Rajiv saved us from Gayoom -

Male coup leader


By Shamindra Ferdinando

Continued from yesterday

Part II

Abdulla Luthufee said that heavy Indian fire had caused damage to MV Progress Light. The vessel had gone down as the Indian warships turned towards Male. "I was blindfolded and locked-up in a toilet in INS Godavari. My hands were tied to the back. I never got to know the exact number or the identities of those held hostage and PLOTE personnel killed due to military action. I was held in isolation, while the surviving PLOTE cadres were kept separately."

The irate ex-rebel said that some members of the Maldivian defence team had assaulted him during on and off interrogations as INS Godavari proceeded towards Male.

"Soon after we reached Male on Nov. 7, the Indian army allowed their media to move freely in the capital. Once the Indian media and senior military officials toured Male meeting ordinary people, particularly Indians living there, they realized the plight of the Maldivians. In fact, they changed their attitude towards us. Indian journalists were given access to INS Godawari, where I was held."

The overwhelming presence of the Indians prevented Gayoom loyalists from harming us, Luthufee said. In fact, the continued presence of the Indian military gave us confidence that the Maldivian government wouldn’t try to get rid of us, he said.

When did they take you out of the vessel anchored at the Male harbour? "As I remember, they blindfolded me and took me to meet Gayoom. The President and some members of his family watched from a multi-storey building as I was taken before them. Subsequently, I was moved to an island off Male, where officials of the Indian intelligence, Research and Analysis Wing interrogated me. I had an opportunity to tell Indian intelligence what was going on in my country. I have no doubt the Indians realized that the vast majority of people hated Gayoom and his cronies. I won the confidence of the Indians and I have no doubt those in charge of handling the Maldivian issue quickly recognized the need for reforms. Gayoom resented the Indian attitude and moved me to another prison on a different island, where I was held for 11 months."

Recalling his ordeal at the hands of Gayoom loyalists, Luthufee said that he was regularly tortured in solitary confinement. The absence of Indian military personnel gave Maldivian hooligans a free hand, he said, alleging he was deprived of sleep for days at a stretch. "They threw fish on the floor near me to attract rats. Some days, they tossed sugar to attract flies. I was also subject to chillie smoke and they regularly talked to me in filth to humiliate me. They forced me to stay in the same position for days. The international community did nothing in spite of knowing what was going on in the Maldives. What you must know is that mine wasn’t an isolated case. Those who opposed Gayoom earned his wrath and the then regime went all out against anyone perceived as a potential threat."

"Under Gayoom the Maldivian judiciary was nothing but a farce. It was a tool in the hands of Gayoom and his cronies, who used and abused Maldivian law to pursue their agenda. They sought to consolidate their power at the expense of the freedom of the ordinary Maldivians, the vast majority of whom lived a simple life. During our trial, they didn’t even bother to take us in a vehicle to the courts. Instead, they forced us to walk from our detention facility to the courts. Gayoom had his people positioned along the road to shout at us in filth and sometimes threw missiles. Four Maldivians and 12 Sri Lankan Tamils, all members of PLOTE received the death penalty. I was among the four Maldivians sentenced to death. We weren’t surprised. Gayoom wouldn’t have allowed us to walk free or deport us. Instead, the dictatorial regime wanted to finish us off. Taking on Gayoom wasn’t a joke. Anyone enjoying the power and privileges of the office of the President wouldn’t want to give it up. Gayoom wasn’t any exception."

Ex-Major Abbas Ibrahim, ex-Corporal Abdulla Shahid and Ahamed Nasir along with Luthufee received capital punishment. Three others, namely Umaru Jamaal Sikka Ahamed Ismail Manuku and Mohamed Naeem received different prison terms.

The Maldivian courts also sentenced 12 PLOTE cadres, who had spearheaded the assault on Male to 25 years in prison.

How did you manage to survive? "India saved us. The decision against us was announced on Aug. 29, 1989. The government was ready to execute the decision in spite of concern expressed by those who valued democracy. The then Premier Rajiv Gandhi intervened on our behalf. What he did was exemplary. The Maldivian dictator was summoned on Sept. 16, 1989, to New Delhi, where he was told he couldn’t impose the death penalty. Had the Indian Premier turned his back on us, Gayoom would have gone ahead with his plan. All of us are grateful to those Indian intelligence officers for briefing the Indian political leadership regarding the Maldivian political crisis. Thanks to them, Gayoom couldn’t deceive the Indian leader."

What was Gayoom’s reaction following his meeting with Premier Gandhi? "Gayoom flew back to Male on Sept. 17, 1989. Obviously, he was a dejected man. An irate Gayoom played a different tune on his return. He declared that he didn’t want to shed anymore blood in Male and commuted capital punishment imposed on us to life imprisonment. We weren’t deceived by Gayoom’s move. If the Maldivian President had his way, he would have finished us off."

"We were moved to special cells, which were surrounded by a steel fence at the same facility where we were held. We launched a protest demanding the removal of the steel fence, which made it almost impossible for us to breathe when the sun was up. Gayoom’s men enjoyed torturing prisoners. They were rewarded by their masters for being beastly to their fellow countrymen, whose only crime was demanding change in the political scene.

Asked whether he regretted leading an abortive bid to replace Gayoom, Luthufee emphasized that he hated the former leader for what he did to the country. "Even now, Gayoom is not happy being an ordinary Maldivian. The ousted leader wanted power at any cost and was trying to undermine the present leader. The Maldivians should be cautious of those seeking to play politics at their expense. I’m glad about making a move against the government even at the risk of my life. What I did was for the Maldivians and definitely not for my benefit. Let me tell you, If I didn’t make that abortive attempt with the support of PLOTE, maybe Gayoom would still be in office. India wouldn’t have stepped in if we kept mum. The bottom line is that the Nov. 3 coup attempt was the turning point in contemporary Maldivian history.

(To be continued)

Captured PLOTE cadre

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