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Maldives: Democracy under Threat

Paper No. 5939                                  Dated 25-May-2015

By Dr. S. Chandrasekharan

“Democracy under threat”- This is how US Secretary of State described the situation in Maldives. 

The movement “Maldivians against Injustice” to protest against the illegal and unjust incarceration of former President Nasheed by the opposition has now converted itself as a “Movement against Tyranny”

The May day rally, the biggest seen in more than a decade with over 20,000 protesters crowded within the small space of Male with their aim to “bring an end to brutality” was met ironically with a brutal crackdown by the Police Forces.  There were a few sporadic violent incidents but by and large the protests and demonstrations were peaceful. 

Hundreds were arrested, a record high for the country in the last few years and while many were released, over 200 were taken into custody.  Those who refused to abide by the instructions of the court not to take part in the rallies in the future were given over fifteen days of imprisonment- an order that has no legal backing.  The courts were merrily taking the sides of the brutal government and not going by laws of the country.

Street Protests are continuing on almost every day and another major rally of the type of May rally is being planned for June 12.  As expected, the Police force is getting ready for another brutal crackdown. 

Not satisfied with imprisoning former President Nasheed under trumped up terrorism charges, President Yameen has brought out on 6th May an anti terrorism bill that would give exclusive authority to declare any group as a terrorist organisation.  He is preparing the way to declare the even political parties that are opposed to him and now protesting in the streets as terrorist organisations.  He does not have to worry about the judiciary that will give a legal stamp to whatever that he does.

It appears that until he was arrested with a warrant, Nasheed was not aware that he was being arrested under fresh terrorism charges based on the request of the Prosecutor General.  The Prosecutor General in Maldives did not act on his own but under orders from above.  Nasheed and another prisoner former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim who is undergoing imprisonment for attempting a coup with a rusted pistol and three rounds of ammunition have been shifted to another island (Asseyeri) closer to Male and a regular building for a “permanent stay” at the notorious  Mafusshi jail is being readied.

A team of international lawyers is being assembled to defend Nasheed in the courts.   But the administration is said to have denied access of Nasheed to the lawyers.  Nasheed himself has refused to file an appeal as he has no faith in the judiciary.  He is justified as the Supreme Court just before his conviction changed the rules and gave very little time for those convicted to file appeals!

“Nasheed specific” laws are being passed in parliament and approved by President Yameen.  The latest is that those convicted cannot lead the political parties.  Nothing can be more arbitrary than this.  Nasheed can thus continue to be a member but cannot be the chairman of the MDP! Earlier a revised law stripping Nasheed of  presidential privileges was also passed.

There have been world wide protests over the imprisonment of Nasheed.  International NGOs, businessmen and environmental activists have called for sanctions against Maldives. 

15 Religious scholars of Maldives have pleaded with the President to heed the calls for a dialogue with the opposition.

The Amnesty International after the return of a “fact finding” mission in end April, claimed that there exists a climate of fear in Maldives and that besides a facade of a tourist paradise there is a dark trend in the Maldives where the human rights are concerned.

An initial resolution in the EU parliament to impose a travel ban and freezing of assets diluted for the present to calling on Maldives to take steps to restore confidence in Maldives to restore confidence in Maldives’ commitment to democracy by showing a respect for freedom of expression and assembly was passed on 30 April.

Laila Ali, wife of Nasheed has lodged a petition with the UN requesting for a judgement declaring former President Nasheed’s detention as illegal and arbitrary.

Countries across the world have blasted Maldives  for its politicised judiciary and expressed alarm over threat to journalists, human rights defenders in a UN’s periodic review of human rights in Geneva on 6th May. 

Imprisonment of Nasheed on terrorism charges have been noted with concern by Norway, Germany, UK, Denmark, US, Canada and Australia. 

An interesting blog that caught my attention and perhaps true was about the judiciary which it said is the mother of all evils in Maldives and that democracy died the day the judiciary started to influence a free and fair election.  ( See my papers in this site)

President Yameen along with his close confidante the tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb, have now opened another front against the leader of Jumhooree party that is participating in the agitation.  Gasim and his villa group has been slapped with a notice for tax default of a whopping 90.4 million dollars and an arrest warrant has also been issued against Gasim for funding the agitation. Thus Yameen is kicking away the ladder that catapulted him to presidency!

We see that President Yameen is spinning too fast.  With all the three arms of the country under his control, he has become a dictator to do what he wants similar to a situation that was obtained when his half brother Gayoom was the dictator and President for three decades. 

At the same time Yameen is very careful to watch his back and is seen to be cultivating the  security forces.   On the eve of the May day rally (April 27) while attending the 123rd anniversary of the military, he called on them to defend his government claiming that international pressure is undermining the Maldives’ sovereignty and weakening the rule of law!

And, China is waiting in the wings to get closer to Yameen.  On 6th May, the Chinese Ambassador made a statement that the Maldivian Police Service “will always receive assistance of the Chinese government.”  For what- to put down peaceful protests as they did in Tien Anmen Square with tanks?

India’s silence on the situation in Maldives is understandable.  It is hoping against hope that Yameen would ultimately turn around and restore normalcy in the current volatile situation.  But Yameen’s - “ do not care” attitude is not helpful.  Nasheed needs to be helped.