Three years ago, the Maldives’ first democratically elected President, Mohamed Nasheed, addressed our party conference. He was his country’s Nelson Mandela, a man who had spent years in solitary confinement, prison and house arrest, enduring torture and beatings, but emerged to lead his country through a transition to democracy and, like Mandela, did not seek revenge against the old dictator, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.
On 7 February this year, President Nasheed was overthrown in a coup d’etat orchestrated by the old dictator Gayoom’s thugs, in league with radical Islamists. The slow strangulation of the Maldives’ infant democracy began, hundreds of Anni’s supporters were arrested and Anni himself was beaten by police. Amnesty International has called it a “human rights crisis”.
I have known Anni for the past six years, and played a part in supporting his country’s transition to democracy. I have written about the coup here, here, here and here, so I will not repeat what I have already written – you can read my past articles for background. I want to focus briefly on today’s news.
According to Anni’s party, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), at 9.45am this morning 50 heavily-armed masked police in full riot gear and wearing gas masks smashed down the door of the house in which Anni and his team were staying. He and his team were pepper-sprayed by the police, even though they had offered no resistance. As the MDP’s international spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafood said, “8th October 2012 will be remembered as the day that democracy died in the Maldives. The reality is it has been on life-support since February, but today the plug was pulled and the lights turned off”.
It is unacceptable to overthrow an elected president in a coup. It is unacceptable to arrest a former president who has committed no crime, and therefore clearly attempt to disqualify him from contesting future elections. And it is absurd to send 50 heavily armed riot police to arrest one man.
Such conduct would be unacceptable anywhere, affecting a politician of any party. Human rights are universal and should be respected and upheld for everyone, by everyone. Yet today’s news should be of particular concern to us Conservatives as we meet, freely, for our party conference, for the MDP is our sister party. We have spent the past six years providing advice to the MDP. Conservative politicians and officials have travelled to the Maldives to help the MDP’s election campaigns. The Conservative International Office have provided consistent support since the Maldives’ first genuine democratic elections in 2008. David Cameron described Anni as his “best friend”.
Now, our best friend is in real trouble. His life could be in danger. What are we going to do to help?
We must be unequivocal about this. We cannot stand in silence and watch him arrested. His whereabouts are currently unknown. His well-being is uncertain. We must condemn the arrest and the manner of his arrest. We must urge our partners in the EU, the Commonwealth and the UN to speak out. We must condemn the illegal regime that currently rules the Maldives, impose targeted sanctions against the assets of members of the regime, call for the expulsion of the Maldives from the Commonwealth, and urge the UN Human Rights Council to look at the human rights crisis in the country. If we are serious about placing human rights at the heart of our foreign policy, we must stand up for human rights, wherever they are violated, and we must stand by our friends.