Asian Centre for Human Rights

Dedicated to promotion and protection of human rights in Asia

ACHR REVIEW
[The weekly commentary and analysis of the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) on human rights and governance issues]

Embargoed for 17 August 2005
Review: 86/05

Call for International Intervention against Maldives

On 13 August 2005, Foreign Minister of Maldives, Dr. Ahmed Sayeed impressed upon the delegation of Asian Centre for Human Rights at the High Commission of Maldives in New Delhi about the seriousness of the reform programmes being undertaken by President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s government. However, the repressive measures undertaken since 1 August 2005 indicate otherwise.

ACHR welcomes such dialogue. Yet, because of the

Crackdown during the first anniversary of the pro-democracy uprising on 12 August 2005

extraordinary situation which developed within four days of the meeting with Foreign Minister Dr Shaeed, Asian Centre for Human Rights, for the first time is appealing to the international community, through its weekly ACHR REVIEW to intervene with the government of Maldives.

i. Renewed crackdown

Since the crackdown on 12 August 2005, the first anniversary of pro-democracy uprising, hundreds of people have been arrested all over Maldives. While some have been released, over 140 political activists remain under arrest by 15 August 2005. The detainees include Chairperson of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), Mohamed Nasheed and other political activists such as Kanduvai Hussain Rasheed, Ahmed Zahir, Hassan Zahir and Mohamed Hamdhan Zaki. Several detainees, including nine-month old pregnant, Aminath Maasha, were reportedly beaten by the police at the time of their arrest.

On 16 August 2005, senior MDP member from Addu, Abdulla Rasheed was arrested at Addu Atoll along with a large number of MDP supporters. According to unconfirmed sources, about 50 persons were arrested along with Abdulla Rasheed.  Confirmed reports from the islands of Feydhoo and Hithadhoo indicated that Mohammed Saeed, Ibrahim Zadhee, Mohammed Saeedh, Abdulla Sodig, Hussein Shahid, Zahidh Hussein, Saudhullah Hameed, Mohammed Habeeb, Mohammed Sharmeel, Ibrahim Jamaal, Mohammed Zubair, Ibrahim Rasheed, Ahmed Sattar, Sobree, Shammi and Azleem have been taken into custody.

Many of the arrested have not been taken to Dhoonidhoo, but to Feydhoo Finolhu and Girifushi.

Earlier, in the mid-night of 31 July and 1 August 2005, a large number of people gathered in queues in front of the Majlis Building (Parliament) in order to observe the proceedings of the session of the Majlis on 1 August 2005. As the members of the National Security Service and Pro-Gayoom political activists have reportedly been filling up the seats of the Majlis reserved for the public, the crowd gathered in advance. About 100 policemen including the elite star force brutally beaten up the demonstrators with sten guns, electric shock batons etc. The police also arrested several persons. Maldivian state controlled media reported on 8 August 2005 that four people- Ismail Riyaz, Ismail Wajeeh, Mohamed Shaheel and Mohamed Shahid arrested on the night of 31 July 2005 will be charged under clause 46 of the penal code for “participating in an unlawful assembly.”

The government of Maldives allowed the registration of political parties on 5 June 2005 but not political activities!

At about 10 pm on 12 July 2005, Mr.Ibrahim Shareef, Member of Special Majlis representing Male’Atoll reportedly received police summons to attend the Police station in Male at 10.30 am on 13 July 2005.

On 2 June 2005, the day during which the law on establishing party system was scheduled to be discussed in the Majlis, eight uniformed policemen allegedly stormed into the house of MDP Chairperson, Mohamed Nasheed at 05:30 a.m. after climbing over the compound gate, picked him and sped off in a police jeep. Three other senior leaders of the party - Ahamad Abbas, Susan Fulhu and Shuaib Ali were also arrested and detained along with Mohamed Nasheed.

The charges filed by the government for participating in the demonstrations on 12 and 13 August 2004 continue to hang like the Damocles Swords. On 31 December 2004, President Gayoom offered amnesty but those who were charged have so far not been notified in writing of the withdrawal of the charges against them. Criminal law requires that persons concerned by a legal measure be notified in writing thereof as only such written notification is legally valid and capable of developing legal effects. Despite repeated requests from the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the government of Maldives refused to convey in writing. Foreign Minister Dr Shaheed told Asian Centre for Human Rights that what remains to be done is only an administrative task. But the government has so far failed to do so.

Unless President’s amnesty of 31 December 2004 is communicated in writing, the fear of being charged again remains as the government is infamous for politically motivated trials. Jennifer Latheef, daughter of the spokesperson of the principal opposition party was charged in February 2004 with terrorism for allegedly throwing a stone at a policeman during the September 2003 riots. Till now, she cannot travel without the permission of the government and a verdict is awaited. In June 2005, Ahmed Falah was sentenced over an incident in prison that occurred in 1998. In June 2005, Mohamed Nasheed, the chairperson of the principal opposition party and former prisoner of conscience was detained for an afternoon on treason charges.  

ii. Farce reforms: Weakening of the Human Rights Commission

In another incident of reversal of reform process, on 12 July 2005, the Government of Maldives introduced an Amendment Bill to Human Rights Commission Act in the Peoples’ Majlis. The amendments were passed in the House on 21 July 2005. The amendments, amongst others, keep the security forces out of the purview of the investigation process of the Human Rights Commission [Art. 21 (b) (3)] and limits investigation powers of the Commission (Art. 22) and specifically target the Chairperson of the Commission by limiting his powers and functions to chairing meeting and delegating responsibilities. It is clear that President Gayoom has not been feeling comfortable with an independent chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Maldives.

iii. No NGOs:

The farce of the reform process is further reflected from the fact that while political parties have been allowed to register, NGOs have yet not been allowed registration on frivolous grounds. Maldives is possibly the only country in the world, which allows the registration of political parties but not the NGOs. The applications of the “Maldives Human Rights Association” and "The Reporting Network for the Relatives of the Persons in Judicial Care" have been pending considerable time.

iv. Continued censorship and intimidation of the media:

The government continues to censor and intimidate the media.  On 17 June 2005, two Maldivian journalists, traveling home from Colombo on board the mid-night flight, were questioned by the police upon arrival at the Male’ International airport. The police seized a compilation on how to form political parties prepared by the MDP based on a booklet prepared by the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (USA).

Aminath Najeeb, the editor of the recently registered newspaper, Minivan (Independent), has reportedly been hauled to the police twice and threatened with prosecution and potential jail for an article on the August 1st protest. The article in question contained the comments of a Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) member Ahmed Abbas which stated: “What we should do to those in the Star Force [police] who beat us, is to seek them out individually and for us to act in such a manner that makes them feel that beatings result in pain, otherwise they will not be subdued.”

v. Appeal for intervention by international community:

It has become amply clear that the registration of the political parties alone cannot and has failed to resolve the systemic errors of Maldives. International community must not be beguiled by President Gayoom's "one step forward, two steps backward" reform programmes and make effective intervention to restore political freedoms in Maldives. 

Asian Centre for Human Rights appeals to all the NGOs, United Nations agencies, European Commission, SAARC Secretariat and all other concerned individuals and organisations to intervene with the government of Maldives.

First, the government of Maldives should be urged to immediately and unconditionally release the Chairperson of the Maldivian Democratic Party, Mohamed Nasheed and all other political activists arrested since 1 August 2005, and extend invitation to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention to immediately visit Maldives.

Second, international community must recognize that Maldives is not a basket case where reforms can be undertaken under the present constitutional set up. The Peoples Majlis lacks any credibility as the President continues to control the Majlis by default through nomination of a large number of members of the Majlis as provided under the 1998 Constitution of Maldives.

Therefore, the Secretary General of the United Nations or any other inter-governmental or non-governmental body should facilitate the national reconciliation in Maldives.

What Maldives requires and President Gayoom must facilitate is to start a dialogue with Maldivian Democratic Party for developing a road map for composite political reforms. The road map should, among others, include (1) temporary suspension of the present flawed constitution and Peoples Majlis given the selection of a large number of members by the President, (2) formation of a national unity government to facilitate multi-party parliamentary and Presidential elections under the supervision of international observers and (3) allow the newly elected Majlis to draft a new constitution. Otherwise, if the present repression of the political parties and unoffcial ban on political activities continue, the call for resignation of President Gayoom and fresh Presidential election will not be out of place.

For President Gayoom, the choice is clear – either secure a legacy as a reformist or be condemned as a dictator in the dustbin of the history of Maldives.

However, for the sake of human rights and fundamental freedoms, international community must intervene against the arbitrary arrest, detention and torture of the political opponents.

© Copy right 2003, Asian Centre for Human Rights, C-3/441-C, Janakpuri, New Delhi-110058, India