that was normal in those times. Yet it was galling to see President Yameen giving a lecture to the visiting Indian Foreign Minister on democracy in Maldives with “Maldivian characteristics.”
On 28th September, the presidential boat Finifenmaa while docking with the Presidential entourage on board, experienced an explosion that was traced to the seat where the President normally sits but occupied by the First Lady. While the President was unhurt, the First Lady had spine injuries and some other aides were also injured. It was repeatedly pointed out by the official media that the “pious” President was returning after the Haj pilgrimage when this dastardly act was supposed to have been done.
Soon enough, the President formed an advisory committee which was later converted into a Presidential commission to be headed by him and the Home Minister Nasir. Forensic experts from Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, FBI, Australia and India were invited to examine the debris.
A day after the blast, the Presidential Aide Mundhu Shareef, ruled out the possibility of an assassination attempt. He contradicted himself the very next day that it could be a “targeted attack” and finally on 7th October termed it as an “assassination attempt.” The ever loyal Mundhu had to pay a price as he was forced to resign and was even detained by the Police for a few days before being released. He is out of his job now.
On 7th October, ten days after the blast, a new spokesperson of Yameen gave a press conference where the video recording of the blast was shown. It was officially declared that the blast was an attempt to assassinate the President. No questions were taken.
A large number of people have been arrested and many officials have since been sacked. The Defence Minister was sacked. The Police Intelligence Chief was removed. Three soldiers, all explosive experts were arrested. Two of Vice President Adeeb’s body guards were arrested. This was the first indication that the Vice President was being involved. Then officials and businessman close to VP Adeeb were being picked up one by one. This purge which Adeeb’s lawyer calls a “witch hunt” is still going on.
The curious part of the blast is that only two of the group of foreign experts- the Sri Lankans and the Saudis have indicated the presence of “explosive materials” in the debris collected by them. The Sri Lankans actually jumped the gun and announced it to the world that it was indeed an explosion.
On the other hand, the FBI which had sent a team was categorical that no explosive material was found in the samples of the debris taken. The report specifically said that it found no evidence to attribute the explosion to an IED. The fact that no mention is being made of the Indian investigation, it is to be presumed that it may not also support the explosion theory. The government quickly rejected the report of the FBI as it does not suit them and cannot proceed with the impeachment of the Vice President.
It should be said in favour of Maldives that the government would accept only reports that suit them and not every report. One such instance is the verdict of the UN Working Group on arbitrary detention that called Nasheed’s detention as unwarranted. (More of this later.)
It is said that had there been a real IED blast, the damage would have been much more and traces of explosives would have been detected by professional groups like the FBI.
Vice President Adeeb’s Involvement:
On 1st October, two days after the blast there was a blog of not so well known an individual that the blast was deliberate and that absence of Vice President Adeeb among those who were there to receive the “pious” President from his Haj pilgrimage, was considered suspicious. Normally, the government that is looking for “terrorist acts” everywhere would have arrested the individual when it involved the Vice President himself. But this time no action was taken. On the other hand two of Adeeb’s security guards were arrested.
Adeeb did his best to deny his involvement and express his absolute loyalty to the President. He was sent to China to attend an “Investor’s Forum” on behalf of the President. (That no one showed interest in investing in Maldives is another matter). The same day Adeeb in one of his closed door meetings said that he had 500 percent trust of his Vice President. The entire proceedings were known verbatim soon after the meeting and this could not have come without clearance from the President.
Despite the declaration of the trust, Adeeb’s close friend Hamid said to be one of the richest was arrested and jailed after a raid. So was the fate of another close friend Abdulla Ziyath Managing Director of MMPRC ( Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Company).
On 24th October, Vice Adeeb who was returning from Beijing via Singapore was arrested as soon as he landed and is now kept in isolation. Despite appeals, his custody has been summarily extended. What is more his lawyer Dr. Shameem who was arguing for Adeeb so far has had his licence temporarily revoked by the Supreme Court for contempt of court!
It goes to the credit of Adeeb that despite all indications that he would be implicated and arrested on the incident of blast returned to Male unlike his predecessor Jameel Ahmed who is regularly tweeting and complaining from London while actually he is said to be ‘honeymooning!
The next day, on 25th October, President Yameen made a public appearance, the first since the “assassination attempt” and gave reasons for the arrest of many individuals. One of the commentators described his speech as an “arrogant rant.” He said that those individuals who are under arrest and interrogation have all betrayed him. He specifically accused Adeeb for colluding with the opposition MDP, failing to cooperate with the investigation into the blast and what is more failed to help the Police on the investigation against Hamid and Ziyath (Adeeb’s close friends). Thus Adeeb has already been sentenced by the President and now going through the judicial mode would just be a formality!
Adeeb is being impeached in the Majlis ( Parliament) and is being given only seven days by the President though the constitution mandates that he be given a fortnight’s time. The seven days includes- the week end as also the days on which the notice is served and the final decision taken. Thus he gets just four days to prepare for his defence and just thirty minutes to defend himself!
The week that followed President Yameen’s appearance was one of raids at several places by the security forces. Many arrests were made. An arms cache including T 56 rifles, SMGs, Browning pistols, hand grenades, RDX, plastic explosives riflescopes were recovered from one of the islands. A home made bomb was ‘discovered” in a vehicle parked near the Presidential Palace. The dynamite used in the bomb was said to be not belonging to the State Armoury.
Simultaneously, new terrorism laws were passed by the Parliament on 27th October. As expected, the new laws were far more draconian and under this law anyone in Maldives can be arrested. The acts of terrorism include for example a pre meditated attack to kill or incapacitate another person, kidnapping or arbitrary detention, vandalism, to put the life of an innocent in danger, hijacking of vehicles, endanger the health of the general public, endanger public safety and attack on public infrastructure or service. Undue influence of the state or the government, threatening or creating fear among the public, unlawfully promoting political and religious views were all made offences under the terrorism laws!
What is disturbing is not the definition of acts of violence that will be deemed as terrorism, but the potential misuse of such provisions by the government which is notorious for misusing political dissent under acts of terrorism. The Adhalath Party chief Sheikh Imran was in solitary confinement for over 175 days for terrorism laws without any trial just for participating in the May day rally where some individuals indulged in petty violence!
What followed was the expected and the inevitable- the State declaring an emergency. A “State of Emergency was the declared on 4th of November citing threat to national security and public safety. The incidents relating to the blast, recovery of weapons and explosives and the arrests were all cited to justify the declaration of emergency.
The articles of the Constitution that were suspended included:
Art 19 – activities prohibited by Shariat or Penal laws
Art 24- right to privacy
Art 31- freedom to stop work
Art 32- freedom of peaceful Assembly
Art 41- freedom to travel
Art 45- no arbitrary detention
Art 47 – no search or seizure without reason
Art 48 -right to be informed of reasons of arrest or detention
The international community was up in arms and the suspension of fundamental rights was condemned uniformly by all. Both the US and UK called for revocation of the emergency. The ICJ ( the International Court of Jurists) said that there appeared to be a “clear motive” in declaring an emergency.
It transpired that the emergency was declared mainly to prevent a huge protest rally being planned by the opposition MDP on the 6th of November. The Foreign Minister Dunya blurted this out in her interview to the BBC.
The MDP which was prevented from holding the rally, arranged a “tea party” in the same venue with the protesting cadres. But the Police physically smashed the tea party and the “pizza” parties that were to be followed were also prevented.
Emergency was withdrawn a week after its declaration officially said to be mainly on international pressure. But the real reason was that the tourism industry was being affected and at any rate the big opposition rally has been prevented. There is a move to make any call for sanctions that would affect the tourism industry as a criminal offence!
Nasheed’s Detention was politically Motivated- UN Group:
The UN Working Group on Arbitrary detention found that the complaint filed by Nasheed of his arbitrary detention “ought to be upheld.” The verdict said that conviction of Nasheed on terrorism charges was politically motivated and violated international treaties to which Maldives is a party to
The report further said that the Maldives government has not explained how the arrest of Judge Abdulla which was carried out by the MNDF ( Maldives National Defence Force) under an order given by a third party could constitute terrorism. The Government of Maldives was unable to produce any evidence that Nasheed had ordered Judge Abdulla’s arrest.
The official government’s line was as expected. It described the report as premature and flawed and that Nasheed should seek redress through the domestic courts. At any rate its contention was that the report was not “enforceable.” This position is being challenged by Nasheed’s lawyers who said that sanctions could be brought against Maldives. When the opposition raised this position, the government made a quick move to make calling of sanctions as a criminal offence.
There is no doubt that there is a deepening political crisis in Maldives with the blast in the Presidential speed boat. The shake up of security structure by change of officials , arrest of soldiers, raids on government offices and houses of individuals associated with the Vice President Adeeb, arrest of Adeeb himself and above all the declaration of an emergency and its quick withdrawal a week later all point to potential instability in the country and in the region.
A vicious witch hunt is going. The opposition MDP is being harassed. The media is being muzzled selectively with the Raajee TV of opposition getting special treatment and its fourth journalist arrested.
The millionaire tycoon and head of Jumhooree party- Gasim Ibrahim is shamelessly toeing the government line now after his business interests were threatened.
Suddenly the common man in Maldives is being made aware of the corruption in the tourism sector, corruption in Police forces and involvement of top officials with organised drug related gangs. Political cases like the disappearance of journalist Rilwan are being resurrected.
This unstable situation is President’s own making. People say that he continues to be arrogant and autocratic. But it may and cannot continue for ever. He needs to change.. The sooner he releases Nasheed better it would be for regional stability.
Amidst all these, the visit of the Indian Foreign minister to Maldives on 10th and 11th October and signing of the deal on cooperation on defence, security, human resources, trade and health sectors is quite intriguing. The remarks made by President Yameen to the Minister that “he would not tolerate foreign parties to interfere in domestic issues” was also swallowed and was explained away that it was meant for everyone and not for India alone.