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Maldives: facing a nightmare in an island paradise

Pressure is growing on Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, president of the Maldives, following attacks on pro-democracy campaigners, writes Abdurahman Jafar

Issue No. 1969

President Gayoom is the longest serving dictator in Asia having ruled the state for 27 years.

The stunning tropical paradise has been transformed into a brutal totalitarian dictatorship where violations of fundamental human rights are commonplace.

This state of affairs is inexplicable for a country whose primary source of income is tourism. However, a 2002 communique from the US state department gives some insight:

“The Maldives provides important access for US vessels and allows aircraft transit rights in its airspace… It is in the US national security interest to maintain stability in this small island nation.”

Gayoom dominates politics in the Maldives. He is the head of both the executive and the judiciary.

International pressure, and unprecedented anti-government street protests, saw moves to introduce multi-party democracy last year. However recent weeks have exposed the cosmetic nature of the regime’s reforms.

On 12 August, Mohamed Nasheed, chair of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) began a peaceful vigil in the central square of the capital Male. His vigil marked the anniversary of a crackdown on peaceful demonstrators a year before, known locally as Black Friday.

Nasheed was dragged away by dozens of heavily armed riot police. Widespread demonstrations followed, calling for his release and the resignation of Gayoom.

The government responded with great force.

Civil unrest was met with beatings of pro-democracy activists, dozens of who remain detained including other leading members of the MDP. Water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets were used against peaceful protesters.

Initial government justifications for Nasheed’s arrest claimed he was detained for his own safety. This has since been revealed as a deliberate attempt to deceive the international community.

Nasheed has been charged with terrorism and treason, charges which he categorically denies and for which no evidence has been supplied. If convicted when he goes on trial soon, he could face life imprisonment.

The government’s cynicism is remarkable. Before 9/11 they accused the MDP of being backed by Christian missionaries. Since then the label has conveniently switched to “Islamic extremism”.

International human rights organisations such as Amnesty and the Asian Centre for Human Rights have condemned the government’s actions.

The EU and UN have also expressed their outrage. The British government is however yet to state it’s position, despite Gayoom’s despicable tactics.

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Sat 24 Sep 2005, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1969
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