MDP cries foul over government refusal to honour deal

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has called on President Abdulla Yameen to honour commitments made to release former president Mohamed Nasheed and other jailed politicians.

Instead of releasing Nasheed on Thursday as rumoured, the state decided to appeal his terrorism conviction. His 13-year jail term, however, has been commuted to house arrest.

Revealing details of the government’s demands for the first time, the MDP said President Yameen had requested opposition backing to amend the constitution to set new age limits of 30-65 years for the presidency and vice presidency, and the impeachment of Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed.

The government also asked for legislative support for specific projects, later revealed to be a second constitutional amendment to allow foreigners to buy land in the Maldives.

The MDP said it had delivered on all counts by issuing a three-line whip on the first two demands, and a free whip on the controversial foreign freeholds amendment. The party said it had also complied with a moratorium on street protests.

The free whip on foreign freeholds has divided MDP supporters. The party said it had issued a free whip line because it believes in free ownership of land and property, but had reservations that the amendment could lead to foreign, non-commercial logistical installations or military bases being built in the Maldives.

In return, it had asked for freedom for political prisoners, including Nasheed, the dropping of charges against more than 1,000 political activists and reforms to the judiciary and independent institutions.

The government agreed and home minister Umar Naseer made a number of promises during the talks that began on July 1, the party said.

“The MDP believes the government of Maldives must follow through on its commitments before the Independence Day celebrations on July 26,” the party said.

Stressing that it had entered talks with the government in good faith, the MDP said it had hoped to see meaningful reform to the “hopelessly politicised and corrupt” judiciary and independent institutions. Further, the party also wished to usher in a parliamentary system of government for the Maldives.

Nasheed’s legal team on Friday called the Prosecutor General’s decision to appeal the terrorism conviction “a charade,” and said they will make a decision to participate after discussion with the opposition leader’s international legal team.

The lawyers said the appeal could affect ongoing talks between the opposition and the government over the release of jailed politicians.

President’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali said in a tweet yesterday that he did not believe the actions of independent body of the state could “obstruct talks between the government and MDP.”

In a brief statement on Thursday, the PG office said the decision to appeal the conviction was made based on concerns raised over due process in the trial and Nasheed’s request for the PG to appeal the conviction as well as his contentions over procedural violations, insufficient time to mount a defence, and inability to appeal due to the criminal court’s failure to provide a full report and transcripts of the trial within a 10-day period for filing appeals.

Diplomatic pressure had been mounting on President Yameen to release Nasheed, but the international community has been silent since the MDP started negotiating with the government.

The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) opted to keep the Maldives off its agenda soon after talks began. President Yameen has now asked the parliament for its counsel on leaving the Commonwealth.

The UN working group on arbitrary detention is meanwhile expected to rule on Nasheed’s imprisonment in September or October. In a response to the UN, the government insisted Nasheed must appeal the sentence.

There appears to be no progress on the release of the Adhaalath Party president or two former defence ministers.

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Independence Day celebrations kick off with fireworks

Celebrations for the Maldives’ golden jubilee of independence kicked off on Friday night with a massive fireworks display at the newly renovated Republic Square.

Thousands watched in awe as the night sky over Malé lit up for more than half an hour with the largest display of fireworks the country has ever seen.

President Abdulla Yameen, first lady Fathimath Ibrahim, former presidents Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan oversaw the celebrations. Judges, cabinet ministers, heads of independent institutions and some diplomats were present as well.

Maldives will celebrate 50 years of independence from the British on July 26.

A team of 23 individuals, including students, doctors, pilots and sportsmen cut the ribbons and officially opened the Republic Square before the fireworks display.

State owned Maldives Transport and Contracting Company has built a new musical fountain at the main square. At the center of the fountain is a monument symbolizing unity. The fountain started sprouting water when a group of children carrying traditional water containers poured water inside it.


Photos courtesy of President’s Office

Housing minister Mohamed Muizz said millions had been spent to renovate the Republic Square. According to the Finance Ministry, a budget of MVR150million (US$9.7million) has been allocated for Independence Day celebrations.

All government buildings, streets, lampposts and hundreds of trees and walls in Malé city have been decked in blinking red, yellow and white neon lights.

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena will arrive at 12:45pm today for the official function to be held at the Usfasgandu area tomorrow morning. He is the only head of state to attend Maldives’ golden jubilee of independence.

Other dignitaries from China, Pakistan, India, Saudi Arabia, Mauritius, Japan, Bangladesh are expected to arrive throughout the day today.

The government is yet to disclose the full program of events for the weekend. The celebrations include a parade by the army and school brass bands, reopening of public parks, official games at the national stadium and football tournaments.

Former presidents Ibrahim Nasir and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom will receive an honorary shield at the official function tomorrow.

A three hour play, depicting different stages of Maldivian history from the Buddhist-era to the present will take place at the national stadium on July 27.

Bollywood pop star Sanam Puri is to perform in Malé tonight.

The anti-corruption commission is investigating the home ministry’s use of the MVR150million budget.

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Adhaalath leader transferred to high security prison

The president of the religious conservative Adhaalath Party Sheikh Imran Abdulla was transferred from a police remand center to a high security prison on Thursday. He is charged with terrorism and is awaiting trial.

A Maldives Correctional Service (MCS) media official told Minivan News the transfer is legal because “according to the law suspects at remand stage awaiting sentencing are the MCS’s responsibility.”

Suspects awaiting trial are usually kept at the Dhoonidhoo Island Detention Center, and only convicts are housed at the high security prison on Maafushi Island.

Expressing concern over the move, Imran’s lawyer Ali Zahir, said: “This is not what they usually do. Imran has been in remand stage for some time now. He is not a convict and his trial is still ongoing.”

The transfer signals a reversal of the government’s conciliatory stance on making concessions for jailed politicians.

Instead of freeing former president Mohamed Nasheed as rumored on Thursday, the state decided to appeal his 13-year jail term on terrorism charges. Meanwhile, former defence minister Mohamed Nazim, who is serving a jail term on weapons smuggling charges, was brought to Malé for treatment on Thursday amidst rumors he may be transferred to house arrest, but he was taken back to prison on the same day.

Imran is charged with terrorism along with Jumhooree Party (JP) deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim and council member Sobah Rasheed. Ameen and Sobah have fled the Maldives.

The three are charged with threatening to harm police officers and inciting violence at the May Day protest. Charges were pressed under the 1990 Anti-Terrorism Act.

So far only one hearing has taken place in Imran’s trial. He has denied charges. The trial has been stalled since early June after two of the three judges on the criminal court were appointed to the High Court.

The High Court in late May rejected an appeal challenging the criminal court’s decision to hold Imran in police custody until the conclusion of his trial, claiming it could not review decisions of judges to hold defendants in custody for the duration of a trial.

The Adhaalath Party has meanwhile said that Imran’s health is worsening under police custody.  He has been brought to Malé several times to consult specialist doctors.

On June 21, the party said that Imran has diabetes and high blood pressure. Tests conducted after his arrest show high blood pressure and cholesterol levels as well as high urine acidity.

He is also suffering back pains as a result of having to sleep on a hard surface, the statement added.

Imran’s continuing incarceration is a “planned and shameful atrocity carried out to psychologically and physically weaken him,” the Adhaalath Party said.

The party also said Imran’s wife has written to the home minister and the Human Rights Commission of Maldives to express concern over his health.

Imran was first arrested on the night of May 1 and held in remand detention for 26 days. Hours before the criminal court ordered his release on May 27, the High Court overturned the criminal court’s May 17 ruling to keep Imran in police custody for 10 days.

The appellate court ordered his transfer to house arrest, noting that Imran has diabetes and that tests conducted following his arrest showed high levels of blood pressure, cholesterol, and urine acidity.

A doctor had also recommended that Imran should not sleep on hard surfaces due to a spinal injury.

Imran was arrested again on the night of June 1, a day before the terrorism trial began.

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Nasheed’s sentence was commuted to house arrest before state decision to appeal

Questioning the state’s decision to appeal a terrorism conviction against former President Mohamed Nasheed, lawyers revealed today that the opposition leader’s 13-year jail sentence was commuted to house arrest on July 19.

“The government of the Maldives has permanently moved President Nasheed to house arrest for the balance of his 13-year term in prison,” the opposition leader international lawyer Jared Genser told reporters in Colombo this afternoon.

The Maldivian high commission in Sri Lanka confirmed the move to AFP. Nasheed’s domestic legal team told Minivan News the decision had been communicated in writing.

The PG office announced the decision to appeal the guilty verdict yesterday amidst rumours that President Abdulla Yameen will pardon Nasheed in exchange for the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) backing for several crucial votes in parliament.

Speaking at a press conference in Malé today, lawyer Hassan Latheef said the legal team believes the government has exerted undue influence over the PG to appeal the case in a bid to appease growing international pressure.

The European parliament, the British prime minister, the US secretary of state, the UN Human Rights Council and various international organisations have called for Nasheed’s release, Latheef noted, adding that the legal team had expected the former president to be pardoned as a result of talks.

But President Yameen could now “tell the international community that President Nasheed’s case is out of his hands,” Latheef suggested.

“We believe that there is intense foreign pressure on the government to release President Nasheed and the case was on President Yameen’s table. But we now believe that the government has sent the case to the prosecutor general’s table,” he said.

The government will be able to tell the numerous foreign diplomats expected to arrive in the Maldives to attend an official function to celebrate 50 years of independence on July 26 that Nasheed’s case has been appealed by the state, Latheef said.

Some diplomats would accept that the president could not intervene in the judicial process or grant clemency before the appeal process is exhausted, he added.

Latheef said the legal team will decide whether or not to participate in the “charade” following consultations with Nasheed’s international lawyers. The state’s sudden reversal of stance may affect ongoing talks between the opposition and the government, lawyers suggested.

Genser meanwhile told reporters today that he was denied a business visa to work in the Maldives last week and was told that he needed further authorisation from the Supreme Court certifying that he was licensed to practise law internationally.

“There is no Maldivian law, regulation, or rule that imposes such a requirement on applicants for business visas who are lawyers – it appears the Supreme Court specially designed this requirement just for me,” he said.

Genser is representing Nasheed along with Amal Clooney, the wife of Hollywood actor George Clooney, and Ben Emmerson, a UN rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights. The international lawyers have filed an appeal at the UN working group on arbitrary detention seeking a judgment declaring Nasheed’s imprisonment illegal.

Appeal

In a brief statement yesterday, the PG office said the decision to appeal the conviction was made based on concerns raised over due process in the trial and Nasheed’s request for the PG to appeal the conviction as well as his contentions over procedural violations, insufficient time to mount a defence, and inability to appeal due to the criminal court’s failure to provide a full report and transcripts of the trial within a 10-day period for filing appeals.

Lawyer Hisaan Hussain noted that Muhsin had repeatedly rejected requests for the state to appeal the conviction, insisting that Nasheed could file an appeal despite the lapse of a 10-day period and that the PG would not appeal a verdict in his favour.

The PG’s sudden reversal of stance while talks seeking Nasheed’s release were ongoing “raises questions about his purpose and intent,” Hisaan said.

Muhsin told the press in May that he believed Nasheed’s appeal had “a high possibility of being accepted at the high court since Nasheed is a former president, since it is related to a judge and since it is a terrorism charge.”

The Supreme Court had shortened the appeal period  from 90 days to 10 by striking down provisions in the Judicature Act a month before Nasheed’s arrest on February 22.

Last month, the High Court, citing lateness, rejected an appeal filed by the Prosecutor General over the acquittal of a defendant on murder charges.

On June 20, President Yameen rejected Nasheed’s appeal for clemency, urging him to exhaust all appeal processes first. The opposition leader’s lawyers say that the Clemency Act grants the president the discretion, on the president’s own initiative, to commute the sentence of any individual convicted of a criminal offence.

The next day, Nasheed was transferred to house arrest for eight weeks.

Shortly thereafter, the MDP and the government began talks on clemency for Nasheed and other jailed politicians as well as the withdrawal of charges against some 1,400 opposition supporters.

Opposition MPs subsequently backed the impeachment of vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel and a constitutional amendment setting new age limits for the presidency and vice presidency. The amendment allowed President Yameen to replace Jameel with the influential tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb.

The MDP also issued a free whip on a second constitutional amendment to allow foreign freeholds in the Maldives. Some 19 opposition MPs, including ten MDP MPs, voted to pass the amendment.

At the fourth meeting of talks last week, MDP representative Ibrahim Mohamed Solih had suggested that Nasheed may be released before July 26.

The UN working group on arbitrary detention is meanwhile expected to rule on Nasheed’s imprisonment in September or October. In a response to the UN, the government insisted Nasheed must appeal the sentence.

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Comment: Happy Independence Day

“The United Kingdom, which always wanted to colonise Maldives with the co-operation of the Athireege family, finally came to Malé in the form of the HMS Britain, on 22 Feb 1887. The captain of this ship was Rodney M Lloyd. As a representative of the Governor of Ceylon came Rear Admiral Fredrick W M Richard. Accompanying them were Athireege Annabeel Ahmed Didi, and Abdul Kareem Mudhuliar.

This delegation went upstairs in the Palace and asked Sultan Mohamed Mueenudheen III, the Prime Minister Sumuvvul Amir Mohamed Rannabandeyri Kilegefaan, and the Chief Justice Naibu Thuthu to write an agreement between the English and Maldivian governments which would provide ‘protection’ to the Maldives. According to this agreement Maldives would become a colony of the English.

The whole of Maldives opposed this. This proposal to become the protected servant of anyone other than the Great Allah was rejected by the Sultan, the Prime Minister, the Chief Justice Naibu Thuthu, the military, and the people. About six days later the ship returned to Colombo.

There, in Ceylon, the British and their Maldivian friends arranged for Abdul Rahman Alim Sahib to write a letter of agreement in Arabic in which Maldives would become a full colony, or at the very least, a country which came under colonial authority. It was written in such a way that the Sultan seemingly requested British protection on his own initiative, and made the annual tribute ceremony the formal recognition of this new relationship. In the document, the Sultan was given a voice of abject humility, admitting weakness and an inability to stabilise the country.

The delegation, this time with the addition of Abdul Rahman Alim Sahib, then returned to Malé in two large warships. The British delegation went upstairs again to Mathige. This time the document, which the Chief Justice had refused to write, had already been written and only the signing remained. The Sultan, the Prime Minister, the military, and the people… all refused.

The delegation returned to their warships and the guns were aimed at Malé, and the people ran to the edge of the reef. The British and their friends came ashore once again and said if the agreement went unsigned, then Malé would be smashed to pieces. The Sultan and the prominent people agreed to sign the agreement to escape from death. The Chief Justice Naibu Thuthu said that Maldivians ‘should prefer to be martyred rather than accept that thing.” –Abdul Hakeem Hussein Manik

It was 78 years later, on 26 July 1965, that Maldives finally freed itself from the agreement signed, regardless of what the people wanted, on that day in February 1887. 26 July has since been marked as ‘Independence Day’. Sunday will be the 50th anniversary of the occasion. Much has changed since. At this moment in time, it is difficult to see a scenario in which, faced with a situation where parts [or whole] of the country is to be owned by a foreign party, ‘the president, the vice president, the military and the people…all refuse’.

On Tuesday night, PPM submitted a motion to the Majlis: add a clause to the Constitution to allow the sale of Maldivian territory to foreign parties. The proposal was accepted and passed within 24 hours, with minimal debate, with the consent of 70 MPs. President Abdulla Yameen ratified the amendment the very next day. Public consultation was never part of the momentous decision, which has the potential to change the very identity and culture of the Maldives.

Broadly speaking, there is nothing wrong with non-nationals owning land – it happens in most countries in the world. Where the Maldives is concerned, the problems are many: only two percent of its territory is land, the rest is sea; roughly 99 percent of Maldivians cannot afford to buy off the public land registered in their names; there is no independent judiciary or legal expertise to handle cases of such complexity; rule of law is emphatically absent; the corruption among government officials is unprecedented; and there is little room to expect any benefit from such sales to trickle down to the ordinary person.

The natural beauty of the islands has been to Maldives what diamonds were to Sierra Leone: a disaster for the ordinary men and women; an impediment to democracy; an obstacle to human development; and a pathway to massive corruption. Most owners of tourist resorts in the Maldives are rich beyond the ordinary person’s wildest dreams; many pour their money into the dirty pit of Maldivian politics to ensure the people elected are puppets whose strings they pull in whichever direction is more lucrative for them; they help block the opening up of the tourism industry in ways that would allow more even wealth distribution; all the money they earn from tourism are squirrelled away in foreign banks, little of it allowed to go through Maldivian economic system; and, in more recent times—as a way of appeasing their ‘Muslim guilt’ for benefitting from trading in services and goods considered haram—they have been funding extremist individuals and organisations that encourage people to hate ‘the infidel’, successfully ensuring the ordinary person would not want a share of the tourism wealth.

Who cares if large numbers of people are joining radical organisations like ISIS and dying in dozens? As long as they are not a threat to the tourism magnates’ personal wealth, it’s not a problem.

And now, it’s not sufficient that islands can be leased as tourist resorts for 99 years that are developed with all imaginable modern luxuries while locals live on islands often with no drinking water, waste disposal systems, electricity or proper sewerage systems. It is no longer enough to have Special Economic Zones where rich foreign investors will not be subject to any Maldivian laws, the proceeds of whatever they do on these islands of no benefit to Maldivians. Now lagoons and reefs are to be sold off to any billionaire with a dredger. They will own ‘for perpetuity’ 70 percent of the land they reclaim and, as freeholds, Maldives will have little or no control over whatever happens on this new land—dug up from the bottom of the sea destroying for the sake of its existence the life that thrives underwater, the life that sustains Maldives and Maldivians.

Life as Maldivians have known it for centuries is coming to an end.

Running parallel to the plan to sell the lagoons and its life to the highest bidders is the plan for forced migration of the people. 60-70 percent of Maldivians are to be moved from the 200 odd islands they occupy to around two or three islands in what is to be called ‘The Greater Male’ Area’. They are all to be housed on high-rise flats built on these designated islands, families crammed into tiny little spaces like hens in a battery farm. This is what has happened in Male’ already – once an idyllic island, now one of the most crowded—and often the dirtiest—cities in the world. Traditional ways of life are not just going to change as everything inevitably does; they will be forced to disappear. There have been no studies or analyses done of what the social and environmental impacts of such a migration of people will be. Such considerations are for wimps, not ‘a government with guts’, as this one describes itself to be.

The consequences will be dire, but work has already begun to seduce people into thinking it is a good idea, with computer generated 3D images of a city with sky scrapers and swimming pools, vast roads and theme parks. An urban artificial ‘utopia’ a-la Singapore or Dubai. Few are asking why, when we have 1200 islands, can we not find a solution that allows the Maldivian people to live on those islands, why there are no efforts being made to provide the services they need on the islands they have existed on for centuries. No one is asking why such damage is being done to our fragile environment by dredging holes in the reef, by moving sand from the bottom of the sea from here to there, when we already have enough islands for just 400,000 people to live comfortably on. In the 21st century, where eco-friendly solutions are being invented to accommodate living life with the environment, when sustainable development is trending, where innovative scientific minds are finding ways for man to adapt to their own environments rather than the other way around — Maldives is being forced to turn around and walk doggedly in the opposite direction.

Independence Day celebrations this year ring hollow. From the plastic palm trees that line the main street of Male’ (the capital island of a country where the coconut palm is the national tree!); the fairy lights tastelessly thrown onto every available surface of the city; the Majlis’ removal of the Vice President in a political deal reeking of vengeance and personal glory disguised as a democratic ‘impeachment’; the Majlis ‘debate’ on the same night to float the idea of selling off Maldivian territory; the earlier ‘Adeeb Amendment’ to the Constitution to allow a specific person to become Vice President — it all smells of oppression, not independence.

Where once state and people together resisted until left with no choice to sign agreements that would infringe on Maldivian sovereignty and identity, today only lone voices are raised even in the face of serious national security breaches—such as foreign submarines making incursions into our territorial waters for no apparent reason. Instead of guarding borders and boundaries, the Maldives National Defence is deployed to repair broken generators and, at all times, protect the president and his government. Individual freedoms have been taken away, the Maldives Police Service dispatched 24/7 to ensure the people cannot—at any time—freely exercise their rights to freedom of assembly or expression.

The People’s Majlis has been turned into a place to fast-track documents loosely called ‘legislation’ that allow rulers to act with impunity, but under the legitimising veil of ‘democracy’. On Tuesday, the Majlis changed its procedural rules to say it is no longer necessary to discuss, analyse or debate a Bill before putting it to vote. As long as the ruling party has a majority, it can make anything law, without the people having a clue about what the legislation is for or what the rationale behind it is.

There is no judiciary to right any wrong, to provide justice where it is required. In its place is a state apparatus designed and implemented to control society the way rulers want. All substantial opposition have been robbed of their liberty, incarcerated in jail, put into solitary confinement, or held under house arrest. Their freedom is nothing but a bargaining tool of those in control.

The Maldivian Democratic Party is at its weakest since inception: it voted for the Constitutional amendment that allowed Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb to become Vice President, and citing its position as a ‘centre right party’—a position which it has not relied on to justify much of anything to its members before—chose not to issue a three-line whip in the vote to amend the Constitution allowing sale of Maldivian property. Only a handful of MDP MPs voted against the amendment rushed through the parliament with such haste and absolutely no public consultation.

MDP’s weakness is the majority’s weakness. The party has led the Maldivian democracy movement for the last decade; for a majority of its supporters, the meaning of democracy itself is ‘MDP’s vision’. And when MDP’s vision is clouded—by force or not—followers are lost in the fog, directionless, unable to see the road ahead with any clarity.

As Maldives marks its 50th Independence Day, the Constitution, and the people, are both hostage to the whims and desires of the rulers. People are but mere spectators in games played among and between the rich, the elite, and the powerful. The future holds the prospects of foreign military bases on Maldivian territorial waters; becoming embroiled in Indian Ocean security issues and potential naval warfare; forced internal migration; living in slum cities; absolute loss of way of life and identity; and total subjugation to a ruthless dictatorship that will always put money before people.

We need to revive the spirit of collectively saying we’ll do anything but ‘accept that thing.’

Happy Independence Day.

This article was originally published on Dhivehisitee.com. It has been republished with permission. 

Dr Azra Naseem is a former journalist who now works as a Research fellow in Dublin City University. 

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to editorial@minivannewsarchive.com

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PG to appeal former president’s terrorism conviction

Citing irregularities and rights violations in the terrorism trial of former president Mohamed Nasheed, the Prosecutor General has announced today that he will appeal the criminal court’s verdict.

The decision comes amidst rumors that President Abdulla Yameen will pardon the opposition leader ahead of July 26, the day Maldives marks 50 years of independence from the British.

In a brief statement issued at 6pm, PG Muthaz Muhsin said: “As various parties are raising questions about how the trial proceeded, and as Mohamed Nasheed has said his rights were violated, and that he did not have sufficient time to prepare for the case, and that he did not receive the case documents for an appeal, and since Mohamed Nasheed has asked the prosecutor general to appeal the case, the Prosecutor General’s office has decided to appeal the terrorism conviction against Mohamed Nasheed at the Maldives’ High Court under authority granted to the prosecutor general by article 233(i) of the Maldives’ constitution.”

Article 233 authorises the PG to appeal any judgment, verdict or decision in a criminal matter.

It may take days for the appeal to begin with state offices closed until July 29 for independence day celebrations. The criminal court will now have to issue a trial record and the High Court registrar will then make a decision on accepting the appeal.

Nasheed was found guilty on terrorism charges over the military’s detention of criminal court chief judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.

Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Mohamed Solih, MP of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), said he could not comment as Nasheed’s lawyers were presently discussing the development.

The Attorney General Mohamed Anil today dampened talk of an imminent pardon for Nasheed saying: “Such matters will be dealt with through established procedures in the criminal justice system… It will not happen without my knowledge. I have not received any information yet.”

On June 20, President Yameen rejected Nasheed’s appeal for clemency, urging him to exhaust all appeal processes first. The opposition leader’s lawyers say that the Clemency Act grants the president the discretion, on the president’s own initiative, to commute the sentence of any individual convicted of a criminal offence.

The next day, Nasheed was transferred to house arrest for eight weeks.

The MDP and the government subsequently began talks on clemency for Nasheed and other jailed politicians and withdrawal of charges against some 1,400 opposition supporters.

The opposition has backed several government proposals in hope of freedom for Nasheed, including the impeachment of vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel and a constitutional amendment setting new age limits for the presidency and vice presidency. The amendment allowed President Yameen to replace Jameel with the influential tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb.

The MDP also issued a free whip on a second constitutional amendment to allow foreign freeholds in the Maldives. Some 19 opposition MPs, including ten MDP MPs, voted to pass the amendment.

At the fourth meeting of talks last week, Ibu had suggested that Nasheed may be released before July 26.

The UN working group on arbitrary detention is expected to rule on Nasheed’s imprisonment in September or October. In a response to the UN, the government insisted Nasheed must appeal the sentence.

The opposition leader’s lawyers maintain they have no legal avenue to file an appeal as the Supreme Court had shortened a 90-day appeal period to 10 days, weeks before Nasheed’s trial began.

The High Court, citing lateness, last month rejected an appeal filed by the Prosecutor General over a murder acquittal. Public prosecutors blamed the delay on the criminal court’s failure to issue a trial record, as had happened in Nasheed’s case.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court last week acquitted a convicted drug trafficker citing irregularities similar to that raised by Nasheed’s lawyers.

In the unprecedented ruling, the apex court said the accused was not given access to a lawyer or the opportunity to call defence witnesses.

In a separate development, only four of the nine High Court judges are eligible to hear Nasheed’s appeal. This is because of two factors; three judges were transferred to a newly created appellate court branch in the south on June 23 and two of the three presiding judges in Nasheed’s prosecution were promoted on June 8 to fill two vacancies at the High Court.

Since the Judges Act states that an odd number of judges must preside over appeals, Nasheed’s appeal can still proceed with three judges.

An appeal filed by ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim was stalled at the High Court when the Supreme Court transferred judges overseeing his appeal to the southern branch.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron, the European parliament, and influential US Senators have called for Nasheed’s immediate release.

Reporting by Ahmed Naish and Shafaa Hameed. Writing by Zaheena Rasheed.

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Only one head of state to attend Maldives independence celebrations

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena is the only head of state to confirm attendance at the July 26 celebrations to mark the Maldives’ golden jubilee of independence from the British.

Speaking to the press today, foreign minister Dunya Maumoon said while President Sirisena had accepted President Abdulla Yameen’s invitation, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was unable to attend “because of certain events in his country.”

An invitation for India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is still open, she said.

“President Yameen’s invitation to Prime Minister Modi is still open. He can come at his convenience and will be welcomed by the Maldivian government,” she said.

In March, Modi dropped the Maldives from a tour of his Indian Ocean neighbors. The cancellation came amidst daily anti-government protests and heightened political tension sparked by the arrest and prosecution of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

Opposition supporters expected President Yameen to pardon Nasheed by July 26, but instead the Prosecutor General has announced he will appeal the criminal court’s verdict.

Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in jail on terrorism charges relating to the arrest of a judge during his tenure. He is under house arrest at present.

Dunya dismissed today rumours that Nasheed had been invited to the official function.

Sirisena will be the second head of state to visit the Maldives since the current administration assumed office in November 2013. Chinese president Xi Jingping visited the Maldives last year.

Other foreign dignitaries who have confirmed their attendance include, the vice chairman of the China’s lawmaking Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, foreign ministers of Nepal and Palestine, deputy foreign ministers from Japan and Bangladesh, and other ministers from India, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

Many diplomats are also expected to attend.

The government is planning grand celebrations to mark Independence Day, including a parade by the army and school brass bands, reopening of public parks with water fountains, an official function at the Usfasgandu area with more than 100 foreign dignitaries, official games at the national stadium, and a football tournament in the atolls.

The home ministry plans to light up all of Malé in LED lights and is rushing to complete preparations. Government offices, the Supreme Court building, the parliament building and main streets have been decked in red, green and white lights. However, power shortages in Malé may spoil plans.

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Government tight-lipped over rumors of a pardon for Nasheed

Attorney General Mohamed Anil today dampened talk of an imminent pardon for former president Mohamed Nasheed and the commutation of ex defense minister Mohamed Nazim’s jail sentence to house arrest, saying he is yet to receive any information on the matter.

“Such matters will be dealt with through established procedures in the criminal justice system… It will not happen without my knowledge. I have not received any information yet,” he told the press.

Newly appointed vice president Ahmed Adeeb meanwhile dodged answering repeated questions on Nasheed’s pardon at a press conference held on the ratification of a second constitutional amendment that will allow foreigners to own land in the Maldives.

“Our administration will bring about economic reforms and will show generosity and compassion to the public. And God willing, in the instance we have to issue pardons, we will do so,” he said.

At a separate press conference, foreign minister Dunya Maumoon dismissed rumors that Nasheed had been invited to the official function to celebrate 50 years of independence on July 26.

“Former president Nasheed is currently serving a sentence after being found guilty in court of law so I don’t think an invitation will be sent to attend a ceremony,” she said.

Nasheed was transferred to house arrest in late June. His trial was widely criticised by foreign governments and international bodies including the UN over lack of due process.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron, the European Union parliament and influential U.S. Senators have called for his immediate release.

The government and the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) are engaged in negotiations over Nasheed’s freedom, clemency for jailed politicians and withdrawal of charges against some 1400 opposition supporters including the president of Adhaalath Party Sheikh Imran Abdulla.

Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, the MDP’s parliamentary group leader, suggested last week that Nasheed may be released by July 26. His remarks came following a third meeting of talks between the MDP and the government.

However, at the same press conference, home minister Umar Naseer said the government had made no commitments to release jailed politicians, but reiterated that the government stands ready to make compromises for long-term stability.

The opposition has backed several government proposals this week in the hope of freedom for Nasheed. These include a first amendment to the constitution, which sets new age limits of 30-65 years for the presidency and vice presidency, and the impeachment of vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed.

The age limits allowed President Yameen to replace Jameel with influential tourism minister Adeeb. Some 70 MPs of the 85-member house approved Adeeb’s nomination yesterday.

The backing of some 19 opposition MPs yesterday was crucial to pass the second constitutional amendment on foreign freeholds. The MDP had issued a free whip for the vote.

The fourth meeting of talks between the MDP and the government was scheduled for Tuesday. But it did not take place due to the extraordinary parliament session on foreign freeholds.

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Foreign freeholds will not threaten Indian Ocean security, assures President Yameen

President Abdulla Yameen has assured the public that authorising foreign ownership of land or freeholds in the Maldives will not threat Indian Ocean security or lead to “enslavement” and shortage of land.

Addressing the nation this afternoon after ratifying amendments to the constitution passed by the parliament yesterday, Yameen insisted that the unprecedented changes will not adversely affect “friendly relations” with South Asian neighbours.

“The Maldivian government has given assurances to the Indian government and our neighbouring countries as well to keep the Indian Ocean a demilitarised zone,” he said.

The Maldives’ foreign policy will not change as a result of authorising freeholds, he added. The freeholds would not pose “any danger to either the Maldivian people or our neighbouring countries.”

The amendments will allow foreigners who invest more than US$1 billion to own plots of land within the project site. At least 70 percent of the project site must also be reclaimed land.

The second amendment to the 2008 constitution was approved yesterday with 70 votes in favour and 14 against. MPs opposed to the move expressed concern over possible Chinese military expansion in the Maldives and lack of time to debate the amendments.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) said the party supports “free ownership of land and property” in principle, but expressed concern with the amendments facilitating “foreign non-commercial logistical installations in the Maldives.”

Speaking to the press after the president’s remarks, newly appointed vice president Ahmed Adeeb said: “We are not going to sell our lands to any country. We are trying to do business here. We want to bring in many corporate investments. We are not going to sell land to other countries, whether its China or Saudi Arabia. We are not gifting our land to other parties. We want to mobilize investments worth at least US$1 billion.”

Attorney General Mohamed Anil stressed that the government will conduct background checks on investors and review if proposed projects may affect geopolitics.

“No cause for concern” 

Yameen said there is “no cause for Maldivian citizens to be concerned” with the amendments. Land will only be offered for large-scale economic activities, he stressed, and not “for foreigners to settle in those areas.”

The amendments include “safeguards” such as a requirement for the parliament to approve the projects, Yameen said, and investors will not be able to carry out any other work apart from the authorised project.

The state will exercise complete sovereignty over the areas, he continued, which would also be subject to the Maldivian constitution and laws.

“If the Maldivian state’s sovereign authority is not lost, temples can’t be built there, casinos can’t be built there, and illegal activities cannot be carried out,” he said.

Anil meanwhile noted that the amendments state that the total land area of all project sites must not exceed 10 percent of naturally existing land in the Maldives. The projects will also be regulated by laws passed by the People’s Majlis, he added.

Anil said freehold zones were key in the economic transformation of Dubai, Singapore, and Saudi Arabia. He also said India has a threshold of US$5 million worth of investment.

“The government is not obliged to engage with investors who come with US$1 billion. Of the proposed projects, we will check how feasible they are, what the biggest investments are. And we will also check who the parties are, what their backgrounds are, for Maldives’ security and protection, if this will affect geopolitics,” he said.

“Economic transformation”

Yameen said the amendments will “speed up the pace” of realising the current administration’s goal of “transforming the economy,” which could not be achieved by continuing with “business as usual.”

The US$1 billion will not be spent entirely on land reclamation, Yameen said, but on infrastructure development such as new “townships,” airports, marinas, and seaports.

Adeeb meanwhile told the press that the amendments were in line with the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives’ (PPM) economic agenda. It accompanies the government’s flagship special economic zones (SEZ) legislation and the introduction of corporate residence visas.

Responding to allegations that the SEZ legislation had failed, Adeeb said the government has received several SEZ proposals from potential investors, but the government could not accept some as some investors made demands such as complete exclusivity for 25 years.

The government is negotiating “the best deal” for the country and seeking “win-win situations”, Adeeb said, reiterating that one ‘mega project’ could transform the economy.

The government will not allow illegal activities such as weapons smuggling, money laundering, or gambling, he said.

“We do not want to bring in companies with bad reputations to launder money. We are talking about Fortune 500 companies,” he said.

Land reclamation 

Yameen meanwhile sought to allay fears of “running out of land for future generations.”

The government is not planning on offering all the islands and lagoons in the Maldives for sale, he said, adding that the government will only authorise “one or two projects” that would create jobs for youth and increase national wealth.

The Maldives has the capacity to significantly increase its territory by reclaiming land in large shallow lagoons, he said, and the cabinet’s economic council has approved funds for the state-owned Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) to procure a cutter dredger.

Yameen said 24 million square meters of land could be reclaimed from the lagoon of Laamu Maavah for about US$200 million, 45 million square meters could be reclaimed from the Vaavu Bodumohora lagoon for about US$160 million, and 16 million square meters could be reclaimed from the Thaa Hirilandhoo lagoon for US$50 million.

Once the MTCC dredger arrives next years, Yameen said the government will have the capacity and the financial means to carry out the projects.

There is no danger of running out of land in the next 50 or 100 years, he said.

Population consolidation is also a policy of the current administration, Yameen continued, urging youth from small islands to migrate to the capital.

Once phase two of the Hulhumalé development is complete and the government authorises high-rise buildings to 20 or 25 floors, Yameen said up to 70 percent of Maldivian population could be settled in the Malé region.

Yameen said the constitutional amendments were proposed following long deliberation, research, and consultation with foreign parties and legal experts.

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