Maldives: A Tyrant Next Door- How does one deal with it?
Maldives is too close to India both geographically and strategically and therefore developments in that country though small will have a great impact on India’s national security.
We now have a leader in Maldives who is said to be ruthless, vindictive and ungrateful. He has been systematically jailing all the leading members of opposition under some ground or other and mostly under terrorism laws. It looks that he is making his way clear for his re- election in 2018 without any opposition. In this evil pursuit he has generously used (misused) the judiciary as well as the security forces.
In order to understand what is happening in Maldives- one should only see the documentary of Al Jazeera on Maldives titled “Stealing the Paradise.” This documentary has exposed the high level corruption with the accounts of eye witnesses. It should be an eye opener to all those who innocently believe that Maldives with its hundred percent Sunni population, after three decades of autocratic rule is now a model of democracy!
President Yameen, came to power on the shoulders of two influential leaders in Maldives- the former President Gayoom and the richest and most popular businessman Gasim Ibrahim. In the Presidential elections held in 2014, former President Nasheed was almost near the fifty percent mark. It was a crucial midnight meeting of Gayoom on behalf of his half-brother Yameen with Gasim Ibrahim, the third largest vote getter that tilted the scales in favour of Yameen by a narrow margin.
Today Gasim Ibrahim is in jail on trumped up charges of having bribed the voters (all he did was to appeal to his erstwhile party members to return to the fold of his party – the Jumhooree party). As usual, the Police have seized his cell phone also. By one count the Police must be holding thousands and thousands of seized cell phones!
Former President Gayoom has been stripped of his membership of the party he created-the PPM in 2011 all with the help of the civil courts and the appellate courts. Gayoom’s body guards have been withdrawn and he has been disallowed to fly the national flag in his residence. More humiliations could follow with the cancellation of his pension and one will not be surprised if he is put in jail if he does no behave at least now!
One Vice President Jamal is in exile as he was being threatened with impeachment for not being totally loyal to President Yameen. Another young Adheeb for whose election to the post of Vice President, the constitution was amended, is now counting cockroaches in the jail. He is being shifted from one jail to another as if he is a dangerous criminal.
Adheeb is undergoing imprisonment under terrorism charges. But the real reason is said to be the differences he had with President Yameen on the US $ 80 million scandal that broke out in the State tourist firm, the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation!
Most of the opposition leaders are either in jail or in exile. The fiery and active leader of the Adhaalath Party Sheikh Imran is in jail on terrorism charges- for participating in the May Day rally against the government.
The former Defence Minister Mohamad Nazim was sentenced to 11 years under terrorism charges for keeping a rusted pistol at his house. It had since been proved that the pistol was deliberately placed in Nazim’s house before search on the instructions of former Vice President Adheeb. Nazim must have been automatically discharged. He is still in jail and needs medical treatment. On 28th January the UN Panel had ruled that the continued detention of Nazim as illegal and called for his release. Now Nazim who was under house arrest has suddenly been shifted back to jail! UN opinion does not matter!
Another former Defence Minister Hameed Faisal has now been charged under terrorism laws for arresting Yameen (the present President) in 2010 for his involvement in distributing a scurrilous pamphlet against the then President Nasheed.
The list is endless. The misuse of terrorism laws is so open and blatant and there is no stopping of Yameen. Misuse of the government machinery and the courts has become a regular feature. One example of the way Gasim Ibrahim has been treated should do.
Gasim’s Villa Group is one of the largest companies in Maldives dealing with shipping, tourism, media, commercial establishments, transport and educational fields. He is also one of the leading philanthropists. His mistake was in opposing President Yameen politically.
In August 2014 the Government of Yameen seized the Kandehdhoo airport and downgraded Villa Group’s (Gasim’s own) Maamigili airport, when Gasim warned that the SEZ legislation would facilitate massive corruption. But both were reversed when Gasim’s party voted in favour of SEZ laws.
In 2015, Gasim went on to form an alliance against the government with other parties and soon the tourism ministry seized five properties leased to villa group for development. The Central Bank of Maldives froze over US $ 90 million of Gasim’s funds alleged for non-payment of rent etc. When Gasim Ibrahim announced retirement from Politics, the courts obliged and overturned the fine and the properties were also returned.
Again in March 2017 when Gasim Ibrahim was to join the MUO (Maldives United opposition) along with former Presidents Nasheed and Gayoom against Yameen, his properties were seized once again by court orders and the bank assets of 90 million dollars frozen. Now Gasim is in Police custody for fourteen days on charges of bribery! How the authorities forgot about the terrorism laws is a mystery.
In the face of blatant misuse of laws of the country, the opposition represented by former Presidents Gayoom, and Nasheed, Gasim Ibrahim of Jumhooree and Sheikh Imran Abdulla of Adhaalath signed a historic declaration on 24th March that said
• to protect the owner ship of the land, sea and natural resources
• find a solution to the political discord afflicting the country
• safeguard civil and political rights abrogated from citizens
• ensure elections held in Maldives are free and fair in which candidates of political parties are allowed to contest.
The four agreed to work together
• To secure freedom for all individuals who have been arrested, under investigation, on trial or convicted of politically motivated charges.
• Prevent Corruption, embezzlement within the government.
• Seek the restitution of transactions and properties unlawfully seized by the government.
The way the no confidence motion against the Speaker Maseeh was conducted recently is another example of high handedness of the government. The motion was forced to be conducted by a roll call that was unprecedented and resorted to only when the voting machines were out of order. The idea of an open roll call was only to find out who were all voting against government and due action as expected was taken against the individuals.
Some of the acts of revenge taken by the government soon after the farce of the no confidence motion were
• Gayoom was expelled from the Ruling Party PPM, the national flag removed from his residence and the PPM logo removed from his residence all done by Government agents.
• Fresh charges under terrorism laws were brought against ex-President Nasheed for arresting Yameen in 2010.
• Abdulah Riyaz the Deputy Leader of Jumhooree Party and a former Police Chief had his mobile phone confiscated and placed under investigation on charges of spreading rumours and attempting to influence the security forces.
• Gasim Ibrahim, the leader of Jumhooree party was arrested and his passport seized.
• Rajje TV, the station which supports the opposition was fined MVR I million on flimsy charges.
Another incident that should cause concern is the killing of Yameen Rashid, a prominent blogger and an internet Activist in the early hours of 23rd April at his residence. Rashid was a fierce critic of Salafist-Wahhabi re Islamization that was making the face of Islam in Maldives. Rasheed had 16 stab wounds on his body.
There is no doubt that the Wahhabi-Salafi brand of Islam is slowly creeping into Maldives and this is what Rasheed had opposed. The present government was almost on the point of giving away the Faaful Atoll consisting of 26 islands to the Saudis for development and investment of over 10 billion Dollars. Only, the huge public outcry and supposed eviction of over 4000 villagers brought the project to a temporary halt. The Yameen government had already prepared the ground by amending the constitution in 2015 to allow foreign ownership of its territory.
It looks that India is aware of the troubled situation in Maldives. The Indian Foreign Secretary made a hurried visit to Maldives on April 13 and 14 and met everyone one but carefully avoided the opposition members. It is not clear as to why this was done. The High Commissioner there was perhaps given the task to meet the opposition leaders three days later on the 17th. President Yameen’s attempt to get closer to Saudis needs to be watched as the Saudis are now having an Islamic NATO led by a Pakistani General. Yameen is also seen to be an overenthusiastic supporter of the One Belt One Road economic offensive of the Chinese.
The Saudis and the Chinese are only waiting in the wings. They would prefer tyrants over genuine democratic leaders who are all in exile. It remains to be seen how India would react. India has made many mistakes in the past. Ready acceptance of the fall of Nasheed who was actually thrown out in a coup earlier was one such mistake!