Expert Speak Energy News Monitor
Published on Jun 15, 2016
Maldives: Adheeb's convictions may reopen 'terrorism' debate The fast-tracked convictions of former Vice President Ahmed Adheeb on ‘terrorism charges’ may reopen the near-dead ‘our terrorists vs your terrorists’ Maldivian debate.  After a lull of months, the court sentenced Adheeb to a 15-year prison-term for blast-bid on the life of President Abdulla Yameen. In doing so, Chief Judge of the nation’s criminal court transferred the long-pending case to his files and held in-camera hearings, despite the defence objections. The court also sentenced two of Adheeb’s military body-guards to 10 years’ jail for planting a bomb in the presidential boat, injuring the First Lady. The blast had occurred a day later. In the same week, in a separate case, the court also sentenced Adheeb to 10 years in prison for the possession of illegal weapons. Adheeb is facing one more case, the third one, where he is charged with ‘massive embezzlement’ of tourism funds. The judgment in the case is expected any time soon. In separate yet politically-related cases of the kind, the court has sentenced sacked Prosecutor-General Muhthaz Muhsin and a senior magistrate, Ahmed Nihan, to 17 years each, for alleged bid to overthrow and kidnap Yameen by fudging summons in the ‘tourism embezzlement case’. It is unclear if Adheeb’s sentences in different cases would run concurrently or successively. Some media reports have speculated that another impeached Vice-President, Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, may be tried for bid to overthrow/kidnap Yameen.

< style="color: #163449;">Timing questioned

Independent of the actuality of the cases, the timing of the Adheeb trials has raised questions. They came about days after the Opposition in the country formed a united front in London, with Nasheed as Advisor and Jameel as leader. The Opposition has alleged political motive behind all trials against ‘political prisoners’ and also condemned the ‘in camera trials’ in general and judge Nihan’s conviction, otherwise. Adheeb’s defence said that despite the court’s directive to the contrary, the trial was ‘unfair’. Nihan’s defence said the trial judge did not record their submission that he had refused to issue an arrest-warrant against Yameen, as sought. It is also not known if the prosecution had claimed that Nihan became culpable for not alerting the authorities concerned, when approached for the arrest-warrant.

< style="color: #163449;">Mistress-distrust

Ever since the MDP demanded Yameen’s exit in December 2014, the nation has been witnessing a lot of role-reversals among parties and leaders. Like in the case of Adheeb, the ‘Judge Abdulla abduction case’ against Nasheed acquired a fresh lease and a ‘terrorism’ status after the MDP resolution. His 13-year sentencing is questionable for the application of ‘terrorism laws’, but the defence seemed to concede in his trial that it could still be a ‘common criminal case’. Politics otherwise makes for strange bed-fellows. The United Opposition had originally comprised the MDP, the religion-centric Adhaalath Party (AP), which had fallen out with Yameen and his Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) after the 2013 presidential polls. It now also includes the groups led by Jameel, Adheeb and the jailed former Defence Minister, Mohamad Nazim, who too was sacked for ‘conspiring’ to overthrow the President. Over the past year, they have been daggers drawn at one another, owing to what could be sarcastically described/dismissed as mistress’ distrust. The MDP had been after each one of them politically, both before and after Yameen had become President in 2013. The MDP and the AP too have had a love-hate relationship, just as Yameen and the PPM have had one with the ‘republican’ Jumhooree Party (JP) of business tycoon, Gasim Ibrahim.

< style="color: #163449;">‘Terrorism’ discourse

The larger question pertains to what is ‘terrorism’ and who is a ‘terrorist’? In the annual, global ‘terrorism’ report, the US State Department has reiterated the western concerns about increasing radicalisation of a section of Maldivian youth. In the latest report of the kind, three Maldivians are said to be fighting for the Islamic State (IS) in Syria. The Yameen Government seems to be wanting to be on the offensive on issues of ‘IS terrorism’ nearer home, but is often been seen on the defensive. Nearer home, three youths are facing trial on ‘terrorism’ charges of the fundamentalist/extremist kind, but that does not seem to mean much, both to the political Opposition in the country and a sympathetic ‘international community’ (read: West). The Yameen leadership may have contributed to it by converting the ‘Judge Abdulla abduction case’ against Nasheed into a ‘terror case’ months after the original trial had commenced. This may have taken away the seriousness attending on more specific of ‘terror cases’ of the boat-blast kind and/or ‘terrorist cases’ of the IS kind. The Nasheed case conversion has since rendered a political narrative to the ‘Abdulla episode’. It seems to be now rubbing off on subsequent cases — those that involve greater possibilities and probabilities. This has possibly substituted serious ‘terrorist plot’ against an incumbent President — hence the Maldivian State — with ‘political motives’ of inconsequential kind, rendering prosecution flippant and the political campaign serious. Defence Minister Nazim first, and VPs Jameel and Adheeb in their respective times had harboured presidential ambitions. It’s the birth right of any citizen in any democracy. They also did not hide those ambitions. Nazim has been open about his plans or 2018/2023 presidential race for long. Jameel would have to have covered quite a distance before harbouring realistic ambitions. Whatever his ambitions, the Adheeb case is centred on a blast on the presidential boat. The blast was real. If the Opposition’s implications are to be considered, it’s too much to believe that Yameen would have risked a plot and blast of the kind, if only to ‘fix’ his personal choice of VP devoid of any political considerations or electoral calculations of the Jameel kind. Thinking on his feet, and very surprisingly so not long after the blast, Yameen had also invited forensic experts from five countries to investigate the boat-blast. If there were visible/proven contradictions, then any or all these nations, including India, could have brought it out. In the absence of any such report, speculation could confine itself not to the blast per se, but to the possibilities of Adheeb’s involvement. Independent of the prosecution’s claims and the witnesses produced by it in court, there is nothing to suggest that Adheeb also plotted simultaneously with the MDP to have Yameen impeached. If true, the government would have to convince the national and international audience on the why and how of his plotting both the boat-blast and the impeachment. Though Yameen in his first public speech after the blast charged Adheeb with double-tracking, the government has not proceeded on the ‘impeachment’ expose. Nor has it named ‘MDP contacts’ of Adheeb, if any. For Adheeb, double-tracking the plot also ran the risk of leaving too many tracks to cover — and get exposed, easier.

< style="color: #163449;">Limiting definition

The Yameen government wants to be seen as fighting ‘IS-conversion’ of Maldivian youth, politically, ideologically and legally. But certain of its decisions seem to be taking away the seriousness of such efforts. From the Opposition point, they need to acknowledge that the shoe could be on the other foot, too. The West, especially the UK, has been a facilitator of Opposition unity in Maldives. It cannot, however, limit the definition of ‘terrorism’ to cover ‘extremist violence’ and exclude assassination plots against a Head of State and/or Government. It may still question the use of ‘terrorism law’ in a narrower sense by a member-nation, but can do so only in political terms. Legally, it can be done only by the accused/convict, and in a local court. Nasheed’s is the case in point. If it could cover Adheeb, and may be Nazim, too, then it would be for the MDP to reconsider, and the West to review, their current and/or earlier positions.      
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N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy

N. Sathiya Moorthy is a policy analyst and commentator based in Chennai.

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