Tag Archives: #FindMoyameehaa

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

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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