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“Another Kind of Fukushima?” Asks Whistleblower Robert Gilkeson

No, I didn’t make up the whistleblower title for Registered Geologist Robert (Bob) H. Gilkeson. For his important work on groundwater contamination at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, in 2007 he received the annual “Whistleblower Award” from the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability at a Washington, DC reception.

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No, I didn’t make up the whistleblower title for Registered Geologist Robert (Bob) H. Gilkeson. For his important work on groundwater contamination at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, in 2007 he received the annual “Whistleblower Award” from the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability at a Washington, DC reception.

The Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in New Mexico is operated by competent people, right? And, is filled with respected scientists who always tell the truth, right? That is the “official story” – the world’s greatest science protecting America – that LANL has been feeding to the American lawmakers, media and the public for nearly seven decades. But now the northern New Mexico community members and organizations are determined to put an end to LANL’s “official story.” They’re building a “new story.” Here is their story.

On Wednesday July 6, LANL opened after being closed for more than a week due to the Las Conchas Fire that has become the largest fire in New Mexico history. As of July 16 it has burned 156,245 acres including large areas in crucial watersheds and sacred sites in the Santa Clara and Cochiti pueblo lands. That Wednesday afternoon I sat down for 3 1/2 hours of conversation with Bob Gilkeson, Joni Arends, Executive Director of Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety (CCNS), and David Bacon, board member of CCNS. I was shocked to learn about the massive amount of toxic and radioactive wastes that are on the surface and in subsurface pits at LANL. It got much worse – I learned about the great seismic hazard that has potentially catastrophic implications for the entire American southwest. LANL is also proposing to build a new $6 billion nuclear facility as part of an integral plutonium pit (triggers) production complex for building new nuclear weapons. You can stop this – it is your call.

Contaminated Monitoring: From Technical Lead to Silencing

After graduating with a BS and MS from the University of Illinois Geology Department, Bob worked as a research scientist at the Illinois Geological Survey from 1973 to 1987. He then joined the environmental company Weston as Technical Director for Earth Sciences, first in their corporate office in Westchester, Pennsylvania and then to their Albuquerque, New Mexico office. In 1988 he joined LANL as a senior consultant. His work focused on characterizing contamination from the lab’s large waste disposal sites, which he says, “weren’t more than just dumps.” This was the first comprehensive study of contamination under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

In 1997 Bob was asked to lead the big project of putting in a network of monitoring wells across the then 47 square mile facility to look at groundwater contamination from laboratory operations. After reviewing the work plan that was written by external contractors and some lab employees, he realized it was incorrect – most well locations needed to be changed and the mud rotary drilling method had to be replaced.

LANL agreed with Bob’s plan to not use the mud rotary method, but then James Bearzi came in as the chief of the New Mexico Environment Department hazardous waste bureau in 1999. Bearzi changed the work plan back to mud rotary. “So I left,” said Bob. “I couldn’t be part of the process that was going to put in more than 30 monitoring wells, each costing over a million dollars, that were going to hide knowledge of contamination from LANL operations.”

I asked, in what way hiding – the wells did not provide the proper kind of data to detect LANL contamination?, to which he responded “that’s right,” and I said that the LANL reports that claim “no contamination is present” would be wrong because the data to begin with is flawed, and he responded “that’s right.” This is what I’d call a contaminated monitoring operation.

Challenging LANL’s groundwater monitoring methodology and operation became a passion for Bob. After all these years of efforts, “Three months ago the New Mexico Environment Department sent LANL a letter stating that the methodology the lab is using (for monitoring of groundwater contamination) cannot ensure that these wells produce reliable data,” Bob proudly told us.

I learned why honest groundwater monitoring is crucial at LANL. Joni told us about the shocking amount of subsurface waste, “At LANL there are at least 21 million cubic feet of toxic, chemical and radioactive waste buried in unlined pits, trenches, and shafts, on mesa tops, and in the canyons, inside the lab property. During the 2011 Las Conchas Fire, the LANL Director informed the media that large amounts of LANL wastes are buried in unknown locations outside LANL property. Those pits inside and outside LANL are not lined. All that waste is moving towards our groundwater, and that’s why groundwater monitoring is so very important, but their monitoring methods are hiding the detection of contamination.”

Area G Subsurface Pits and Trenches that are now filled with Radioactive and Hazardous Waste

Right now one of the great concerns is a 63 acre unlined dump, known as Area G. On the surface of Area G, there are an estimated 20,000 to 30,000 drums (each drum is 55 gallons) with plutonium–contaminated waste sitting three high inside fabric tents. If you think that is bad news, consider this. Underneath all those drums are enormous pits where LANL dumped waste starting in the late 50’s. Take a look at the Area G open pit photos here, and imagine it being filled with toxic and radioactive waste, and covered with soil. And also know that LANL has no detailed inventory of all that subsurface waste.

Bob has watched the many mistakes on monitoring groundwater contamination from Area G and told us “The current monitoring well network at Area G is practically perfect for hiding detection of contamination from the buried waste.” As you can see Bob’s work on groundwater contamination is very crucial. Right now he is blowing the whistle on a potentially catastrophic issue – the great seismic hazard at LANL. Let us listen.

Should A Nuclear Weapons Lab Be Operating On A Youthful Network Of Faults?

In 2009 Bob started looking at two seismic reports produced by LANL: the 2007 Probabilistic Seismic Hazard Analysis (PSHA) and the site specific study of the seismic hazard at the proposed $6 billion Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project Nuclear Facility (CMRR–NF), that would annually quadruple manufacturing capacity from 20 to 80 plutonium triggers (pits) for new nuclear weapons.

Bob first explained to us the fault system on which LANL is situated. The Bandelier Tuff of the Pajarito Plateau forms the near surface bedrock at LANL. It sits on a network of many faults: the Pajarito Fault System (PFS) goes right through LANL, and the Embudo Fault System just to the north (you can see a map here). Below LANL, the PFS includes the large and primary Pajarito Fault, the Rendija Canyon Fault and the Guaje Mountain Fault. The Bandelier Tuff was formed by the massive amount of volcanic material that was deposited in two large volcanic eruptions 1.6 million and 1.25 million years ago. The fault system is older than the Bandelier Tuff. “This relatively young geologic layer that is 700 feet thick below the proposed CMRR–NF was put down on a pre-existing active network of faults. This reenergized the network as the huge amount of weight came into the system suddenly,” Bob told us.

He then told us how earthquakes operate in this network of faults. It could be an earthquake that just causes a rupture on the Pajarito Fault – a single rupture. A major earthquake that happened here was in 600 AD, and it was a single rupture. It could also be what’s called simultaneous rupture: a single powerful earthquake would cause rupture on two of the faults – Pajarito Fault and possibly the Rendija Canyon Fault. The still more powerful earthquake is when the shaking would cause the Pajarito Fault to rupture, and the energy from that would trigger a slightly delayed rupture on either the Rendija Canyon Fault or the Guaje Mountain Fault. “That’s synchronous rupture and the most dangerous,” Bob told us. Bob said the best interpretation of the seismic data is that two earlier earthquakes in the past 10,000 years at LANL were synchronous ruptures.

He then showed us Figure 7.53 in the PSHA report that shows synchronous rupture being 75% more powerful than simultaneous. But in chapter 5, the report states that synchronous is consistently less powerful than simultaneous. “It’s a self–contradictory report. Synchronous is always more powerful. So the seismic hazard in the report which was used for the design of the proposed CMRR–NF is incorrect and grossly underestimates the hazard.” Bob explained.

He continued on to say, “LANL’s seismic hazard analysis reports are of poor quality. There are too many data gaps, which they substituted with assumptions, and there are often incorrect findings. The problems in their seismic hazard analysis are so many and so important that I can tell you LANL doesn’t have the required knowledge for seismic hazard to continue operations with nuclear materials.”

I asked if he meant the entire lab, or only the proposed CMRR–NF? He responded, “The entire lab. They have not done the necessary detailed field investigations for accurate knowledge of the seismic hazard at the proposed CMRR–NF or for continued operations at the existing LANL plutonium nuclear facilities.”

Bob has made a comparison of the seismic event at Fukushima to what might happen at LANL. The Fukushima earthquake produced a maximum ground acceleration that is identical to the maximum of 0.52g (g is the force of gravity) that was used as the design basis earthquake and maximum seismic hazard for the proposed CMRR–NF. But Bob points out that the 0.52g number is based on simultaneous ruptures. The PSHA in Figure 7.53 calculates that for synchronous ruptures that number would be 75% higher, or 0.91g. Bob concludes, “The seismic hazard at LANL is possibly 75% higher than the power of the earthquake ground motions that released very large amounts of radionuclide contamination at Fukushima.”

UK’s “Daily Mail” reported on March 16, 2011 that a top official from the International Atomic Energy Agency had warned the Japanese Government in December 2008 that the Fukushima nuclear plants would not be able to withstand a major earthquake. Did anyone listen to him?

Bob told us, “The youthful Pajarito Fault System (PFS) is not a stable fault system that has been studied and the power is understood. The PFS is capable of great damage to LANL facilities at this time. LANL reports describe the PFS as growing and gaining linkages within and among different segments, and as that occurs, the size and power increases. The great power of the PFS for destructive earthquakes is not known and requires detailed field investigations.” Is anyone going to listen to Bob Gilkeson?

Fukushima was producing nuclear power, whereas LANL produces nuclear weapons. There is a difference, but David made it clear for us, “Because they’re looking at a possible major earthquake, it’ll impact all of us. With 6 metric tons of plutonium inside the lab, and all of the surface and subsurface nuclear waste, it’ll impact the entire American southwest, everybody. They need to pack up right now and leave.” I was puzzled by David’s comment, even if they do pack up, where would they go? Which community on this earth would want an operation in their backyard that would put radioactive and hazardous toxins into their watersheds, air and lungs?

Bogus Seismic Hazard Analysis – When the Data Doesn’t Exist, Just Assume

There are seven basic parameters identified in the PSHA report. Bob explained each one in detail and showed us that LANL doesn’t have accurate knowledge of any of these seven parameters for the proposed CMRR–NF and other critical nuclear facilities across the 40 square mile LANL site. The PSHA report says that it follows the 1997 Nuclear Regulatory Commission Seismic Hazard Guidance Report (NRC Report). “No it doesn’t, and the way it doesn’t are many that are important,” Bob told us. Here are those seven parameters.

Fault Locations

In April, the Department of Energy (DOE) released a draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for CMRR–NF that says they have accurate knowledge of the locations of faults at the CMRR–NF, and that the closest fault is 3,000 feet away to the west -the Rendija Canyon Fault. However Bob pointed out that the LANL seismic hazard geology team published a peer–reviewed paper in the journal “Geosphere” in 2009 that contradicts this view. “They say that the southward extent of the Guaje Mountain Fault is not known because it has not been mapped. And they have a concern that the southward extension is similar to the Rendija Canyon Fault, which means the Guaje Mountain Fault could come right down to the CMRR–NF. But, that is not what the SEIS document says,” Bob told us.

There is also disagreement among LANL scientists on how to map the presence of faults. The LANL seismic hazard geology team based the existence of faults on the mapping of displacements along the fault trace, but they didn’t look at zones of intense fractures to identify potential locations for buried active faults. However, the NRC Report describes the importance for knowledge of buried active faults. Bob pointed out that Dr. Kenneth Wohletz, a LANL scientist, had mapped zones of intense fracturing and inferred that there could be active faults located close to the proposed CMRR–NF (you can see the map here). Bob also called up seismic experts from around the country and they agreed that zones of intense fracturing could be evidence of active faults that are buried in the Bandelier Tuff.

Fault Geometry (Angle, Depth and Interaction) and Sense of Slip

In the “Geosphere” article, LANL scientists recognized an important deficiency in the 2007 PSHA, “Despite the importance of understanding the geometry of the fault system and potential linkage among faults for the purposes of seismic hazard analysis, a robust kinematic model of the [Pajarito] fault system is lacking.” The PSHA report states, “Very few kinematic data regarding fault slip direction are available for the Pajarito Fault System.”

Maximum Moment

The Richter earthquake magnitude scale is a presentation of the seismic moment. Bob pointed out that the design of the proposed CMRR–NF was incorrectly based on a maximum moment of 7.27 for simultaneous ruptures and the same report describes synchronous ruptures as 75% more powerful. The NRC Report recommends the use of an analog site if there is great uncertainty in maximum moment. The PSHA report recognized the 7.5 magnitude 1959 Hebgen Lake Earthquake in Montana, near Yellowstone, as a good analog, but used the obviously incorrect 7.27 magnitude to calculate the hazard. The NRC Report also recommends adding 0.5 magnitude unit to the maximum moment, if there is any reason to believe that there is potential for an earthquake that would be more powerful into the future. The PFS is a youthful fault system that LANL reports describe as growing in power. “The minimum moment for the proposed CMRR–NF should be 8 (7.5 from the analog + 0.5), and not 7.27, as they’ve done. And 8 is about 23 times more powerful than 7.27,” Bob concluded.

Earthquake Recurrence Rate

Bob pointed out, “The PSHA report recognized that there was insufficient knowledge of the earthquake recurrence rate and more fieldwork with paleo-seismic investigations were needed. The field investigations have not been performed.”

Insufficient knowledge of the key parameter kappa

Kappa is the behavior of the rock strata to the earthquake shaking – it’s a local effect. And the knowledge of local shaking is obtained by having a network of reliable seismographs. Bob informed us that the LANL 1995 and 2007 PSHA reports used assumed values for the key parameter kappa because the data from the LANL seismograph network was not usable to calculate kappa because they were not properly calibrated and maintained.

Insufficient knowledge of the seismic properties of the reference rock dacite (volcanic rock)

The plan was to drill two deep core holes down through the complete thickness of the dacite (approximately 1,000 feet) at the proposed CMRR–NF location. They ended up drilling only one, and only down to 43 feet into the dacite. They discovered that the dacite rock was busted up and fractured and wasn’t a dense competent layer. They made an assumption that at a greater depth it was going to become a competent solid unit and they took what is a typical shear velocity of a competent intact layer of dacite. “It is very important to know the thickness and shear velocity of the dacite. Is it several hundred feet thick? And is it busted up all the way through its entire depth because of seismic activity? The fact that this dacite rock was so busted up is also possible evidence of active faulting below the proposed CMRR–NF. It’s another example they’re using assumed values,” Bob explained.

I asked him how a nuclear weapons facility that is filled with plutonium can get away with so many assumptions for crucial seismic hazard analysis. After all, calculations for an accurate assessment of seismic hazard requires detailed field studies to gather knowledge for appropriate analysis.

Bob laughed and said, “It’s simple. The NRC Report empowers them to do so. It says if the data is just a little bit sparse maybe you only need one technical expert to form the determination of what the seismic hazard is. If the data is sparser you need a couple of experts. If the data is completely sparse you need a team of experts. They admit in the PSHA report that data is sparse and they used a team of recognized seismic hazard experts to determine the hazard for the critical facilities at LANL. And, that’s a mistake. You have to have basic knowledge to understand the seismic hazard. You can’t use assumptions for where faults are located – you have to physically map them. You can’t use assumptions for what the rate of slip is on a fault – that requires measurements. The dip of the fault – you have to have actual knowledge of the dip of the fault and the distance the fault goes into the subsurface. They didn’t have the knowledge and they didn’t go get it. They just assumed.”

Los Alamos Study Group Lawsuit

In August 2010 the Los Alamos Study Group filed a lawsuit in the US District Court for New Mexico against the Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Nuclear Security Administration that claimed, “The Obama Administration had not written an applicable environmental impact statement (EIS) for the project (CMRR–NF), the cost, material requirements, and impacts of which have all grown considerably since the project was first conceived.” The Study Group wanted the government to write a new and thorough EIS, not a supplemental EIS.

On May 23, 2011 Judge Judith Herrera dismissed the lawsuit after holding two days of hearings, but without allowing discovery, and saying that DOE had promised to complete a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS). The DOE released the draft SEIS a month earlier that dismisses all alternatives to the project, and as Bob explained is completely bogus with regard to their seismic hazard analysis. On July 1, 2011 the Study Group filed a Notice of Appeal to the US Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

Study Group Director Greg Mello said, “The Democrats on our congressional delegation are trying to hide from the public by supporting a bogus SEIS process, which examines no alternatives and resolves nothing. They are selling out the state’s future with their permissive silence, the motivation for which is surely pecuniary, given how the great need for cash in our political campaigns. This project directly competes for appropriations with renewable energy and the jobs, environmental benefits, and security those could bring us, raising questions about what priority New Mexico Democrats really give such popular concerns. We will pursue every avenue to stop this project, for the sake of our young people, our environment, and our economy.”

You Can Stop the CMRR – Nuclear Facility – It’s Your Call

The lingering question in my mind was who would make the biggest bucks if the federal government hands out the $6 billion for the proposed CMRR–NF project. I was shocked to find out it’d be none other than Bechtel, the lead operator of LANL. They have the distinction of being the largest engineering construction company in the world, but what else do we know about Bechtel?

The Reverend Holly Beaumont, a member of Las Mujeres Hablan, in her testimonies for the CMRR–NF SEIS hearings during the week of May 23, 2011 said, “Bechtel was investigated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) [following the Three Mile Island accident], who found that Bechtel ‘improperly classified’ modifications to the plant as ‘not important to safety’ in order to avoid safety controls. In 1985, the NRC fined Bechtel for harassing and intimidating workers who complained about these lapses.” That was the beginning of a long list of Bechtel’s distinguished accomplishments that Reverend Beaumont pointed out in her testimonies.

Northern New Mexico community members are determined to put an end to LANL’s “official story” – the world’s greatest science protecting America. I asked David about that and he responded, “Not one tax dollar more for nuclear weapons – get rid of the weapons complex totally. Then secure all the plutonium at LANL under an outside team and not under the control of Bechtel. Then begin an internal transformation of LANL to a true national laboratory, one concerned only with real clean up of nuclear waste, and the restoration and long-term health of our natural systems. We need research on soil restoration, watershed restoration, forest health, grassland health, river basins, clean energy resources – it’s a level of complexity that’s much more interesting and deeper than making a new nuclear bomb every year. There is a connection now among a lot of different people, and different organized groups, who would want to move this forward, people who understand that our bioregion is at the verge of collapse.”

When we have more than 45 million people living below the poverty line in the US and public services are being cut drastically, should the federal government be handing out $6 billion to build a new plutonium facility whose primary beneficiary would be Bechtel? It is not a New Mexico issue, it is a national and international issue, and it is your call – yes, please do call your members of Congress and urge them to cancel the CMRR–NF project right away and clean up LANL’s toxic and radioactive mess. And Bob is urging all of us to “Contact the United Nations and ask for immediate Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty compliance inspections of US nuclear weapons facilities.”

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this writing are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of League of India, its Editorial Board or the business and socio-political interests that they might represent.

This article was first published on Vijayvaani website here


Subhankar Banerjee founded ClimateStoryTellers.org in August 2010. Subhankar is an Indian born American photographer, writer and activist. Over the past decade he has been a leading international voice on issues of arctic conservation, indigenous human rights and global warming, and over the past five years he has also been focusing on forest deaths from global warming. His photographs and writing have reached tens of millions of people around the world through exhibitions, publications and public lectures.


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Nawaz Sharif Cannot Lead His Party: Pakistan SC

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Pakistan’s Supreme Court has barred Nawaz Sharif from his position as president of the country’s ruling party, ordering the reversal of all decisions he has taken in the role, in a move that plunges the country’s politics into fresh uncertainty.

A report in The Guardian has said that the former prime minister, who was sacked by the Supreme Court last year, had managed to retain power by driving through a law that allowed disqualified politicians to lead political parties.

Twice-deposed in coups during the 1990s, the 68-year-old has long claimed his most recent eviction as prime minister is the result of a shadowy, anti-democratic conspiracy concocted between the judiciary and behind the scenes the army.

“This is only going to add to the wave of support for the PML-N (Sharif’s party),” Daniyal Aziz, a cabinet minister, told the Guardian. “The public think the party is being victimised.”

It was not unexpected that the supreme court would debar Sharif as party head. The same five judges originally ordered his dismissal as prime minister on the grounds that, in failing to declare a foreign bank account, he fell short of the vague constitutional requirement that politicians be “honest” and “righteous”.

But the verdict goes further. In a five-page judgement, the chief justice, Saqib Nisar, ruled that all “orders passed, directions given and documents issued” by him as party chairman since then “have never been passed, issued or given.”

Most immediately, this nullifies all of the tickets given out by Sharif to PML-N candidates for senate elections, on which his career partly hinges. If the party win enough seats to cobble together a majority in the 102-seat senate, Sharif would be able to remove the clause in the constitution which prevents his return as prime minister.

The Election Commission of Pakistan is expected to delay the vote planned for 3 March. This will give time for a new PML-N head to reappoint the party’s candidates.

The most likely replacement for Sharif as PML-N chief is his wife, Kusloom, who is currently undergoing treatment for cancer in London, analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi told the Guardian. “Through his wife,” Rizvi said, “ Sharif would still be able to control the party.”

Even if a shortly expected verdict in Sharif’s trial on corruption charges linked to the Panama Papers delivers a guilty verdict, the party appears unlikely to slip from his grasp. A surprise byelection victory earlier this month in a stronghold of the major opposition party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), has quietened rumours of a split.

And the victimhood narrative binds the party together, said the columnist Mosharraf Zaidi. “Nobody would want to seem to be abandoning him at this moment.”

Critics accuse the Sharif family of maligning Pakistan’s institutions in an attempt to save his political career. He “should accept the decision rather than planning new conspiracies”, said a spokesman for PTI.

As Sharif fights on “confrontation in the system will increase, and uncertainty will increase,” said Rizvi, “which could mean problems for democracy as a whole.”

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India Makes Clear its Displeasure Over Extension of Emergency in Maldives

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A “deeply dismayed” India on February 21 reacted strongly over the extension of emergency in the Maldives saying the manner in which the 30-day extension was approved by the Majlis in contravention of the Maldivian Constitution is a “matter of concern”.

Accepting President Abdulla Yameen’s recommendation, the Maldivian Parliament (Majlis) on Tuesday extended the state of emergency by another 30 days; hours after India had asserted that it was important that the island nation quickly returns to the path of democracy and the rule of law, expecting that there will be no extension.

“We are deeply dismayed that the government of Maldives has extended the State of Emergency for a further 30 days.  The manner in which the extension of the State of Emergency was approved by the Majlis in contravention of the Constitution of Maldives is also a matter of concern,” the external affairs ministry said in a statement.

It further said that the consequent delay in the resumption of the political process and the continuing suspension of the functioning of democratic institutions including the judiciary is likely to further delay restoration of normalcy in the Maldives.

The MEA said that it was important to ensure that all democratic institutions are allowed to function in a fair and transparent manner in accordance with the Constitution.

President Yameen declared the emergency on February 5 after the Supreme Court ordered the release of a group of Opposition leaders, who had been convicted in widely criticised trials. Among them was exiled ex-president Mohamed Nasheed. The court said his 2015 trial had been unconstitutional.

Tuesday, the MEA statement also said that the Maldivian government should implement its Supreme Court order of February 1, regarding the release of exiled former leader Mohamed Nasheed and eight others, in “letter and spirit”. There has been an international condemnation of the Maldivian government’s moves, including the imposition of the emergency.

The US also expressed disappointment over the development in the Maldives and asked President Yameen to uphold the rule of law in the troubled Indian Ocean island nation.

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Maldives Crisis: A Brief Primer

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The declaration of a state of emergency in the Maldives and arrest of two senior judges prompted an exiled former president to ask India on Tuesday to send an envoy backed by the military to free political prisoners on the tiny Indian Ocean archipelago.

Here’s background information on the crisis engulfing the overwhelmingly Muslim nation of 400,000 people, whose faraway islands are best known as a luxury holiday destination.

The Main Protagonists

President Abdulla Yameen declared the state of emergency February 5. He defied a shock ruling from the Supreme Court that quashed convictions ranging from terrorism to corruption and ordered the release of nine leading opposition figures, on the ground that the cases against them were politically tainted.

Yameen came to power in 2013 after winning an election the opposition said was rigged. Critics accuse his government of imprisoning opponents, curbing free speech and pressuring the judiciary.

His rival Mohamed Nasheed became the Maldives’ first democratically elected president in 2009, but he was forced to resign amid a mutiny by police in 2012. After losing the election to Yameen the following year, Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in prison in 2015 on charges that he said had been concocted by Yameen’s government.

Allowed to leave jail to seek medical treatment abroad, Nasheed was granted asylum by Britain in 2016. He has said he wants to contest a presidential election due later this year and was in Colombo when the Supreme Court decision precipitated the crisis. After Yameen declared a 15-day emergency on Tuesday, Nasheed called on India, the main regional power, to intervene.

Nasheed, a graduate of Britain’s Liverpool University, is well connected in the West and has been able to bring pressure against Yameen’s administration.

During his imprisonment, human rights lawyer Amal Clooney championed his cause and helped expose alleged human rights violations by Yameen’s administration.

During his presidency, Nasheed had drawn world attention to the Maldives by conducting an underwater cabinet meeting, with the ministers wearing scuba diving suits, to highlight the dangers posed by global warming to low-lying island nations like his own.

The Role of the Supreme Court

While quashing the convictions against Nasheed and eight other opposition leaders, and ordering the release of those in detention, the court said that they should be retried.

Maldivian opposition supporters shout slogans during a protest as they the urge the government to obey a Supreme Court order to release and retry political prisoners, in Male, Maldives, Feb. 4, 2018.
Maldivian opposition supporters shout slogans during a protest as they the urge the government to obey a Supreme Court order to release and retry political prisoners, in Male, Maldives, Feb. 4, 2018.
It also ordered the reinstatement of 12 lawmakers who had been stripped of their parliamentary seats by Yameen’s party for defecting last year. The removal was unconstitutional, the court said.

The reinstatement of the dozen legislators, who now belong to opposition parties, would cause Yameen’s party to lose its majority in the 85-member assembly.

Should the opposition reach a majority, it would be able to unseat the speaker, who is a member of the ruling party, and pass no-confidence motions against government officials.

The President’s Disregard for the Supreme Court Ruling

Declaring the emergency, Yameen’s office issued a statement saying the court order had disrupted functions of the executive and infringed national security and public interest. It also said the constitution could eventually be undermined if the court order was implemented.

The president’s office said some rights have been restricted under the emergency and some laws suspended, though no curfew has been ordered. It gave assurances for the safety of Maldivians and foreigners.

Having imposed the state of emergency, Yameen ordered the arrest of the country’s chief justice and another top judge, and security forces seized control of the Supreme Court.

In a televised address to the nation, Yameen said he had acted to prevent a coup and implied the judges had sided with his enemies as they were under investigation for corruption.

The president had earlier fired two police chiefs who said they would uphold the court order to release Yameen’s opponents.

The army appears to be supporting Yameen. On Sunday, state television showed several police and soldiers saying they were ready to sacrifice their lives “in the defence of the lawful government.”

Yameen’s supporters have shut down an independent television station.

Ex-President Nasheed’s Appeal to India 

In a Twitter post, Nasheed asked India to send an envoy, backed by its military, to release the judges and political detainees. He also urged the United States to block financial transactions of Yameen’s government.

New Delhi sent troops to the Maldives in 1988 to foil a coup, purportedly involving foreign mercenaries.

The International Reaction

The United States and India have urged Yameen to heed the court decision, but he has disregarded international calls to solve the crisis through dialogue.

China, which has boosted its investments in the Maldives, said the crisis should be settled internally.

The Maldives withdrew from the Commonwealth, the association of former British colonies and dominions, in 2016 after being threatened with suspension for failing to show progress on democracy.

Courtesy: Voice of America

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