Senate debates

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Statements by Senators

Nasheed, President Mohamed

12:45 pm

Photo of James McGrathJames McGrath (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

While the world and those who believe in freedom and democracy mourn the political murder of Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, a state planned judicial assassination of another freedom fighter and opposition leader is underway in the Indian Ocean. Mohamed Nasheed, the first democratically elected leader of the Maldives, has been arrested on trumped-up charges, denied legal representation, assaulted by police and faces an unfair trial that will ultimately end in the denial of his presidential ambitions.

The organs of the state, under the direct orders of the President, are slowly killing the opposition and are strangling any chance of democracy taking hold in the Maldives. The rule of law is being destroyed and freedom of speech and association are being curtailed—while Islamists continue to grow their influence in the country, with Maldivians not only joining ISIS but also conducting terror-training camps in the country, on isolated islands.

In October last year I spoke about the deteriorating political situation that has engulfed the Maldives since the ousting, in a coup, of its first democratically elected president in February 2012. The troubles then facing that island nation's nascent democracy were numerous: corruption in the judiciary, politically-motivated arrests, violence against dissidents, suppression of free speech and the press, and the rise of religious extremism.

Regrettably, since that time, the Maldives under President Abdulla Yameen has only hastened its slide into tyranny. The police have conducted illegal arrests and searches, allegedly planting evidence and breaching constitutionally-guaranteed rights. The courts have abrogated their duties under the democratic constitution of the Maldives. They have breached the separation of powers, denied rights to legal representation and abused fundamental judicial processes as part of these smokescreen proceedings. The real purpose behind these actions by the Maldivian state is abundantly clear: to silence all opposition to Yameen's government. I would like to go back over some recent events to showcase the appalling betrayal by Yameen of his people's freedom and democracy.

On 24 January this year, Gasim Ibrahim, the leader of the Jumhooree Party, quit the coalition with Yameen's government and sided with Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party, citing Yameen's attempts to undermine the rule of law and harassment of democratic institutions, including the independent Elections Commission. Then, after 21 months of delay, the High Court issued a summons for Nasheed to attend a preliminary hearing, on 28 January, to deal with his challenge to politically motivated charges of unlawful arrest.

Nasheed's legal representatives were deliberately misinformed that the hearing would be only administrative. Instead, the High Court scheduled a full hearing and demanded that Nasheed's lawyers prepare new material to respond to issues set to be raised by the Judicial Service Commission. At that hearing, not only did the court order that President Nasheed not be permitted to leave the capital, Male, even when hearings were not scheduled—a clear infringement of his personal rights—but the judges timed Nasheed's lawyers with a stop-watch and warned them not to speak for longer than 10 minutes.

Over the following fortnight, Nasheed was forced to attend hearings on various matters—at times without representation—and all attempts to apply proper judicial procedures and uphold his constitutional rights were denied by the court and the tarnished Judicial Service Commission.

On 16 February, quite strangely, the Prosecutor-General withdrew the unlawful arrest charges, stating they would be subject to review. One might have hoped that this would have been the end of the charade against President Nasheed. Sadly, no. The 'kangaroo court' approach to Maldivian justice was only beginning. Six days later, on 22 February, President Nasheed was arrested by the Maldives police on charges of terrorism.

This is a travesty, that Mohamed Nasheed, a former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, someone who was jailed and tortured 13 times, the person who won that country's first democratic elections, who strengthened the freedoms of speech, association and the press, who invested in transport, social security and law and order, was alleged to be a terrorist. The warrant for Nasheed's arrest did not contain key information as required by law, such as the place or period of lawful detention, and—in a highly unusual situation—was requested by the Prosecutor-General himself.

On the following day, 23 February, the Criminal Court scheduled a hearing advising Nasheed's lawyers that they would not be permitted to attend, due to court regulations requiring legal representatives to register their attendance two days before a hearing—a feat impossible without means of time travel. The Criminal Court also refused to provide Nasheed with the forms to enable him to appeal against his arrest. This represents an unequivocal denial of Nasheed's right to legal representation in the criminal case and in the partisan show trial that has now been brought against him. Nasheed was not presented for remand within 24 hours as required, violating his constitutional protections and subjecting him to unlawful imprisonment.

There is footage of Nasheed being manhandled into the Criminal Court for the hearing, which is truly shocking. Not only did the Maldives police refuse to allow Nasheed to talk to reporters who had gathered outside the court but also, despite requests from Nasheed to be permitted to walk freely into court, the police displayed a thuggish brutality in dragging him across the ground, shredding his clothes in the process. Despite the unjustifiable force used and the injuries sustained in the ordeal, Nasheed was initially refused medical attention.

Requests to have Nasheed transferred to house arrest for safety were denied. Attempts to have two of the three judges excused from sitting on the case, because of Nasheed's intention to submit them as witnesses, have been rejected, to date. Instead, the Prosecutor-General and those judges have given witness statements supporting the charges against Nasheed.

As well this, cooked-up charges of treason have been brought against former defence minister Colonel Mohamed Nazim—a government critic. The case against Colonel Nazim shares disturbing parallels, with an illegal SWAT-team search of his family residence resulting in Maldives police 'finding' a cache of explosives and lethal weapons. These were widely suspected to have been planted by the police themselves to justify the search and charges. Nazim has appealed for open and public hearings in his trial but so far his legal and constitutional rights have similarly been denied and subjugated as part of the farce that the judiciary of the Maldives is becoming.

These arrests sparked protests late last week of up to 25,000 people in the streets of Male, the capital of the Maldives, organised by the Maldivan Democratic Party and the Jumhoree Party. That would be the equivalent of one million Sydneysiders marching across the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

The charges against Nasheed have been brought about so that he will be found guilty and thus not eligible to stand for the presidency. Likewise, the law will be changed to bring in an upper age limit so that Qasim will also be deemed ineligible to stand. It is nothing short of judicial assassination.

As a friend of the Maldives, I raised my concerns about this ongoing situation with the foreign minister, Julie Bishop. I am pleased that yesterday the Australian High Commission in Colombo, which is accredited to the Maldives, issued a statement in which it said that Australia's interest in the case had been registered with the Maldivan government and noted the Australian government's concern with the recent civil unrest in the Maldives following the arrest of Mohamed Nasheed. It encouraged all parties to exercise restraint and to act in accordance with the rule of law.

I commend Minister Bishop and her office, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Australian High Commission in Colombo for their efforts in working towards a solution to this crisis. Australia's voice joins world-wide condemnation of the Yameen government by the United States, the United Kingdom, India, Sri Lanka, Canada, the Commonwealth of Nations and the European Union. And while I welcome the statement from our high commissioner concerning the developments in the Maldives it is important that Australia should look closer to home and at the nefarious influence of ISIS in what was once such a promising country, and join with the international community in taking an even stronger stand to ensure the growth of freedom, the protection of democracy and strengthening of the rule of law.

I note that the missing journalist, Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla, who disappeared 208 days ago on 8 August, is still missing and that the government is all but refusing to help in the search to find this missing journalist and critic of the government. If we do not protect democracy and freedom in our neighbouring countries, such as the Maldives, we will see that this island paradise will become the Beirut of the Indian Ocean. Its President Yameen is already becoming the Robert Mugabe of the Indian Ocean.