Arrest of ex President Mohamed Nasheed in the Maldives — tourism boycott to come?

TODAY the former democratically-elected president of the Maldives – Mohamed Nasheed – was arrested on terrorism charges in Male, the capital of the Indian Ocean nation.

The charges relate to the arrest of a judge said to have obstructed the course of justice during Nasheed’s time as president.

This is the act of “terrorism” that is the basis of Nasheed’s incarceration, despite the fact that he was cleared of the accusations by the Prosecutor General earlier this month.

Nasheed, the leader of the opposition and the Maldivian Democratic Party, has effectively been randomly rounded-up and put in prison.

Nasheed was elected president of the Maldives in 2008 but was ousted in a coup in 2012. While I was researching “Gatecrashing Paradise”, a book about the darker side of the “honeymoon heaven” holiday destination that graces the covers of so many glossy travel magazines, Nasheed told me that the safety of his family had been put under threat by those orchestrating the revolt.

He had had no option but to stand aside.

Afterwards many months passed before a further presidential election was held in which the half-brother of a former dictator of the Maldives, who had ruled for 30 years, was “voted” into power. Some referred to this vote as a “buy election”… in other words, money changed hands so the right boxes were ticked.

Those opposing the newly “elected” leader, President Abdulla Yameen, have since faced intimidation. One journalist who poked around in the wrong places has disappeared. Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla, a talented reporter for Minivan News, one of the only sources of independent news in the country, has not been seen since last August.

I devoted an earlier post to his disappearance. It seems clear that he was abducted and there are great concerns about what has happened to him.

This is the current state of play: a democratically-elected leader ousted and now thrown in prison on trumped up charges while those who speak out against the regime fear the very real possibility of “disappearing” if they touch the wrong nerve.

Welcome to paradise. About an hour ago, I tweeted a message about the news of Nasheed’s arrest to which I received a garbled response from a figure clearly supporting his jailing that ignored the fact that the Prosecutor General had already cleared Nasheed. It read: “He abducted a judge. He shall face consequences. This is our country we roll things the way we want yo!” I think he meant “to” at the end.

I replied that Nasheed had been treated very unfairly and that when word gets out, tourists may wish to stay away… a hugely important part of the economy is being put at risk.

He replied: “Tourism won’t boycott. Dream on. Maldives is too much of a famous brand for that to work.”

The London-based human rights lawyer Kirsty Brimelow QC has also been on Twitter this afternoon. She wrote: “Former President Nasheed publicly predicted he would be arbitrarily arrested. He remains Maldives’ hope for democracy. International support is required.”

Meanwhile, the Maldivian Democratic Party says that there is little hope that Nasheed would have “anything approaching a fair trial” should it go ahead.

Voices need to be raised about what is going on in the Maldives . . . tourists continue to sip cocktails by the infinity pool while the country is run by authoritarian figures who stamp down on dissent.

The travel industry – and holidaymakers themselves – need to take notice, and do so before there is even further trouble in paradise.

 

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