Three years after the first democratic multiparty election in the Maldives ushered a democratic government to power, the infant democracy of the Maldives seems to be on the brink of anarchy and chaos. The democratic experiment of the Maldives could face an untimely demise as thugs belonging to the ruling party and the opposition clash on the streets of the capital Male‘, vandalising private property, torching private TV stations and attacking one another under showers of bricks and stones.
A rebellion within the ranks of police officers has created a nasty stand-off between the military and the police and a number of military personnel have joined the police in mutiny. Tension has reached a tipping point when there are conflicting reports about whether the president will resign.
The political crisis facing the Maldives was given a head-start in January when the government asked the police to start investigations against certain opposition leaders for what the government claimed were baseless insinuations and allegations that the government was undermining the Islamic faith of the country. Critics were puzzled when the police detained said opposition leaders in high profile investigation cases while the claims of the opposition could have been addressed through a civil case of defamation.
The ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) then started a public campaign named ‘Thiheneh Nukiyeyne‘ [div] (You Can't Say That), proclaiming that the party would not permit the opposition to continue making what it believed to be baseless allegations.
In the past, defamation was a criminal act and writers and individuals were sentenced to prison, based on defamation charges, for criticism they had expressed. Decriminalizing defamation in 2009 was hailed as a remarkable improvement for freedom of expression in the Maldives. The government's inclination towards criminal investigations regarding cases of defamation has become a deep concern for advocates of free speech.
After the Abdulla Mohamed, the Chief Judge of the Criminal Court ruled that the detention of the Vice President of the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) was illegal and ordered to release him from police custody, the police requested the assistance of the Maldives National Defence Force or the military to apprehend the judge. Mohamed has been under military custody since January 16 and his enforced disappearance has sparked street protests which has continued for three weeks.
Mohamed himself had been in the centre of several controversies earlier and the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has found that he had violated the code of conduct for judges. Mohamed appealed this decision of the JSC in the Civil Court, and the court has issued an injunction against JSC not to take any disciplinary measures against Mohamed till the appeal case is closed. This injunction by the Civil Court itself is highly controversial because it encroaches on the powers the constitution has granted to JSC to make the judiciary accountable.
The government has since then claimed that the detention of Mohamed is part of its campaign to clean up the judiciary, which is corrupt to the core, according to the government.
Mohamed's detention in a military training camp has been declared unlawful and a violation of the constitution by several parties which point out that the military does not have legal authority to detain people. The government has not put any formal charges against Mohamed. The military claims that it has provided Mohamed with access to a lawyer and it has permitted the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives to visit him. His family was informed about his whereabouts only days after he was detained.
A number of eminent lawyers in the Maldives have spoken out against the detention of Judge Abdulla Mohamed. Among them are Shaheen Hameed, the Vice President of the Constituent Assembly which drafted the current constitution, Dhiyana Saeed, the first Attorney-General of the present government and Husnu Suood, another former Attorney-General under the present government.
Prosecutor-General Ahmed Muizzu, who was a prominent practicing lawyer of the country before his appointment as PG, has also pointed out that the detention is unlawful. Ahmed Faiz, the Chief Justice, has called for the judge to be released.
The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives has also expressed concerns about the continued detention of the judge. The UN has urged the government of the Maldives to either release the judge or to press formal charges against him. Abbas Faiz, South Asia Researcher at Amnesty International, in an opinion piece published in the local Minivan News website, has said that the judge's detention is arbitrary. “Amnesty International is calling on the government to either bring formal criminal charges against him or release him,” Faiz wrote.
Tension has reached a tipping point when protesters from the ruling party and the opposition parties clashed on February 6 evening leading to considerable violence. Thereafter, some police units stormed the assembly hall of the ruling party and allegedly vandalised property there. A group of police officers have rebelled against what they say are unlawful commands and gathered after midnight at the Republic Square in Male’ in protest.
In a night filled with violence, the offices of VTV, a private broadcaster which is sympathetic towards the opposition and is owned by an opposition leader, was set on fire by a group of thugs. Aminath Shifleen, a journalist at Haveeru Daily, was injured while covering the protest. In the past few weeks, a number of journalists have been attacked during the protests and offices of media outlets have been attacked on multiple occasions. Private property destruction has also been a common feature of the protests that has engulfed the Maldives.
In the early hours of the morning some people are still active on social media, expressing their opinion on the unfolding crisis. This Facebook page titled Zuvaanunge’ Maidhaan (The Square of Youth) has some pictures of the protests. There are frequent updates in Twitter:
Husnu Suood, former Attorney-General, tweets:
@hsuood: dont think they can avoid a bloody confrontation. Sad day for Maldives. #mvprotest
Maldives National Defence Force vs Maldives Police #mvprotest. MNDF steps back.
Yoosuf Waheed asks:
What's going on! Hard thing r pretty nasty in #Maldives
Ali Tholhath says:
@tholhath: Sad day for Maldives. Stop this madness.
Ali Shiyan tweets:
@falho_D: Sad to see it all come to this, who is winning now? And to think it cud hav been so simple,sad day for Maldives indeed.
@shareef: Things are getting worse, #Maldives Army V/s Maldives Police. Who will Win
@agisaa: what happened to the #maldives while i was sleeping?
Sofwathullah Mohamed tweets:
@sofwath: Nothing more to say. Blame games won't help. God save Maldives. #mvprotest
And here is an update: Ahmed Affan Shafy reports with a picture:
Maldives Military joins forces with police and the public against the unconstitutional rule of Mr Nasheed.