With the sentencing of
Ms Jennifer Latheef, Councilor and Human Rights Coordinator
of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to 10 years imprisonment
for alleged terrorism charges on 18 October 2005, President
Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has put to rest any hope about
the political reforms in the country. The Chairman of
the opposition MDP, Mohammed Nasheed has been detained
in jail since 12 August 2005 under charges of terrorism,
sedition and treason.
In the post September 11th period, very few other
dictators have so blatantly and systematically misused
and abused counter-terrorism measures to silence peaceful
political dissent. President Gayoom’s administration
sought to conjure up Islamic terrorism after the arrest
of Ibrahim Fareed. There has not been any case
of use of firearm or bomb blast
- the usual manifestation of terrorism activities.
Most political rallies have been peaceful demonstrations.
If Mahatma Gandhi were to lead a civil disobedience movement in Maldives, he
too would have been charged as a terrorist. The quotation
of the 3rd preambular paragraph of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights – “whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to
have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against
tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be
protected by the rule of law” – in Dhivehi
in a public meeting in Maldives is most
likely to attract sedition and treason charges.
Ms Jennifer Latheef was charged under the Prevention of Terrorism
Act for her alleged involvement in the civil unrest
of September 2003 following the murder of four prisoners
by the prison guards in Maafushi prison. The trial started
in February 2004 and ended in July 2004.
On 17 October 2005, the police reportedly hunted for Ms. Jennifer
Latheef across Male' to deliver the summon to appear
before the Criminal Court for the verdict and finally
served it in the evening. Earlier on 13 October 2005,
police barged into her room at the ADA hospital where
she was admitted for suspected dengue fever. Despite
being ill, the police attempted to forcibly bring her
to court in clear breach of Maldives' law.
Earlier on 2 October 2005, Abdulla Alexander, Abdulla Shabir
and Ahmad Moosa, who have also been charged for committing
acts of terrorism for participating in the September
2003 civil unrest, were each sentenced to 11 years jail.
Ikleel Ibrahim was given 10 years sentence.
Politically motivated trial:
Given the fact that President Gayoom is the highest authority
for administration of justice in the Maldives, the sentencing
of the pro-democracy activists, more particularly key
activists and family members of the opposition Maldivian
Democratic Party, by the Kangaroo courts is a foregone
Asian Centre for Human Rights is examining the verdict of
the criminal court. However the information obtained
by ACHR exposes the political motivation of President
Gayoom’s administration. There were seven witnesses against Ms Latheef,
six of whom were police officers. The statements reportedly
contradicted each other. One of the police officers
claimed that he saw Ms Latheef throw a stone at him,
which hit him on the shin, whilst he was walking away
from her. It is simply not possible for a person, who
is running for cover to identify particularly someone
from a crowd throwing stone at him. Judge Fahmy of the
Criminal Court reportedly completely ignored the inconsistencies
in the statements given by the State's (prosecution)
witnesses to the police as well as in the court. On
one hand Judge Fahmy held that given the 'lapse of time'
between police statements and court hearing the contradictions
were insignificant. On the other hand, Judge Fahmy completely
ignored vital defence arguments discrediting the prosecution
evidences and witness statements. He reportedly relied
on alleged confessional statements of Ms. Jennifer Latheef
before the police and her photographs taken by anonymous
sources. The defence counsel had argued against the
use of photographs as evidence. The source of the photograph
was not established in court and the person who took
the video from which still photographs were made choose
to remain anonymous and did not give evidence in the
court. Further, the photographs did not establish time,
place or event. Moreover, they showed Ms Latheef doing
nothing incriminating in anyway.
Reliance on the alleged confessional statements made by Ms
Latheef before the police to convict her is absolutely
unacceptable under international law. Such confessional
statements are often taken under duress and therefore,
are inadmissible as evidence in any civilized court.
This is based on a well-established canon of jurisprudence
that no one can be forced to incriminate oneself.
Civil disobedience as terrorist activities:
It is not a case that the Gayoom's regime is not aware of
what crimes constitute terrorism under international
law. However, President Gayoom appears determined
to destroy any form of dissent and therefore, considers
the civil disobedience movement as act of terrorism.
The events of the September 2003 were not a result of any
conspiracy either to overthrow the government or to
harm any person. The protest was a spontaneous outburst
of rage of people against gross human rights violations
committed by the security forces. Such protests against
custodial killings or torture take place on a regular
basis in India and other parts of South Asia.
Following international outrage for brutal suppression of
the pro-democracy uprising on 12-13 August 2004, President
Gayoom sought to address critical international community
by withdrawing the charges against those who participated
in the demonstrations in December 2004, holding sham
elections in January 2005 and announcing political reforms
including proposals for a new constitution in February
2005. In June 2005, he allowed registration of political
But no political activity can be carried out in Maldives.
The latest sentences by the Kangaroo Courts are an attempt
to intimidate the MDP not to carry out any political
protests or be charged as terrorist. President Gayoom
fears that if no visible constitutional reforms take
place by January 2006, a deadline set by himself, there
might be more political unrest. If the present trend
continues, MDP Chairman, Muhammed Nausheed might as
well be sentenced for terrorism charges soon to silence
all forms of peaceful dissent.
International community must urge President Gayoom, not only
as the head of the State but also as head of the judiciary,
to release Mohammed Nasheed, Jennifer Latheef and other
political detainees. The reform process in Maldives
must include the release of all political activists
and accountability against human rights violations.
If President Gayoom does not undertake visible reform measures,
provide freedom to political parties to carry on their
democratic activities and release all the political
detainees, the demand for imposition of sanctions including
a visa ban on President Gayoom and his Cabinet Ministers,
a freeze on their assets in foreign countries and a
ban on technical and economic assistance might not be
out of place. After all, repression of the political
opponents by President Gayoom is not different from
the ones being perpetrated by the military junta in
Myanmar and King Gyanendra in Nepal. That it is judiciary,
which sentences political activists in Maldives, does
not give any credence. For all practical and legal purposes,
President Gayoom is the judge and jury of Maldives.