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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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Inquiring into the Inquiry

The Commission of National Inquiry (CNI), established under a Presidential decree by Dr. Waheed, has been at the centre of much controversy since its inception. The establishment of an inquiry commission after a national crisis can often be seen as a quick win mechanism to demonstrate that the state is addressing people’s demands for answers and justice in lieu of a well functioning judicial system, or it can be a farce. Waheed, as per usual, went down the farce route. Not so quick nor keen to address issues of legitimacy surrounding his accession to power, but in an effort to subdue national and international pressure (and mainly because of the fact that it wasn’t an early election he was giving into, but a well-staged inquiry) he went ahead with it.

However, if Waheed’s primary motive was to try and placate those ‘questioning’ his position and to stop the MDP from calling for an early election, he has failed. This is due to the individuals he chose to appoint, the terms of reference he assigned, and his coup coalition’s bullheadedness in defending the impartiality of this obviously partial commission. Most of all he failed to note that even those who don’t have the courage to call a coup a coup, -but don’t have anything to lose if it is so concluded- still want to get to the bottom of what happened on 7th February 2012.

Easier said than done, I suppose, when your authority depends solely on the conclusion of the events that took place on a day preceded by a police/military mutiny. While the political bigwigs of the country wheel and deal over the CNI, we must remember that the probable findings of this commission could have huge ramifications for many individuals in involved in this political crisis. The question arises- are we ever going to know what happened on 7/2?

Firstly, for a commission to inquire about a sequence of events as contentious as the ‘questionable transfer of power’, its existence, members and mandate are going to invite controversy. So why shoot it in the foot before it had even got started by appointing Ismail Shafeeu? MDP, CMAG, the wider international community and even ‘Thinvana Adu’ requested Waheed’s administration to ensure that the commission was impartial, and credible. Impartiality, I take to mean as having firstly no political affiliation or as having equal representation by all Parties concerned, and secondly, credibility. The CNI met neither one of these requirements for the almost three months that it was in operation. Time, is no doubt crucial to an inquiry of this nature and while it is of an essence to the MDP, it is in the best interests of the Waheed regime for the inquiry to be delayed for as long as possible.

104 days of coup later, you have to wonder, what made Waheed change his mind over the CNI? If they don’t believe the CMAG has any right to a) put Maldives on the agenda or b) any grounds to make these recommendations, why bow down to them? Were some harsh facts made clear to him on his official visit to India? Either way, the gates of the CNI, no matter how reluctantly, have opened, albeit an inch or two. This has resulted in the appointment of a foreign judge as co chair, Nasheed being ‘permitted’ to propose a member to the Commission, and changes to the mandate of the CNI being strengthened, allowing it to summon individuals, accept statements, videos, photos, and most importantly request telecommunication and financial records. These agreements and the resumption of the all-party talks have been hailed as a thaw in national coup politics, and to be fair it is progress, but how much of it is sincere? I know. It’s a naive question, but humour me.

With regards to Nasheed’s representative to the CNI, the public is aware that he has proposed nine names, all of which have been rejected by Waheed’s regime for being too politicised. Nasheed has now been given two weeks to propose an individual to the CNI, who has not served in a political position in the past two years, must not have taken a public stand on the transfer of power, and must be of good behaviour and integrity. The Commonwealth states that these conditions must apply to all members of the CNI, including ones previously appointed. I wonder what the parameters are for determining good behaviour and integrity, and who in Waheed’s regime decides whether these characteristics are up to par in any individual that Nasheed proposes. Are Waheed and Coup. really not going to budge on the case of Ismail Shafeeu – whose stint as Maumoon’s former Defence Minister, surely places his ‘integrity’ in question. Forgive me, I forgot this approval of Commission members scenario is a one way street. Coup coalition gets to say the yay and the nay, but MDP do it and they are seen as the uncompromising troublemakers.

Also of confusion is the fact that Waheed earlier stated that he had no role in changes to the composition of the CNI. His Commission members then contradicted this by turning the responsibility back to him. Then we have the fact that Waheed stated that the Prosecutor General is responsible for the Commission, yet all the negotiations and public statements have been given by Azima Shukoor, and Jameel. Speaking of which, who is this all-elusive lawyer to be appointed to the CNI, if Nasheed’s nomination doesn’t meet with the coup coalition’s high approval?

There are also pressing concerns over the amendments to the CNI’s mandate and terms of reference. Although it has not yet been made clear whether the concluding report will still be the opinions of the CNI’s members, or whether the findings can lead to criminal cases, the ability of the Commission to now request phone records and financial statements give it more bite. I wonder how the CNI is ensuring the securing of this information. Are legal requirements going to be placed upon service providers, Dhiraagu and Wataniya for their cooperation with the CNI? Are all banks operating in the country- notorious for their non-cooperation with the Police over previous investigations into alleged corruption- now going to hand over their clients’ financial records without a fuss? And what about the intelligence departments of the Police and the MNDF? How does the CNI confirm that information relevant to the dates of interest to the Commission, obtained by these services has not been destroyed? Or what about officers under oath, who’ve signed confidentiality contracts? Does a summons from the CNI, waive them of the restrictions as applied by these documents? I also cannot get my head around how many of those who will be called upon to give evidence will be doing so without any suspension to their current duties as either law enforcement officers, government officials or civil servants.

Questions, questions, questions, my head is milling with them, and I wait with bated breath to find out Nasheed’s nomination. This individual who is going to have to be the incarnation of all things apolitical and integral in the world. Does such a Maldivian even exist? Someone very special to me who claims that Male’ is the cesspool of humanity would say, probably not. On the other hand, is there a point to all the analysis on the mandate and the members of the CNI? Surely, the findings have already been concluded. Hasn’t the unique Dr. Hassan Saeed already alluded to them? There are three possible conclusions – coup/illegal transfer or power, legal transfer of power or the middle.
I cannot imagine the CNI will conclude it is a coup, considering the fact that there are three members appointed by the coup boss himself on the Commission. Also think about the responsibilities of the international community if it is declared a coup. They’re not going to want the fuss of the Maldives, when they still have Syria, the Eurozone and the Olympics on their plates. Let alone the mess of where Indian HC Mulay comes into it. It also cannot be concluded as an entirely legal transfer of power, due to the blurry lines around mutinying politicised officers, resignations under duress, opposition politicians celebrating in the Police HQ, hijacking of state media and so on. The politically easiest conclusion must therefore be the middle.

What will be of further interest is what happens next? What will the conclusions lead to? Criminal cases, blanket amnesties, an exit clause for Waheed, constitutional amendments and of course election dates? No doubt there will be an awful lot of political wrangling over the next few days with regards to the Commission. Political actors on both sides have specific interests. Waheed & Coup. will want to seem democratic and budge on certain measures, whereas MDP will want to demonstrate that they are compromising and coming to the table, in order to drive home the importance of early elections. I hope that in the midst of this, civil society groups which claim to be the alternative, ‘third voice’ persist in emphasising that although political stability is important, a CNI that allows for the greatest level of truth and justice is far more essential to the future of the Maldives.

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Maldives – Not in Splendid Isolation

As a country of just over 350,000 people, the Maldives may not be considered more than a speck of dust on the realist’s international relations’ billiard table, but I believe three years of a MDP government led by Nasheed challenged that. Still small, still relatively minor, but oh so loud. The Maldives punched above its weight on all global platforms, and despite its size, its message was taken seriously.

The Maldives was never known for its political troubles. In fact, one of the reasons Maumoon’s regime survived for so long was because of his ability to present a façade of domestic harmony through a successful tourist industry and questionable UN development goal statistics. Nationally, any one who tried to shake things up was conveniently put away, internationally; his annual static speech to the UNGA was considered adequate enough for diplomats to ask no further questions and nod politely. The world didn’t expect anything from the Maldives apart from colourful cocktails and coral and the Maldives accepted nothing but money in exchange – tourist dollars & developmental aid. A somewhat ‘this is my dance space, this is your dance space’ situation if you like, reiterated by the fact that the majority of foreign citizens visiting Maldives often had no clue what was going on beyond their resort.

Come 2003, the international community were forced to pay attention to wider issues in the Maldives. Missions based in Colombo accredited to Maldives began adding further detail to what used to be quite stagnant telegrams back to base. Custodial deaths, riots in the capitol, dissidents who just wouldn’t stay down, the problems of decades of dictatorship, finally coming to head. With nowhere to go for assistance in Maldives, where else were pro democracy supporters to go but out? MDP in exile and its friends lobbied the international community fiercely, and it is precisely because of this lobbying that international partners began to take notice and exert pressure on Maumoon’s regime. A period of protests, mass arrests, police brutality, a tsunami, international mediation, and constitutional reform finally produced the first multi party presidential election in the country, and the Maldives was the star of South Asia. As the first ‘100%’ Muslim state to have achieved a peaceful transition to democracy, the Maldives was globally hailed as a success story.

The talk of diplomatic missions then turned to supporting the consolidation of democracy. The difficulty of consolidating democracy in a global recession, in a politically polarised society with high expectations and an infantile judiciary is represented by the fact that most diplomatic missions found it almost impossible to know where to start – budgetary support withstanding -, in efforts to help the Maldives.

Less than three years later and the democratic ‘light’ surrounding the Maldives has been dimmed by an attempt at a clever cover up of a coup. Members of the international community who did not bother to take the time to figure out what was happening on 7th February chose only to see a President resigning and his Vice President taking over. They chose not to see the gleeful faces of a brutal yesteryear engineering their way back to power through the instigation of a police/military mutiny combined with politicised brutality. They, global democratic giants, chose to see a façade of stability in a strategic point of the Indian Ocean rather than a forced reversal of democracy.

That’s how the game is played? Yes. Maybe. India will lookout for India, and for that its relationship with the military and the coast guard maybe more important than with the civilian government in Male’ who have so obviously been forced out by these armed forces. The US, although technically wary to recognise a somewhat questionable transfer of power finds it ok to jump on the bandwagon since India has already done so. Helped of course by the many links to the US that Dr. Waheed holds – but a Stanford diploma and a US green card does not a democrat make. If only the US would care to admit it. Lets not even get into the UN. Wait, that was a UN employee photographed at Jumhooree Maidhan on the afternoon of 7th February waving the national flag was it not? Was that also the very same individual who was in charge of the UNDP’s Access to Justice program, and therefore knew the nitty gritty of judicial incompetence and injustice in the Maldives? Also, was that the very same employee who used to reside in Bandos? I digress.

So, we are left with an I imagine somewhat bewildered international community, dealing with a reversal of democracy, mutiny, and a coup d’état without the blood and gore of Mali, Syria, or Bahrain. Maldives’ thunder is so easily stolen though. We are dealing with the new administration claiming that the international community have no right to interfere in the matters of Maldives’ internal affairs and with the MDP and those against the coup pleading for the international community to increase the pressure on Waheed. However, it is obvious that the coup coalition care a great deal about the perception of the international community. If not they wouldn’t have ‘charmed’ Waheed into accepting his role as Commander in Chief of Coup, and they wouldn’t be hiring Ruder Finn to ‘leverage outcomes from relationships with governments, academics and NGOs’. We now have international actors situated on a range of outcomes with regards to the Maldives. The UN unapologetically behind Waheed and the solution through a ‘national mechanism’, India and the US who appear somewhat mollified that they recognised the new regime so quickly and are now raising the issue of early elections and independent inquiries more stringently behind closed doors, the UK/EU saying all the right things safely in the middle, and CMAG in the far corner warning of disciplinary motions if early elections and an independent inquiry are not established.

Like democratic reform in 2004 – 2008 could not have been done without the assistance of the international community; neither can the restoration of democracy in 2012. Firstly, India must step up its game. It has become embroiled in this situation more than it would like, it has been embarrassed, but it can still choose to play the role of the world’s largest democracy and support democrats rather than dictators in its neighbourhood. India, use your leverage. With 9 days to go, I would urge members of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group to remain steadfast in their recommendations to the Maldives. An independent inquiry is a necessity and the farce of a commission that Waheed has established is a slap in the face of those against the coup when the police and military have already brought them to their knees. Early elections in 2012 – another must, to reiterate that it is votes and not batons, which must determine governance in the Maldives, and in fact everywhere. Help make the Maldives an example again, of the hardships of infant democracy and the importance of its restoration and consolidation.

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MDP – Bigger than Jungle

The Maldivian Democratic Party is many things to many people. To Maumoon, Anni maybe the bane of his existence, but the MDP is the more institutional thorn in his side. To the gaabil, ilmee, thaulimee types – the Hassan Saeeds – MDP and its members are a bunch of raucous, uneducated barbarians.  Funny that, especially when they have Riyaz Rasheed, Sandhaanu Ahamaidhi and Injustice Jameel. To the truly colourless, if that is now possible, the MDP still seem to be the only Party that they place their eternally high expectations in, and direct most of their criticism towards. To me, as naive as it may seem, the MDP has always represented the foundation of democracy and the potential for positive change, using the indomitable spirit of its members in the face of adversity.

My MDP is bigger than Anni, bigger than Didi, and it is most certainly bigger than Alhan. No doubt the Party has big personalities, some who are quite honestly as obnoxious as they are entertaining, but the MDP’s strength is still the combination of all of its 48, 353 personalities, not just the ones on stage, behind a microphone, on the street and in the limelight. It would do well for those on the centre stage to understand that. Admittedly the Party has gone through its ups and downs, not securing a Parliamentary majority, disreputable MPs, weak Party leadership –administratively and otherwise, but it has always come together when the going gets tough. As it did on 8th February.

As painful as it is to see the bitchy bickering between MDP members on social networks, during a time where those of the Waheed regime are preying like vultures for any signs of decay, I’m glad its happening. It demonstrates that dissent is possible within the Party and that it is not being suppressed, but rather that if there is dispute over Party policy/action; it should take place within internal Party structures – the Gaumee Majlis/primaries.

It is only right when Dr. Didi and Alhan seemed to want to take action irrespective of Party line and the Gaumee Majlis, that people question their motives and their loyalty to the Party. Obviously, rumours of Alhan’s STO debt, issuing statements in violation of Party lines, and rendezvous with coup leaders don’t help. With regards to the shadow cabinet, apparently proposed by Alhan and Dr. Didi, questions of their loyalty arose, simply because of the fact that the MDP’s Gaumee Majis had already passed a resolution to not recognise the Waheed regime as legitimate. I believe this was on 8th February. The MDP Parliamentary Group had put forward a statement that they questioned the legitimacy of Waheed’s Presidency, and refused to respond to Waheed’s address, as they were not the Party in opposition, but the Party of the Government that had been voted in for a 5 year term. For Alhan and Dr. Didi to then propose a shadow cabinet is surely an admission of recognition towards Waheed’s regime and an acceptance that MDP is ready to play an opposition role? Preposterous. File a motion at the Gaumee Majlis, then get back to us.  Another Presidential candidate other than Anni? Fair enough, contest in the party primary, and prove there is a better candidate. The opportunity to contest, the opportunity to prove oneself is what I’ve always believed to be the beauty of MDP.

Then of course there are people like Kalhey, who left claiming that there were too many undue influences within the Party. Was it the rumours of Fala possibly contesting Kalhey’s seat in the next Majlis election? Was it really pressure from certain members of the Party for him to stand down as a candidate for an elected PG position? So what if it was? He should have had the strength to stick it out and to fight his corner, if he really did have something he was fighting for other than his financial security. Thousands of MDP members consistently come out on the streets standing up against Police brutality and the Waheed regime. They are at times angry, frustrated and hopeless, but they often gain strength in their unity, in the hope of the possible. Could Kalhey not connect with that sentiment, or did he never really want to?

Here is where I stand. The MDP is too important to watch it disintegrate over loud personalities, who know how to work a crowd. Those who cannot get over themselves, who cannot admit they made mistakes, who cannot accept dissenting views, who are rolling in debt and need the financial security offered by Gasim and others, who cannot work within Party structures to resolve disputes, who cannot appreciate the power of a vote in their favour and who purposefully discredit the Party for the benefit of those it stands against need to think twice. We are better than PPM/DRP/JP not because of our leadership, but because our members.

Again, being incredibly naïve, it no longer matters to me if we don’t have a majority in Parliament, or don’t win an election. I would rather the hypocritical ‘come and go’s go for good, rather than vacillating between positions which benefit only themselves and not the wider MDP.  I hope then that we can accept our own failures, learn from them and prove again that MDP is not just strong in numbers, but sets the bar high in democratic principles too. I remain with my MDP.

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How Do You Solve a Problem Like MPS?

Today marks 79 years of Policing in the Maldives. Pity, that it has become so controversial an issue to appreciate. A mistrust of the Maldivian police, or security services has been ingrained in me for most of my life. I grew up with stories of arbitrary arrests, brutality in jails, and the concept that the Police were not there to protect and serve my interests, but those of their immediate superiors. In fact, one of the fundamental things that I had to accept in 2008, after the country’s first multi-party Presidential election was the idea, that the Police were no longer ‘enemies’, or even the ‘golha-force’, but very much part of the apparatus of state that any government had to take into consideration. It wasn’t an easy task.

Controlling my body not to shudder at the sight of a blue camouflaged uniform and black ankle boots and understanding that not every arrest the Police made was arbitrary. Most of all learning to trust the Police took time, commitment and a lot of stubbornness. Maybe that sense of apprehension and mistrust went both ways. No doubt, the prospect of a MDP government would have filled most senior Police officers with a high sense of foreboding. After all, these were the very people that they had seen on the other side of an investigation table, inside a jail cell and on the street loudly confronting them at every given opportunity. Lets not take lightly the extent to which the Police were a political tool of Maumoon’s authoritarian regime, and as a result, that they were very much a product of the democratic reform process in the Maldives at that time.

The Maldives Police Service was created in September 2004. Mostly out of the need to placate the international community, and to perform a PR exercise after the human rights debacle that was 12/13 August 2004. Instead of Policing duties being conducted by the National Security Service or the Army, we got the Maldives Police Service and the Maldives National Defence Force. Basically – blue and green uniforms. Two hastily divided institutions plunged into a fast-changing political environment to which they were inextricably tied. Millions were poured into investing in the MPS – equipment, training, strategic action plans, philosophies of policing and of course, new blue uniforms. Unfortunately, it seems that most of the training went into how to use new equipment rather than how to Police within new democratic laws. Of course, Adam Zahir being at the helm was never going to help. Neither did the Hussain Solah incident, especially after Evan Naseem.

Nonetheless, the MPS emerged, as an institution with heavy amounts of funding, a select group of highly educated officers, very young, not always disciplined recruits and a top brass that was intent on maintaining the status quo. Many in the top brass had spent years in the NSS, looked up to individuals like Adam Zahir as father figures and in some cases, had managed to log quite a few ‘favours’ through the Maumoon regime and therefore were heavily indebted. Add to this, the ‘Star Force’, the frontline of an authoritarian defence whose very existence and modus operandi depended on the long leash of their superiors and Government.

During the establishment of the MPS, human rights discourse, although in the Maldivian mainstream and a significant facet of the MPS PR machine had not and it now seems has not filtered through to the officer on the street. The MDP government due to their personal histories of being victims of human rights violations and their voicing out against police brutality faced greater pressure to ensure that these incidents did not take place under their watch. Political prisoners were no longer an issue, but it would be unfair to say that maltreatment of detainees in jails completely disappeared. We could say it lessened significantly and that it was no longer systematic. There was definitely more oversight, with the Human Rights Commission, and the Police Integrity Commission, but it was still a work in progress. A work in progress, which was focussing on issues such as the reduction of drugs, terrorism, gang violence and theft rather than simply on political protests. Yes, the whole institution still unnecessarily stuttered at the sight of a protest, but there was more to the ‘Protect and Serve’ during the last 3 years than ever before. I suppose however, that works in progress especially in an infant democracy are vulnerable, and leadership was not always forthcoming.

The extent of its vulnerability and the ability to which outside forces with vested interests managed to manipulate the disenchanted and politicised officers on the inside was evident on 7 February 2012. As a result, I find myself asking, now what? Now that the Police have played such an inexplicably outrageous role in engineering a coup and bringing down the country’s first democratically elected government – who are they protecting and serving now?

It cannot be the Maldivian people. No matter which side of the political spectrum you fall, how much you hate Anni and the MDP, I cannot imagine that many people genuinely condone the actions of the Police on 6-8 Feb. Unless you’re vicious Visam (MP) of course! I for one condemn it with every fibre of my being. I don’t believe that all police officers participated or even supported the actions of the mutinying officers on the 6th night. Many went along out of an ill begotten sense of camaraderie to their fellow officers who they believed would have been arrested by the MNDF. As they should have been. Nothing justifies a coup. Especially the very politicised actions that preceded it. I understand that many officers who don’t accept this new situation cant just up and leave, be it because of a need to provide for their families or a sense of duty to an institution that they have helped develop, but it is difficult to remember that when faced with footage of the carnage that was 8th February and the stories that have followed since.

The re-emergence of individuals like Abdulla Riyaz is frightening. He may have undergone a course in customer needs and conducting business through social media, but the nature of the man remains the same. Brutal. Unapologetically so. As such, the use of force although granted to Policemen by law, seems again far too easy a whim for officers to use rather than a measure to be taken in the gravest of circumstances. The fact that they have to be accountable to their actions, that they must provide a greater example is non existent. That Abdulla Riyaz is surrounded by deputies who seem to either share his beliefs or are willing to silently submit to it is scary, that his superiors are opportunistic nitwits like Jameel and FA is even more chill inducing, and most of all that the Police Integrity Commission is powerless is incredibly frightening.

So, how do I feel about the Police now? Scared. Infuriated. Frustrated. And heartbreakingly disappointed. On the 79th anniversary of Policing in the Maldives, I do not wish Police Officers hearty congratulations. Instead, I wish for them a sense of responsibility and understanding of their role in the disruption of a democratic state. I continue to wish that action will be taken against officers who so blatantly violated the Police act and abused unarmed citizens. I call for somebody to be held accountable for the actions of Police officers on 8th February, I call for a re-evaluation of the need of the ‘Special Operations’ Unit and I call for the resignations of Abdulla Riyaz, Hussain Waheed, Abdulla Phairoosh, FA and Jameel, and I call for an early election.

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