An international lobbying firm, based in London, has accepted a commission to boost the reputation of the regime that toppled the first democratically elected President of the Maldives, writes Oliver Wright for the UK’s Independent newspaper.
“Ruder Finn has been condemned for taking the contract – thought to be worth £300,000 – to boost the image of the Maldives in the UK and America.
Mohamed Nasheed, the elected former leader, was made to quit in a military and police coup in February. He was replaced by Mohammed Waheed Hassan – who, it is claimed, is backed by the ex-dictator who ran the Maldives for 30 years.
In the weeks since the change of power, Amnesty International has denounced violence by the security forces against peaceful protesters. In March at least six protesters were injured, some seriously, when police and military officers attacked around 300 MDP protesters in the capital, Malé. Amnesty said this was part of a wider pattern of attacks on supporters of the former President Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party.
In a pitch, won by Ruder Finn, the new Government said it was looking for a firm to provide both lobbying and public relations expertise. The new regime said it wanted to “renew the Maldives image in major countries” and create “an alliance of support for the Maldives.” It wanted to “seed” positive stories about the islands in the media.
It expected the company to “arrange briefings to build links at various levels with the UK, US and major European governments.”
It would also be expected to “leverage outcomes from relationships with governments, academics and NGOs”.
Abbas Faiz, South Asian researcher for Amnesty International, said it had significant concerns about the contract.
“If a government hires any firm to whitewash human rights violations with impunity we would be very concerned. I was in the Maldives in March and the level of atrocity that we witnessed was entirely different from what we were being told by the Government.
“We will be watching the activities of Ruder Finn… if we have concerns about their role we will be raising them.”