Dhoonidhoo Detention Centre, Maldives: By any analysis, it’s been a vertiginous fall from grace. Several weeks ago, I was sipping green tea with Chinese President Xi Jinping as the Maldives’ Vice-President. Today, I am caged in an isolated prison cell, scrawling this op-ed with a broken pencil on dog-eared notepaper, while the cockroaches look on. The crime I have been accused of would be laughable if it wasn’t so serious. Even though there isn’t a shred of evidence against me, I have been labelled a traitor and accused of trying to assassinate my former boss, President Yameen. This follows some sort of explosion onboard Yameen’s speedboat on 28 September — the government claims it was a bomb, but FBI investigators say they found no evidence explosives were used.
I categorically deny any involvement in any kind of plot to harm President Yameen. In truth, President Yameen and I have been the victims of a despicable conspiracy, launched, I believe, by my political foes in and outside the Cabinet. I believe the speedboat incident was staged, in order to frame me. The Home Minister, Umar Naseer, declared that “from day one” of his so-called impartial investigation, I was the chief suspect. At the behest of former President Gayoom, I was summarily expelled from the ruling party, while the Government even went so far as to declare a State of Emergency so they could rush my impeachment through Parliament. In clear violation of the Constitution, I was not informed of my impeachment nor permitted to defend myself. All this has happened over the past few weeks, even though under the law, I am supposed to be presumed innocent until proven otherwise.
I join the swelling ranks of political prisoners in the Maldives: people such as former President Mohamed Nasheed and former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim, whose only crime is that they pose an electoral threat to the dynastic ambitions of an ageing, former strongman.
The ruthlessness of the purge against me and my allies in government is indicative of the importance I once held within the ruling party. Mine was a meteoric rise to power: I was first appointed to the cabinet in 2012. In July this year, my reputation as someone who could get things done propelled me to the Vice-Presidency. At 33, I stood as a symbol of the Government’s willingness to accept and promote young talent.
But my ascendency provoked intense jealousy, especially among individuals whose political careers had entered their twilight years. These people plotted against me, and President Yameen, in order to divert the party from the modern, meritocratic direction in which it was heading.
I fear not only for myself — as any observer of the Maldives’ judiciary knows, there is no hope I shall be given a fair trial — but for the future of my country. With the leadership of the political opposition in the Maldives either cowed or in jail, and elements within the regime set to destroy anyone who contests power from within, the upcoming 2018 presidential election risks becoming a foregone conclusion.
My enemies will ensure there will be no let up to the purges; no political reform; no respect for the rule of law. Democratic institutions, and the aspirations of Maldives’ young population, will be trampled underfoot. The regime, having gone this far, cannot go back. It will dig in deeper, lash out at its critics, obfuscate. I also worry that the Maldives will continue along a path towards international isolation — something I tried, but failed, to avert during my time in office.
Every criticism from the West will be waved away as neo-colonial interference, while our regional partners will continue to be contemptuously played off against more distant powers.
I have no ill-feelings towards President Yameen. He is someone to whom I have never been anything but unwaveringly loyal. But I fear the President is isolated, confused, and has unwittingly been captured by those who ultimately wish to do him harm, and assume power themselves. As for my former cabinet colleagues, I say this: watch your backs. In today’s Maldives, nobody is safe. You might be next.