Not In Our Name

As a Maldivian who came of age during the years of the reform movement, I have lived through my fair share of political upheavals. We peacefully defeated a 30-year dictatorship, survived the violent overthrow of our first democratic government, and are now fighting an insecure kleptomaniac to get back what is rightfully ours– a just and democratic Maldives. With the irony of ironies being that it may require working with the previous dictator we overthrew to overthrow this one. Welcome to #Mordis.

In a country where egregious is an understatement for the state of the judiciary, you would think we would now be used to worst-case scenarios becoming the latest breaking news item. I certainly am when it comes to news of trials concerning the Government’s latest political opponents. How many years is Adeeb facing? But the news of the Supreme Court’s vile disregard for every single law – divine and civil – that governs us in the case against Humaam 10 days ago was a new and dangerous low that was so severe, it felt like a physical blow.

HumaamMany others felt the same, and for them their first instinct was to be outside the Supreme Court building that evening, for the sake of their conscience, as much as for Humaam. Others frantically tweeted, posted Facebook statuses, exchanged their outrage on whatsapp groups and implored those who hadn’t yet spoken out to do so. 10 days on, and the Supreme Court have sentenced yet another young man to death and the Government have moved on, with President Yameen using the executions as an Eid gift he will ‘unwillingly’ carry out in the name of the people.

Dr. Afrasheem was murdered in a year plagued with violence. Most Maldivians will not forget where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news. Nor the events that followed. There were frantic cover-ups, politically motivated arrests, and an opportunity for the then Waheed Government to look like they were doing something constructive by calling for the return of the death penalty. Serious concerns about the motive for the gruesome murder, the perpetrators and more importantly the funding and the facilitators behind them have been conveniently pushed aside by a Government intent on putting to death a boy who is most likely just a pawn in this terrible play for power.

In most debates on the death penalty in the Maldives, abolitionists are shut down with people shouting, ‘but it’s Islamic Shari ‘a’. The more rational will reluctantly then agree that our judiciary does not in any way meet the high standards required to implement Shari ‘a. In Humaam’s and every other death sentence passed by this judiciary, this is a gross understatement. Islam’s wider teachings about justice and forgiveness have been casually dismissed over shadowy political objectives in the name of religious retribution. The verses on choosing forgiveness at every opportunity, to err on the side of caution in case of any doubt, and on the supremacy of a fair trial have been forgotten in the race to ‘deter crime’ by committing an even greater one.

Placing the blame on Humaam’s murder squarely on the Supreme Court is not an option. No one had any expectation of getting justice from our honourable thugs in robes.

Then you have their facilitators, support staff, the minions. The staff in the Supreme Court who assisted the Supreme Court justices to hold a hearing and deliver a death sentence at 2.20am when their bosses refused to accept a letter requesting a delay in punishment at 8pm, citing it was outside office hours.

The state prosecutors, educated in Shari ‘a and law, who have gone along with this farce from day 1, who have not once objected to the illegality of these proceedings. Prosecutor Generals of the past, the one in prison and the current, Aishath Bisham who spat on the courage of Afraasheem’s heirs and essentially said, ‘but they didn’t really say don’t kill him did they’? The anonymous witnesses with the contradicting statements. The majority of the members of our legal community who continue to say nothing.

The Special Operations Police who were outside the court placing barricades and herding protesting citizens away, while the real crimes were once again taking place inside the gates of Theemuge. The Corrections Officers who speak to the press as if procedures to execute a man is an every day occurrence equivalent to the Maafushi catering schedule. The Commissioners of Police, the investigative officers, the intelligence officers and analysts who, faced with a flimsy case, still refuse to protect and serve the public.

The Foreign Ministry boffins who continue to churn out nonsensical press releases defending the Government, while ‘celebrating international human rights’ at the UN. The Jeff Waheeds and the Hala Hameeds who hide behind their education and privilege to deny Maldivians the very basic of fundamental rights. The spineless, cowardly, President’s Office Spokespersons.

The Islamic scholars who refuse to speak up. The Islamic scholars who defend it. The ‘Islamic NGOS’ who call for beheadings rather than lethal injections because its more humane!

The 5 individuals who petitioned the High Court to remove the President’s authority to commute death sentences. The Government and the Courts who let it happen.

The Cabinet Ministers who resigned – Dunya and Umar – after instigating, encouraging and defending their blood lust and political objectives, which has led to this dire turn of events. The former Government officials in exile/jail – Dr. Jameel, Adeeb – who, instead of using their power to stop these actions (when they were in Government), whispered into Yameen’s ears the judicial niceties he should say in response to questions by the media.

The Cabinet Ministers who haven’t resigned, and the ones who continue to accept positions on this God forsaken Cabinet for the glory of the title and the Ministerial car.

Vice President Jihad who as Finance Minister budgeted RF 4million for a death chamber.

Muizzu, the silent and deadly man in the Cabinet who has engineered the destruction of Male’ city and its surroundings.

Anil – the Attorney General, the man who instead of advising the Government against carrying out illegal activities, covers them up with a veneer of facetious legal jargon. His degree in human rights law will come in handy when they’re done murdering Humaam.

Azima Shukoor – truly the lawyer every Mafia boss wants by their side. Under
Waheed, she proposed and drafted legislation to carry out the death penalty by lethal injection. Under Yameen, she’ll see Humaam hang.

Dr. Aishath Shiham, who, oversees the education of all Maldivian children and does not care what kind of example she is setting for them by being part of a murderous Government. If she wont resign citing her professional background, she should at least do it out of loyalty to her former dictator boss Maumoon.

Shainee – There isnt enough space.

Zenysha Shaheed Zaki –  the youngest Cabinet Minister ever to be appointed in the country, having had every privilege in the world, accepted willingly a job she does not need, to defend a Government which experience from her time in the MFA should have taught her is indefensible. What a total betrayal of the good work she did at ARC.

The pro democracy/human rights international community who have watched and waited for far too long without taking concrete action against these mercenaries in our Government.

Then there’s Majlis and the MPs and the former MPs who have often jumped at the chance of implementing the death penalty to deter crime even in the face of inexhaustible evidence saying otherwise. MP Ahmed Mahloof, Ahmed Rasheed (Cockatoo), Riyaz Rasheed, Tom and every other short sighted, narrow minded politician who have clearly not thought of the repercussions of their actions.

And us. What about us, the wider public? How many of us have thought, oh they’ll never actually go through with it? Only to witness Yameen do every single crazy illegal thing he has promised to do. How many of us have thought, but Humaam is a criminal, isnt he? How many of us know people who dismissed Evan Naseem’s murder in jail similarly? How many of us have spared time to write a tweet, post a FB status, go to the Artificial Beach gatherings, sign a petition, write a letter or simply talk to someone else about this? How many of us have taken the time to go back and look at the coverage of this case, to ask why the Government is so eager to kill this boy despite the wishes of the victim’s heirs? How many of us recognise the principles of Islam in these events?

President Yameen stood up today in front of the nation and used his Eid address to announce that he would go ahead with the death penalty no matter who criticises him. He said he would do it for the people, in the name of all Maldivians. Isn’t it time enough Maldivians said no? #NotInOurName. We are a small, close knit country. There is most likely a very small degree of separation between me and the individual who will eventually tie the noose around Humaam’s neck. I would like to do everything possible to spare their conscience this terrible fate.

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Yellow Tshirts

The pile of yellow t-shirts in my cupboard has grown. There are two distinct sections. One – Vote Anni, Vote President Nasheed, Vote MDP. The other – Free Anni, Where is my Vote?, #FreePresidentNasheed. Intermingling among these are tshirts for human rights day, badhalakah emmen, stopping police brutality, establishing a multi party political system, celebrating 10 years of the Maldivian Democratic Party and various other protests. My collection would serve as a better lesson in the trials and tribulations of the Maldives’ transition to democracy than what is being taught, or more realistically, not taught in our schools.

Some of these shirts are faded, comforting, old friends to remind me of the good, hard times that we have overcome as individuals, and as a nation. The ones that haven’t faded, the new ones, haven’t reached that stature yet. They are on going battles. Every #FreePresidentNasheed tshirt serves as a constant reminder of the fact that he still remains in jail. That it is again, him in jail. That hundreds of people still face politically motivated charges, thousands more are too scared to even make a peep in defiance of the Government and that security is no longer an option if you’re not in the Gayoom’s good books.

Since February 22 of this year, people have been mobilising practically every day, definitely every week, to #FreePresidentNasheed. This has ranged from mass demonstrations to small groups of individuals wishing to submit letters, petitions, underwater protests, rallies, and tea parties. No doubt, the mercurial nature of Maldivian politics and the compromises that come with it has had an effect on the confidence some Maldivians have in the ability of direct action to pull this off. Add to this the increasing political repression, police brutality and the risks to livelihoods, and the crowd becomes sparser. Fair enough. This then leads to the less physically risky alternative – negotiation, politicking and compromise. Neither option is set in stone nor are they mutually exclusive. Both contain a variety of pros and cons. Has direct action been easier for the wider public to swallow than negotiation with former political rivals? Of course. There are plenty of people in the movement whose skin crawls at even the thought of  Baaghee Nazim, Sheikh Imran and Co., but recognise that they are necessary evils in this current fight. Has this politicking resulted in greater cracks within the Gayoom regime than just direct action? Definitely, but we need both.

It is remarkably easy for armchair activists and the twitterati to criticise, and especially, strategise from afar. It is quite another feat to actually implement these ideas, when you’re faced with limited resources and constant pressure from the Government.  There’s been enough young adult social media angst in the last two weeks to make clear the amount of work the opposition still has to do in order to convince Maldivians that nothing will be achieved if they remain in their comfort zones. There is no question that the current Free President Nasheed campaign needs a jolt. It absolutely does, but lets not completely batter it either. Despite the Governments’ barrage against the opposition, it has remained a consistent thorn in Yameen’s side for the last year. Hundreds of people have put their lives on hold, on the line, purely to commit to this movement. They have paid the price with their families, their livelihoods and their health. They do so because they cant bring themselves to do anything else. It is shameful to be so callous about this effort purely because that is your social media persona, or because you’re ‘not political’. Instead, get involved. It doesn’t have to be through an opposition affiliated political party, but it does have to admit that its work is political. Civil society groups in Maldives must overcome this identity crisis they stumble upon every time they’re confronted with an issue that puts them in confrontation with the Government’s political objectives.

Now, the opposition needs new ideas, opinions and it especially needs newer, younger faces. Does it need to make a better effort in creating opportunities for this to happen? Yes, but this doesn’t mean that it can afford to wait around for people who only want to make a move when there is no risk to themselves, or to whatever organisation they represent. There is no luxury of being apolitical when everything around us is imploding due to the political motivations of the people in power.

What is clear is that this dalliance with dictatorship by the current generation of Gayooms is no little fling. They’re in it for the long haul. They’ve sacrificed themselves physically – tenuous assassination attempt -, invested taxpayer money – hello expensive foreign PR firms – and are determined to ride out the international condemnation, no matter the damage to our economy or reputation. Maldivians have to decide once and for all if they’re content to live on the sidelines demarcated by the Gayooms. The option of waiting for the next election is not feasible. When the likes of Fuwad Thaufeeq are replaced by Histo, how can there be?

When you’re running on adrenaline while organising a protest, or furious with unlawful police officers after just being pepper sprayed, there is a clarity of thought, a conviction that nothing else exists apart from the need to stop this brutality. The most difficult of times is when the adrenaline leaves you. When there are too many quiet moments in the day, where taxi drivers, elderly grandmothers, friends and family ask you for signs of progress and you can offer nothing other than hope.

As this movement goes on, as the days of President Nasheed in detention increase, as the number of days without finding Rilwan go by, as more people are unlawfully detained and prosecuted, I find myself losing the will to be interested in anything but this. I don’t want to be glued to my phone for updates of the latest drama. I don’t want to only talk about politics at a social gathering. I don’t want to be constantly angry, frustrated or sad. I don’t want to feel guilty for wanting to do something else. It makes no sense, but I do. It is this constant, nagging, and anxious lump in my throat reminding me, questioning me, berating me to do more. Do more, to get him out, do more to stop this country from hurtling into the abyss. The Maldives cannot wait for all the stars to fall in line. It has to push them into line. So, please, help.

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December 14, 2015 · 10:24 am

The Stabbing of Mahfooz Saeed

I didn’t realise how much I’d been lulled into a false sense of security until approximately 5pm on Friday afternoon. Mahfooz Saeed (26), a member of former President Nasheed’s legal team was stabbed at approximately 5pm on Friday afternoon. He was on a busy street in the centre of Male’ when he was attacked by 2 unmasked men in broad daylight. They stabbed him in the head.

Mahfooz is the youngest and newest member of President Nasheed’s legal team. He recently took his oath, but has always been vocal about the state of our judicial system and is a staunch defender of human rights. Last Thursday Mahfooz spoke at the Maldivian Democratic Party’s first public rally since President Nasheed was illegally transferred back to jail. He spoke of Afrasheem, Rilwan, President Nasheed and many other victims of politically motivated injustice in the Maldives. He railed against the authorities, holding their inaction in relation to Rilwan’s case equivalent to complicity. He kept saying that we owed it to ourselves to hold these people accountable despite the intimidation and the fear mongering.

Standing on that newly constructed stage in front of Haruge, facing the crowd across the street at artificial beach he said, ‘Emme fahu meehaa aa jehendhen party migothah dhemi ovvejje nama alhugandu Mahfooz Saeed migothuga hunnaan’.

I remember being nervous for him that night.

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This afternoon, just hours before he was stabbed, Mahfooz accompanied a MDP activist and National Council member Hassantay to the Police station for questioning. Hassantay was being questioned for leading the prayers for President Nasheed after Hukuru at Islaamee Markaz. Hassantay is the third person the Police summoned regarding a situation they just don’t know how to handle. First it’s a public disturbance, then it’s a hostage situation, then its noise pollution. Over the space of 10 minutes, it was as if the Police were randomly flicking through the new penal code to see what they could throw at this politically motivated problem. Mahfooz and Hassantay enjoyed themselves. The whole situation was ridiculous and so symptomatic of the way this Government responds to everything. Headless chickens.

Two hours later, no one was laughing. That false sense of security that was established because of a few weeks break in violent crime in Male’ came crashing down as soon as the messages filtered in on different viber groups. It made me realise that an absence in violence is no reason to feel secure, when we live in an environment where Government officials operate as an extension of a neighbourhood gang.

People rushed to IGMH. Then came the nonsensical death threats to MDP MPs to vote against the Government’s terrorism bill.  Crowded into that decrepit old building with exposed wires and falling ceilings and beds, the only thing people could do was speculate. How many attackers? Was he alone? Were they masked? Did they hide the knife? Was there CCTV in the area? It must have been to scare off President Nasheed’s international lawyers? What are the Police saying? The Police weren’t saying anything. 8 hours later, they still haven’t said anything.

Mahfooz underwent surgery and is luckily stable and recovering. The knife in his head was promptly taken away by Police forensics as soon as it was removed from his skull. The footage from the Police operated CCTV cameras in the vicinity of the crime scene? Who knows? If the cameras were working, then the images would have been beaming onto screens inside the Police station while the attack happened. It was broad daylight. Their faces were uncovered. It was targeted. It isn’t difficult to believe that the attackers were on a very generous leash controlled by individuals in positions of power. After all, they attacked him with total impunity.

Leaving the hospital this evening, that niggling sense of anxiety that used to effect me in Male’ had well and truly returned. Its back to the family pleas of don’t walk on the streets alone, the tense looking around while sitting on the back of a bike, and the question – who’s next? Although, that is the point of attacks like this isn’t it? It’s the scenario that Mahfooz spoke about at the rally, the very reason why we have to continue challenging this state of affairs, no matter how fearful the consequences.

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Shame

Shame is a disciplinary policy employed by South Asian matriarchs the world over. My grandmothers certainly went to town with it. Whenever they felt they had to admonish their children/grandchildren for wearing a piece of clothing, or behaving in a way which they thought would bring negative public attention to the family, the phrase, ‘ladheh ves nuganeytha’/‘Have you no shame’ would be snapped at the individual in question. We laughed off the reprimands at our fashionably ripped jeans, but responded angrily when our participation in anti government protests were met with questions laced in this discourse of shame. ‘Keekeyhey meehun hithah araanee’/’What will people think? In the case of the protests, the point was precisely to make people think.

In small island communities such as ours where everyone knows everyone’s business, discipline used to be communal trade. You knew you couldn’t sneak out of the house without the dhatha next door ratting you out. Public naming and shaming was potent enough to carry reprisals way beyond the individual. Politically, members of the public who had fallen out of the ruler’s favour, or those who had to be made an example of, became targets of state orchestrated ridicule. Aside from psychologically traumatising many a child, this treatment also served to suppress dissent, at least for another year or two.

The idea of shame characterising public behaviour in the age of the selfie may be considered out dated or even restrictive, but I confess, there are many moments in Maldives when the only response I can think of is have they no shame? Judges exposed in flagrante , civil servants publicly accused of sexual harassment who then go on to be appointed as diplomats, blatant corruption by public officials, typo ridden Government press statements, everyday racism, and abysmal records of disservice to the populace. How do public officials not care what the public think?

What has changed in our society that allows for public officials to flaunt their ill-gotten wealth, post it on Instagram and filter it in the words of public service? Why is it cool to become a knife-wielding teenager whose first recourse is to threat, bribe and assault someone? How is it not shameful to have a man who has done nothing in his life other than buy his way into power as our current Vice President? At what point in our culture is it acceptable to punch a migrant worker for a minor mishap on the road? Do these individuals not have anyone in their lives willing to bring them down a peg or two? The established institutions certainly won’t.

Maybe the real answer is that not enough has changed. Maybe the idea of shamelessness is far more concentrated on outward appearances rather than individual action. It has often been the case that a large majority of Maldivians are more enamoured by the appearance of professionalism than professionalism itself. It’s what drives the comments of people who decry the behaviour of MPs who disrupt Majlis or protesters who disrupt traffic, but turn a blind eye to large-scale corruption. Or, perhaps, in an authoritarian state, naming and shaming is only effective in the hands of an oppressor. Public examples are still only made of individuals who are considered a threat to the dominance of the state.

It could also be that the public just don’t take it far enough. I confess, ingrained societal niceties do play a role in this. My friend asked me the other day why I’d greeted a man who’d recently taken up a job defending the Yaameen Government’s legal infractions. He questioned me on why I acknowledged this individual who I used to know, but who was now embroiled in the muck of this Government. I blamed my grandmother. It would have been rude not to say hello. I later wondered if shunning him would have made a difference? Maybe that’s the failure in our attempts to name and shame. We don’t call out hypocrisy enough. We don’t call out corruption enough. We don’t call out harassment enough. Or we don’t do it in an arena that has greater consequences than twitter. We don’t go far enough.

Last Saturday, one of the phrases I heard in response to the Police’s disruption of the #SuvaaluMarch- marking 1 year since the disappearance of Minivan News journalist, Ahmed Rilwan, was have they no shame? For many who were present that day, the Police’s offensive disruption was shocking. Looking back, I berate my self for being shocked at the actions of an institution which in the last three years has been nothing but distasteful, especially in relation to the #FindMoyameehaa case. On a day that was already fraught with heightened emotion, for a handful of Policemen to brazenly bully a grieving family in the middle of Male’ was a new low. For a state institution to claim that a small group of people walking in silence in memory of a missing son was disrupting traffic, while the Government had turned the entire city upside down on a new whimsical policy of roadwork was mind boggling.

Many were outraged by the Police’s pepper spraying of the #SuvaaluMarch. In fact, the police’s response was symptomatic of their treatment of the entire investigation. Apart from calling out the Police for their barbarism, – which was of course deemed shameless by pro government media outlets – it took great courage and strength of character for the #SuvaaluMarch to keep going. The very fact that it went on in spite of the Police’s multiple attempts to disrupt it was I believe the strongest example of naming and shaming the public have given the state in many months. It showed that not every injustice will be tolerated, and that not every slight will be overlooked. More than anything, it demonstrated the continuing shameful role of the Police in exacerbating a family’s inexplicable grief. Perhaps some of this filtered down to the Police, as they did not dare defend themselves as they usually do in a pompous post incident press statement. Perhaps it filtered down to the wider public, of which many chose to act as bystanders, but will hopefully join in next time.

As a collective we should be racked with shame with many of the things that are currently taking place in our society. Disappeared journalists, the return of political prisoners, murdered MPs, systematic injustice, and gross misuse of public funds – ladheh nuganeytha? Have you no shame? I do.

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20 Days and Counting #FindMoyameehaa

Ahmed Rilwan

 

It has been 20 days since Ahmed Rilwan (@moyameehaa), 28, was last seen by his family and friends. 20 days of unimaginable anxiety, 20 days of unmentionable fears, of endless questioning, searching, theorising and pleading to absolutely no avail. Many of us who are following the story of Rilwan didn’t know him personally. Some of us ‘follow’ him on twitter, occasionally read one of his articles, and quite often nod in agreement with his humorous reasoning.

Rilwan’s writing covered many of the most pressing issues challenging Maldivian – and global – society today: religious extremism, organised crime, and political corruption. His disappearance, following an alarming bout of death threats, has heightened the climate of fear felt by many Maldivians. The resulting response from the authorities has not been reassuring. It is also, given recent history, not surprising.

I have never had the greatest faith in Maldivian policing. See here, here and here. After a fleeting moment of optimism with regards to the MPS from 2008 – 2011, #mvcoup served to beat such hopes back into line. To be fair, they weren’t that great from 2008-2011 either, but there were at least attempts within the institution to address these issues, both structurally and ideologically.

Many of us have spent a lot of the last two and half years criticising the Police. Their politicisation, brutality, indifference, and incompetence have been raised over and over again in Majlis standing committees, in the media, on social media; it is a conversation held all over the Maldives.

Yet nothing changes. The Yameen Government refuses to hold any police officers accountable for their violations. They have replaced a narcissistic but regimented Police Commissioner in favour of a corrupt thug. They have appointed an ex Police Officer accused of torture as Home Minister, one who is hell bent on implementing the death penalty, even if the service he oversees can’t always be motivated to find those who are to receive the punishment.

Not one serious act of criminal violence has been resolved or brought to justice: Afrasheem’s gruesome murder, the assaults on Velezinee, Hilath, Asward and Alhan, the arson attack on Raajje TV, numerous incidents of gang related knife crime, and an increasing number of targeted death threats, remain unsolved.

Honestly, I know the fault is not MPS’ alone. It’s the entire system’s. The judges are fundamentally corrupt, the institutions that have to work together don’t like speaking to each other, and the people – Majlis – who have to make sure all these components are functioning, are too busy buying and selling votes among themselves to care.

Rilwan’s disappearance has put many of us in the position of having to begrudgingly trust that the Police are doing their job. What else can we do? What is frustrating is what little we hear about the investigation as the days rack up. I can understand that in a sensitive ongoing investigation, not all details can be divulged to the public, but what we have heard so far has been far from comforting. Firstly, the pace. Second, finding out that two eyewitnesses outside Rilwan’s apartment had reported seeing an individual abducted the night that Rilwan was last seen, but that the Police had not a) followed up this report, b) informed his family when they reported his disappearance a week later, is shocking. Even more shocking, the eyewitnesses claim that although the Police arrived at the scene almost immediately, bagged the knife that had been dropped and took numerous photographs, they DID NOT take the witnesses’ statements. They did this a week later after Rilwan had been reported as missing. Is that just genuine incompetence? Does that mean that they did not look for the vehicle described by the witnesses until a week later? At what point does incompetence transition to culpability?

It feels like MPS is not treating this case with the same sense of urgency as those of the more political nature – ie; raids on Usfasgandu, Ambara, and arrests of opposition activists. However, criticism of the Police/state response on Rilwan’s case is not driven by politics. It is driven by the urgency of wanting to find him, wanting to know if he is still alive. At a time when public confidence in Policing is dismal, MPS need to do better than this to prove their critics otherwise.

Which means, MPS have to live up to the financial and technological investment this country has put in them and they have to make Rilwan a priority, even if they don’t agree with his views. They have to sympathise with and not dismiss a mother’s heartbreak and they have to constantly reassure us that they are doing everything they can to #FindMoyameehaa. Again, this doesn’t mean publicly going into the nitty gritty of the investigation. It means ensuring that the search is a MPS wide objective. That every officer on patrol, behind a desk, in uniform knows what the intelligence requirement is, that any information relating to the case is passed on immediately to the team in charge and that processes such as forensics relating to the case is fast tracked.

I hope that the Majlis committee which questioned MPS officials tonight ensured that the investigation is progressing quickly and is based on solid leads. I also hope they reiterated the importance of taking threats seriously. As it comes up to three weeks since Rilwan was last seen, we can play armchair detective all day long, but it is hoped that the trained professionals step up their game, for this country cannot afford for Moyameehaa to exist as a hash tag in perpetuity.

 

 

 

 

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For the many Evans

I was 16 years old when Evan Naseem was murdered in Maafushi jail. Horror stories of Maldivian jails were not new to me, but Evan’s death provided something else – photos of a battered, bruised body to go with the hushed up recollections of police brutality that have always been spoken about within my family. Maafushi and Male’ erupted that day, and in direct comparison to the cold, calculated beating that Evan Naseem received, this outpouring of emotion was spontaneous, riotous. Maldives was in shock.

It took just 48 hours for Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s (then 25 year old) government to kill 5 of its citizens in cold blood. The thinly veiled attempts to justify the shootings as ‘javah, fazaya, havayah’, was deemed enough of an explanation for the population, until of course the establishment of a sham inquiry commission. Lets also not forget the shameless photo opportunity for Maumoon and his son by Evan’s corpse.

A few hundred civilians were arrested for the incidents in Male’ where at most, government buildings were damaged, where as a quick few arrests of NSS Officers were carried out for the murders of 5 inmates. The sorry excuse for an inquiry commission produced a report riddled with redactions for the purposes of national security. It called to hold only the puppets accountable, not the men who pulled their strings.

A trial was conducted; people were sentenced and pardoned in quick succession.  The propaganda machines of the Government went on overdrive, with wild stories of Evan Naseem the drug addict, or Evan Naseem, the juvenile delinquent. Like any of it was a justification for him being wrapped in tarpaulin to be beaten to death by members of the country’s national security services? Like any of it was even a semblance of justice.

The confidence with which Maumoon was able to whitewash the Maafushi jail affair was due to the level of control he exercised over the whole of the Maldives. The pervasiveness of Maumoon’s suppressive regime was evident in the fact that he went onto win another 5-year term following September 19/20 2003.  And yet significant cracks were beginning to appear in the authoritarian fabric that was Maumoon’s Maldives, more powerful than the few percentage points Maumoon had lost in 2003 compared to his previous Presidential elections. As terrible as Evan Naseem’s murder was, the international attention it received, the furore it created domestically gave hope to the minority who had been silently and vocally resisting the dictatorship for years. There was no going back, or so we thought.

Truth be told, I never believed it was the brutality of Maumoon’s regime which led to his ultimate downfall in the 2008 elections. Maybe this is being cynical, but not enough people in the Maldives cared, or maybe not enough people in the country directly/indirectly went through his torture.  In fact, a Human Rights Commission survey, supported by the UNDP in 2005, showed that social and economic rights were more often a priority than political and civil rights. Fair enough. Probably why the auditor general’s ‘time bombs’ of 2008 made more of an impact than testimonies of custodial abuse. With the dawning of ‘Aneh Dhivehi Raajje’ the very optimistic temptation was to think that Maumoon was going to be held accountable for all his misdeeds immediately. An election-induced euphoria does not allow you to keep in mind the state of the budget, the 45.32% that still supported the old regime, the politicised police, army, judiciary and civil service that will do everything in its power to prevent said justice from taking place. It definitely did not leave room for thoughts of ‘coup d’etats’.

Was it ever a realistic option for Maumoon, Adam Zahir and Co. to be held accountable for the countless numbers of people they victimised in their jails? No. Not with the state of our country’s institutions. Why not a truth and reconciliation commission then? I don’t honestly know. Was it realistic to believe that state orchestrated brutality would no longer be condoned? Yes. Naively, yes. Except almost 8 months on from 7/2 the Maldives finds itself right back where it was in 2003. Caseloads of human rights violations, Amnesty International reports of condemnation and denials by Gayooms, resulting in no one being held accountable for the injustices. Not the puppets, and certainly not their masters.

Stories of torture do not go away; do not leave a person easily. The thoughts that Evan’s screams, his pleas for mercy were deliberately overlooked by his abusers are not things that we can or even should forget.  Precisely why Dr. Waheed is a far crueller man that I ever thought possible, for his ability to brush aside the excessive torture that his family and friends were put through, and that, mostly as a result of his opposition to Maumoon. Ironically, those who have undergone torture themselves almost seem to find it easier to not address it than those who are related to them.  They are certainly not over it, their involuntary reactions to men in combat uniforms give them away. Maybe it is too painful, too humiliating and too frustrating to re-visit those days.  Maybe their experiences have given them far greater insight into the minds of the brutes in power then and now to realise that expecting justice in the Maldives is far too great an ask. Nevertheless, my mind remains filled with shadowy pictures of andhagondis, tinu golhis, and fen golhis, reiterated by the MRIs and X-rays of the spines of my loved ones who bear the eternal brunt of Maumoon’s brutality. And of course that battered, bruised body of Evan Naseem.

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V for Vendetta/Verikan/Varihama

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I am consumed by the coup. Immediately after February 7th, it was shock and denial, end of February and March to mid April it was anger. Mid April to mid June – begrudging apathy tinged with bouts of melancholy, interspersed with fits of anger. Although to be fair, the coup coalition has provided a lot of incredulous laughs in June, with their condoms, cursed cockerel and black magic women. Acceptance is supposed to hit at some point in this despicable cycle, is it not?

Except, it isn’t. The constant hate filled vitriolic exchanges over twitter, Facebook, on the road, and on TV, is draining, but strangely addictive. Worse is the frustration when you try to counter a coup conspirator/condoner with logic. Those are the times when you realise that there really is nothing either more appropriate or satisfying as responding with ‘Baaghee’ or ‘Kaarrr Kaarrr’. There have of course been moments, dire and demanding, which have highlighted that there are bigger issues than this coup claustrophobia that some of us have managed to wrap ourselves in. Cancer is one, knife crime the other. Essentially, primordial issues of life and death.

Many, angry over the continued political circus that is the Maldives, have pleaded for the country’s politicians to get over themselves and to sit down and start focussing on the issues that matter – reducing violence and fixing the economy. I understand the sentiment. The parents of children knifed to death in a park or on the street don’t want to deal with bickering politicians bargaining over inquiries surrounding transfers of power, crowd size or rallying grounds. They want their children back, they want security, and barring all, they want justice. However, no matter how petty the politics may seem, the issues aren’t disconnected. We live in a time where there are institutions whose sole purpose is to guarantee accountability, yet these same institutions are openly acknowledged as having no legitimacy. Judicial Service Commission, I’m talking about you. The problem lies that in a democracy, it is the people that are supposed to be holding these institutions to account, and yet those who’ve voiced these demands are few and far between.

Holding people accountable for their actions or inactions has never been a strong point for the Maldives. Corruption is rampant across all sectors, MPs continue to faff about in Majlis without tackling bills such as the Penal Code which has been delayed for over 5 years, leaders continue to appoint individuals who have proven to be incompetent, the Civil Service Commission formulates dress codes rather than monitoring the achievement of national objectives, independent institutions aren’t ballsy enough to condemn violations even when confronted with video evidence, MPS and MNDF don’t cooperate unless they are instigating or defending a coup, civil society continue to hide behind their defence of ‘infant institution’ and a large number of people are satisfied as long their own personal and financial security is guaranteed, even if that is the equivalent of a small cash injection prior to an election. Lets not even get into the judiciary, which is truly the bane of all things unaccountable. Ablo Gazee. Enough said.

There are three distinct attitudes that are central to the policy of holding individuals accountable in the Maldives. They are – vendettas, verikan, and varihama.

Vendetta – gangs and some national politicians operate in a similar manner. They feel a challenge towards their territory, power and ego and they respond immediately to eradicate the opposition. Whether this means, stabbing someone to death or opposing a policy/bill because it conflicts with their personal business interests, there is no ‘hihthirikurun’ here. Of course the nexus between politicians, businessmen and gangs are no surprise. 7/2 was clearly the biggest political and personal vendetta to date. Engineered by senior Police/Military officers who served under MAG, legitimised by a sulky VP sick of waiting in the shadows and fronted by those whose egos were most dented with Nasheed and the MDP in power. Vengeance, thy name is #mvcoup. And really, if those who overthrow a democratically elected government, brutalise unarmed civilians and continue to corrupt the judiciary carry on with impunity, who’s to stop an intoxicated, knife-wielding teenager with a chip on his shoulder, from doing the same?

Leading us to – Verikan. Accountability sort of gets lost in the corridors of power doesn’t it? Not always as a result of a corrupt mind set, but sometimes due to a naïve sense of loyalty or ignorance to what may seem minor issues over the more important ones like campaign pledges. Isn’t that why people who have proven time and time again to be incompetent, ineffective and actually disloyal keep being appointed to key positions in government? Lubna Zahir Hussain, and Nexbis Ilyas to name a few. Or what about those like Dr. Waheed and his family, who now very conveniently forget their involvement in the MDP government, when they pass on accountability of all alleged wrong doing in the last three years solely onto Nasheed? Gangs, play the same game. It doesn’t matter what they do, and who they hurt, as long as they stay on top and protect their turf. Loyalty to a person and money over loyalty to society and principles. The only thing accountable to them and their benevolent political and financial masters are monetary accounts. But who are we kidding? We are a deeply feudal system who jumped into democracy in 2008 and are still learning how to tread water. Well some of us anyway. Waheed, definitely, a fish (crow?) out of water.

In between those who are obsessed with vendettas and verikan, are the ‘varihamas’. The ones who quite simply couldn’t care less about who’s in power, who Ablo Gazee is, whether the Police are actually entitled to use their batons this way and not that way, and who find it easier to be horrified at a chair being broken rather than a person, who walk past a person in need of assistance or laugh along with the teenage bullies intimidating the Bangladeshi labourer on a bicycle. You know, the ones who go fabric shopping while there’s tear gas being flung all over the street, and who couldn’t care less whether it was a coup or a cuckold, as long as it doesn’t interfere with Kasauti. How does accountability fare in a society where significant portions are politically apathetic or socially selfish to the point of being cruel? It doesn’t exist.

It doesn’t exist because there is not enough social will for it to exist, and the political and legislative systems that have been mandated to guarantee it find it more conducive to live in a culture of impunity. But maybe Maldivians have to hit rock bottom before we realise the necessity of a criminal justice system that talks to each other, politicians who debate policy rather than demonstrating the worse of their personalities, and parents, teachers and colleagues who tell you off, and help, rather than enabling your bad behaviour. To the families of those who have suffered as a result of knife crime, gang violence and even police brutality, here’s hoping this is rock bottom.

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