This Friday's rally, the latest in the joint-opposition’s ongoing series of protests against the government, first appeared to proceed in the usual pattern, as members, lawmakers and supporters of opposition parties took to the streets of capital Male, followed by prompt interventions breaking up the gatherings, often with the use of pepper spray by the riot police.
Yet the protests gave way to an unprecedented moment that provoked an immediate surge in public reponse, as the mother of convicted former president Mohamed Nasheed was seen holding a poster calling for the release of Faris Maumoon, son of Nasheed's once-rival and former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
“FREE FARIS NOW” read the picture Abidha Ahmed was clutching. The moment, captured in a photograph that soon took over social media platforms, was a message bearing the weight of years of political history in the Maldives.
“Nasheed has been suffering various forms of injustice since the age of 23,” Abidha told Mihaaru as she succinctly touched upon the subject of her son’s struggles before and after rising to presidency.
“I don’t harbour any anger or resentment [over it]. Faris too is a young man, and same as Nasheed, has been suffering injustice from his youth. He also has a young child. I cannot accept such injustice,” she said as she explained why she had stood in defence of the son of her son’s longtime political rival.
Maumoon and Nasheed’s shared political history has been a turbulent one, which began when the latter was first imprisoned as a young journalist, under the then president’s orders. Nasheed’s incarceration was triggered by a report he had written for “Sangu” newspaper, which laid bare the transgressions that had marred the parliamentary elections of that time. That was the beginning of several more tempestuous years to come, when Nasheed would find himself behind bars on various occasions during Maumoon’s regime.
At a time when Maumoon himself along with his lawmaker son sit behind bars, incarcerated by the his estranged half-brother and incumbent President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom, Abidha has chosen to speak up against what she considers the same injustices her son has had to endure, allowing empathy to prevail in common grounds.
The photograph of Abidha holding up Faris’ picture has drawn her continuing praise on social media,with people celebrating her as a paragon of compassion.
Abidha has also remained steadfast in her belief that Nasheed’s 13-year jail sentence, subsequent to being convicted of terrorism charges over the arbitrary detention of a judge during his presidency, was an unjust ruling. It resulted in the forced estrangement of her son, who fled to the United Kingdom where he has been in residence since receiving political asylum.
Despite the peaceful depiction, Abidha was also a victim of pepper spray dousing during the opposition rally.
“Two female police officers came and ordered us to leave, but then sprayed us before I was able to leave,” she claimed, adding that the effects had not been very serious as she had been wearing spectacles at the time.
Witnesses backed her story, further claiming that the officers had sprayed Abidha in the face deliberately. Footage of the moment had circulated on social media, sparking angry backlash against the police.
Abidha’s iconic photograph is set to go down in history, encompassing a story that goes back years in Maldivian politics. Once enemies, Maumoon and Nasheed have now joined forces, vowing that they are working to reform the country, to bring down President Yameen and ensure the constitutional rights accorded to all.