Vol. 5 Num 82 Tue. August 17, 2004  

Crackdown in the Maldives
Democracy's time has come
The recent arrest of at least 185 pro-democracy activists in the Maldives including former senior members of the government is cause for great concern. According to an anti-government spokesman, the 185 people the government has admitted to detaining is merely the tip of the ice-berg, and hundreds more have been detained with many more in hiding to avoid arrest.

Among those arrested are former Attorney General Mohamed Munavvar, and, most significantly for Bangladesh and the rest of Saarc, ex-minister and former Secretary General of Saarc, Ibrahim Hussain Zaki, both of whom were sacked from the government in November due to their pro-reformist leanings.

The Maldives has been ruled by President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom with an iron fist for the past twenty-six years, and it is not merely the lack of democracy which is the problem in this idyllic country, it is the lack of democratic forums for debate and the continued suppression of dissent and repression of dissidents that is most troubling.

The recent arrests come hard on the heels of the declaration of a state of emergency on Friday after police had to fire tear gas to disperse about 3,000 people who had gathered to demand the release of political prisoners and the sacking of hard-line members of the cabinet.

Demonstrations in the Maldives are rare, and the fact that this latest one is considered so threatening by the government and has been joined by former senior members of the government indicates that perhaps now public opposition to the status quo and desire for democracy has reached a critical mass. It is high time that the Maldives government accepts that the democratic inclinations of its people cannot be contained indefinitely.

It is true that the Maldives is not the only Saarc country that is not a democracy, and that Saarc has hitherto kept itself detached from the domestic affairs of its member states. However, when it is the basic human rights of the people that are being denied and repressive means are used to maintain autocratic rule, as is the case here, we urge President Gayoom to have more respect for the rights and sensibilities of his people as a well-wisher of the Maldives and a co-traveller in Saarc.