EU resolution based on ‘fabrications, misconceptions, and misrepresentations’

The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) and the foreign ministry have slammed a European Union parliamentary resolution urging the government to release ex-president Mohamed Nasheed.

The resolution is based on “fabrications, misconceptions and misrepresentations”, the PPM contended while foreign minister Dunya Maumoon declared that “the human rights achievements of the Maldives is better than some European countries.”

The non-binding resolution adopted today urged member states to issue warnings on the Maldives’ human rights record on their travel advice websites over an increased tendencies towards authoritarian rule, including Nasheed’s imprisonment for 13 years on terror charges.

The EU parliament noted a crackdown on political opponents including the imprisonment of two former defence ministers and a ruling party MP, the intimidation of media and civil society and the politicisation of the judiciary.

But Dunya said the Maldives’ “achievements since 2004 is exemplary for a small state.”

“We have a vibrant political system where people have space to express their political opinions without any hindrance. We do not shoot protesters. There is no looting in the name of political rallies.  Our custodial facilities do not torture those under state custody,” she said.

The PPM meanwhile said the EU had issued “equally grossly-misinformed releases” in the past, but “chose to turn a blind eye and stay silent on matters regarding the Maldives during the three year three month regime of former President Mohamed Nasheed, which was the single most brutal, dictatorial and violent period of rule in contemporary Maldivian history.”

The PPM suggested that the European parliament “risks tarnishing its own standing in global society, and it’s reputation among European citizens themselves by refusing, for shrouded political gains, to call a spade a spade.”

“The European Parliament must by now know that its failure to report the truth in matters regarding the Maldives has left its own reputation among the Maldivian public at serious risk of irreversible damage,” reads the PPM statement released today.

The ruling party went on to claim Nasheed’s government arbitrarily arrested political activists and MPs, sent out “knife-wielding thugs” against opposition protesters, unlawfully politicised state media, undermined independent institutions, and carried out corruption amounting to “hundreds of millions of dollars.”

The rise of extremism worsened under Nasheed’s administration, it continued, as its “schizophrenic policies on religious affairs in the country had contributed to the ideological confusion among young people, which has led to some Maldivians fleeing the country to join the ranks of foreign fighters in ISIS-led terrorist conflict zones.”

As Nasheed was found guilty of ordering the “enforced disappearance” of criminal court chief judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012 – “a gross Nazi-esque violation” of constitutional rights and international norms – the PPM asked whether the EU condoned the “kidnapping of judges”.

Neither the government nor the public will entertain calls for Nasheed’s release “through the very unlawful and unethical avenues that Nasheed himself employed”.

“This is not a banana republic nor is this a pawn of any regional bloc or external power,” the PPM said.

Hours before the resolution passed, president’s office minister Mohamed Hussain Shareef ‘Mundhu’ told the press he expected a “watered down” resolution, and said the government is “happy” with the resolution as it shows that the current administration is upholding the Maldivian constitution and sovereignty.

“Actionable” clauses such as imposing a travel ban and freezing assets of Maldivian government officials were removed before the resolution was put to a vote, he said.

According to Mundhu, the resolution  “praises” Nasheed and EU MEPs are demanding his release as the former president was “a proxy ruler” of Europeans. He alleged that the EU is condemning the Maldivian government for refusing to allow freedom of religion and same sex marriage.

The resolution was pushed through by the UK’s Conservative Party, which Mundhu said was a longstanding ally of Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), and the Christian Democratic Party.

Other parties in the European parliament “forced” the Conservative Party to remove the actionable clauses, he claimed.

Mundhu also said the EU refused to extend the duty-free status of fish imported from Maldives due to the country’s stance on freedom of religion and legalising gay marriage.

An EU delegation that visited the Maldives this week had told government officials yesterday that a non-binding resolution by the European parliament was inconsequential and akin to “a resolution adopted by the Baa atoll Thulhadhoo council,” Mundhu said.

President Abdulla Yameen has previously accused the EU of imposing restrictions on Maldivian imports for refusing to abandon Islamic principles.

The country has since sought other markets for fish exports and the EU was no longer  “that important economically, outside of tourism”.


Government accuses opposition of plotting May Day coup

The ruling coalition has accused the opposition alliance of plotting a violent overthrow of the government at an anti-government rally tomorrow.

The ‘Maldivians against brutality’ coalition last night turned down last minute overtures for negotiations when President Abdulla Yameen appointed the tourism minister as his envoy for talks.

“We will only sit down to negotiate with the the president of this country,” the Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla told the press last night.

The opposition has held daily protests over the imprisonment of ex president Mohamed Nasheed and former defence minister Mohamed Nazim. The alliance has vowed to bring out 25,000 people on the streets of the capital Malé to “end the government’s tyranny.”

Imran said tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb had sent him a letter seeking a time and place for negotiations, but declared that Adeeb is “unfit” to negotiate with the opposition, calling him “corrupt”, “a venial sinner” and “a criminal”.

Adeeb has called Imran’s refusal to meet him “cowardly” and “effeminate” in a tweet this morning, dismissing the allegations of corruption and illicit connections with gangs as lies.

Government ministers and ruling party MPs held a joint press conference this afternoon, and claimed the May Day protest will not be peaceful.

The opposition is calling for an overthrow of an elected government and attempting to destabilise the country, Adeeb said today.

“Our security forces are ready,” he said.

He accused the Jumhooree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim of “funding” the May Day protest and hiring Imran under “a contract”.

Imran is “playing the religious card” and inciting the public to rise up against the government, Adeeb said.


President Yameen had maintained on Monday that he saw no reason to negotiate or resign in the face of the’May Day’ mass rally. However, at a government ceremony the following night, Yameen said he has appointed Adeeb as his representative.

As the opposition build up to the mass rally continued and supporters from the atolls converged on Male’, Yameen has made daily public appearances this week.

Speaking at a ceremony held yesterday to accept membership forms of opposition councillors from Shaviyani atoll, Yameen accused the opposition of sowing discord, destabilising the nation, and disrupting peace and security.

Unlike the opposition parties, Yameen said the PPM will not seek power at any cost and was “impatient” to develop the Maldives.

The PPM will not torch buildings, assault civilians, and “commit atrocities,” he said.

He reiterated the government’s stance of upholding the rule of law and enforcing court verdicts.

At a live programme on opposition-aligned Raajje TV and Villa TV last night, opposition alliance leaders warned that the government will abolish political parties and establish a full-fledged “dictatorship” if tomorrow’s attempts to force president Yameen to come to the negotiating table fails.

The chairperson of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party Ali Waheed dismissed claims by police that the opposition is planning a violent confrontation with police.

The Maldivian people will be on the street “as one congregation” tomorrow.

“I want to tell the public, don’t be afraid, the whole world is watching,” he said.


EU calls on Maldives government to free ex president immediately

The EU parliament today passed a resolution urging the Maldives to free ex president Mohamed Nasheed and calling on member states to issue warnings on the Maldives’ human rights record on their travel advice websites.

Nasheed was convicted of terrorism and sentenced to a 13 year jail term in a trial that sparked international outrage over lack of due process.

MEPs insisted that Nasheed should be immediately released, noting that the “controversial trial failed to meet national and international standards of justice.”

The EU parliament said it was gravely concerned about increasing tendencies towards authoritarian rule, noting a crackdown on political opponents including the imprisonment of former defence ministers and a ruling party MP, as well as the intimidation of media and civil society and the politicization of the judiciary.

The resolution, which comes ahead of a mass antigovernment protest tomorrow, encouraged “all actors in the Maldives to work together constructively in all areas,” and said the government must immediately end political interference in the judiciary, end all forms of violence including that against peaceful protesters.

MEPs urged a proper investigation into the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan, who has been missing since August last year, the resolution said.

They also condemned the reintroduction of the death penalty.

The resolution did not call for an asset freeze or a travel ban on government officials, as proposed by the conservative group of MEPs.

Hours before the resolution’s passing, state minister Mohamed Hussain Shareef, said the resolution did not concern the government, noting it is non-binding on member states.

He said the stronger provisions for a travel advisory and punitive measures had been removed from the final document.

State minister for tourism Hussain Lirar meanwhile said the government does not foresee adverse impacts on Maldives tourism from the resolution.

“The resolution carries no legal weight. Members states will only issue advisories if their national parliaments approve it,” he claimed.

Europeans make up nearly half of the tourist arrivals in the Maldives, and a strong travel warning could have devastating impact on the country’s economy, which is largely dependent on revenue from tourism.

A tourism industry insider, who wished to remain anonymous, also said: “as long as there are no punitive measures, it may not have impacts on business. But this does increase consumer awareness. A more ethical tourist may choose not to come to the Maldives now. But tour operators will continue selling holidays here.”

Calls for a selective tourism boycott has been growing internationally following Nasheed’s arrest, with Richard Branson of the Virgin group saying he will no longer holiday in the Maldives.

A group called Ethical Maldives, which calls on tourists to avoid resorts owned by businessmen who support the ruling party, is also gaining international media attention.

Opposition politicians were not responding at the time of going to press.


US shines spotlight on missing Maldives journalist

The US state department has highlighted the unresolved disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan in a campaign ahead of international press freedom day on May 3.

Acting spokesperson Marie Harf called on the Maldives to “credibly investigate the disappearance” during a press briefing in Washington DC on Wednesday.

Rilwan is believed to have been abducted at knifepoint outside his apartment building in a Malé suburb in the early morning of August 8. The 28-year-old reporter wrote on politics, criminal gangs and Islamic extremism.

Rilwan had received clear threats to his life in the weeks prior to his disappearance, and an investigative report by a local human rights group has implicated radicalised gangs in the abduction.

Harf called on the government “to take the steps necessary to create space for independent journalists to work without fear of violence or harassment, including ending impunity for attacks and intimidation against journalists.”

Police investigations has been slow despite nine months passing since the disappearance was reported.

In a statement last week, the police said they are continuing with the investigation, and have received some forensic analysis reports of samples from three different cars that may have been used in the abduction.

“The investigative team is now reviewing how we may continue with the investigation based on the results of some of the forensic analysis reports,” the April 23 statement said.

In October last year, the police arrested five individuals over the disappearance, but all have been released. Local media reported that several suspects left the Maldives in January, ostensibly for the war effort in Syria.

Home minister Umar Naseer has also acknowledged the involvement of gangs in Rilwan’s disappearance.

His family has accused the police of negligence, saying officers failed to stop and search the car used in the abduction, despite eye witnesses having filed a report with the police immediately after observing the abduction.

Police officers had reportedly confiscated a knife from the scene.

Maldives journalists have repeatedly raised concerns over death threats to the press by Malé’s criminal gangs, but the police have failed to take substantive action against threats.

In March, local media cited a blog and reported that Rilwan had died fighting against the Islamic State in Kurdistan. However, the police said the blog was fake.


Ex-president kept in ‘inhumane prison conditions’

Former president Mohamed Nasheed’s lawyer say he is being kept in an isolated and filthy cell at a maximum security prison, but the home ministry maintains Nasheed is treated as a VIP and given special comforts.

Following a visit with the opposition leader at Maafushi Island jail on Tuesday, lawyers said the ex-president’s cell is adjacent to the prison garbage dump and is infested with flies and mosquitoes.

Nasheed, who is serving a 13-year sentence on terrorism, is forbidden from exercising, while the food is “barely edible.”

“The cell is situated far from the main prison and other inmates –nobody would be able to hear President Nasheed should he call out for help,” lawyers said.

Nasheed’s family and the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party have repeatedly expressed concern over alleged plots by the government to assassinate the opposition leader. But the government has dismissed the allegations as slanderous and baseless.

Meanwhile, Nasheed’s international legal counsel Jared Genser described the conditions in which Nasheed is held as “cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment” in violation of international anti-torture laws.

President Abdulla Yameen and home minister Umar Naseer may be “held legally responsible for the use of torture – we will take all necessary measures to hold the government to account for this treatment,” he added.

Nasheed was transferred to Maafushi Jail, on an island three hours from the capital, last week from a minimum security prison. Lawyers alleged security officers threatened to use force against Nasheed when he asked for time to pack before the transfer.

Speaking to Minivan News, a home ministry official said Nasheed “is afforded benefits no other prisoner receives.”

The opposition leader is allowed to see seven members of his family for two hours every week and he is given a ten minute phone call with his family for ten minutes every week, spokesperson Thazmeel Abdul Samad said.

Other prisoners are only afforded one family visit a month and one phone call a month.

Nasheed is given a menu to choose mildly-spiced meals and include fruits on the doctor’s advice. The special apartment has a flatscreen TV, a refrigerator, he continued.

The former president is allowed to read books sent by his family, and there are always a team of security guards within eyesight if he needs any help, said Thazmeel.

Nasheed’s arrest has sparked international outrage, with the European Union parliament today passing a resolution urging the government to release the former president immediately.

The resolution also calls on European countries to warn tourists on Maldives’ human rights record on their travel advice websites.

The opposition is meanwhile planning a 25,000 strong march in Malé tomorrow over Nasheed’s jailing and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim’s imprisonment.

The government has labeled the rally as an attempt to overthrow President Abdulla Yameen, but opposition coalition insists the demonstration will be peaceful.


European parliament to vote on travel advisory for Maldives

Parliamentarians of the European Union have expressed concern over the imprisonment of former president Mohamed Nasheed and will vote on a travel advisory for the Maldives on Thursday in Strasbourg, France.

Europeans make up nearly half of the tourist arrivals in the Maldives, and a travel advisory may have a devastating impact on the country’s economy as it depends largely on revenue from tourism.

Nasheed’s 13-year jail term on terrorism charges in a rushed trial last month sparked international outrage over lack of due process. The charges relate to the detention of a judge during his tenure.

The seven parliamentary groups in the EU parliament have each submitted a motion for a resolution, all of which noted a lurch towards authoritarianism in the Maldives.

In addition to the imprisonment of opposition politicians, MEPs also raised concern over growing radicalization, a crackdown on the freedom of speech, press and assembly, deteriorating conditions for migrant workers, slow judicial reform and the reinstatement of the death penalty.

At Wednesday’s debate, UK MEP Charles Tannock said human rights were deteriorating in the Maldives at an “alarming rate” and urged the Maldives to “unconditionally release former president Nasheed, and take the necessary steps to reform the judiciary in order to restore confidence in the rule of law.”

Tannock said the resolution by the conservative MEPs calls “for warnings to be given to EU tourists visiting the Indian Ocean tourist destination,” and said he hoped the Maldives as a commonwealth country could be brought back from the brink.

The resolution also calls on the EU to freeze the assets abroad of Maldivian government officials if democratic gains backslide further.

Netherlands MEP Marietje Schaake said Nasheed’s charges were politically motivated and expressed concern over the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan in August last year.

Rise of Islamic radicalization in the Maldives and recruitment for the Islamic State is “very troubling,” she continued, and said the liberal MEPs also support a travel warning for tourists on the “possible risk of instability.”

UK’s Richard Howitt, MEP of the alliance for socialists and democrats, called for “European tourist advice to be explicitly used to apply pressure for change.

“The Maldives may be small dots in a large ocean, but we will not stand by when its democracy and respect for human rights is disappearing beneath the waves.”

The vote comes ahead of a major antigovernment protest on Friday.

The opposition has vowed to hold a 25,000 strong march in the capital Malé, but police have threatened a crackdown saying they’ve received reports protesters are planning to attack the security forces and residences of government officials.


Thousands arrive in Malé for May Day protest, police threaten crackdown

Thousands of people from Maldives’ remote atolls are traveling to Malé this week for a mass antigovernment protest on Friday, but the police have threatened a crack down claiming opposition supporters are planning to attack the security officers and the residences of government officials.

The Maldivians against tyranny coalition has vowed to bring out 25,000 people on to the streets of Malé after the government turned down calls for negotiation over the imprisonment of ex president Mohamed Nasheed and former defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

Ilyas Labeeb, a former MP with the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), said over 2000 people have arrived in Malé by noon today and said an additional three thousand islanders are expected to arrive by boat over the next 48 hours.

The coalition says at least 15,000 people from Malé, where one-third of the Maldives’ 350,000 population live, will join the historic march.

Speaking to Minivan News, 47-year-old Mohamed Arif from southern Thaa Kimbidhoo said: “I came from my island today to bring an end to the tyranny the Maldivian people are facing. I want the current disobedient ruler, who does not seem to hear us, to listen to what we have to say.”

Arif was accompanied by 95 people from Kimbidhoo island.

The coalition is bearing the cost of travel and food for supporters from the atolls. Many have made their own arrangements for accommodation with family members, while others will be sleeping on the boats, the coalition has said.

Opposition leaders had been traveling across the country in recent weeks canvassing for support.

The coalition has meanwhile launched a website for the May Day protest and introduced a hashtag for social media – #EkehFaheh15 – referring to the date of the protest.

MDP supporter Mariyam Zulfa, 42, who lives in Malé says she will attend the protests with her family, “but our leaders must make sure we end the government’s tyranny this time.”

The police held separate meetings with members of the coalition, the MDP, the Jumhooree Party and the religious conservative Adhaalath Party on Tuesday and Wednesday to raise concerns over the threat of violence.

Opposition leaders including Adhaalath’s president Sheikh Imran Abdulla have told the police that the demonstration will remain peaceful.

But the Maldives Police Services at press conference this evening said intelligence reports indicate opposition supporters are planning to attack the residences of government officials and are sharpening iron rods and pipes and gathering lead balls to attack security forces.

The police say they will allow peaceful protests to proceed, but said the army and the police are ready to crack down on any violence.

The police’s riot control exercises continued in Malé today with officers carrying guns practicing arrest procedures. Hundreds of officers also ran through Malé’s streets at noon.

Police May day prep


Minivan News journalists observed several police officers tearing up May Day posters from the walls of Malé residences today.

Meanwhile, president Abdulla Yameen said he had appointed the tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb as his representative to speak with Adhaalath Party’s Sheikh Imran to jeers and laughter at a government function last night.

“I find Imran’s work to be obsolete,” he said and called on Adhaalath Party members to join the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

Imran has called on the president to dismiss Adeeb who he accuses of corruption and illicit connections with gangs.

Referring to Imran, Adeeb said last night: “hypocritical scholars will be exposed at the end of the times.”

The PPM also issued a statement today dismissing rumors that PPM leader and former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom is involved in the May Day protest. Gayoom is president Yameen’s half-brother.


Government takes control of state media

The government has seized control of the state television and the radio stations through a new law, in a move journalists and the opposition say will undermine press freedom in the Maldives.

President Abdulla Yameen today ratified the Public Service Media Act and dissolved the old Maldives broadcasting corporation and its five member board.

The president has proposed seven individuals to a new governing board, who are expected to gain approval from the ruling party dominated parliament. Umar Manik, the chairman of the former broadcasting corporation board, is the only incumbent who will sit on the new board.

Others nominated include Ibrahim Khaleel, CEO of private Villa TV, Ikram Abdul Lateef, former official at Villa TV, and Aiminath Shayan, a TV presenter and the wife of a ruling party activist.

A parliamentary committee today approved the nominations without an interview.

A senior editor who wished to remain anonymous said the new law is an attempt by the government to take control of the public broadcaster.

“The new law does not accept the concept of a public broadcaster. It will now simply act as a mouthpiece for the government,” he added.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) says the new law is aimed at spreading “government propaganda.” Opposition MPs continued their daily protests inside the parliament during the vote.

The opposition has been protesting since Majlis reconvened on March 2 over the imprisonment of former president Mohamed Nasheed on terrorism charges. The ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) has pushed through several pieces of legislation without significant debate amidst protests.

According to parliament minutes, PPM MP Riyaz Rasheed during a brief debate on the new bill said a new body to govern state media is necessary as the former broadcasting corporation had provided coverage of the campaign to free Nasheed.

“But all the events, overseas trips of the president and the services the government is providing each and every day is completely ignored by the state media,” he said.

The new law also requires the state to distribute a printed daily newspaper and use social media to disseminate programmes.

“The law requires public service media to establish and run their news and programs through social media. This is an attempt to spread propaganda at all levels of the media,” said MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy.

The managing editor of local daily Haveeru, Ismail Naseer, expressed surprise at the decision to start a government newspaper saying: “Even in other countries, we don’t see the state distributing a printed newspaper. If you look at it newspapers are a thing of the past, this is the era of digital journalism. So I don’t understand why the public media service has to run a print edition.

“Also the cost of running a newspaper will be very expensive. And I believe if the state is running a paper it has to be made available for every person including the people in the atolls. We have been in this business for 35 years and still find that task to be impossible.”

Former chairman of the broadcasting corporation, Umar Manik, however, defended the new law saying it would improve the day to day running of the state media.

“I take this as a positive move to further improve the public broadcaster. We were not influenced before and I am very confident that we will not be influenced by the government in the future as well,” he said.


President calls on army to defend government as international pressure increases

President Abdulla Yameen has urged the armed forces to defend his administration claiming international pressure is undermining the Maldives’ sovereignty and weakening the rule of law.

Speaking at a ceremony to mark the 123rd anniversary of the military on Monday, the president said: “I do not believe my government must seek permission from the international community in enforcing a court’s verdict. Maldivians will protect our interests. In protecting Maldivian citizens, remind yourselves of the the oath you’ve taken.”

President Yameen’s remarks come amidst a political crisis triggered by the arrest and the imprisonment of ex president Mohamed Nasheed and ex defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

The opposition has called for a 25,000 strong march in the capital Malé on Friday after the government shunned calls for negotiation.

President Yameen said the Maldives is facing foreign pressure, but said the military must not allow foreigners to collude with local parties to obstruct a lawfully elected government.

“As long as there is a lawful government, and as long as that government acts within the law and enforces the law, Maldivian soldiers must remain steadfast to their vows, to defend and maintain that lawful government. Otherwise, there is no dignity, honor or Allah’s blessings for Maldivian soldiers.”

The Maldives National Defence Forces (MNDF) must follow the military ideology of the US president Barack Obama, he continued, claiming Obama in a speech to the American armed forces had said he will respect the international community’s opinion, but will not seek it’s permission in saving American lives abroad.

The Maldives is a small state, but the international community must afford the Maldives the same rights as larger, more power countries, president Yameen said.

“If we are treated as second class, there is no use in us being part of international bodies. This is what my government believes.”

He said larger states did not allow foreign governments to meddle in domestic affairs. “No foreign country – as long as we do not breach international conventions – can come and tell us that kidnapping and holding hostage do not amount to terrorism in their view, and that this cannot be written in our laws.

“They cannot dictate this to our government. [They] cannot tell our government that since the Maldives is part of the international community, we must allow freedom of religion as allowed by foreign philosophies.”

Nasheed was convicted of terrorism over the military detention of a judge during his tenure. The rushed trial was criticized widely by foreign governments, international rights organizations and the UN for lack of due process.

President Yameen blamed Maldivian “enemies of the state” for foreign interference.

Powerful countries “will pressure us, and through various bodies, international organizations, they will attempt to obstruct us. On whose invitation does this happen? That of Maldivians like us, these acts are to heed their invitations,” he said.

Calls for foreign intervention are “dangerous” and encouraged disorder, but the military must stand ready to defend the state, he continued.

The international community cannot “come and see if the change of government was lawful here” or “if ballot boxes were counted right,” he added.

President Yameen described the Maldives’ sovereignty as scared, and claimed previous governments had allowed for foreign interference in domestic affairs. But the Maldives must now “unlearn” such acts, he said.

He pledged to uphold the “Maldivian laws, traditions, and enforce our court verdicts,” and said his government’s first priority is to maintain stability.

Defence Minister Moosa Ali Jaleel meanwhile said he will not “abandon” the president, while chief of defence forces Major General Ahmed Shiyam said there were attempts to “destroy” the army and said soldiers must be strong enough to counter such forces.