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Political prisoners... or guilty as charged?

Ahmed Aiham
22 August 2018, MVT 09:38
The three main political leaders being held prisoner or evading prison sentence, as the case may be. From left to right; Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom (brother to incumbent President Yameen Abdul Gayoom), Former President Mohamed Nasheed (evaded 13-year prison term by seeking asylum in UK) and Sheikh Imran Abdulla, leader of Adhaalath Party and religious scholar. PHOTO: THE EDITION / MIHAARU
Ahmed Aiham
22 August 2018, MVT 09:38

Many years have passed since the opposition coalition, alongside various international organizations, have been calling on the government to release the political prisoners of the country.

Meanwhile, the government continues their refusal to acknowledge that such political prisoners exist, stating that although political figures have been convicted, they were charged through judicial processes and thus, are not political prisoners but rather, are criminals in the eyes of the state.

In fact, the sanctions set to be imposed by the European Union on the current ruling leaders and business beneficiaries, are said to be primarily attributed to the government neglecting such calls for reform.

Regardless, the fact remains that out of the six parties registered in the Maldives, four of their leaders currently serve their prison sentences or have sought asylum.

Who are these convicted “leaders”?

Former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom of Progressive Party of Maldives.

Former President, Mohamed Nasheed, Leader of Maldives Democratic Party

Sheikh Imran Abdulla, Leader of Adhaalath Party

Qasim Ibrahim, Leader of Jumhooree Party.

(Qasim was charged with bribing the supreme court judges, in a case that led to the landmark ruling made this February.)

So they are criminals?

Due to the actions that were taken against these individuals by the state, coupled with other factors such as timing and statements made by leaders, there may be sufficient reason for people to believe that these people are indeed, political prisoners.

Shall we take a look at Nasheed?

The former president, who has a 13-year terrorism sentence slapped to his name, was taken to the United Kingdom for a medical operation in 2016. To much dismay and criticism of the public, he did not complete said operation and has since obtained asylum in the UK.

What the international media perceives and what the government propagates is roughly the same image, that he has fled the country and is evading his prison sentence, but the truth is that Nasheed was afforded this opportunity by playing the devil’s advocate after he and his party had agreed to certain deals being offered by the ruling party.

Deals?? What deals?

In order for then Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb to be appointed as vice president, both MDP and JP voted in favour to amend Clause 109 of the Constitution, to set an age limit of 30 to 65 years for the Presidency and Vice Presidency. Out of the total 85, exactly 77 parliamentarians voted in favour of the proposed amendment.

The revision to article 109(c) marks the first time the constitution was changed since its adoption in 2008.

The support of parliamentary members from MDP and JP proved necessary for the passing of said amendment because, at the time, the PPM-MDA coalition had less than the three-quarters for a supermajority, nor the 64 votes needed to amend the constitution.

The second deal followed the amendment of Article 251 on June 22, 2015, which in its previous form, had prohibited foreign ownership of land. This nearly led to Faafu Atoll being sold in its entirety to investors from Saudi Arabia. In this case, 70 out of 85 parliamentarians had voted in its favour.

“MDP undertook both deals to free Nasheed. There was no other agenda. Aiding President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom to amend the constitution to his will…has that benefited the people or the country?”, a former minister of the ruling party raised the query.

Another point of conversation would be regarding statements released by the government that urged Nasheed to return to the Maldives, while the government and Nasheed engaged in constant, secret communication. In fact, Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture Dr. Mohamed Shainee has acknowledged through the media that Nasheed and the government had been in communication as recently as earlier this year.

A fair trial?

There is sufficient reason to believe that Nasheed's terrorism sentence may have had roots in a deeper political agenda.

If that is true, would Nasheed be pardoned in favour of a few votes for the government? Or would it become a necessary move for the ruling party to host peace talks with the opposition parties?

Although Nasheed has been served a 13-year prison sentence, considering the above, one may suggest that the verdict had political motivations behind it, imposed using undue influence on the judiciary process.

In fact, the same declaration was made during the landmark ruling unanimously passed by the supreme court bench, on the 1st of February 2018, that ordered the immediate release of jailed political leaders.

What did Maumoon do?

Speaking at Hanimaadhoo, Haa Dhaalu Atoll on July 19, President Yameen declared that, had Maumoon presented his phone to the investigation, he would currently be at home and not in prison.

Extrapolating from this, one may wonder whether the president knows that there is no evidence on Maumoon's phone that can incriminate him. For should they find any proof of his alleged crimes, Maumoon would be facing a much bigger sentence than he currently serves.

If Maumoon's was truly guilty of inciting terrorism or the equivalent, as the other political ordered free in the landmark ruling, then there is no doubt he deserves to serve his sentence in prison.

Afterall, despite having dealt Maldives an authoritarian rule of 30 years, he now serves a 19-month prison sentence at Maafushi Prison.

It is worth noting that under Maumoon's regime, the inmates from Maafushi Prison, were met with torture and brutality. The death of Evan Naseem is a notable turning point in which three inmates were shot dead in ensuing riots.

Furthermore, Evan Naseem’s death was a major catalyst in the events that led to the civil unrest of 2003.

Does he have to be in prison?

Analysing statements made public by of some of Maumoon's lawyers and advisors, it can be understood that Maumoon has been afforded several opportunities to make a deal with the state and serve the remainder of his time at home with his family.

In a press briefing earlier this August, Maduvvari MP Mohamed Ameeth, declared that Maumoon would never mislead citizens in this way, or threaten the peace of the nation, by making a questionable deal with the government.

Maumoon has had visits from two state ministers that reportedly tried to coerce him to accept the deal and avoid dissent or casting criticism on the government.

Although the offer to spend time with his family must seem enticing to the 80-year old politicial figure, he has yet to comply with such an offer.

However, if state officials can step-in offering to mediate such deals, is that alone not grounds to view Maumoon as a political prisoner?

For now, there has been no official statement regarding the ministers’ deals.

Meet Sheikh Imran

Sheikh Imran was arrested on May 1, 2015, for his speech during the MayDay protest, in which he declared that state corruption, brutality and civil unrest have been increasing.

Later charged with terrorism, the religious scholar is currently serving a 12-year sentence.

Transferred to house arrest this June, it is known that Imran was visited by many messengers representing the interests of the President, including none other than his current running mate, Dr. Mohamed Shaheem.

There have been few offers on the Sheikh's table, including ones that required him realigning himself politically or migrating with his family to a foreign country.

Thus far, as far as we know, the scholar has refused any of the deals offered to him.

Would they really be political prisoners?

If former presidents Maumoon, Nasheed alongside religious leader Imran, are truly criminals, why should the government come up with a deal between the parties? What benefit does the government have in letting a “terrorist” walk free?

And if they are not criminals, are they not prisoners in a medieval, Maldivian rendition of ‘Game of Thrones’?

Are they as honorable as they seem?

The public, on all sides of the coin, continues to find ample reason to slash each government, one way or the other. As such, any individual active within the current political arena faces no shortage of criticism.

Yet, how should one distinguish and rightly criticize between the politicians that prioritize their personal interests and those that fight for causes of national interest?

While we exercise our freedoms to point fingers in accusation, we must also follow suit by diligently investigating and holding these individuals accountable for the actions they may have committed.

Answers that are free of compulsion and duress, are the only means of discerning what is true. With all these facts in tow, it may be determined that the tales we are hearing now, are not free of such influence.

The truth can only be deciphered through a free and fair judicial process, that the public can witness, and weigh in on themselves.

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