Maldivian charged with murder of undocumented Bangladeshi worker

The Prosecutor General (PG) office has filed murder charges against a Maldivian man of accused of killing a Bangladeshi expatriate on the island of Gan in Laamu atoll last month.

The PG office filed the case at the criminal court yesterday, but has not revealed the identity of the accused.

The undocumented worker, known locally as Bassan, was discovered dead with severe head injuries at an uninhabited house on June 11.

The caretaker of the house who discovered the body said Bassan had told him that the owner of the house had given him permission to sleep on the veranda. But the owner, Thoha Waheed, denied that Bassan had asked for permission.

The right side of Bassan’s face was smashed in and blood was splattered over the wall. Bassan’s murder is the third killing of a migrant worker this year.

The police had arrested a Maldivian man and a woman in connection to the murder. But the PG office has not pressed charges against the female suspect.

Speaking to Minivan News, Jasim Uddin from the welfare department of the Bangladeshi High Commission condemned the brutal killing and called on the Maldivian government to provide justice for the family of Bassan.

Jasim also raised concern over the burial of Bassam’s body in Laamu Gan even after repeated pleas to bring the body to the capital.

“The police said the body was decaying and they need to bury it. We told them to bring the body to Malé City as a decision has to be made whether the body was will be sent to Bangladesh or not. But they buried him anyway,” he said.

Some 124,000 expatriates reside in the Maldives, according to the immigration department, of which more than 30,000 are undocumented migrant workers.

The former Bangladeshi High Commissioner for Maldives Selina Mohsin has described the situation of Bangladeshi workers in the country as “bizarre and horrifying.”

In 2014, the police rescued a Bangladeshi held captive in an accommodation block for migrant workers.

In April this year, two migrant workers were kidnapped, robbed and beaten in a recruitment and employment agency in Malé.

A Bangladeshi worker was discovered in chains in 2009.


Senior TVM staff found guilty of sexual harassment, let off with warning

The state broadcasting company, Public Service Media (PSM), has let off a senior technical officer found guilty of sexual harassment with a warning.

PSM spokesperson Abdulla Rameez refused to confirm the decision made by an internal committee following an inquiry, saying: “We do not give out information that would harm our staff’s dignity.”

But a copy of the committee’s decision obtained by Minivan News states the accused was warned in writing “after considering the seriousness of the case.”

The PSM said in a statement yesterday that “a just decision” was made in accordance with the law and that the offender has been punished.

According to 2014 sexual harassment law, government offices must set up internal committees to investigate complaints of workplace harassment within 60 days. The committee is authorised to warn, suspend or dismiss the perpetrator.

The PSM operates the Television Maldives (TVM) channel and a radio station.

A senior PSM staff who wished to remain anonymous told Minivan News that the technical officer had “groped a woman’s breasts.”

Other PSM employees who spoke to Minivan News alleged that “many girls were subjected to sexual harassment from the technical officer.”

“They never looked into the case when there have been numerous cases where he assaulted women. This time they had no other choice but to investigate the matter after it was exposed in the local media,” an employee said.

Another staff member criticised the company’s attitude towards sexual offences after “the technical officer’s matter was handled lightly. He was allowed to work while still the case being investigated. He is here as if nothing had happened.”

CNM reported yesterday that the accused senior official was “forgiven” by the committee.

The PSM, however, denied the media reports in its press statement, noting that the complainant has the right to appeal the committee’s decision but had not done so.

The state broadcaster said it regretted the misleading media reports that has brought PSM into disrepute and threatened to sue media outlets for damages.

According to CNM, the incident occurred three weeks ago at the PSM recording library. Sources told the online news outlet that the technical officer grabbed the woman from behind and groped her breasts.

The committee decided to pardon the offender because he has worked at the state broadcaster for 22 years, the sources claimed. The technical officer had reportedly confessed to the committee.

Last month, a manager at the state-owned Hulhumalé Development Corporation (HDC) was also let off with a warning after he was found guilty of sexually harassing a female employee.

The HDC’s human resources manager Mirshan Ahmed was accused of sending inappropriate text messages to an employee who had joined the company in March.


Plastic palms placed on Malé streets in rush to prepare for independence day

Additional reporting by Zaheena Rasheed

Plastic palm trees have been placed on Malé’s streets and several areas at Male’s waterfront have been closed off as the government rushes to complete major renovation projects including a new official jetty and a musical water fountain at the Republic Square before July 26.

Grand celebrations are expected on July 26 as the Maldives marks the golden jubilee of independence from the British.

The plastic palm trees will be strung with lights, says the home ministry.

Several masked men, which the opposition claims are rogue policemen, in October last year chopped down all of Malé City’s Areca palms. Jailed ex defence minister Mohamed Nazim claimed during a trial on weapons smuggling charges that he was framed after the fallout with the police and tourism minister over the cutting down of palm trees.

The government later prevented the Malé City Council from replanting the palms.

The presidential jetty on Malé’s waterfront has been dismantled, and barges with cranes have been brought in as soldiers work around the clock to finish the jetty within two weeks. The government insists the jetty will be completed, but says dignitaries for the official independence day function will be received at the T-jetty in front of the local market area, and not at the presidential jetty.

The Republic Square has meanwhile been closed off for months for renovations and a brand new water fountain.

The official celebrations will not be held at the Republic Square, but at the Usfasgandu area on Malé’s southeast corner, the president’s office has said. The Usfasgandu is traditionally used by the opposition for its activities.

Renovations began this week at the Usfasgandu area. Cranes are at work leveling the area, while workers are putting up new walls.

“All of the planned renovations will be completed by July 26,” said Ibrahim Muaz Ali, the president’s office spokesperson.

The government has not yet disclosed the program for the day. Officials have previously said that the government will hold an official function, soldiers and school students will hold a parade, and official games will be held at the national stadium.

Renovations are also underway at several parks and public monuments in the city. Malé’s streets and the smoke stacks at the power plant have been decked in green, red and white national flags.

An army spokesperson also said all renovation work is on schedule. If not, soldiers may be brought out to complete work. But there is no such indication yet, he said. The army is only in charge of the official jetty at present.

Mohamed ‘Mundu’ Hussein Shareef, the presidential affairs minister, last night dismissed allegations of corruption in the use of the independence day budget. The home ministry has received special permission from the finance ministry to award some projects without a bidding process due to lack of time.

He refused to disclose the total amount allocated for independence day, but finance minister Abdulla Jihad last week told Minivan News the budget was MVR150million (US$9.7million).

The Anti- Corruption Commission began a review last week after receiving complaints of lucrative projects being awarded to private companies without a bidding process.

The Minivan 50 office awarded a restaurant New Port with an MVR1million catering contract and a British company called The Projection Studio with a contract to manage sound, light and projection at the official celebrations.


President’s office minister Abdulla Ameen resigns

President’s office minister Abdulla Ameen has resigned from the government.

President’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali said Ameen submitted his letter of resignation yesterday.

The former minister “did not state a particular reason for the resignation in the letter,” Muaz said in a tweet today.

Ameen is a close ally of Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed, who is facing impeachment by the parliament.

Ameen is also facing corruption charges after the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) forwarded a case against the minister to the prosecutor general’s office. Ameen is accused of writing off a fine to a company over delays in the Thimarafushi regional airport project.

The company had failed to complete the airport within the agreed upon period.

Corruption charges have not been filed at court yet.

Vice president Jameel’s cousin, former youth minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal, was also sacked from the cabinet last month.

A 14-day notice for Jameel to answer charges expires today. The impeachment process is expected to begin next week and the vice president has said he intends to respond to parliament in writing.

MPs of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) have secured 61 signatures for the impeachment motion. A two-thirds majority or 57 votes of the 85-member house is required to remove the president or the vice president

Jameel had previously labelled his imminent impeachment as a “constitutional coup” and urged the international community to intervene.

PPM MPs have publicly accused Jameel of disloyalty and incompetence and are seeking to replace Jameel with tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb.

Adeeb has accused Jameel of planning a coup d’etat with the opposition.

“A lot of people are accusing him of leaving with a lot of money and a lot of things. He is even now accused of dereliction of duty and fleeing the country. He has left the country because the coup he had planned has failed,” he said.

The parliament last month passed an amendment with overwhelming multi-party consensus to set the new age limits of 30-65 years for presidency and vice-presidency.

Adeeb is now 33. The constitution previously stated that candidates must be 35 years of age.

The opposition’s backing for the amendment was widely perceived to be a deal made in exchange for jailed ex-president Mohamed Nasheed’s transfer to house arrest.

The government and Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) are currently engaged in talks to resolve a six-month long political crisis.


Elderly man found in Malé lagoon “died of natural causes”

A 71-year-old man was found dead floating in the lagoon in Malé’s northern waterfront last night. The body was found around 12:30am near the official jetty in front of the Republic Square.

The police have identified the deceased as Mohamed Jaleel, from the Hemlock house in the Galolhu ward of the capital.

He was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital and is believed to have died of natural causes, the police said in a statement. There were no visible signs of injuries of the body, the police noted. The serious and organised crime department is investigating the case.

In April 2007, the discovery of a dead body in Malé’s southwest lagoon sparked protests amid allegations of continuing custodial abuse.

Hussain Solah, 27, was found dead five days after his arrest from Hithadhoo in the southernmost Addu atoll.

The police claimed he was released on April 13, but he did not contact family or friends, and was found dead in the harbour outside the detention centre on the morning of April 15.

But a seven-month investigation by the human rights watchdog found that there was “not enough evidence to say for certain that Solah was [ever] released from custody.”

A police corporal was charged with assaulting Solah based on the Human Rights Commission of Maldives’ investigation.

However, in November 2009, the criminal court found corporal Ahmed Shah not guilty on the grounds that the witness statements were not sufficient evidence for a conviction.

As Corporal Shah was in charge of the jail at the time, the court said witnesses were likely to be prejudiced against the senior officer.

In August 2012, the High Court upheld the lower court’s verdict.


Freedom for ex president on the horizon, suggests MDP

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has raised hope of freedom for convicted opposition leader and former president Mohamed Nasheed by July 26, the day Maldives marks 50 years of independence from the British.

Speaking at a press conference after a third meeting of talks between the MDP and the government, MP Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Mohamed Solih said: “When we celebrate the golden jubilee of independence on July 26, our aim, our hope is that everyone is able to celebrate the day happily and in freedom.”

Nasheed’s jailing on terrorism charges, relating to the arrest of a judge during his tenure, sparked months of daily protests and historic anti-government marches. Diplomatic pressure has been mounting on President Abdulla Yameen to release Nasheed and other political prisoners, including two former defence ministers and ruling party MP.

While Ibu struck a hopeful tone, the government representative, home minister Umar Naseer was more cautious. He said the government had made no commitments on releasing jailed politicians, but reiterated that the government stands ready to make compromises for long-term stability.

Nasheed was transferred to house arrest in late June after the opposition backed a constitutional amendment that will allow President Abdulla Yameen to replace his deputy.

Naseer tonight hailed slow and steady progress in talks and said: “I now believe there is nothing we cannot resolve.”

“On whether political leaders will be released, we did not give any commitments. But we did give one commitment, that is to make concessions, to make compromises where possible. We want to ease political tensions. For there to be engagement and dialogue between the MDP and the government. If such an environment is created, it will be easier for us to make concessions. I cannot directly state that the government will make a specific compromise. But I will say if such an environment is created, the government stands ready to make all compromises. In the past three weeks, we have made compromises, and we have seen progress. This does not happen with just one meeting. This is the third official meeting between MDP and the government. In other countries, it can take 100 meetings,” he said.

Since Nasheed’s transfer to house arrest, the government has removed a freeze on Jumhooree Party leader and MP Gasim Ibrahim’s tourism businesses. Gasim, who had spent nearly three months abroad amidst rumors of impending arrest, returned to the Maldives on Sunday morning.

Gasim’s JP had also backed the constitutional amendment. The parliament is due to vote to impeach vice president Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed by July 26. Many believe the president is seeking to replace Jameel because he wants a more loyal deputy ahead of a major surgery for a life-threatening condition.

Ibu said: “Even if we do not say a specific action will be taken on a specific date, you will see actions from both parties… You will see results. We are not able to share some of the discussion points with the media yet, so we have not shared them, but we are on a good foundation. I am certain of that. Now we have to proceed. And I received that certainty tonight as well.”

The MDP has repeatedly said Nasheed’s freedom is the party’s highest priority.

The two representatives also said they have established a hotline to facilitate communication and to resolve any issues that may come up.

“There’s been progress, You will be able to see this in the future. Talks are proceeding in a friendly and conciliatory environment. I note we are already seeing results. The public will see even more progress when we sit for a next meeting,” Ibu said.

The fourth meeting of talks has been scheduled for July 21.

Naseer meanwhile said the government, at the ongoing talks, is not pressuring Nasheed to appeal his 13-year jail term at a domestic appellate court. The foreign ministry this weekend urged the opposition leader to appeal in a response to the UN working group on arbitrary detention.

Naseer also said the government will look at provisions in the Clemency Act and the Parole Act in reducing jail terms or releasing other jailed politicians, but only after they exhaust appeal processes.

“We can only take measures through the law. We have the Clemency Act, and the Parole Act. We will review that when it gets to that stage. This government wants to calm political tensions, to establish stability and to establish a conducive environment by which we can provide the public with the services and the development they seek. As I said before, these talks are not about the present, but also the political future of the Maldives.”

The MDP has proposed six measures for political reconciliation at the ongoing talks. In addition to asking for the release of politicians and withdrawing “politically motivated charges” against some 1400 opposition supporters, the party has also called for an independent inquiry into the murder of MP Afrasheem Ali and the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan.

Discussions have not progressed on the latter demand yet.

Naseer meanwhile said the government is reviewing the charges against the 1493 people. “This government does not want to charge and punish those who have committed minor offences in political activities. President Yameen has given me a special instruction on this,” he said.

However, the government does not want to be lenient on individuals who may be pretending to be political prisoners, especially those with criminal records, he said.

The government has also committed to speeding up progress in the separate talks with the JP and the religious conservative Adhaalath Party.

Another major demand by the MDP in the ongoing talks is a change from the Maldives’ presidential system of government to a parliamentary system. Discussions on the system of governance will take place at a second stage of talks, the representatives said at an earlier press conference.


Police deny rumoured pregnancy of Fuvahmulah child prostitution victim

Underaged female victims of a child prostitution ring uncovered in Fuvahmulah last week are not pregnant despite media reports to the contrary, the police have said.

Chief Superintendent Hamdhoon Rasheed told the press today that the 16-year-old and 14-year-old girls have undergone pregnancy tests.

The police began investigating the case on July 5 based on intelligence information, Rasheed said, and 11 men have been arrested so far on suspicion of drugging, blackmailing, and forcing children into prostitution.

Ten suspects were taken into custody on Friday. The Fuvahmulah magistrate court granted 15-day extensions of remand detention the following day.

The eleventh suspect was arrested today and police are searching for more suspects.

Rasheed revealed that five of the suspects have criminal records for assault, theft, drug abuse, and sexual offences.

The suspects are all Maldivian men aged between 20 and 55, he said, and include those who forced the children into prostitution and others involved in the prostitution ring.

Rasheed did not reveal any further details.

CNM reported yesterday that the police began investigating the case upon learning that the 16-year-old victim of the prostitution ring was pregnant. Sources from Fuvahmulah meanwhile told newspaper Haveeru that the girls gave police a list of 50 suspects.

According to CNM, the Fuvahmulah hospital had alerted the police and the gender department last week, prompting an immediate investigation on the island.

The girls were tricked into using drugs and filmed naked, CNM reported. The men threatened to leak the videos and blackmailed the minor.

In February 2014, seven men were arrested from the island of Thinadhoo in Gaaf Dhaalu atoll on suspicion of forcing a 16-year-old girl into child prostitution.

In the first official acknowledgement of child prostitution in the Maldives, then-Gender Minister Azima Shukoor revealed in May 2013 that children were “being used as sex workers, where the children are sent to places as a means to pleasure people and to gain an income from such a trade.”

In June 2013, multiple sources told Minivan News that child prostitution was prevalent in the country, ranging from male benefactors grooming children with ‘gifts’ to parents actively exploiting their children.

A study focusing on Laamu atoll conducted by Consultant Clinical Psychologist Maldives Institute for Psychological Services, Training & Research (MIPSTAR), Dr Aishath Ali Naaz, showed that child prostitution was so “common” among minors that it was considered a normal activity.

She identified a “gradual process” of minors being “groomed” by adults via the internet and/or social media, with children taken to known “spots” and introduced to those involved in the sex trade.

In other instances, the minors are pushed to provide nude photos, and then emotionally blackmailed with threats that the pictures will be posted on the web, and ultimately recruited into prostitution.


Islamic ministry flags publication of religious books without permission

The Islamic ministry has raised concern over publication of  books on Islam in Dhivehi without official approval.

In an announcement, the Islamic ministry noted that the 1994 religious unity law requires written permission from the ministry to preach, deliver sermons, and publish books concerning religion.

The ministry said it has learned that books on Islam and Dhivehi translations of verses and parts of the Quran have been published without authorisation.

The ministry appealed for compliance with the law in publishing religious literature.

The requirement was introduced through amendments brought to the Protection of Religious Unity Act in March 2014. The amendments prohibited “sowing religious discord” in the community, outlawed independent or unauthorised prayer congregations, and required Islam to be taught as a compulsory subject in all public and private schools from grade one to 12.

The changes also criminalised the construction of places of worship for other religions, the sale, possession, or advertisement of expressions or slogans of other religions and the importation, display, advertisement and sale of books of other religions.

Seeking financial assistance from foreigners to propagate other religions was prohibited while permission must be sought in writing from the Islamic ministry before accepting a salary, funds, or a gift from a foreign party for conducting religious activities in the country.

Similar provisions were included in the religious unity regulations enforced in September 2011 to crack down on extremist and unlicensed preaching of Islam in the country.

Meanwhile, in September last year, the national bureau of classification enacted new regulations that subjected the publication of prose and poetry in the Maldives to government approval.

The regulations were enforced to ensure that books and other material adhere to “societal norms” and to reduce “adverse effects on society that could be caused by published literature.”

The Maldives High Commission in the UK told the Guardian newspaper at the time that the regulations would not “limit or interfere with freedom of expression derived from the Constitution, or constructive new thoughts.”

The regulations “only formalise an approval process that has been in operation for a number of years”, the high commission insisted, adding that the “most significant development of the new regulations is that they have reduced the amount of time for books and poetry to be approved”.

“The regulations were made public to ensure that all poetry and books published in Dhivehi [the Maldivian language] are published in accordance with the societal norms of the Maldives, and in accordance with the laws and regulations governing the Republic of Maldives. This is intended to protect the 2,000-year-old history of our unique language,” said the commission.



No evidence linking reported abduction to Rilwan disappearance, says police

The police have said that there is no evidence linking the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan in August last year to a reported abduction outside his apartment in Hulhumalé.

Rilwan’s neighbours had reported seeing a man forced into a red car at knifepoint outside the apartment building in the early hours of August 8, at the same time he would have reached home.

In a statement released today, the police said they have received DNA analysis of samples taken from three cars suspected to have been used in the abduction, but could not “conclusively state” that there was a connection between the incident and Rilwan’s disappearance.

“We also note that this analysis did not provide any evidence of a link to the suspects previously arrested in this case,” the police said.

Four suspects had been arrested in October and one suspect was held in police custody for five weeks, but the Criminal Court transferred him to house arrest in November.

One of the suspects was among a group of 12 Maldivian jihadis who traveled to Syria in January. The group also included Azlif Rauf, a suspect in the murder of MP Dr Afrasheem Ali in October 2012, who reportedly died while fighting in Syria in mid-May.

An investigative report published by Maldivian Democratic Network had identified Azlif’s brother Arlif Rauf as the owner of the red car which may have been used in Rilwan’s suspected abduction.

The report implicated radicalised gangs in Rilwan’s disappearance and confirmed evidence of possible “hostile surveillance” at the terminal conducted by two known affiliates of Malé-based Kuda Henveiru gang led by the Rauf brothers.

Home minister Umar Naseer had also also acknowledged involvement of criminal gangs in the case.

Today’s police statement meanwhile follows Rilwan’s family backing an opposition proposal for an independent inquiry last week. The family also announced plans to hold a march on August 8 to mark one year after Rilwan’s disappearance.

The police vowed to continue efforts to find the missing journalist and the investigation into his disappearance “no matter how long it takes” and urged anyone with information to come forward.

Rilwan’s disappearance was “one of the cases that police investigation teams gave the highest priority to and spent the most time investigating in 2014,” the police said.

Police investigators have questioned 198 people, obtained statements from more than 80 individuals, and retrieved more than 293 hours of CCTV video footage, the statement noted.

The police also searched public spaces, closed areas, and industrial areas in Hulhumalè, the statement continued, and searched more than 50 places in the suburb with court warrants.

In a press release last week, Rilwan’s family provided an update of activities conducted in the past year.

A petition with 5,500 signatures calling for a speedy investigation was submitted to the parliament last year, but is stalled at a parliamentary committee. The family said they met with commissioner of police Hussein Waheed last week and last met with home minister Umar Naseer and the police investigating team in May.

The Police Integrity Commission was asked to investigate police negligence in October last year, but the oversight body has yet to produce a report.

The family has also submitted a petition with the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances in September last year.