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Gayoom is fully aware of torture in the Maldives

The last presidential election, held in October 2003, was clouded by the sad death of Eavan Naseem in Maafushi jail in September. The torture and killing of Eavan and the subsequent riots at jail and in Male’, brought the carefully concealed culture of torture in the Maldives to surface. Disturbed by the images of the bruised body of Eavan and the blood-soaked corpse of Abdulla Ameen (Clinton), concerned people resolved to put an end to years of oppression and tyranny. The result was the formation of Maldivian Democratic Party in exile in Sri Lanka in November 2003 and the formation of a reform movement.

Eavan Naseem tortured

Eavan Naseem tortured in September 2003

Abdulla Ameen Clinton

Abdulla Ameen (Clinton) shot in Maafushi

Five years have passed, and the reformists in the Maldives have achieved major milestones in the road to democracy. However, torture did not end with Eavan; the deaths of Muaviyath Mahmood and Hussain Salah proved that torture is indispensable to the regime in the Maldives.

Torture has returned as an election theme this year, when MDP spoke on torture at a press conference held on Tuesday. Mohamed Nasheed (Anni), the presidential candidate from MDP, outlined the torture he experienced in Maldives jails, Minivan News reports.

“I was detained in Dhoonidhoo jail in 1990. I was severely tortured then,” Anni told an audience in Gaaf Dhaal Thinadhoo on 7 September.

“For over two weeks, I was tied to a chair with my hands cuffed behind my back, exposed to the elements.

“After that, for over ten days I was chained outside the powerhouse. For seven months I was kept in a corrugated iron cell with one wrist cuffed. For 18 months I was in solitary confinement.”

Anni was held in Dhoonidhoo in 1990 over dissident writing and interviews with the overseas press.

Harsh conditions there are detailed in Anni’s application for political asylum in the UK, which he was granted in 2004.

“For the most part I was left in a cell made of corrugated iron measuring four feet by six feet by six feet where I was given bathing facilities once per week and one liter of water per day,” Anni wrote.

“When they felt I was not being co-operative I was punished. For over a week I would not be allowed to sleep for more than ten to fifteen minutes a night. Crushed glass and laxatives were added to my food,” he said. “I was kept in chains and given just half a litre of water per day.”

At Tuesday’s press conference, Ahmed Shafeeq, a famous historian, spoke of torture in Maldives and said he held President Gayoom responsible for 111 deaths by physical or psychological torture.

Shafeeq was arrested and kept in detention for over three months in 1995. Three other writers – Hassan Ahmed Maniku, Ali Moosa Didi and Latheef (Kalhuhuraage) – were also detained. The elderly writers had been meeting at Shafeeq’s house and discussing politics and social issues.  At the height of Gayoom’s tyranny, the National Security Service (NSS) were instructed to spy on intellectuals like Shafeeq. Even a conversation within the privacy of one’s home was not immune to prying eyes and ears. A discussion among friends on politics could also be interpreted by the NSS as a plot against the regime.

Ahmed Shafeeq

Ahmed Shafeeq

The NSS, which raided Shafeeq’s house, discovered some of the historian’s personal diaries. In his diaries Shafeeq wrote various bits of information and news he gathered from publications and friends. As Shafeeq’s diaries had information on the high cost of building the presidential palace and other details that were embarrassing to the regime, NSS accused Shafeeq of committing an offense, even though he never published his diaries. In a June 2001 interview with Huvaas magazine, which was translated into English by Maldives Culture website, Shafeeq talked about his diaries.

‘My diaries aren’t harmful. They aren’t printed or circulated. No one sees them except me. No one can read it, so what is the problem? What’s the difference between keeping it in my heart and writing it down? Is there any real difference? No one should be afraid because they are mentioned. Today I have recorded your visit to me… it’s just my hobby.’

Mohamed Zaki, who was arrested in January 2002 and sentenced to life in prison in July 2002 for his involvement in the underground electronic newsletter Sandhaanu, also said on Tuesday that he underwent abuse while in detention, Minivan News reports.

“The senior staff [of the security forces] knew about the torture. I met the brigadier general. They told me, however small or large, they know about it. President Maumoon knows what is happening,” Zaki said.

In the newsletter Resist (Issue 1.27, 16 March 2005), we explored the culture of torture in Maldives, and insisted that Gayoom was aware of torture in the Maldives. In Resist 1.27 we gave reference to a letter Mohamed Zaki sent to Human Rights Commission of Maldives in January 2004, in which he describes the meeting with Brigadier General Adam Zahir, the Commissioner of Police.

“One day on 22 June 2003, during the six months I was kept in Dhoonidhoo prison, I had the opportunity to see Brigadier Adam Zahir from the National Security Service police. During the conversation between us, and in reply to a complaint I made, Adam Zahir said that everything was being carried out according to the instructions of President Maumoon Gayyoom.

He also said that there was nothing the President Gayyoom was not being informed about, regardless how important or minor the matter was. After these words from Adam Zahir, it became clear to me that everything was happening with the full knowledge of President Gayyoom. This realisation was endlessly distressing.”
– Maldivian prisoner of conscience Mohamed Zaki in a letter sent to Maldives Human Rights Commission

In Resist 1.27 we translated and published an article by Ibrahim Luthfy, who was sentenced to life in prison along with Zaki in July 2002 for involvement in Sandhaanu. In the article, published in Dhivehi in Sandhaanu e-newsletter on 19 September 2004, Luthfy recalled his efforts to notify Gayoom of torture in Maldives prisons.

I believe it is the responsibility of each Maldivian to try to stop the torture in prison because it is a sensitive matter related to national safety and public order. I prepared a detailed report of 52 pages about the torture prisoners go through and that I myself experienced. I sent the letter to President Maumoon, members of the cabinet, Attorney General, Justice Minister, Chief Justice, President of the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Chief Judge of Criminal Court, members of the parliament, and all candidates contesting in the parliamentary election of 1999. I also sent this report to many people in Male’ and other islands. With this report I sent a letter to Maumoon explaining that I needed to tell him further details of torture in prison and requested an appointment.

Instead of granting an appointment President Maumoon arrested me and detained me in a small cell in Dhoonidhoo in solitary confinement for three months. When I asked the police why I was being arrested, they replied that it was because I had ‘sent letters to various people accusing the police.’ Six months after I was released I received a letter from the President’s Office. “President tells to inform that an appointment could not be given because Ibrahim Lutfy had not acted correctly,” the letter said.

In Maverick 6.35 (19-20 September 2005), we highlighted the torture prevailing in Maldives and published a report by Ibrahim Luthfy. In his report of 1999, Luthfy had described the horrors of Maafushi prison and sent a copy to Gayoom. Hence, Gayoom was fully aware of torture in Maldives prisons, as we stressed in an editorial note in Maverick 6.35.

Luthfy sent a copy of this report to President Gayoom in 1999. This report details the tortures and unbearable suffering inmates go through in prisons of the country. Hence, Gayoom could not say he is not aware of torture in Maldives jails. Between October 1999 and September 2003, he had four years to improve the conditions of the jails. But he ignored the plight of the prisoners and in April 2003, Ali Shahir died presumably after NSS torture in jail. Gayoom promised Shahir’s family that an inquiry will be made into the death and Gayoom visited Maafushi to observe the conditions of the jail. The government’s inquiry concluded that Shahir died of natural causes. Gayoom did not take any action to improve the conditions of the jail. Lieutenant Mohamed Ashwan, a senior NSS officer at Maafushi, compiled a detailed report of NSS torture in jail, and sent copies to the highest ranking officers of NSS in early 2003. This is evident from 5.2.4 of the report entitled “Investigative Findings on the Death of Hassan Evan Naseem” prepared by the Presidential Commission formed to investigate the death of Eavan Naseem. The report says Ashwan sent a report in early 2003 and a letter on 2 July 2003 to senior officers about torture inflicted on prisoners by the NSS Prison Security Unit at Maafushi. Even after Ashwan’s report no steps were taken to stop NSS torture in jails. Thus this paved way to the brutal torture and killing of Hassan Eavan Naseem and the prison riots and shootings at Maafushi prison in September 2003. Ashwan’s report has been published in DhivehiObserver.com.

The Presidential Commission report on the death of Eavan Naseem also recommended (Section 6.2.3) to widen the roles of the temporary committee formed on 5 October 1998 to advise on the affairs of prison, and the committee formed on 1 March 2001 to look into complaints concerning prison conditions. The Presidential Commission’s report recommends setting up a mechanism for members of such committees to visit Maafushi in the future and see the conditions there. This recommendation indicates that such committees were ineffective and not aware of the jail conditions prior to September 2003.

Furthermore, the Presidential Commission recommended in its report (Section 6.3.3) that prisoners jailed for drug abuse should be separated from hardcore criminals and other convicts. Even after Lutfy’s report told about the availability of drugs in prisons and the culture of introducing new inmates to drugs, no actions were taken to solve the problem till September 2003.

The Presidential Commission also recommended in its report of December 2003 (section 6.3.4) that the people who are detained for investigation purposes should be separated from convicts. Despite Lutfy’s report detailing the horrors he had to face when imprisoned by police for investigations into a civil case, several people continued to be detained and mistreated in Maldives prisons without them being convicted in a court of law.

All this proves that Gayoom and his regime did not bring any positive changes based on the report that Lutfy so honourably compiled and sent them and that Gayoom was fully aware of the NSS brutality in prison.

Download Maverick 6.35 (Ibrahim Luthfy’s report)
Download Resist 1.27
Download Mohamed Zaki’s letter to Human Rights Commission (letter in Dhivehi)
MaldivesCulture.com translation of Mohamed Zaki’s letter (English)
MaldivesCulture.com article on torture in the Maldives
Download e-newsletter Sandhaanu special issue 19 September 2004 (in Dhivehi)

In January 2006 we started a campaign against police brutality, state-sponsored terrorism and the tyranny of the Gayoom regime.
Download the press release about the campaign, and the campaign posters.
Poster 1
Poster 2
Poster 3
Poster 4
Poster 5
Poster 6

“I believe that President Maumoon has to be fully responsible for all inhuman torture in prison and outside prison that had taken place during his rule. If Maumoon and his senior government officials had listened to the complaints of several citizens like me, and those who had suffered, there would not have been any opportunity for the brutal torturing to death of Hassan Eavan Naseem on 19 September 2003. Similarly the cruel act of shooting unarmed prisoners at Maafushi jail the next day and killing three people and wounding about twenty people could have been prevented. And the riots in Male’ on that day (September 20) would not have occurred.”
Ibrahim Lutfy, Maldivian dissident and editor of Sandhaanu newsletter

“The government had never permitted anybody to be tortured or physically harmed in anyway during the stage of investigation and also while a person was undergoing a sentence. If such incidents occur, they happen without the knowledge of the government. So torture during investigation and also after sentencing was never permitted by the government…. ”
Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Asia’s longest ruling dictator


Culture of Election Rigging: Problems with the presidential elections of the Maldives

For the first time, an Elections Commission relatively free from the direct influence of the Executive, has been formed in the Maldives, under the constitution amended and ratified on 7 August 2008. The challenges facing the new Elections Commission are immense: gaining public confidence and trust; oversee an election that could be marred in violence and dispute; and ensure that this year’s presidential election – the first multi-party election in the Maldives – is the country’s first free and fair election. As the Elections Commission works with a tentative date of 4 October as the election date, Maverick looks at the culture of vote rigging in the Maldives, and reveals how presidential elections in the country were systematically rigged. This article was published in Maverick 4.35 (July 2003), in another election year, five years ago.

Problems with the presidential elections of the Maldives

Maverick 4.35, July 2003

Ilyas Ibrahim, President Gayoom’s brother-in-law and then Minister of Atolls Administration, made an unsuccessful attempt to come to power in 1993.

Ilyas was sent diplomatically to Singapore and then he was tried in court in absentia on various charges including the use of black magic to come to power. Several people who had close links with Ilyas, even some NSS officers, were stripped of their positions. Nevertheless, Ilyas received 18 votes when the parliament elected a candidate for the presidential election of 1993. He is said to have bribed some of the MPs. Gayoom won more votes by a narrow margin but the votes Ilyas received was a shock, especially as by then Ilyas’ power had been reduced after his plot had been uncovered.

At the time the parliament used to elect a single candidate to run in the presidential election. The MPs elected the candidate in a secret election and thereafter the candidate will be put in a yes or no public referendum. There was no way of knowing who will be elected by the parliament until the results of all votes by MPs are counted. Hence, the 18 votes Ilyas received was a real shock. President Gayoom and his associates realized how vulnerable this system was and how it could be exploited against them.

Maldives had its first constitution on 22 December 1932. Since then the country was ruled as a constitutional monarchy. A republic was established on 1 January 1953 but it was short-lived and monarchy was restored on 21 August 1953. The constitution was revised on 7 March 1954. A second republic was proclaimed on 11 November 1968. Maumoon Abdul Gayoom became the second president of the second republic on 11 November 1978. In his first year in office, the parliament passed a bill to amend the constitution. President Gayoom formed a People’s Special Majlis on 29 November 1980 and assigned it the task of amending the constitution. It took more than 15 years for the People’s Special Majlis to complete the task. When the new constitution was completed on 6 November 1997 it received the assent of the president on 27 November 1997 and came into force on 1 January 1998.

In addition to the excessive powers granted to the President under the new constitution, it also introduced multi-candidate presidential elections. According to the new constitution people could contest to be candidates in the election held in the parliament. This way the regime will know in advance if anybody has the intention of becoming the president. The candidate who receives most votes from the ballot in the parliament will run as the presidential candidate. As in previous years, the public will have only one candidate to vote in the referendum.

The first presidential election after the new constitution came into force was held in 1998. According to the constitution any Maldivian could nominate himself as a presidential candidate if he meets the following criteria
– a Muslim of Sunni following
– a citizen of the Maldives whose parents and grandparents are Maldivian citizens
– a male who has attained 35 years of age
– a person of sound mind and capable of carrying out the duties and responsibilities of a President
– must not have been convicted of an offence for which a Hadd has to be applied according to Islam or of criminal breach of trust and brought into disrepute
– should not be married to a national of a foreign country.

Ten days were given in 1998 presidential elections for candidates to submit the nomination papers. Five candidates filed the nomination papers. Commissioner of Elections sent their names to the Speaker of the parliament. A special meeting of the Parliament was held on 24 September 1998 to nominate a candidate to be submitted to the general public referendum. Maumoon Abdul Gayoom received the vote of all MPs who were present at the meeting. The referendum was held on 16 October 1998.

This election was the first presidential election in which foreign observers were brought to observe the election process. The group of observers coming from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka were named as The Observer Group of Eminent Persons (OGEP). They observed the election process in some islands and Male’. Their report concluded that the election was free and fair and involved no fraud. In the election Gayoom received more than 90 percent of the vote.

The president of the Maldives enjoys extensive powers. He appoints the Speaker of the Parliament, the Chief Judge, the justice minister and judges of courts. The Judiciary is completely under the control of the Executive, the courts coming under the justice ministry. When the people of the country have only one candidate to vote for as the President, it is important to see whether the legislature that is electing that candidate for the referendum, is truly representative of the people.

The parliament in the Maldives comprises of 50 members. There are two members representing each atoll of the Maldives, (there are 20 atolls) and two representing the capital island Male’. In addition, there are 8 members appointed by the President.

The members of the parliament include cabinet ministers and senior officials of the government. They win the seats using excessive powers and election fraud. It is evident that there is a conflict of interest between their roles as MPs and government officials. There is no opposition in the parliament. There are no political parties.

In countries such as UK, the government is formed from the parliament, by the party that wins the general elections. The leader of the party becomes the Head of the Government or the Prime Minister. Hence, the Head of the Government is representative of the people. The parliament consists of an opposition and there are checks and balances.

In the Maldives the parliament is nothing more than a rubber stamp of the Executive or the leading regime. In creating constituencies, the population has been ignored in the electoral system and only the geographical aspects have been considered. For an example, the people of Vaavu Atoll also elect two MPs, while there are two seats for Addu Atoll as well. Vaavu Atoll has a very small population of around 1,000, while even the island of Hithadhoo in Addu Atoll has more people than Vaavu Atoll. At the time of 1999 General Elections there were 13,827 people who were eligible to vote in Addu Atoll while there were only 967 eligible voters in Vaavu Atoll.

Interestingly, before the presidential elections of 1998, Ari Atoll was split into two atolls. The two parts were named as North Ari Atoll and South Ari Atoll. Elections were held to elect MPs for only one part of the Ari Atoll while the MPs who were elected in the parliamentary elections of 1994 by the people of the Ari Atoll remained as representatives of the other part. If a constituency is divided to form two new constituencies, it is rational to hold elections in both constituencies. However, the regime wanted to keep the previous MPs. The real reason for splitting Ari Atoll and bringing two new MPs to the parliament was to increase President Gayyoom’s chances of being elected as the presidential candidate in the election of 1998. After what happened in 1993 the links between the Executive and the Legislature had to be strengthened further.

In fact Gayyoom’s narrow win in 1993 was aided by another questionable factor; the 8 MPs appointed by the President. These eight members enjoy equal rights in the parliament as the MPs who are elected by the people. They could also vote in the secret ballot held in the parliament to pick a presidential candidate. As Gayyoom appoints only very trusted people as the 8 MPs, it is clear that they will vote for him. The 8 MPs could also vote for or against bills in the parliament. This is a clear example of how the Executive is abusing the Legislature.

It is pathetic that the 8 MPs appointed by the President have equal powers as the MPs who are supposedly elected by the people. The 8 MPs play a crucial role to elect the ruling President as the next presidential candidate. The elections in the parliament are overseen by the Speaker, who is also appointed by the President. Presently the Speaker is Gayoom’s brother Abdulla Hameed.

After the puppet show in the parliament is over the people gets to say yes or no to the presidential candidate. The supporters of the regime could say there is no flaw in the system because the candidate will be elected as President only if the candidate gets majority votes as affirmative. However, this system is devoid of any real pluralism. Even though people could run as presidential candidates for the election in the parliament, there is no chance for the candidates to offer their agendas to the public.

In the Maldives the presidential term is five years and the term for the parliament is also five years. The terms for a President are not limited and a lucky person could even rule for life if elected term after term. The parliamentary election in Maldives comes a year after the Presidential election and a four-year-old parliament elects the presidential candidate for the next presidential election. During those four years the people have few chances to interact with their elected representatives. Some of the MPs are senior government officials who won seats through power abuse and fraud and seldom do they meet with the people in their constituencies and listen to their problems. So it is questionable whether the parliament’s vote for a presidential candidate is truly representing the will of the people.

So how comes the candidate gets such a large majority in the public referendum? Isn’t the candidate elected by the people in the final process, and isn’t that what democracy is all about? It is through election rigging, fraud, threats and fear that this majority is achieved in the Maldives in what is known as a very unique democracy.

In islands the island chiefs and atolls chiefs exercise their powers to keep the opposition under control, sometimes detaining critics. They abuse their powers and commit fraud in the election through a mixture of fooling some of the less politically conscious people and intimidation of others. Even in resorts the wealthy resort owners who back the regime instruct their employees to vote for the presidential candidate. In 1998 when the number of votes for the candidate was too low from a particular resort, an owner went to a fit of rage.

My Vote Not for Sale

Image from MaldivesVotes.com

President Gayyoom congratulated former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein for his win in the last election with an amazing majority. International media and some of the world leaders were incredulous about the election results and had difficulty in understanding how Saddam could have secured such a victory. But for the people of the Maldives the election results in Iraq had a familiar tone. During the past 24 years President Gayyoom has won 5 elections, each one with a majority of more than 90% of the votes.

It has to start now

“It has to start somewhere
It has to start sometime
What better place than here
What better time than now

All hell cant stop us now
All hell cant stop us now
All hell cant stop us now
All hell cant stop us now
All hell cant stop us now
All hell cant stop us now”

Rage Against the Machine – Guerilla Radio lyrics