Tag Archives: Waheed

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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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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