INTERVIEW International

There’s no political instability in the Maldives: Foreign Minister

The dramatic arrest last week of Ahmed Adeeb, the Vice-President of the Maldives, has raised concerns over recurring political crises in the Indian Ocean nation. Mr. Adeeb had been appointed vice-president only three months ago after President Abdulla Yameen’s running mate was impeached. Earlier this month, the President had sacked defence minister as well. However, Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon says there’s no political instability in the country and that the government is working within the democratic framework of the Maldives. In an email interview with The Hindu, Ms. Maumoon speaks of various issues such as former President Mohamed Nasheed’s arrest and Maldives’ relations with India.

Edited excerpts:

How do you respond to the recent arrest of Vice-President Ahmed Adeeb? His lawyer says government officials had asked him not to come back to the country from Singapore, but he still did as “he's innocent”.

Vice-President Ahmed Adeeb Abdul Gafoor was arrested in connection with the investigation following the explosion on the Presidential Speedboat on September 28. He was taken into custody because the relevant authorities are determined that an impartial investigation could not be carried out unless the Vice-President was detained. The Vice-President was arrested based on not just intelligence reports, but on credible information obtained following a detailed investigation. The decision to arrest the Vice-President was not taken lightly and is extremely regrettable. It would be wrong to speculate as to who was responsible or who conspired in this criminal act, but the arrest of the Vice-President is an important part of the process behind ascertaining further information as to who was responsible.

Mr. Adheeb was picked by the president himself. In three months, the President says Mr. Adheeb is a threat to national security. What did actually go wrong?

The Government and agencies had no choice but to act decisively. This matter is extremely unfortunate. The government has become concerned by the lack of cooperation and compliance received from the Vice-President for the investigation, despite repeated requests from the relevant investigative authorities. There are reasonable grounds to believe that the Vice-President had been exerting undue influence over the Maldives Police Service, through official and unofficial channels and by the use of resources outside the scope of the State budget.

Beyond that, it would not be appropriate to speculate as to the exact nature or extent of any alleged involvement by the Vice-President in the events of September 28. Any allegations will be comprehensively addressed. He will be given every opportunity through official channels to answer questions or allegations put to him by police or other investigators. He has already been granted unrestrained access to legal counsel and we are looking forward to engaging with the Vice-President in an open and frank manner to resolve this issue as quickly as possible. However, the Government is determined to ensure that the investigation and any subsequent actions are conducted swiftly and with complete transparency.

Does the government see any foreign involvement in the blast on the presidential boat?

As the investigation is ongoing, it is, of course, not appropriate to comment on the nature or source of evidence. Suffice to say that there have been several groups of international investigators on the ground in the Maldives since the incident. This has included teams from the United States, India, Sri Lanka and Saudi Arabia. There is enough credible evidence to strongly suggest this was an attempt of the President’s life. It would be wrong to speculate as to who was responsible or who conspired in this criminal act. There is no concrete evidence to say this was a coup d’état or an act of terrorism. It would be simple speculation or guesswork to try and do so at this stage. The investigation will determine whether this was an act of terrorism, a conspiracy with wider political goals or some other criminal act.

President Yameen had sacked several officials recently. The former vice-president was impeached. The defence minister and police chiefs were fired. Is there a growing sense of instability around the regime?

The arrest of any senior government figure in relation to the events of September 28 is deeply unfortunate. This has been done so that the Government can ensure that the investigation is conducted swiftly and transparently. The Defence Minister, Moosa Ali Jaleel, was dismissed because he, in violation of the operational protocols of the MNDF (Maldives National Defence Force), authorised Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Cooperation (MMPRC) to import gun powder in to the country. The Minister at the President’s Office, Mohamed Shareef, tended his resignation out of his own will, when requested not to report to work until further notice.

Reports of instability are wholly inaccurate. The events of September 28 have galvanised support around the President and unified his team to continue with the important work that we have been tasked to do for the Maldivian people. With the evidence of an internationally-led investigation, the Government and agencies had no choice but to act decisively. It is worth remembering that the President’s wife got injured in the blast. He has acted with leadership and courage both during and after the events of September 28. His actions demonstrate that he maintains the support of his party and the Maldivian people in bringing the perpetrators to justice and getting on with the job that he was elected to do. There are huge economic, social and security challenges facing the people of the Maldives. For too long, these have been left unresolved by the previous administrations. The President is determined in the remainder of this term to continue to deliver the investment, economic growth and domestic security needed to cement one of South Asia’s most dynamic countries.

Of late, there are criticisms about the government's handling of the opposition. Amnesty reported in April human rights in the Maldives have “been seriously eroded”. Your comment...

The Maldives is a young, evolving, and like any other, an imperfect democracy. But we must remember that we have a fully functioning multiparty political landscape, a free press and an independent judiciary. We have been working very hard on democratic and institutional reform from the moment we took office, and that work continues today. The last election was internationally monitored and recognised by the UN and the Commonwealth – Mr Nasheed lost against President Yameen and all sides calmly and respectfully accepted the result. Anyone who visits the Maldives would see a vibrant political debate happening – with opposition and government supporters demonstrating without interference or intimidation on the streets of our capital. Our media is vibrant and challenges myself and my colleagues in government on an almost daily basis.

Mr. Nasheed’s own lawyers were allowed unfettered access to their client as well as to whole press conferences in front of the international media. To caricature the Maldives as a country suppressing freedom of expression is in complete denial of the relatives here on the ground.

A UN panel had ruled that the jailing of former President Nasheed was illegal. It seems the government's treatment of Mr. Nasheed has dented its image internationally…

I think it is important to reiterate that this case is an independent judicial process which we hope the international community will respect. The former President has been prosecuted because of an order he made to the army to abduct the Chief Judge of the Criminal Court. It is worth remembering that it took three weeks of street protests to force him to release the judge. It is also important to remember the grave crimes for which the former president has stood accused. Mr. Nasheed’s actions were criticised by many international organisations and by Maldivians. In an article for the New York Times the former President even admitted that he did indeed order the arrest. While in power he also padlocked the Supreme Court and arrested opposition MPs. His attempt to abolish the Attorney General’s Office would have given him the power to arrest whoever he wanted. This is against the fundamental principles of any modern democracy and a complete abuse of the office of President.

The former president did his very best to sabotage the most recent High Court hearing into his appeal. He used the courtroom to make overt political statements. The judges were eager to hear his case but had no option to dismiss it after he disrespected the very platform that has been given to him to fight his case. The former president and his PR team seem intent on a cynical media campaign, rather than a serious legal one. We maintain excellent working relationships – diplomatically and economically – with countries in our region, continent and beyond. We have every faith they will understand that the Maldivian courts should be allowed to undertake their tasks without undue interference or influence. The Maldives has and will continue to engage with all our international partners, reasserting our commitment to ensure the former President’s appeal at the Supreme Court – brought by the Prosecutor General himself after the former President failed to cooperate – is heard fairly, transparently and in line with fundamental legal norms.

On the UN working Group, the government and its legal team were extremely disappointed that the working group failed to recognise a large proportion of our submissions. It is clear that there are substantial differences in the submissions, and further, substantial differences in the evidence submitted. The WGAD’s view (UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention) is an opinion and not a legally binding judgment, and the government is treating it as such, while making the necessary representations.

The Nasheed issue has affected the Maldives relations with India. Prime Minister Narendra Modi dropped Maldives from his Indian Ocean nations tour in March. How do you look at the relations now?

The Indian Government has remained impartial during this whole process. Rightly so, they have respected the independence and sovereignty of the Maldives. The fact that the former President’s legal team was not permitted to make PR capital out of any visit to India, despite trying their best to do so, clearly indicated that India has addressed this particular case with the fairness and maturity that it deserves.

Bilateral relations between our countries have historically been very close, and our government does not envisage this changing whatsoever. Our first comprehensive trade agreement was signed over 30 years ago and since then, India has played a central role in helping grow our young economy, ensuring security in the Indian Ocean, as well as being an unwavering ally in the region. A brief look into recent history shows that partnership with both the Indian government and the Indian private sector has helped the Maldives expand its education, health and infrastructure sectors, and boost international trade and investment. President Yameen is focused on delivering key development targets during this term. Our strong relationship with India will be central to that.

What’s the government’s roadmap to deal with the political crisis in the country?

Every government faces challenges and the Maldives is no different. There are constant security concerns across the globe. In the past few years, we have seen terror attacks in major western capitals. The Maldives has similarly suffered a setback. Yet we are determined to recover, move on and rebuild from this unfortunate event. Huge progress has been made in the last few years, especially in meeting our development goals. We are an MDG+ country with some of the highest levels of development in South Asia. It would be wrong to label the country’s reputation as damaged – rather we should be judged on how we meet these challenges, and hope the international community will support us in these endeavours.


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Printable version | Nov 29, 2021 3:48:35 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/interview-with-dunya-maumoon-maldives-foreign-minister/article7814841.ece

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