Family requests Nazim’s transfer from jail to house arrest

The family of former defense minister Mohamed Nazim has requested his transfer from prison to house arrest with an appeal filed over the 11-year-jail term on weapons smuggling charges stalled indefinitely at the High Court.

Nazim’s brother, Adam Azim, said the family has written to home minister requesting the transfer. The appeal was stalled after the Supreme Court suddenly transferred two judges on the five-judge-panel to a newly created appellate branch in the south.

Nazim maintains he was framed by rogue police officers who planted the pistol and three bullets in his apartment during a midnight raid.

The trial was criticized for apparent lack of due process. Appeal hearings were set to conclude within a week in late-June. The transfer of judges was made in the middle of the appeal on June 23.

Nazim’s trial coincided with the terrorism trial of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed. The opposition leader was sentenced to 13 years in jail over the military detention of a judge during his tenure. The pair’s imprisonment sparked a political crisis with daily protests.

With mounting diplomatic pressure, Nasheed was transferred to house arrest. Talks have now commenced between the government and Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

The MDP has requested Nazim be transferred to house arrest to allow political reconciliation. The largest opposition party has also requested the government withdraw terrorism charges against the Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla.

Imran was charged with inciting violence at a historic anti-government protest on May 1. The Adhaalath Party allied with the MDP in March after President Abdulla Yameen told Imran he had no power to release Nazim.

Home minister Umar Naseer told the press on Sunday that the government is open to exploring avenues to release jailed politicians and withdrawing charges. The government will present a paper at a third meeting on Wednesday night.

While there has been progress on government’s talks with the MDP and the Jumhooree Party, talks with the Adhaalath Party has been stalled, with the party insisting Imran should represent it at talks.

Ibrahim Muaz, the president’s office spokesperson, said the Adhaalath Party cannot present demands before sitting for talks. “There cannot be demands to start the discussions. Decisions can only made after discussing at the table.”


Cause of seaplane crash remains uncertain

The civil aviation authority is yet to determine what caused a Trans Maldivian Airways (TMA) seaplane to crash land near the Kuredhu Island Resort last week.

The accident investigation coordination committee said in a statement last night that the investigation will continue once the seaplane is resurfaced. The coastguard, police, and TMA are assisting the investigation.

The Twin Otter seaplane sank within minutes of crash-landing around 5:30pm last Tuesday. A speedboat rescued the 11 tourist passengers and three crew members within minutes.

The investigation committee said it has retrieved the seaplane’s records, recovered some of the seaplane’s parts with help from the army, and interviewed passengers and crew.

The MNDF and TMA have made a plan to recover the submerged seaplane, the committee said.

Seaplane accidents are rare in the Maldives. In February 2012, an Maldivian Air Taxi aircraft crash-landed on the water runway at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport with nine passengers due to poor weather conditions. None of the passengers or crew sustained injuries.

A TMA flight crash-landed near Biyadhoo Island resort in February 2011.


PPM seeks to limit elected councils to populous islands

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Abdulla Khaleel has proposed changes to the decentralisation law to not elect local councils in islands with a population lower than 500 people.

Presenting the amendment bill at today’s sitting of parliament, Khaleel said the Local Government Authority (LGA) in consultation with the atoll council will make administrative arrangements to provide municipal services in islands without elected councillors.

The administrative arrangements can be made in accordance with the wishes of the community, Khaleel said.

“So I don’t believe it will cause too many problems for populations lower than 500,” he said.

During the ensuing debate, opposition MPs argued that the proposed change amounted to discrimination against small island communities.

If the amendments are passed, Jumhooree Party MP Moosa Nizar Ibrahim said small communities would become marginalised, neglected and deprived of basic services.

Several pro-government MPs meanwhile said that the old system of island and atoll chiefs directly appointed by the president during the 30-year reign of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom was much better suited to the Maldives.

PPM MP Saudhulla Hilmy said the local government system introduced in 2011 has been a “bitter” experience and suggested removing the decentralisation provision from the constitution.


Khaleel also proposed extensive changes to the composition of local councils. The amendments state that a four-member council will be elected in islands with a population between 500 and 5,000 people and a six-member council for islands with a population between 5,000 and 10,000.

Apart from the president and vice president of island, atoll, and city councils, Khaleel proposed making other councillors part-time members who would not be involved in day-to-day activities.

The part-time councillors will only attend meetings to finalise decisions.

Atoll councils will meanwhile be comprised of two elected members and a councillor from each island in the atoll. If the revisions are passed, Khaleel said the government would save MVR100 million a year.

Khaleel’s amendments represent a major overhaul of the law and comes after the pro-government majority in parliament passed a third and fourth amendment to the Decentralisation Act last month.

President Abdulla Yameen ratified the fourth amendment today.

The amendments passed by parliament on June 29 state that by-elections will not be held if an island, atoll, or city councillor resigns one year after the local council elections.

Local councils are elected for a three-year term. The resignation of councillors have triggered several by-elections since the local government system was introduced in February 2011.

However, by-elections must still be held for vacant seats if a council does not have a quorum to hold meetings or if a councillor resigns within the first year.

In late June, President Yameen also ratified a third amendment to the decentralisation law that authorised the president to determine the public services to be provided by the opposition-majority Malé and Addu city councils.

The amendments state that municipal services the president decides not to assign to the council will be transferred to government ministries.

During the parliamentary debate last month, MPs of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) heavily criticised the proposed changes, contending that it would “destroy” the decentralisation system and reduce the city council to an “administrative desk at the president’s office.”


The current model of more than 1,000 elected councillors approved in 2010 by the then-opposition majority parliament was branded “economic sabotage” by the MDP government, which had proposed limiting the number of councillors to “no more than 220.”

The new layer of government introduced with the first local council elections in February 2011 cost the state US$12 million a year with a wage bill of US$220,000 a month.

Under the 2010 decentralisation law, a five-member council is elected in islands with a population of less than 3,000, a seven-member council for islands with a population between 3,000 and 10,000, and a nine-member council for islands with a population of more than 10,000.

City councils comprise of “an elected member from every electoral constituency of the city”, and atoll councils comprises of “elected members from the electoral constituencies within the administrative division.”

The presidents of island councils currently receive a monthly salary and allowance of MVR15,000 (US$973) while council members receive MVR11,000 (US$713). The mayor of Malé is paid MVR45,000 (US$2,918) a month.

Other changes proposed by Khaleel meanwhile include providing a seat on island councils for the chair of the island’s women’s development committee and forming advisory committees on economic, social, and environmental affairs.

The LGA – the oversight body tasked with coordinating with local councils – will be comprised of five members, including a cabinet minister, the chief executive for local government, and three members selected by parliament with experience in gender issues, business, and governance or public administration.


MDP warns against politicisation of national university

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has warned that changes proposed to the national university law authorizing the president to appoint nine members to its council will compromise the university’s independence and politicise the institution.

Government-sponsored amendments to the 2011 national university law was accepted for consideration with 43 votes in favour and 14 against at today’s sitting of parliament.

Under the existing law, the president only appoints the chancellor of the university, who becomes the head of the governing council.

If the proposed changes are approved, the president will appoint the chancellor, vice chancellor and deputy vice chancellors in addition to five members from outside the university to the 13-member council.

The vice chancellor and two deputy vice chancellors are currently elected to the council while an independent committee selects additional members from candidates who apply following a public announcement.

In a statement today, the MDP called on the government to withdraw the legislation and for staff and students at higher education institutions to protest against the bill.

The party warned that politicising the university would pave the way for hiring and dismissing officials for political reasons as well as the “misuse of the university’s students, employees, and resources to achieve political purposes”.

Politicisation would also prove an obstacle to the university’s academic research and dissemination of information, the MDP contended.

The changes could also see the government dictate research topics and use the university to spread “propaganda,” the statement added.

During the preliminary debate today, ruling Progressive Party of Maldives MP Ahmed Nihan said the changes were proposed to bring the governance structure of the national university in line with the recently established Islamic university.

Apart from the PPM parliamentary group leader, other pro-government MPs did not speak during the debate in the interest of speeding up the legislative process.

The government has also proposed changing the criteria for membership in the university council to allow non-Maldivians to become members.

Council members must not be bankrupt or belong to a political party, the amendments state.

The chancellor, vice chancellor, and deputy vice chancellors will meanwhile be appointed for a five-year term. The law presently does not specify a term limit.


Young man dies in attempt to flee from police

A 22-year-old young man died in an accident on Sunday night while attempting to flee from the police.

The young man was driving the motorbike when the police attempted to stop him in a drug operation near Flat 133 in Malé’s suburb Hulhumalé at 9:10pm. The young man sped away at high speed and crashed into a car.

He was thrown from the bike and sustained severe injuries. He died while undergoing treatment at the Hulhumalé hospital.

A 24-year-old man was sitting on the back. He broke an arm and a leg and is receiving further treatment at Malé’s Indhira Gandhi Memorial Hospital.

The driver of the car did not sustain any injuries.

The police declined to comment on whether any drugs were found on the suspects.



Efforts to put Maldives on CMAG agenda unsuccessful, says foreign ministry

The Maldives is not on the agenda of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) despite “efforts made by some of the most powerful countries in the Commonwealth to place the Maldives on the group’s agenda and harm the nation,” the foreign ministry has said.

Some Commonwealth members have been pushing for the Commonwealth’s human rights and democracy arm to assess alleged violations of the organisation’s principles by the Maldives following the imprisonment of opposition politicians, including former President Mohamed Nasheed.

“Minister of Foreign Affairs Ms Dunya Maumoon gave a briefing to the CMAG Ministers today about the political situation in the Maldives and reiterated that there is no serious or persistent violation of Commonwealth political values in the Maldives,” the foreign ministry said in a statement yesterday.

It added that Dunya also stressed “the progress that the government has achieved in defusing political tensions in the country” and assured the Maldives’ commitment to “constructively engage with the Commonwealth”.

Signs of an end to a six-month long political crisis are emerging. Nasheed was transferred to house arrest in late June after the opposition backed a constitutional amendment to allow President Abdulla Yameen to replace his deputy.

At a second meeting between representatives of the government and the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party last night, home minister Umar Naseer said the government is open to exploring avenues to release jailed politicians and withdraw charges against opposition supporters.

Foreign minister Dunya said last week that  the Maldives “will seriously consider its membership in the Commonwealth” if the country is placed on the CMAG agenda for a second time.

Meanwhile, former foreign minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed has said that the CMAG only granted the Maldives further time to “sort out [the] mess Maldives is in.”

The UN special rapporteur on Iran also said that the group will convene again after the UN working group on arbitrary detention declares Nasheed’s imprisonment unlawful.

The opposition leader was found guilty of terrorism in March over the military’s detention of a judge during his tenure. The 19-day terrorism trial was criticised by foreign governments, the UN, and international human rights organisations over its apparent lack of due process.

The former president’s international legal team filed a petition at the UN working group in late April. The government has been asked to respond before the first week of July.

In a conversation last week with Commonwealth’s secretary general Kamalesh Sharma, Dunya said there are no serious violations in the Maldives and criticised Sharma’s alleged failure to follow due process before considering action.

The MDP meanwhile called on the Maldivian government to “stop being so arrogant.”

“Having to leave the Commonwealth for not abiding by its principles only isolate the Maldives from the rest of the world. And it will not be very healthy for the Maldives, but detrimental,” said MP Imthiyaz Fahmy.

CMAG agenda

The Maldives was placed on the CMAG agenda from March 2012 – March 2013 after President Nasheed resigned in the wake of a violent police and military mutiny. He later alleged he had been ousted in a coup d’état.

But a Commonwealth-backed inquiry found the transfer of power to be constitutional.

The Maldives was previously placed on the CMAG’s agenda “on an unfair basis, based on false allegations, and the country’s economy and democratic governance suffered significantly as a result,” Dunya said.

She also said Sharma had not raised questions over violations in the Maldives, or extended assistance for redress as required by the Commonwealth’s rules.

In mid-June Canada called on CMAG to “urgently put the deteriorating situation in the Maldives on its formal agenda.”

Dunya urged Sharma to take note of the positive changes in the Maldives in the last few weeks. She also accused Canada of exerting undue influence in the Commonwealth as a donor country.


Progress in talks raises hope of end to crisis

Representatives of the government and the opposition remain optimistic of a resolution to a six-month long political crisis with home minister stating that the government is open to exploring avenues to release jailed politicians and withdraw charges against opposition supporters.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) submitted tonight a list with some 1493 people, who are either in jail, facing charges or under investigation for political activities.

At a second meeting with the government on Sunday night, MDP also requested a two-week timeline to come to agreements on President Abdulla Yameen’s agenda of political reconciliation, constitutional and judicial reform, and participatory development.

The government has, meanwhile, conceded to all-party talks at a later stage and agreed to allow parties to decide on who will represent them at the talks.

The Maldives has been gripped by turmoil since the arrest and imprisonment of several politicians, including ex-president Mohamed Nasheed. In the ensuing crisis, hundreds were arrested and three leaders were charged with terrorism.

Diplomatic pressure has been mounting on President Yameen to release all political prisoners.

A third meeting will be held on Wednesday. The government will answer MDP’s demands and make demands of its own in return.

Striking a conciliatory and at times jovial tone, home minister Umar Naseer said: “The government’s aim is not to get a quick fix, but to build sustainable relationships between the PPM and MDP. These talks are aimed not just to address the current turmoil, but aimed at coming to a long-term agreement or understanding.”

MDP MP Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Mohamed Solih said: “The meeting proceeded in a very friendly atmosphere. The two parties worked constructively with the aim of bringing results.”

Fisheries minister Mohamed Shainee and president’s office minister Abdulla Ameen also participated in tonight’s meeting.

At the first meeting on July 1, the MDP had proposed five rules to proceed with talks, including joint talks, and conducting talks in three stages.

Naseer and Ibu tonight said that the two parties will discuss measures for political reconciliation at the first stage, and will invite the Jumhooree Party and religious conservative Adhaalath Party to discussions on constitutional and judicial reform, and participatory development at the second and third stages of talks.

Separate teams of ministers are in discussions with the JP and the Adhaalath Party.

Although the government tonight withdrew a veto on Nasheed representing the MDP at talks, it is not clear if he will be physically present at the meetings. The opposition leader was transferred to house arrest in late June after the opposition backed a constitutional change that would allow President Yameen to replace his deputy.

Naseer also blocked a question whether the government plans to repeal a law that had stripped Nasheed of the MDP presidency.

When asked if he is authorized to make decisions on behalf of the government, the home minister said: “I brief the president on the proceedings at the talks, the MDP’s proposals, and ask if there is any points he’d like to decide on and we proceed according to his decisions. There are no difficulties.”

The MDP’s demands for political reconciliation are:

  • To make concessions on “politically motivated sentencing” of politicians, including Nasheed, Nazim, ex-defence minister Tholhath Ibrahim and MP Ahmed Nazim
  • Withdraw “politically motivated charges” against protestors, including Sheikh Imran
  • Withdraw economic sanctions against businessmen, including JP leader Gasim Ibrahim, ex MP Abdulla Jabir’s Yacht Tours, and MDP deputy chairperson’s AAA company
  • Job security for councilors, civil servants and employees of state owned companies
  • Independent inquiry into the murder of MP Afrasheem Ali and the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan
  • Independent investigation of the death threats sent via text messages to politicians and journalists

The MDP has also called for a constitutional change to a parliamentary system, contending that the presidential system of government has failed in the Maldives.

The tax authority last week removed a freeze on Gasim’s Villa Group accounts.


Drastic changes planned for new penal code

The judiciary is planning to submit drastic changes this week to the new penal code due to come into force on July 16, Minivan News has learned.

A reliable source told Minivan News that the proposed changes are modelled on South Sudan’s penal code and will undo a decade’s work of modernising the Maldives’ criminal justice system.

“The new penal code is very modern, drafted over 10 years with the participation of several sectors. The planned changes will set us back by 50 years,” the source said.

The existing penal code was adopted in 1968 and has been criticised as draconian, outdated and not in line with the Maldives’ obligations under international human rights conventions.

The new penal code was hailed as a landmark law that would usher in major reforms to the Maldivian criminal justice system.

Legal experts have said that with the new law, the Maldives will become the first Islamic country to adopt a criminal law compatible with both Islamic Shariah and international human rights standards.

A second credible source told Minivan News that only five percent of the new penal code will remain with the new changes. The changes were based on the penal codes of countries such as Egypt, Libya, and Qatar.

The source said that the pro-government majority in parliament is planning to delay the enactment of the new penal code by a further 90 days before July 16.

The 1966 penal code will remain in place for three months and the new penal code will be annulled, the source said. Afterwards a new law will be passed with the changes proposed by the judiciary.

The changes were drafted by the judiciary in a process led by the Supreme Court, Minivan News understands.

“The Supreme Court or judges should not be involved in writing laws. This is exactly how laws must not be written,” another lawyer familiar with the matter said.

The Maldivian judiciary has been widely criticised over “politicisation” and the lack of academic qualification of sitting judges. The new penal code would have minimised the discretion of judges in meting out punishments.

The new code also brings together provisions in some 90 laws that specify criminal offences under one law.

Its first draft was prepared in 2006 at the request of then-Attorney General Hassan Saeed by Professor Paul H. Robison, a legal expert at the University of Pennsylvania.

The legislation was stalled at the 16th People’s Majlis with no progress. The bill was resubmitted in late 2009 after the election of the 17th Majlis, where it remained with a committee until December 2013.

In a first vote, the law was rejected 36-34 and returned to a parliamentary committee.

It finally passed in April 2014 with 48 votes in favour and a one-year period for preparation.

Although the law was due to come into force in April 2015, the parliament delayed its enactment by three months, claiming more time was needed to raise awareness among the public and address concerns of religious scholars.

However, both the attorney general and prosecutor general have said there is no reason to delay the penal code’s enforcement. The government has trained some 1,100 individuals including state prosecutors, police officers, customs staff, lawyers and journalists on the new law.

The Supreme Court, however, barred judges and magistrates from attending training sessions.

Former deputy prosecutor general Hussain Shameem, who conducted training on the new penal code, said the legal resource centre set up by the attorney general and the UNDP had invited all judges and magistrates, but “none of them attended the trainings.”

Shameem says the legal resource centre could train all of the 186 judges and magistrates in the country within two weeks.


Tax authority removes freeze on Villa Group accounts

The tax authority has removed a freeze on Jumhooree Party leader and tourism tycoon Gasim Ibrahim’s Villa Group accounts in yet another indication of a thaw in relations between the opposition and the government.

A senior government official told Minivan News that the Villa Group had submitted a plan to pay the US$90.4million claim within two years.

“The Villa Group initially denied that had to make any payments. But now Villa Shipping has agreed to pay the government. That’s why MIRA [Maldives Inland Revenue Authority] has removed the freeze,” they said.

MIRA froze the accounts of Villa Shipping and Trading in May after the Tourism Ministry annulled several agreements on properties leased for tourism development and claimed the company had failed to pay rents on some of the properties since 2006.

The 90.4million claim includes US$75.5million as a fine.

The opposition says the move was an act of reprisal after Gasim’s JP split from the ruling coalition and allied with the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in an anti-government campaign.

Several opposition politicians including ex-president Mohamed Nasheed was arrested and sentenced to jail shortly after the formation of the new alliance.

After months of street protests, historic anti-government marches, and mounting diplomatic pressure, Nasheed was transferred to house arrest in late June and preparations are now underway for talks.

Speaking to Haveeru today, Gasim maintained that his company did not owe any money to the state, but said he had no choice but to make the payment.

“We are having to do this this because our cases at the courts are still pending. We had no choice to do this until the court reaches a decision. If there is any justice in Maldives, I am sure I would not have to make the payment,” Gasim said.

The Villa conglomerate – which operates businesses in shipping, import and export, retail, tourism, fishing, media, communications, transport and education – previously said the claim is unlawful and is contesting it at the civil court.

The civil court had rejected a request for a stay order on paying the fine until the courts uphold the claim.

Villa Group says the claim has cost the company a US$80million loan. It had struggled to pay the salaries of some 5000 employees following the accounts freeze.

In mid-June, Gasim announced that he will retire from politics once his term as Maamigili MP expires in 2019. The long-time presidential hopeful also said he will no longer contest in presidential elections. The government with opposition backing has now amended the constitution to set new age limits of 30-65 years for the presidency, meaning Gasim will be ineligible for the 2018 presidential elections. He will be 66 then.

The JP is in disarray. Two senior party officials fled the country after they were charged with terrorism over a historic anti-government protest on May 1.