Why Is Lovely Professional University Honouring A Maldivian Autocrat?

The official website of the President of Maldives, Abdulla Yameen, recently broke the news that the President will receive an honorary doctorate in literature from Lovely Professional University (LPU) in India. While this notice could not be found on the official university website and there was no response from the university office confirming or denying the event, The Maldivian President’s office says, “the university decided to confer the award in appreciation of continued and outstanding efforts by the President towards the nation; acknowledging the transformational changes being achieved during his tenure.

It is common for universities to bestow honorary degrees on celebrities and world leaders. Their choice of the recipient may stem from various motivations that may not always be linked to high ideals. The existing students and alumni of the university may truly believe that the President embodies the values of their institution. They may believe that the management actually followed President Yameen’s political career in choosing to honour his accomplishments. However, students may still find it worth their time to know the highlights of President Yameen’s achievements independently of their university’s position, considering that he may soon be conferred the same honour that was bestowed on the Dalai Lama in 2015 by the same university. A good look at some of the transformational changes on record that have taken place in the Maldives on President Abdulla Yameen’s watch is warranted.

During the tenure of President Yameen, the Maldives has faced:

  • International condemnation on issues of human rights,
  • Unprecedented religious radicalisation of the country’s youth,
  • Unchecked rise in the number of extremist fighters being recruited from the country by the Islamic State,
  • Implementation of an oppressive defamation law that severely restricts free speech under the guise of protecting Islamic beliefs,
  • Blatant exploitation of a subservient police force and judiciary that often seem to collude in order to persecute the regime’s political opponents,
  • The unsolved disappearance, forced exile, and in some cases the horrific murders of journalists, social activists, bloggers and liberal politicians.

These are just a few feathers in Yameen’s cap that may make the university proud.

In 2016, under the leadership of President Yameen, the Maldives chose to withdraw from the Commonwealth of Nations into isolation. This happened after it was confronted with suspension from the group for failing to take substantive steps to fight the threats to its fragile democracy. The regime reportedly misused its power to introduce politically biased legislation and detain political opponents, followed by flawed trials and even cases of vandalism and arson at independent media offices. Following this, the Commonwealth expressed its deep disappointment at the lack of progress in achieving a conducive climate for the advancement of democratic goals in the country.

In further damage to President Yameen’s political credibility, the details of an investigation by Al-Jazeera reporters last year shed light on how Maldivian government officials in high positions colluded with foreign businessmen to launder money from the sale of the state-owned Maldivian islands. The investigative team secretly filmed confessions of men who bragged about delivering heavy bags filled with stolen cash to the President himself.

Based on what they read or listen to, students at LPU will find ample grounds to wonder whether the transformational changes that the President has brought about in the Maldives are worthy of the honour that their university is bestowing, or the international censure that the leader has continued to receive. The irrefutable facts in the public domain documenting the details of President Yameen’s sinister style of governance in the Maldives should be enough for the university to reconsider any honour, however ornamental. It is unclear what literary merit the university sees in a president going about his daily job, even if it could be blindly assumed that it was a job well done.

The management of the LPU may be blind to the larger consequences of honouring such a leader. But it still has a responsibility towards its students to not prop up dubious role models (like despotic foreign leaders) to emulate in their lives. The university should reconsider its decision to confer any kind of honour to a leader who should be held accountable for so much oppression and suffering in his country. Students of LPU may find there is no pleasant, poetic solace to be had in the grim realities of Maldivian politics with President Yameen at its helm. Even if he may soon hold a doctorate in literature.

If you think the University should recall this honour, sign this petition.