Tag Archives: #FreePresidentNasheed

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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