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

Embargoed for: 24 May 2006
Review: 126/06

Urgent: Intervene Against State Terror in Maldives

Chairperson of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Mohamed Nasheed (Anni) has been summoned by the Court in Male to appear on 28 May 2006 for resumption of trial for alleged terrorism and sedition charges. The trial on 22 May 2006 had to be postponed for alleged security reasons. Asian Centre for Human Rights does not believe that the trial of Nasheed has been postponed because of security reasons. It is typical President Gayoom's way of exhausting the resources of International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) which sent an international observer. Each time President Gayoom's regime postpones the hearing at the last minute, it means that ICJ or any organisation which decides to send observers has spent lots of resources for observing nothing. President Gayoom as the head of the judiciary can postpone the trial as many times as he wishes till the NGOs become pauper. This is an occupational hazard that the NGOs have to face while dealing with dictatorial regimes.

The trial is not so much about Nasheed who has been accused of “sedition and terror” but in reality, it is a trial of President Gayoom and his false proclamation about the democratic reforms. President Gayoom and his seasoned advisers should know that conviction will not make Nasheed a terrorist but will expose the State terrorism in Maldives where President is the judge and jury. The conviction will expose that President Gayoom, the longest serving dictator in South Asia, has no plans to give up power and much vaunted “Roadmap for the Reform Agenda” announced on 27 March 2006 is nothing but a ploy to buy time and to pave the way for convicting Nasheed.

I. Who is the real terrorist?

Mohamed Nasheed was arrested from the Republican Square in Male by the police on 12 August 2005 when he and four others were reportedly sitting peacefully to mark the first anniversary of Black Friday. Mohamed Nasheed was reportedly dragged off, beaten with batons and kicked hard by the police causing grievous injuries including bruising to his legs, and an internal hemorrhage as a result of a blow to his back.

On 28 August 2005, he was taken to the court for hearing of the charges brought against him. He was charged on two counts.

First, he was charged with the offense of “Attempting to Act Against the State under article 29 of the Penal Code” which provides that “Whoever attempts to commit or participates in or facilitates the commission of an act against the State shall be punished with imprisonment for life or exile for life or imprisonment or exile for a period between 10 years and 15 years.”

Second, he was charged with “offense of committing an act of terrorism” under article 6(b) with reference to article 2(g) of Law Number 10/90(Law on the Prevention of Terrorism in the Maldives 1990).

Article 6 (b) of Law on the Prevention of Terrorism in the Maldives 1990 states: “Whoever commits an act of terrorism which does not involve the death of any person shall be punishable with imprisonment or banishment for a term not less that ten years but not exceeding fifteen years. The punishment for any person found to have participated in the commission or planning of such an act shall also be the same. Any person found to have aided or abetted in the commission of the crime or concealed any information relating to the crime shall be punishable by imprisonment or banishment for a term not less than three years but not exceeding seven years.”

Article 2 (g) provides that “Under this Act, the acts of terrorism which constitute the offence of terrorism shall include: Any act or the attempt to commit an act that may instill fear among the people or threaten life, person or property of any person verbally or in writing.”

Under the definition of terrorism by President Gayoom's administration, hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy activists who were protesting in the Kathmandu valley could have been very easily defined as terrorists.

II. Occidental Technical Cooperation

There are many governments from Asia at the United Nations which swear by technical cooperation as the only way for dealing with human rights situations.

Asian Centre for Human Rights has one particular technical cooperation project in mind for Maldives which will have two components:

First, President Gayoom and his cronies should be taken to Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan where sit-in-protests and clashes (more violent than in Maldives) with police is a common place and part of the democracy irrespective of how illiberal the countries might be. The best place at the moment is Delhi where hundreds of medical students have been holding protests against anti-reservation and there have been many violent clashes.

Second, there should be a crash course on definition of terrorism and terrorism activities for Gayoom and his cronies. Ms Jennifer Latheef, MDPs' Human Rights Councilor has been sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment last year for allegedly “throwing a stone” at a policeman. ACHR is cognizant of the assertion of the defence that there was no conclusive evidence to convict Ms Latheef. ACHR also firmly and unequivocally believes that even if Ms Latheef had “thrown a stone” at a policeman, it does not fall under the “elements of terrorism” as provided under the 13 international legal instruments against terrorism whose implementation is presently being monitored by the United Nations Security Council's Counter-Terrorism Committee. Nor does it come under elements of terrorism as provided under various resolutions of the UN Commission on Human Rights. In fact, it does not even constitute a terrorism offence under the draconian Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Ordinance of Nepal, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act of India, Prevention of Terrorism Act of Sri Lanka or the Anti-Terrorism Act of Pakistan. Such throwing of stones, though illegal but certainly not a terrorist act, is carried out by citizenry across South Asia.

Unless the UN Security Council and UN Human Rights Council undertake such technical cooperation projects, State terror such as in Maldives will only spread.

III. Observing trials at the Kangaroo courts

Maldives' Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Saheed in his email communication to Director of Asian Centre for Human Rights, Mr Suhas Chakma, on 1 April 2006 among others, wrote “On other matters of mutual concern, let me tell you that I have invited the International Commission of Jurists to send an observer to monitor the appeal of Ms Jennifer Latheef which is set for a hearing on Sunday, 2 April. Her lawyer has asked for more time, and therefore there is very strong likelihood that the date of the hearing will be postponed.”

In his reply, ACHR's Director stated “While allowing the monitoring of trial by international organisation like ICJ is important, ACHR considers that it might be equally important to take the services of ICJ for reform of the criminal justice system of Maldives. International monitoring of trials on its own cannot serve the intended purposes when the legal system and laws are not in conformity with international standards, and judges are constrained to give judgements in accordance with such laws and procedures.”

In September 2005, a four-member delegation of British barristers led by Sir Ivan Lawrence QC that assessed the Maldivian judicial system and the Mohamed Nasheed's trial stated that the Maldives did not comply with international standards and pointed out five key flaws in the country's justice system, including lack of awareness among the authorities of the internationally approved human rights standards and non-existence of separation of the judiciary from the executive.

Nonetheless, ACHR welcomes the invitation extended to organisations such as ICJ as it can further expose how the draconian provisions are further subverted by an administration hell-bent on throttling democratic freedom.

IV. Gayoom Vs Gyanendra: Intervene Now!

That President Gayoom will condemn Nasheed to life imprisonment is a foregone conclusion. One does not have to be an astrologer and legal analyst to predict the verdict that will be delivered. No political activist who has been charged under criminal law by President Gayoom has been acquitted.

If Nasheed is condemned to life imprisonment by the Kanagroo court of President Gayoom, international community like the United Nations, European Union, United States and NGOs including international NGOs such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, International Commission of Jurists, Reporters Sans Frontiers, International Federation of Journalists etc must intervene in the same way they did after Royal takeover by King Gyanendra in Nepal on 1 February 2005.

The government of India, which was instrumental to bring the absolute King Gyanendra, must play the critical role to support the efforts of the international community and the democratic forces in Maldives to bring democracy in Maldives. If the government of India fails to take corrective course, civil society organisations and democratic forces in India must intervene with the government of India.

Maldives also must be one of the first test cases to be brought before the UN Human Rights Council which will hold its first session from 19 June 2006.

Through this ACHR REVIEW, Asian Centre for Human Rights calls upon all the actors of international community to observe the trial of Nasheed and make necessary interventions to speed up democratic reforms in Maldives.

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