Somalians join queue as governments negotiate repatriation agreement

Another three Somalis discovered in Maldivian waters last night have joined the queue of Somali “castaways” awaiting repatriation in Dhoonidhoo Detention Center.

The 17-year-old boy, his 20-year-old brother and their uncle, age 40, were rescued near Gaaf Alifu Atoll by a local fishing boat, while onboard a drifting dinghy devoid of food and water.

According to Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), the castaways were in good health and had identified themselves as fishermen who got lost in the high seas after their engine failed.

MNDF said that they have now been handed over to the police for further investigation, adding that there are now 40 Somali castaways under police custody.

In the past two years, several Somali nationals have arrived in the Maldives in dinghies lost at sea.

Many were found in frail health conditions due to dehydration and malnourishment, and have had to undergo long treatments before being transferred to Dhoonidhoo Detention Center, where they are now awaiting repatriation.

However, authorities explained that the repatriation process has been delayed by the problematic task of identifying the castaways.

No castaways carried any identification documents when they were found and “it has been a difficult task to confirm their identities,” according to police.

Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Irushaadha Abdu Sattar meanwhile confirmed that the ministry has recently verified through India’s Somali Embassy that the 37 castaways under police custody are Somali citizens.

She added that the ministry has received the travel documents and is “doing everything we can to send them back” as it is also a “financial burden” for the state to keep them under custody.

However, she explained that repatriation also requires the government of Somalia and Maldives to sign an agreement, which is currently under review.

“We have drafted the agreement. Now we are taking the necessary legal advice”, Irushaadha said, adding that the internal politics of Somalia is also hindering the repatriation process.

“As you know there is no central government in Somalia and some areas are autonomous. We have identified people from different areas. So should we sign the agreement with the all the ruling body in different areas? We can’t just go and leave them there”, she said.

Therefore, she added that the foreign ministry has been collaborating with United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) as they have more experience in the region.

“We are also trying to get an airplane for their transfer as it would not be safe to use the commercial airlines”, she said.

Meanwhile, with an increase in attacks in the Indian Ocean uncertainty remains as to the threat of piracy in Maldivian territory.

Tim Hart, a security analyst specialising in piracy in the southern African region for Maritime and Underwater Security Consultants (MUSC), in June told Minivan News that the two attacks reported that month off India’s southern coast raised wider security issues for the Maldives that have previously affected other nearby archipelago nations like the Seychelles.

However, MNDF has steadily countered that the country’s territorial waters have not come under direct attack from piracy originating in Somalia.

MNDF Spokeperson Abdul Raheem earlier told Minivan News that despite the trend of small Somalian vessels drifting into Maldivian waters – often with engineering problems – no reported attacks or activities linked to piracy were believed to have occurred in the country.

Raheem conceded that the potential for piracy remained a “major problem” in ensuring the security of the archipelago, which depends on tourism for as much as 70 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Raheem said that despite the serious concerns raised over potential piracy attacks in the Maldives, MNDF would pursue existing initiatives to protect its waters in collaboration with foreign naval forces including India, Turkey and the US, which have all taken part in patrols across the country.


Parliament to deliberate 2012 loan scheme

Parliamentary Finance Committee has approved loans to be borrowed and loan guarantees proposed by the government for 2012 “as a policy”.

Parliament will decide on the matter.

The committee’s report highlights missing information, and asks the government to provide every detail of the loans before borrowing or providing a guarantee, reports Haveeru.

The borrowings summary provided with the 2012 budget indicates the government intends to borrow over US$358 million (Rf5.5 billion) next year.

Foreign loans will be allocated for budget support, construction of Addu Hospital and support for middle-income businesses, fishing and agriculture.

Local loans will go towards the construction of Maldivian Education Fund’s 10-storey building.

The highest loan is valued at US$150 million, which is to be borrowed from China’s Exim Bank.


National Security Committee to forward resolution prohibiting Israeli flight operations

The parliament’s National Security Committee (NSC) has today decided to forward a resolution to the parliament to prohibit operations of Israel’s El Al airline to the Maldives.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP for the Madaveli constituency Mohamed Nazim, also a member of the NSC, today confirmed the decision to Minivan News.

According to Nazim the resolution will be forwarded to parliament Speaker Abdulla Shahid today.

”The speaker will then decided when to present it to the parliament’s floor to ask for a vote,” Nazim said. ”The decision was made following a request made by the Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari to pass a resolution to prohibit the flight operations to the Maldives.”

In May Israel’s national carrier El Al formally applied to the Ministry of Transport to begin flying to the Maldives from December.

President Mohamed Nasheed’s Press Secretary, Mohamed Zuhair, said at the time that he believed the government was inclined to grant permission to the airline.

Later in April religious party Adhaalath resolved to terminate the coalition agreement with MDP in the event that permission was granted.

Transport Minister Adil Saleem previously said the ministry was processing a license for El Al subsidiary airline Sun d’Or International Airlines, and claimed the partnership would create opportunities for Israeli tourists to visit the country while also facilitating pilgrimages for Maldivians to mosques around Jerusalem and other parts of the country.

In September the Adhaalath Party’s council voted to break the coalition agreement to protest the current government’s religious policy, citing the Israeli flight issue as a component therein.

This week Minister of Islamic Affairs Dr. Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari requested the NSC to endorse a resolution forbidding the government to establish ties with Israel.

Expressing his views on the issue, Dr. Bari told the MPs he “personally does not support the Israel airline to operate in the Maldives”.

Speaking to Minivan News, Dr. Bari said that he made the request because he believes “Israel has committed several human rights violations”.

Dr. Bari noted that Maldives should not stand with Israel as it commits atrocities against the Muslim brothers and sisters in Palestine.

“Maldives cut off ties with Libyan President Muammar Gadaffi’s government when he was killing, violating fundamental rights of his people. Similarly, Maldives should follow the same standard by isolating Israel for the atrocities committed against Muslims,” Dr.Bari said.


Government considering nation-wide ban of pork and alcohol

Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair has said that the government has decided to shut down all the massage parlors in the Maldives and is considering banning the trade of alcohol and pork throughout the Maldives in response to demands made by protestors on December 23.

‘’The government has decided to take urgent measurements to fulfill the demands,’’ Zuhair said. “There are five demands made after raising voice in the name of protecting Islam.’’

Zuhair said one of the demands was to close massage parlors and spas, as there have been accusations that prostitution is conducted widely in these locales.

‘’Therefore the government has decided to close every massage parlor and spa in the Maldives,’’ he said. ‘’Those places are not operated with a special permission from the government, but the government has now begun inspecting those places.’’

Addressing the demand to disallow Israeli flights to land in the Maldives, he said the government has tried to commence operations of any flight only for the purpose of tourism, for the benefit of the citizens and for the benefit of businessman in the tourism sector.

‘’When tourists want to come they will first book the resort before booking the airline and if the resorts cancel their bookings they will not come to the Maldives and the airline will stop operations because it cannot run the business if there won’t be any passenger to travel,’’ he said adding that the situation was in the hands of tourism businessman.

Referring to the demand made to remove all the SAARC monuments placed in Addu, he said under the decentralization plan, the decision rests with the Addu City Council.

‘’The government will not obstruct any decision made by the council to remove those monuments.’’

‘’Next is [UN High Commissioner for Human Rights] Navi Pillay’s remarks made in parliament, according to the President during the meeting she held with the President she did not mention anything that a Muslim would resist,’’ Zuhair said. ‘’The parliament is the one that has said anything in response to comments made by her in parliament, because the meeting with parliament was not organized by the government.’’

Trade of alcohol, Zuhair said, is not a business conducted by the government. He added that the government receives a relatively large amount of money through this trade from Goods and Services Tax (GST).

‘’The businessman running the trade of alcohol receives a huge amount of profit through this business as well,’’ he said. ‘’The government is now considering banning trade of alcohol and pork throughout the Maldives.’’

Only 200 people live in some less populous islands, but 400-500 citizens live in the tourist resorts, he pointed out.

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Mahlouf today said no matter what Zuhair said the government will not have the courage to ban the trade of alcohol in the resorts.

‘’It is all lies made by the government to mislead the citizens,’’ Mahlouf said.


Man walks free after 2-year murder trial

Mohamed Waheed of Maafanu Goalwich, accused of murdering his girl friend’s eight-month old child in June 2009, has been freed by the Criminal Court on the grounds that the Prosecutor General’s Office (PG) failed to prove he committed the crime during the two year long trial.

Judge Abdullah Didi who heard the case concluded today that Waheed refuted the murder charge, while no substantial evidence was provided to the court by PG to prove that Waheed had caused any harm to the child.

The Judge noted that in cases such as this, the prosecutors must prove the alleged party is guilty “beyond reasonable doubt” and since enough evidence was not presented, the court acquitted Waheed.

However, the baby’s mother, Noorzaadha Ali of Addu Atoll Hithadhoo, was sentenced to six months imprisonment in April 2011 for negligence.

Ali was not herself charged with murder, although the court ruled that she was in violation of elements of the Penal Code.

According to local media, the presiding judge said at the time that the suspect had not vaccinated the baby, taken proper care to clean the child, and failed to explain internal and external injuries to her child.

On the basis of these findings, the judge declared that Nooruzaadha had neglected her duties as a mother.

The eight-month-old baby boy died in the intensive care unit of Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH)  in June 2009.

Three suspects were arrested in connection with allegations that he had been physically and sexually abused. These suspects included the victim’s mother, then 28; her boyfriend Mohamed Waheed, then 46 and from Male’; and a third man whose identity has not yet been revealed.

Addressing media at the time, Inspector Hamdhoon Rasheed, head of the police investigation unit, said initial test results revealed the baby had extensive injuries. The examination also revealed signs of sexual abuse.

Rasheed said the boy had suffered head and neck injuries, and was covered in scratches. The hospital reported the case to police after Waheed took the baby in for medical care.

Nooruzaadha has a long history of criminal activity, according to both police and the prosecutor general’s office.

She was arrested twice in 2002, once for sexual misconduct and the second time for prostitution, said Deputy Prosecutor General Hussein Shameem.

She was sentenced to eight months house arrest for the first offence, which she breached, and six months imprisonment for the second.

The same year, she was put under house arrest for disobedience of order, which she violated and was fined Rf150 (US$12). In 2006, she was arrested on the same charge and was ordered to spend two months in jail.

In 2004, Nooruzaadha was handed a six-year sentence for possession of drugs and in 2005 and 2007, she was given two 12-year sentences on each occasion for drug possession.


Parliament endorses MP Mutthalib for Clemency Board

Fares-Maathoda MP Ibrahim Mutthalib has been endorsed as the parliamentary representative at the Clemency Board.

He received 40 votes in favor, and 23 against.

Hulhu-Meedhoo MP Ilyas Labeeb had nominated Kendhikulhudhoo MP Ahmed Easa to the post, but the nomination was rejected with 35 votes in favor and 36 against.

Mutthalib was nominated by Kela MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom following Galolhu-South MP Ahmed Mahloof’s resignation. Mahloof cited inefficiency and pressure to release inmates as grounds for leaving the board, Haveeru reports.

The Clemency Boards was established in March 2010 in accordance with Article 9 of the Clemency Act.


Island Aviation Service MD sacked

Island Aviation Services (IAS) today sacked its Managing Director Bandhu Ibrahim Saleem, allegedly by text message.

According to Haveeru, however, Saleem will remain at the company’s board.

IAS Commercial Director Ahmed Zuhair has been assigned as the acting head of the company, Haveeru reports.

IAS this year was scheduled to receive Kaadehdhoo airport in Gaaf Dhaal Atoll for development. However the hand-over was not carried out.

IAS offices and the ministries of Finance and Economic Development had not responded to phone calls at time of press.


Blogger detained another 15 days as Bari requests proper punishment

The detention of controversial blogger Ismail ‘Khilath’ Rasheed has been extended by another 15 days, following Sunday’s Criminal Court hearing.

Meanwhile, Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari has requested that appropriate punishments for those who call for religious freedom be added to the nation’s penal code.

Rasheed, a self-declared Sufi Muslim, was arrested on December 14 by a Court Order for his involvement in a silent peaceful protest calling for religious tolerance in honor of International Human Rights Day. The protest ended violently when a group attacked the approximately 30 protestors with stones, sending Rasheed to the hospital with head injuries.

His detention was extended by 10 days on December 17. He has been held without charges.

The Criminal Court has cited Rasheed’s blog, which was shut down on the Islamic Ministry’s order in November for its alleged anti-Islamic content, as grounds for his extended detention, Haveeru reports.

Ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik called for an investigation into the gathering, along with religious conservative Adhaalath Party and NGO Jamiyyathu Salaf.

The parliament’s National Security Committee (NSC) currently reviewing the silent protest had summoned Rasheed for questioning today, however it was cancelled when officials decided “not to proceed with the hearing at this time,” said an NSC official.

The parliamentary committee did hear Islamic Minister Dr Bari, who observed that the law lacks any clear punishment for individuals promoting religious freedom.

“The protestors did not announce that they had abandoned their religion but they called for religious freedom. The law has no defined punishment. They are just defying the religious unanimity of the country. I don’t believe there is any legal action against the call as no legal action can be taken until one publicly declares apostasy,” he said.

Dr. Bari requested parliament to pass these “much-needed legislations”, and advised that the punishments be added to the Penal Code currently under review.

Guraidhoo MP Ibrahim Riza pointed out that in cases where no clear penalty is stated, punishments can be given under Penal Code Article 88(a), (b) and (c), reports Haveeru.

Dr Bari countered that the code only provides soft punishments.

In a statement protesting Rasheed’s detention, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) challenged the claim that the December 10 gathering violated the Maldives’ national religion.

“The Maldivian constitution bans the promotion of any religion other than Islam but guarantees freedom of assembly and expression as long as it does not contravene Islam. Rasheed professes to be an adherent of Sufism, which emphasises the inner, spiritual dimension of Islam,” reads the statement.

The Maldivian laws state that those seeking elected political office must be Sunni Muslims.

Police commissioner Ahmed Faseeh responded to Bari’s concerns at the NSC meeting by assuring a thorough investigation would be completed within 15 days. He called the case a serious matter.

“I will give the details [later] and I will point out everything even if it includes negligence on our side,” he said.

“We have done a lot and several have been summoned. We are determining the identity of those believed to have participated in the gathering via CCTV footage and video clips received from the public and we are summoning them,” he is quoted as saying in Haveeru.

Meanwhile, Rasheed’s detention has also attracted concern from Amnesty International.

Following RSF’s statement, Amnesty International declared Rasheed a prisoner of conscience and called for his “immediate and unconditional” release.

Calling the attack on Rasheed and his subsequent detention a “clear example of the erosion of freedom of expression in the Maldives,” Amnesty stated that,

“The continued detention of Ismail ‘Khilath’ Rasheed is in breach of international treaties on freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the Maldives is a state party.

“Amnesty International is dismayed that instead of defending Ismail ‘Khilath’ Rasheed, who has peacefully exercised his right to freedom of the expression, the government of Maldives has detained him. Moreover, the government has taken no action to bring to justice those who attacked the ‘silent’ demonstrators, even though there is credible photographic evidence of the attack.”

The debate over religious tolerance has been gathering steam for several months.

Under new regulations published by the government in September, interpreting the 1995 Religious Unity Act passed by parliament, media is “banned from producing or publicising programs, talking about or disseminating audio that humiliates Allah or his prophets or the holy Quran or the Sunnah of the Prophet (Mohamed) or the Islamic faith.”

Violation of the Act carries a prison sentence of between 2-5 years.

United Nation’s Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay spoke against flogging as a punishment for extra-marital sex in November, prompting protests and demands that she be “flayed”.

On December 23, the protests to defend Islam had members of various opposition parties and religious NGOs calling for full Shari’ah, while the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) stood for the national tradition of moderate Islam. The protests were executed peacefully, however the tense build-up prompted the United Kingdom to issue a travel advisory for the Maldives.

The Islamic Ministry today announced that it will hold a conference this Saturday and Sunday to discuss the religious controversies currently afoot in the Maldives. The ministry’s Assistant Director Admedullah Jameel has told Haveeru that 64 scholars will be in attendance.


President appoints Aasandha Board

President Mohamed Nasheed has appointed the Board of Directors for Aasandha Private Limited, the joint venture company tasked with overseeing the government’s Universal Health Insurance Program.

Ali Arif has been appointed Board Chairman, while Mohamed Shifaz, representing Allied Insurance Company of the Maldives Pvt. Ltd., is the Managing Director of Aa Sandha Pvt. Ltd.

Aasandha is a public-private partnership with Allied Insurance. Under the agreement, Allied will split the scheme’s shared 60-40 with the government. The actual insurance premium will be paid by the government, while claims, billing and public awareness will be handled by the private partner.

The Aasandha program was officially signed at Artificial Beach on December 22 with hundreds of Maldivian citizens in attendance.