BARELY a few weeks before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is to undertake a visit to Sri Lanka and Maldives in the second week of March, the Maldivian government arrested the leader of the main opposition party and the country’s first democratically elected President, Mohamed Nasheed.
“A former President is being charged with terrorism by expanding the definition of terrorism,” former Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem told Frontline. The Prevention of Terrorism Act (1990) states that kidnappings and abductions and attempts to kidnap or abduct are acts of terror.
The former President was arrested on February 22 and charged under Article 2(b) of the Act that as commander-in-chief of the armed forces he was responsible for the military’s detention of Abdulla Mohamed, Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, in January 2012. The hurry to arrest Nasheed was because by April the Act is to be amended to do away with the sweeping powers in it.
“[The] MDP leader... was arrested at his wife’s home in Male by the police citing a warrant from the Maldives Criminal Court.... Stating the previously unheard of terrorism charges, the warrant further stated that his arrest was warranted upon concerns of him absconding from the court and that he may go into hiding,” the party said in a statement.
Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has been apprehensive about a witch-hunt against it aided by the government of President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, who is the half-brother of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. Many attempts have been made after he resigned in controversial circumstances in February 2012 to have him debarred from contesting the presidential elections.
In the last presidential elections, held in November 2013, Abdulla Yameen won mainly because the MDP decided that it did not need the support of its allies. Yameen’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) went about altering the equations, mainly working the “dole out” route to win friends and influence people.
This is the second prominent arrest after the PPM government has come to power. On February 10, former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim was arrested on the charge of attempting to engineer a coup.
After his arrest, Nasheed was moved to the Dhoonidhoo Island Detention Centre, where he had been imprisoned for a long time by the previous Gayoom regime and was named “Prisoner of Conscience” by Amnesty International. With the rumblings for democracy growing louder and more-than-gentle nudges from foreign powers, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom held the first multi-party elections in 2008. In the second round Nasheed won a clear mandate.
However, the story of Maldives’ first democratically elected President ended in a tragicomedy when Nasheed resigned in February 2012 and later claimed that he was ousted in a coup. He was denied legal representation at the first hearing. A Maldives-based news website, Minivan News, quoted Nasheed’s lawyer Hisaan Hussain as saying that criminal court regulations stipulated that a defendant must inform the court two days in advance about his legal representation. In effect, in one day Nasheed was arrested, denied the right of appeal and legal representation, manhandled on the way to the court, and incarcerated.
The MDP said it found a grave irregularity in the proceedings. “Court documents submitted to Nasheed’s legal team… reveal that Prosecutor General Muhthaz Muhsin, Judge Abdulla Didi and Judge Abdul Bari Yusuf have made witness statements and have been listed as prosecution witnesses,” the MDP said in a statement. “Internationally accepted legal principles as well as Islamic Sharia and law do not allow the prosecution, witnesses and judges to be the same person because of the obvious conflict of interest,” it added.
Meanwhile, though an official announcement of Prime Minister Modi’s visit is yet to be made, it appears that India has been caught in the crossfire merely because of a reported promise Modi made to former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The ill-thought- out trip will only put the new Sri Lankan President, Maithripala Sirisena, on the defensive as he faces a difficult parliamentary election soon after, in which the Sinhalese will decide who gets the majority.
The dates for Modi’s Sri Lanka visit were decided after the Modi-Rajapaksa meet in November on the sidelines of the SAARC summit, an official familiar with the development said. If Modi visits Maldives, India’s main ally, the MDP, will be visibly antagonised. If he does not, the Gayoom family and the PPM will not forget the slight. Either way, India stands to lose.