The world has been shocked by images of former Maldivian President Mohammed Nasheed being dragged by the police after his detention was ordered in relation to his decision to arrest a top judge three years ago. He was pushed, treated like a criminal and subjected to rude behavior by the Police. He was charged under anti-terrorism legislation which is now being used by the State to remove (again) his influence as leader of the opposition. He has been allowed contact with his family but only limited to visits twice a week and only for 3 people at a time. For example, his wife and daughter visited him yesterday and today so this week’s slot is over for him. He appears to have problems with one of his hands and there are serious concerns about his safety while in detention. Nasheed’s Legal Team requested his transfer to house arrest citing fears over his safety and security. The legal team requested the Minister of Home Affairs to transfer former President Nasheed to house arrest until the conclusion of his trial. We understand the request was denied.
Nasheed was the first democratically elected President of the Maldives. He has been a victim of brutal aggressions, detentions and arrest along his political career. Amnesty International has intervened calling for attention to Nasheed as a prisoner of conscience and the global community has always been ready to stand by him. He has been recognized for his permanent efforts to save the environment and campaign to protect his country from the effects of global warming.
When someone hears Maldives, what come to mind are white sand beaches and exotic surroundings. But reflecting on the relevance of democracy in the region and analyzing and knowing such actions is fundamental for the future of the country.
Nasheed became the country’s first democratically elected leader in 2008, a young candidate defeating Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom, who had ruled for 30 years. He then lost to Gayyoom’s half-brother, Yameen, in the 2013 presidential election.
Nasheed has always respected the rule of law and to witness him being dragged in such manner, after he has asked to be treated with dignity, is repulsing. Nasheed has been called “the Asian Mandela”. He has been admired for his attitude of forgiveness. He once stated: “Not many Islamic countries have ad free and fair elections to form a multiparty democracy” . He defended forgiveness as an Islamic principle and declared that Mandela was his inspiration.
His arrest comes after a trip to Abu Dhabi and days before he made a call to India to support him to prevent abuses in the Maldives. The Hindu reported that the Ministry of External Affairs made no statement on the arrest of Mohammad Nasheed, indicating that India is unlikely to intervene on his behalf. “Mr. Nasheed had publicly requested India to come to our help,” MDP spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor told The Hindu. “He had said that he expected that with his arrest, the country may go into chaos. He had even asked if India would secure his safety by holding him in Bangalore in case he was arrested. India’s behaviour is upsetting and comes as a surprise as the country had previously helped him. However after Mr. Nasheed’s ouster, India had been the first to recognize the new government, an act that “let (him) down”, as the Hindu reports.
A more active role has been performed by the United States as the State Department Spokesperson, Jen Psaki, expressed her concerns on the reports of his arrest on terrorism charges. The Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia, Nisha Desai Biswal, spoke to the Maldivian Foreign Minister about the situation.
Other countries of the region must recognize the relevance of the rule of law and good governance in the region and express their opinion and outrage on the matter. A country that comes to mind is Sri Lanka with whom Nasheed has always had a positive relation. Recently he congratulated the President-elect of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, Mr. Maithripala Sirisena and commenting on the significance of this historic election, Nasheed said: “The election underscores the maturity and robustness of Sri Lanka’s democracy”. On that occasion he made a call on the need to foster the spirit of democracy shown by the people. This is the call that we must now keep in our minds and protest against the abuse of anti-terror laws and arbitrary detentions.
In response to the appeals, Maldivian Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon issued a statement saying that the “[Pres. Yameen] government has no doubt that India will adhere to the principles of Panchsheel and will not intervene in [the] domestic politics of Maldives.” Further, the Minister referred to the politics of no intervention as this was a domestic problem.
This is a moment where democracy must be protected in the South Asian region and surely these events have an impact in the South Asian countries. India and Sri Lanka have provided a safe home for Nasheed and his family in crucial times. They have an important role to preserve the rule of law and fair justice, but where are the others?