11,528 ‘concerned Maldivians’ asked CMAG for justice prior to Friday’s meeting

At Friday’s meeting of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) a petition was presented to the group’s ministers said to be representing “a group of concerned Maldivians” unaffiliated to any one political party.

The petition was signed by 11,528 Maldivians between September 18-24, who called upon CMAG to provide them with justice.

“The events of 6-7 February have however dashed all the hopes of the people that henceforth governments will change by free and fair elections,” read the letter.

“We are very disappointed…that the Commission of Inquiry found the transfer of power legal, and warranted to reinstate the power of the former dictatorship, which was ousted in the first democratic elections of 2008,” it continued.

“We plead that if Ministers are not in a position now to give us justice, at least to refrain from delivering us injustice. We hope that Ministers will give careful consideration to the reservations that have been expressed about the methods of work by the Commission.”

“We hope Ministers will not abandon the people of Maldives, and be with us until the genuine voice of the people are heard in a free and fair election,” it said.

The eventual outcome of the CMAG meeting saw the Maldives’ suspension from the group lifted, whilst it still remains on the group’s ‘matters of interest’.


Maldives world’s most vulnerable country to climate-change related impacts on food security

The Maldives is the world’s most vulnerable country to the food-security related impacts of climate change, a new report has found.

According to ‘Ocean-Based Food Security Threatened in a High CO2 World’, produced by global ocean protection NGO Oceana, the Maldives ranks alongside Togo and Comoros as the most vulnerable to climate-change related food security threats, due to its near total reliance on fish for protein.

The rankings were calculated by combining each nation’s exposure to climate change and ocean acidification, dependence on and consumption of fish and seafood, and level of adaptive capacity based on socioeconomic factors.

“Many of the high-ranking nations based on climate change indicators are located in the tropics and low latitudes,” the report notes.

“This reflects the general trend that fish species are predicted to be migrating toward the poles as water temperatures continue to rise. Tropical countries are the most dependent on coral reef fisheries which are severely threatened.

“Island and coastal nations depend more heavily on fish for protein, especially the poorest nations, increasing their vulnerability. Many of the poorest places are already struggling with hunger issues which will be made worse with high population growth rates and limited additional options for food.”

Half the protein consumed in the Maldives is derived from fish, the report observed, and besides providing direct food protein, countries such as the Maldives also benefited from marine tourism jobs associated with coral reefs and marine life.

“This multi-billion dollar industry could also be threatened by climate change. Therefore, further assessments should incorporate the risks to food security that come from losses in income due to the disappearance of fisheries and tourism related jobs. Local changes to marine resources from ocean acidification and climate change could ripple up through the global economy,” the report found.

‘So long and thanks for all the fish’

Minivan News has earlier reported on the decline of the fishing industry in the Maldives due to an array of factors, notably high-tech and efficient purse seiner vessels from other nations ringing the country’s exclusive economic zone. The traditional – and sustainable – pole and line method used by Maldivian fishermen has left them unable to compete with GPS enabled, sonar-equipped fish aggregation devices of these vessels.

Local fisheries have also been affected by market impacts, particularly the move by major fisheries companies in the Maldives to ship tuna to Thailand for canning and processing despite the presence of local factories – many tins sold locally in shops now have ‘packed in Thailand’ on the label.

Former head of the Maldives Industrial Fisheries Company (MIFCO), Adhil Saleem, previously informed Minivan News that changing sea surface temperatures due to climate change were also driving fish deeper, reducing the stocks within reach of the traditional pole and line method.

“Our [pole and line] method only works near the surface,” he said. “But with changes in weather and sea temperature, fish will not surface.”

According to figures from the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA), tuna fishing is the second largest export earner at US$52 million and the country’s largest employer at 40 percent, but in the last three years contributed only 2 percent of the country’s GDP, dwarfed by the tourism industry. Catches meanwhile declined eight percent in 2011.


Custom seize two men carrying books about Christianity

Customs officials at the Male’ Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) on Thursday seized 11 books about Christianity, typed in Dhivehi, from a Bangladeshi expatriate who came to the Maldives via Sri Lanka.

Speaking with the press last Thursday inside the Customs Building, Chief Customs Officer Ahmed Samah identified the Bangladeshi expat as Jathish Bisvas, 44.

Samah said the 44 year-old man had arrived to the Maldives on a  tourist visa and that it was the first time he visited Maldives.

According to Samah, customs officials were suspicious that the expat who had tried to bring the banned items into Maldives had links with a person in Male’. Samah said the Bangladeshi man had made a booking with a hotel in Male’ but did could not identify which hotel it was.

Samah said later the same day a Maldivian national was caught with similar books, after arriving to the Maldives from Sri Lanka.

The books he brought were not typed in Dhivehi, according to Samah.

Furthermore, Samah said it was highly possible that a Maldivian was behind the illegal smuggling operation given the quality of the Dhivehi language used to type the book. He also said it was a “very serious case if a Maldivian is behind this.”

He told the press that it was difficult to identify or provide further details about the suspected Maldivian man.

The pair have been handed over to police and customs and police are conducting a joint investigation into the case.

According to the Maldives Religious Unity Regulations, it is illegal in the Maldives to propagate any faith other than Islam or to engage in any effort to convert anyone to any religion other than Islam. It is also illegal to display in public any symbols or slogans belonging to any religion other than Islam, or creating interest in such articles.

It is also illegal in the Maldives to carry or display in public books on religions (other than Islam) and books and writings that promote and propagate other religions, and the translation into Dhivehi language such books and writings on other religions.

Violation of the Religious Unity Act is subject to two to five years in prison and fines up to MVR 20,000 (US$1300).


Case against Nasheed for defamation of Police Commissioner postponed indefinitely

Former President Mohamed Nasheed’s legal team on Sunday stated they had not been officially informed by the civil court of the rescheduling of the defamation case filed by Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz against Nasheed.

A member of Nasheed’s legal team, Hisaan Hussain, said they had seen local news reports that the hearing had been postponed on Riyaz’s request, but had not been officially informed. Hussain said they had no information as to when the hearing had been rescheduled to.

“The procedure is that the person who filed the case has to request for postponement at least one hour before the hearing. We don’t know when Riyaz sent in the request, we saw it in the news around 11:15pm,” Hassan said.

In addition to this, the legal team noted that they had so far not received details of the case and were not aware which action or words of Nasheed had prompted Riyaz to file the defamation case against him.

“We haven’t had any official word as to why the case has been filed. Again, through local media we have heard it was because Nasheed had called Riyaz a ‘baaghee’ (traitor). What we have heard through official means is only that it is a case for defamation, and that Riyaz wants compensation for a loss that this alleged defamation has caused him,” Hassan said.

Another member of the legal team, former Minister of Youth and Sports Hassan Latheef, pointed out that while Riyaz had filed the defamation case in the civil court, the police were continuously arresting people for calling them ‘baaghee’ (traitor) on the streets, and that the criminal court was continuing to provide extensions of detention periods for people arrested under the charges.

“The articles in the penal code against defamation has been removed. Defamation is now considered a civil offence, and yet police continue to arrest people for expressing their opinions on the police force under what can only be perceived as charges of defamation,” Latheef said.

A second  case regarding similar defamation allegations against Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim is also pending.

Hassan added that they believed the police were arresting people under the directives coming from the Commissioner of Police. Emphasizing the contradiction, Hassan further said, “We believe this is something Riyaz needs to answer to the people for. This is because people are continuing to be arrested, jailed and charged for the matter. The Police Commissioner needs to make up his mind whether he perceives defamation as a civil or criminal offence.”

In response to a question posed by Minivan News, Latheef said that Nasheed would respect the decisions reached by the National Executive Council (NEC) of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), referring to the NEC’s decision to not abide by court orders until the changes proposed by international community are brought to the Maldivian judicial system.

“Since President Nasheed is MDP’s presidential candidate, he accepts that a decision by the NEC is one that he, too, would wish to abide by in principle. The NEC, after much consideration, came to that decision. Hence President Nasheed believes that he will act in accordance with it,” Latheef said.

The legal team stated that Nasheed would decide whether or not to attend the hearing once he is officially notified of the rescheduling by the civil court.

MDP International Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor told Minivan News today that the MDP would go ahead with the scheduled trip to the atolls, although the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court has placed Nasheed under island arrest with regard to a case against him for the arrest of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed.

“We will be leaving tomorrow for the southern campaign. We will not budge,” he said.

Minivan News tried contacting Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz, but he was not responding to calls.

Maldives Police Services Media Official Sub Inspector Hassan Haneef was also not responding to calls.


Island President “a depressing reminder of world’s vested interests”: Jon Shenk

Filming primarily during the former president’s first year in office, Director of the Island President Jon Shenk and his team trailed him around the globe, filming everything from the underwater cabinet meetings – where Nasheed conducted with ministers all wearing scuba gear to highlight the problems of rising water levels – to his trip to the UN, Westminster and Copenhagen’s Environment Summit to beseech Western diplomats to act quickly in the name of global environmental protection, writes Caroline Frost for the Huffington Post.

Shenk had different problems from those of Nasheed, but equal challenges:

“I think he had an amazing amount of trust, but we quickly learned that there’s a reason why a film about this state’s leader had never been made before. It’s just so difficult to get access to everything, whether it’s cabinet meetings, or family life, and then it becomes 1000 times more difficult once you leave that country, and you’re dealing bilaterally with other leaders, other heads of state, it was pretty much a constant battle.”

Unfortunately, Shenk stopped filming shortly before Nasheed was ousted from office in a coup orchestrated by the tyrannous regime his government had replaced. As events raced ahead of him, Shenk added an end card to his film so viewers were kept updated:

“The film ended on a high with him still president, then by the film was released in cinemas in the US and UK, the coup had happened, and it changes the way that the film affects people.

“In a way, the film is completely unchanged by events because so much about his first year in office and the drama of him fighting that struggle at Copenhagen, but in other ways, it’s a depressing reminder of the vested interests that exist in the world, in keeping things the way they are, money interests controlling the day, even in countries where there is a strong independent national propensity to move towards democracy.”

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Gasim receives ‘lifetime achievement’ award at Maldives Travel Awards

The Maldives’ first ever travel awards ceremony was held at Paradise Island Resort on Friday evening to mark 40 years of tourism in the country.

The event, organised by the Maldives Association of Travel Agents and Tour Operators (MATATO), was sponsored by India’s GMR, the current developers of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) which is expected to welcome over one million visitors into the country this year.

Following the opening of the events by some of the Maldives’ top musical acts, including Unoosha, Barchi, Ritte and Mummu, 21 awards were distributed for the categories of resorts, hotels, liveaboards and aviation.

The MATATO appointed judging panel included Dr. Mahamood Shougee (Former Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation and Former Minister of Education), Dr. Ahmed Adham Abdulla (CEO of Maldives Transport and Contracting Company), Ms. Zeenaz Hussain (Dean of Faculty of Hospitality and Tourism Studies), and Mr. Ghaly Murthala (Tourism Development Consultant for FJS Consulting Pvt Ltd).

Amongst the individual award winners on the night was Gasim Ibrahim, owner of Villa Hotels – the parent company of Paradise Island and current leader of the government aligned Jumhooree Party (JP) – who received a lifetime achievement award.

The Hulhule’ Island Hotel (HIH) also won the award for best luxury hotel whilst Paradise Island resort won the award for leading business hotel. The Villa group also picked up an award for leading domestic airport.

Mr Maleeh Jamal – formerly head of MATATO and current Deputy Tourism Minister – was also in line for a personal award, receiving an appreciation plaque alongside Abdulla Jabir – Deputy Leader of the JP – and Yoosuf Riffath, managing director of Capital Travel.

“The event was very successful, and we thank all the sponsors and MATATO for their assistance and support in making the first Maldives Travel Awards a grand success,” said Ismail Hameed, Director of Marketing for the event’s management company, High Rise.

“We also thank all the nominees and congratulate all the winners, and hope that more resorts, hotels, Liveaboards, airlines and airports will participate in next year’s awards,” he added.

Friday’s award winner Maleeh Jamal declared that the “hard days were over” for Maldives tourism, the country’s primary industry, responsible for over 70 percent of the country’s GDP.

Amidst the uncertainty since February’s power transfer, tourism authorities in the country have pursued a strategy of collaboration with the country’s private sector to try and strengthen arrival numbers to the country.

This focus included signing a US$250,000 (Rf3.8million) advertising deal to promote the country’s tourism industry on the BBC through sponsorship of its weather services.

In April, the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) confirmed the appointment of New-York based public relations agency Ruder Finn to “oversee the overall media coordination and achievement of PR related solution for destination Maldives.”

Despite the scepticism of some leading branding consultants about the ease with which the Maldives can overcome the negative headlines of this year, Maleeh anticipated increased growth in the coming months.

Arrival numbers to the Maldives between January and August this year totalled 614,802 people – an increase of 2.9 percent compared to the same period during 2011.


Sun, sand, closing arguments: Travel and Leisure

Talk about spoiling the mood: If you’re going to the Maldives for a romantic getaway, the islands’ deposed president has a great suggestion for you: Settle into your hotel room, then watch his trial on TV, reports Katrina Brown Hunt for Travel and Leisure.

Depending on whom you ask, Mohamed Nasheed either stepped down, or was ousted, from office earlier this year. Either way, he is now facing charges of abusing his power and will be tried by what he calls a “kangaroo court.”

The former prez says that tourists should know that some luxury resorts may have backed his coup after he had hoped to market the islands – which has long attracted both honeymooners and A-list guests such as Tom Cruise, Jennifer Aniston and Mick Jagger—to more middle-income travelers.

While normally we wouldn’t advise holing up with the telly during an island getaway, this trial could have compelling entertainment value, kangaroos notwithstanding, thanks to the colorful Nasheed.

While still in power, for instance, Nasheed once held a cabinet meeting underwater, to call attention to climate change. Today, he’s also concerned that the current administration wants to do away with kissing on beaches. “We grew up kissing each other on the beach,” he told reporters, “so it seems strange that our children won’t be allowed to do it.” Strange indeed.

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Canadian Foreign Minister “glad that Maldives remains on CMAG agenda”

“Canada with others fought to keep Maldives on the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group agenda, and we are glad it remains there,” said Canadian Foreign Minister and member of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), John Baird.

“We will continue to focus on anti-democratic activities in the Maldives, especially in terms of police brutality, and intimidation of opposition parliamentarians,” said Baird in a statement released by the Canadian government.

“Canada is deeply troubled by the reported September 25 travel ban of former President Nasheed in Malé,” he added.

Baird’s statement evinces a level of confusion following CMAG’s decision yesterday to revoke the Maldives’ suspension from participation in the group’s affairs, whilst retaining it under the ‘matters of interest’ on its agenda.

Local media immediately ran with the headline “CMAG removes Maldives from official agenda” whilst the Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed tweeted, “Congratulating Maldives, CMAG has removed Maldives from its Agenda, it proves that the current government is for Rule of Law.”

Baird, present at yesterday’s meeting alongside President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan, expressed his concern at Waheed’s response when he was asked “about the persecution of 19 Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) politicians and party officials.”

“President Waheed offered no substantial defence of these questions, which is a telling response in itself,” said Baird. “Canada finds the declining state of democratic values in the Maldives alarming and deeply troubling.”

“The recently adopted Commission of National Inquiry report has raised substantial concerns about the independence of the judiciary. That too causes Canada grave concern as we strive to assure independent open elections in the Maldives,” he added.

The MDP last week documented such instances of perceived harassment in a press release titled “Immunity Watch Maldives”.

The CMAG meeting coincided with a nationwide demonstration by Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in protest against Nasheed’s travel ban which the courts have defended as standard practice.

MDP spokesman Imthiyaz Fahmy told Minivan News that the 7,000 people marched around the island yesterday afternoon what he described as “one of the biggest [protests]  in recent times.”

He stated that there had been no confrontations with police, a fact confirmed by Police Spokesman Sub–Inspector Hassan Haneef who confirmed that there had been no arrests.

At the MDP’s National Executive Council, local media reported former Minister of Housing Mohamed Aslam as saying that Nasheed would not comply with the court-issued travel ban following the party’s decision to reject the authority of the courts.

“We are prepared to do the necessary to get him onboard. We are willing to sacrifice, to ensure that Nasheed does not lose his presidential candidacy. We will not give in. We are prepared follow Nasheed to prison,” Aslam is reported as saying.

Nasheed’s legal team expressed its deep concerns over the legality of the court’s procedures regarding Nasheed’s multiple trials regarding defamation of cabinet ministers and the detention of Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed.

Nasheed was scheduled to travel to the Southern atolls as part of his campaign for the constitutionally mandated elections in 12 months time.

Imthiyaz confirmed that Nasheed would be travelling with the party on Monday although he was unsure as to whether the former president would be in court tomorrow for the first of his two defamation cases.

Nasheed had previously requested that the criminal case regarding Abdulla Mohamed be expedited and was reported as being keen to have his day in court.

Baird’s statement pledged Canada’s intention to “forcefully” raise its concerns at subsequent CMAG meetings in order to ensure the Commonwealth’s values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law are not violated.

CMAG’s power to protect these values was strengthened during a meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) in Perth in 2009.

During a speech made during the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) earlier this week, President Waheed made aimed a thinly veiled attack at the Commonwealth, questioning the 54-member organisation’s commitment to equity and the rule of law.

Previous expressions of concern regarding politicisation of the legal process made by Baird at the beginning of August were condemned by the Maldivian government as “one-sided” and “misleading”.


Police commence search for suspect in Hajj pilgrimage payment “fraud”

The Maldives Police Service has commenced a search for a 42-year old Hulhumale’-based businessman wanted for questioning on suspicion of fraudulently collecting funds from Hajj pilgrims.

According to local media, Ismail Abdul Latheef, head of the Maleesha Hajj and Umra Group is under investigation by police for alleged fraud concerning payments received by his company for this year’s Hajj Pilgrimage.

Police have said that attempts are ongoing to locate and question Latheef, who is suspected of having fled the country, the Sun Online news service has reported.

Authorities have claimed that 52 complaints have so far been received over alleged payments made to the Maleesha Hajj and Umra Group.

Police Spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef was not responding to calls at the time of press.