Twenty seven murders have been committed since President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayyoom was elected to office. The number of knife-attacks and gang-related harm, directly and indirectly is unknown as none of the state institutions responsible for the task have any interest in this problem. Despite the physical and mental harm, and loss of lives, the government has not formulated a strategy to address the issue. On top of that, the responsible minister, Azleen Ahmed (Minister of Home Affairs) has evaded taking responsibility for the issue. On 29 September 2017, following the murder of Haris Abdul Ghafoor (24 years), Azleen told the public through the state broadcaster, Public Service Media, that his ministry has requested for authorization to put ankle tags on 21 persons. He also said that Haris was killed in a gang rivalry, contradicting the government’s previous stand.
President Yameen’s administration has always denied the existence of any gangs in the country. Ever since his election, Yameen made continuous effort to provide freedom and space for gangs to operate through lawmaker, Ahmed Nihan Hussain Manik, and former Vice President Ahmed Adeeb Abdul Ghafoor. Nihan was tasked to present the gangsters to the public as responsible youth, while Adeeb was given the responsibility of controlling them through money and protecting them from incarceration. Important gangsters held in detention, such as Azleef Raoof, Aalif Raoof and many others were released by Adeeb’s orders. Yameen amended the regulation on clemency and presidential pardon (Regulation Number 2016/R-37) on 02 April 2017 to grant presidential reprieve and pardon so that the few convicted gangsters could be freed.
After Adeeb’s imprisonment, a chunk of Adeeb’s role was transferred to Dr. Mohamed Shainee, Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture. Shainee’s role was limited to assigning tasks to the gangs as required by Yameen. Financing the gangs was handled by Fathimath Ibrahim Didi, First Lady. In order to facilitate this process, in June 2016, Yameen unilaterally transferred authority to issue monitoring and control (MONICOM) orders afforded on the Home Minister in the anti-terrorism law to a four member Committee. Under this new bureaucratic layer, the authority of the home minister was relegated to enforcing decisions made by the Committee, in which Shainee is a member. The home minister is also a member of this Committee and so is Commissioner of Police Ahmed Areef. When the home minister’s position was made a rubber stamp, then Home Minister, Umar Naseer resigned on 21 June 2016. Following his resignation, Azleen Ahmed was appointed as the new Home Minister.
In 2010, the government of President Mohamed Nasheed made significant progress in addressing the gang threat. Key legislative instruments, such as Law on the Prevention of Gang Crimes (Law 18/2010), Drug Law (17/2011), Law on Prohibiting Threatening and Possession of Dangerous Weapons and Sharp Objects (17/2010), and many others were enacted. A cabinet discussion had also taken place in devising methods to address the issue. The succeeding governments failed to follow those drafts and the issue has remained in the back-burner since then.
Following murders and stabbings, the Maldives Police Service hastens to raid private places, without evidence, to create a perception that they are committed to their duties. Following the murder of Haris and stabbing of another youth on 29 September 2017, the Maldives Police Service has resorted to their old tactics, and are now conducting raids. Earlier, when two youngsters were killed in an inter-gang rivalry in August 2017, the Police did the same thing, while Ministry of Defence deployed military troops on the streets to counter gang violence. The troops were on the streets for a week and were called back to the barracks before they could understand their new task. This measure exemplifies the incompetence and inability of the Police to address the threat. Undoubtedly the police leadership has failed. Failed massively!
There is no effort, at national or any other level, to genuinely address the gang problem. The main reason for this is, because Yameen utilizes gangs for his underground activities and to threaten opposition politicians. Additionally, he used gangs extensively in his election campaign in 2013. He used them to gain sympathy votes by tasking them to throw a Molotov cocktail at his residence on the day of the elections. Before that, he used them to damage opposition banners and to conduct other such activities, including intimidation. Yameen’s links with the gangs is clear even from the composition of the the Presidential Commission on State Assets Recovery constituted in July 2017. One of the members of that Commission, Uz. Mohamed Saleem, was charged by the Prosecutor General Uz. Ahmed Muizzu in June 2013 for extortion, theft and damaging private property along with members of Kuda Henveiru gang. Saleem was a member of the Judicial Service Commission at that time. He was dismissed following the charges on 18 June 2013 by President Mohamed Waheed.
Even though violent crimes are on the rise, Commissioner of Police, Ahmed Areef has veiled himself not only from his responsibility, but also from public view. He has avoided the public, media, and fails to give directions to the police force. He is preoccupied with his exit plan of fleeing the country as he has little, if any, hope that Yameen will win the next election in 2018.
Can Home Minister Azleen just throw the buck to a Committee in which he and the Commissioner of Police Ahmed Areef are members, and say that he is waiting for directions from the Committee? Azleen and Areef must remember that their responsibilities are clearly stated in the Police Act, and someday they will be held accountable.