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#Maldives: Canarygate Scandal – The betrayal of democracy and the Maldivian people continues.

Male’, Maldives.

Maldivians are increasingly disillusioned and bitter as they and their country people are ridiculed and torn apart by international media following the resignation of Mohamed Nasheed as Maldives President after the Canarygate Scandal. The Canarygate Scandal is the final series of events leading to the end of the three years of Nasheed’s rule on February 7th 2012, a rule earmarked by abuse of executive powers, obstruction of justice, contempt and lockdown of the Legislature and Judiciary, corruption, graft and nepotism. Canarygate gets its name from Nasheed's family name, Canary, so named because of the countless evidence of nepotism, cronyism and corruption during his rule.

While western commentators and the neighbourhood strongman India dismiss Canarygate as just a political fisticuff between Nasheed and his predecessor Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Maldivians call upon the new Government for justice, for the Maldivian people and for democracy in Maldives. They ask new President Dr. Mohamed Waheed Hassan Maniku, a democracy advocate and human rights activist, for a national investigation into Nasheed’s months of abuse of democracy. The list is long, spaning from constitutional violations, contempt of democracy by violations of fundamental rights of free speech, media and assembly, repeated incidents of exceeding of Executive privilege, contempt and deadlock of the legislature (Majlis), and intimidation and lockdown of the Judiciary. Maldivians express bitterness and outrage as justice and democracy are trampled by countries such as India and the UK, international media, and foreigners with vested interests in their rush to reinstate Nasheed.

The similarities between the Canarygate Scandal and the Watergate Scandal in the US in the 1970s are astounding. Apart from the fact that both led to the early resignation of the incumbent President who authorized the illegal activities in the scandal, the interesting fact is that the key charges against Nasheed were the same as those against Richard Nixon. These are 1) Obstruction of justice; 2) Abuse of power; and 3) Contempt of the legislature. Nasheed went a few steps further with a lockdown of the Judiciary, suspension of fundamental democratic rights and processes, and an abiding contempt of the will of the people.

The examples of the violations by Nasheed are too many to document here, but a sampling can be looked at. Nasheed obstructed justice by a sustained attack on the Judiciary, by street riots led by his party Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) and his statements on local radio and in his party rallies, attempting to rouse a public movement against the Judiciary.

When this failed, Nasheed attempted to influence the Judicial Services Commission against judges that he and his party deemed unfit. When this too failed, Nasheed orderd his military to arrest a senior judge of the Criminal Court, within 24 hours of the judge refusing to issue a court warrant to police to keep a politician under arrest. The judge’s ruling was that the police arrest was a violation of the fundamental right of freedom of speech.

Nasheed continued to keep the Judge (Judge Abdulla Mohamed) in military custody, claiming this to be for national security purposes, the same claim Nixon authorized to use for the CIA to take over the FBI investigation of Watergate. The Judge whom Nasheed kept under solitary confinement, without access to justice, for 22 days was the Chief Judge of the criminal courts, to which a number of corruption cases had been submitted against Members of Parliament belonging to Nasheed’s party, Maldives Democratic Party, and other MDP leaders.

Nasheed’s abuse of power is perhaps best highlight in the critical conflicts his administration had with both the Legislature and the Judiciary, and with the media, during the period May to September 2010. The dramatic resignation of his first Cabinet en masse in June 2010 was to block a no-confidence motion in Parliament against one of Nasheed’s ministers. Nasheed said his cabinet resigned because Parliament was preventing their functioning. However, Parliamentary records show that the Executive refused to answer to the Parliament on any issue. Ministers in Nasheed’s cabinet consistently refused to appear before Parliament for Minister’s Questions, and before parliamentary committees, as is their constitutional obligation. In this manner, Nasheed’s Executive held the Parliament in contempt for nearly 2 years, before the opposition patience got exhausted a no-confidence motion was tabled against one of his Ministers.

Interestingly, after Nasheed bought out a number of MPs for over US $3 million in 2011, the Parliament is suddenly the only institution whose validity that Nasheed recognizes.

Nasheed’s attempts to interfere with the Judiciary surfaced first with conflict over the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) Act, followed by attempts at interference with the JSC’s mandate and functioning. The Nasheed Administration lost a number of landmark cases in the lower and higher courts, leading to their allegations against the whole Judiciary as being corrupt puppets of former President Gayoom. However, a look at the key judicial decisions which went against the Nasheed Government shows that the critical legal point lay in the interpretation of the new constitution and implementing laws, most critically in the use or abuse of Presidential powers and the powers of the Police.

While the Judiciary attempted to reach the democratic reform targets mandatory under the new Constitution, Nasheed declared the Supreme Court defunct and sent uniformed officers of Maldives National Defense Forces to physically locked it down.

The next step in derailing judicial independence were Nasheed’s moves to fire specific judges whom he and his party felt were acting against their interests. Although Nasheed accused the said judges of being in the pay of former President Gayoom or his supporters, none of the alleged biased judicial decisions have been overturned by higher courts on appeal, nor has Nasheed or his party provided to the JSC any evidence of corruption or graft by any of the judges. The only charges that have been laid by Nasheed against Judge Abdulla Mohamed before the JSC are charges of misconduct in carrying out trials, charges raised by Gayoom’s Attorney General, during Gayoom’s last term as President.

Additionally, while Nasheed accused the JSC of not carrying out its work, JSC reported to Majlis that it had taken decision over 90% of complaints before it, the balance 10% being under investigation.

Nasheed’s interference with the Judiciary escalated to his military arrest of the Chief Judge of the Criminal Courts on January 16th, 2012. Amidst days of public protest calling for the Judge’s release, Nasheed then requested the JSC to withhold the salaries of all lower court judges, alleging that they were corrupt and in Gayoom’s pay. The JSC refused, saying it had no legal mandate over salaries, and that it would not be party to constitutional violations.

Freedom of speech and media freedom also fell victim to Nasheed’s increasing abuse of power. Public media channels were handed over to Nasheed’s close friends and cronies, and used for MDP propaganda. The largest print newpaper Haveeru Daily was bought out by MDP financier Sarangu Adam Maniku, nominated by Nasheed for Male’ Mayor and also a member of Nasheed’s Presidential Commission.

Media licenses were threatened and withheld. Police made threatening visits to media stations, threatening of imminent shutdown if the stations covered opposition political events. The military sent a letter to all media in December 2011 threatening to close down any station or paper seen as endangering “national security” by covering opposition political events. Editors of online papers were arrested and media personnel attacked by police during coverage of opposition protests. Owners of private media channels were hauled up to face Nasheed’s Presidential Commission on trumped up allegations of corruption.

The final straw to media came in January when the then Communications Minister met the Broadcasting Commission and threatened the cancellation of broadcasting licenses of those stations which were felt to be broadcasting “biased” reports.

In short, evidence of Nasheed’s obstruction of justice, abuse of power and contempt of the Legislature and Judiciary are innumerable. Yet, the Canarygate Scandal continues to be glossed over or trivialized by western media and the UK and India with a blanket blame on “remnants of the Gayoom regime”. No justice is given to the Maldivian people, even as Nasheed’s foreign friends call for a boycott of the country’s tourism industry until he is reinstated.

Foreign media and neighbourhood bullies such as India lend credence internationally to the changing versions Nasheed has of the day of his resignation. Locally, they provide hope to the cult like following of Nasheed, mostly families who had directly benefited by top political posts, graft, bribery, shady business contracts or handouts through social support schemes.

The end result? Instead of justice for the real victims of Canarygate, the Maldivian people and democracy, there is a whitewash of the past three years and a Second Chance for the abusers to repeat their abuses. Most telling is Nasheed’s statement to BBC Hard Talk last week, that if he given the opportunity, he would do the same, again.

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