Rumors abound over PPM split on appointment of new vice president

Rumors once again swirled in Malé today that former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom is opposed to his half-brother, President Abdulla Yameen, appointing the tourism minister as the new vice president. Gayoom, however, for a second time this week, denied favoring a particular candidate.

Newspaper Haveeru today said Gayoom had sent a text message to Yameen warning of negative public perception if the influential tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb is appointed vice president.

The president of 30 years promptly denied the rumor on Twitter, reiterating that the appointment of a deputy is the sole prerogative of the president. “I did not send a message to the President asking him to appoint or not appoint any person as Vice-President,” the PPM leader tweeted from Oman, where he has been sent as a special envoy of the president.

A vote on incumbent vice president Mohamed Jameel Ahmed’s impeachment is expected next week.

Supporters are meanwhile continuing a social media campaign backing Adeeb for the position. The photo campaign has now gathered some 800 participants. But critics have questioned the need for a campaign noting the president is authorized to appoint whomever he desires to the post.

President Abdulla Yameen’s silence on the new appointment, rumors over Gayoom’s opposition and the “ISupportAdeeb4VP” campaign has triggered speculation that Adeeb’s appointment as the new deputy may not be as certain as it appeared in late June, when the Majlis passed a constitutional amendment that makes Adeeb eligible for the vice presidency.

The amendment sets new age-limits of 30-65 years for the presidency and vice presidency. Adeeb is 33 years old and was previously ineligible as the constitution had said candidates must be above 35 years of age.

Soon afterwards, the tourism minister reprimanded Gayoom’s son, newly elected MP Ahmed Faris, for his absence from the vote.

Accusing Faris of letting Yameen down, Adeeb said in a text message in English: “You cannot differentiate youth or any segment with educated, non educated, poor and rich, beyfulhu [aristocrat] or non beyfulhu [non-aristocrat] etc.”

In a second text message, Adeeb told Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) MPs that President Yameen must be allowed to rule without internal resistance. “I have witnessed how difficult it is for HEP Yameen to rule with many frictions, I think we need to discuss this at party level,” he wrote.

Faris’ absence triggered speculation that Gayoom opposed Jameel’s impeachment.

Soon after Haveeru published its article today, Adeeb’s supporters took to social media expressing support for his appointment as the new presidential deputy. “The vice presidency is not reserved for individuals of a particular clan. We must change this way of thinking and allow opportunities for the younger generation,” wrote PPM member Hussain Shinan.

Moosa Anwar, one of the organisers in the campaign told Minivan News today that “the number of people participating in the campaign shows how much support Adeeb has.”

“The current vice president has fled to London and is not doing his job. We are sure Adeeb will make a better VP than Jameel,” he said.

Jameel left to London abruptly the day after the constitutional amendment was passed in Majlis. A 14-day notice for him to answer charges in an impeachment motion submitted to parliament by the ruling party expired today without a written response.

Rumours also spread today about the government is clearing out the vice president’s residence Hilaaleege. However, the Maldives National Defence Force spokesperson denied the claims.

President Yameen is meanwhile yet to publicly comment either on the vice president’s impeachment or a favoured candidate for the post.

Speaking to Minivan News today, president’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali said that “only the president will know who he will appoint to the post, if the post becomes vacated for whatever reasons.”

Yameen is reportedly seeking to replace Jameel over incompetence and disloyalty. In a meeting with the PPM parliamentary group last week, Yameen reportedly showed MPs proof of Jameel’s correspondence with opposition politicians ahead of a mass anti-government protest on May 1. In the messages Jameel reportedly asked if the opposition will let him assume the presidency if Yameen is ousted.

The opposition says Yameen wants to replace Jameel because he is fatally ill and is seeking a more loyal deputy ahead of a major surgery.

Jameel was not available for comment at the time of going to press. In an interview with the New Indian Express, he had labeled his impeachment a constitutional coup and suggested that the international community must intervene.

The PPM has secured the opposition’s backing for the impeachment motion, which was submitted with 61 signatures. A two-thirds majority or 57 votes will be required to vote Jameel out of office.

The parliament has also amended its standing orders to fast track the vice president’s impeachment.

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.

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Comment: Will the new anti-terror bill deter Maldivian ‘Jihadists’?

This op-ed is by Mohamed Hameed, the former head of the police intelligence department.

The first reports of Maldivians joining in and dying in the civil war in Syria came in during mid-2014. Since then, more than a hundred Maldivians, including women and children, are reported to have left the Maldives to fight in battle in the ongoing war in Syria and Iraq, and to live under the banner of the Islamic State. Dozens more have reportedly died. The latest are three young men from Malé’s Kuda Henveiru ward.

The Maldives needs legal measures to prevent the death and the steady outflow of Maldivians, but will the provisions in the new anti-terror bill, drafted by the Attorney General’s Office and submitted to parliament on July 6, act as a deterrent?

The bill metes out a jail term of between 17- 20 years for those who join in a foreign war or leave the Maldives with the intent of joining a foreign war. A jail term of 10 to 15 years is proposed for those who attempt to leave the Maldives with the same intent.

According to media reports, at least two groups of seven Maldivians have been caught in Sri Lanka and in Malaysia while attempting to board flights to Turkey. Under the new law, they may be jailed for up to 20 years.

Harsh penalties can act as a deterrent. But they are not enough.

The Maldives has tough laws on gang violence and knife crime. But the harsh penalties have done little to curb the fatal stabbings. In 2010, in response to a surge in murders of young men, the parliament passed a law banning threats and possession of dangerous weapons. The law metes out a jail term between six months and seven years for threats and up to three years in jail for possession of weapons. However, 12 people were killed in the ensuing two years.

In early 2014, President Abdulla Yameen’s administration removed a six-decade moratorium on the death penalty. In August of the same year, after three young men were stabbed to death in the space of a month, the parliament moved to restrict the right to remain silent and access to a lawyer for suspects. Since the amendments passed in December last year, six people have been killed, including three migrant workers.

Robust laws are never enough.

There have been multiple instances where law enforcement, especially investigative agencies have failed in dealing with cases of serious crime. This has affected public safety, and lead to questions over the force’s competence in protecting the public. The police service is perceived to operate without clear policies and strategies to tackle crime in the Maldives.

The model which the police service uses in order to achieve policing objectives is not known to the public or its officers. Counter-terrorism policing is a more complex subject where success relies heavily on how well regular police work is carried out in partnership with the communities the police service serves.

The criminalization of participation in foreign wars or attempting to do so is a minor aspect of the new anti-terrorism bill. The bill is mainly concerned with defining some 14 other offences as terrorism, including murder, disappearances, kidnappings, damaging property, hijacking vehicles, endangering public health or security, damaging public infrastructure and suspending public services. Punishments range from 20-25 years prison terms for perpetrators, and from 17-20 years for those caught planning a terror act.

Is the Maldives at threat from the above? Since the Sultan Park bomb incident of 2007, how many incidents of terror has the Maldives seen?

These questions are very important as the anti-terrorism bill curtails a host of civil liberties. The home minister is authorized to seek a monitoring and control or monicon order from the High Court to conduct surveillance of suspects, including tagging, restricting place of residence, restricting freedom of movement, intercepting communication and monitoring bank accounts. A monicon order can be issued without the knowledge of the suspect. The home minister only needs to provide the judge with a police intelligence report.

The monicon measures introduced in this bill appears to be modeled on the United Kingdom’s Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures (TPIMs) Act, passed in 2011. The law was passed in response to increasing risks of terrorism. The July 7 bombing of 2005 killed 52 and injured more than 700. Further, a significant majority of the UK’s migrant population are from Pakistan, a country considered the “epicenter of terrorism.” Do we face the same threats to justify the granting extensive powers to the law enforcement agencies and the curtailing of civil liberties?

It is also important to note that the prevention and investigative measures outlined in the UK Act is for those suspects who cannot be either prosecuted or deported by the UK authorities. In the case of this bill, monicon measures can be taken against suspects who are prosecuted and under trial, but cannot be held in custody.

While a monicon order can be sought on police intelligence information, it is important to note that there is no special law on the gathering and use of intelligence information. In the absence of such a legal or regulatory framework, there will always be questions over the credibility of such information. The provision of using intelligence in the anti-terrorism bill underscores the immediate importance of a framework on compiling intelligence reports. This framework must be agreed on by the law enforcement agencies, the prosecution authority and judiciary. Investigative agencies must be aware that intelligence information does not always count as evidence. Instead, it is good investigative practices that lead to successful convictions. A heavy dependence and high degree of admissibility for intelligence reports, as provided for in this bill, could lead to ineffective investigations.

It is true that a single act of terror can cripple the Maldives and its economy. The 1990 Anti-Terrorism Act is outdated and insufficient in dealing with the nature of modern crime. But is the proposed bill compatible with the risks Maldivians face?

The Maldivian government is yet to acknowledge how wide spread extremist ideologies are in the country. After months of pretending to have no knowledge of the number of Maldivians leaving for Syria, the home minister in December last year told the parliament there were some 7 Maldivians fighting abroad. The next month, the commissioner of police said the number was more than 50. Media reports since then indicate Maldivians are continuing to leave the country. The police have now begun questioning passengers on board flights to Turkey, even as reports indicated Maldivians were now seeking alternative routes to fly to Syria.

The risk of terrorism must not be underestimated. It is likely that there are some Maldivians with the motivation, the intent and the capabilities of carrying out acts of terror. But the most prevalent threats in the Maldives at present appear to be the recruitment of Maldivians for wars abroad and the spread of extremist ideologies. Although the bill does punish the dissemination of materials published by terrorist organizations, this is not enough to counter radical and extremist ideologies that give rise to terrorism and allow recruitment.

Comprehensive reforms and measures such as public awareness, early intervention and rehabilitation programmes to combat extremism must be put in place, along with or before the passage of this bill. There has to be a comprehensive picture on the problem of religious extremism and a cross-government strategy to tackle it. As a very first step, the government must publicly acknowledge the spread of extremist religious ideologies. Our elected officials must explain to the us the level and nature of threats we are facing and justify why we must allow the state to take away so many of our civil liberties.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to editorial@minivannewsarchive.com

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Indian arrested on child abuse charges, MP seeks publication of sex offenders registry

An Indian teacher has been arrested on charges of child sexual abuse from the island of Gemanafushi in Gaaf Alif atoll.

The 40-year-old expatriate was arrested with a court warrant around 4:20pm yesterday, a police media official said. The suspect is accused of sexually abusing under-aged girls for a long period, the official added.

The police declined to reveal further information as the investigation is ongoing, but local media has identified the suspect as an English teacher at the Gemafanushi school.

He is accused of repeatedly abusing secondary grade students.

Almost one in seven children of secondary school age in the Maldives have been sexually abused at some time in their lives, according to an unpublished 2009 study on violence against minors.

The rate of sexual abuse for boys was at 11 percent while the figure for girls were almost twice as high at 20 percent.

The arrest follows police uncovering a child prostitution ring in Fuvahmulah last week. Some 15 suspects have been arrested so far on suspicion of drugging, blackmailing, and forcing a 14-year-old girl and 16-year-old girl into prostitution.

The police said two men aged 20 and 24 were taken into custody today. The 20-year-old has a criminal record for assault and theft.

The 15 suspects in custody include people from Fuvahmulah as well as other islands, the police said.

Meanwhile, opposition Jumhooree Party MP Abdulla Riyaz has asked the parliament’s government oversight committee to investigate the failure to publicise a mandatory national registry of child sex offenders.

The former police commissioner noted that article 57 of the 2009 Child Sexual Abuse (Special Provisions) Act requires information about offenders to be made publicly available by the state agency responsible for the protection of children.

“In this regard, for the safety and protection of other citizens from offenders, and to eliminate possibilities for repetition of such offences, complete information about the offenders should be published in an internet website providing easy access to the information, and a mechanism should be established to identify offenders by their national identification numbers via short message service,” the provision states.

The former police commissioner also asked the oversight committee to determine if the relevant authorities have been negligent in protecting the victims of the Fuvahmulah child prostitution ring.

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.

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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.

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Minor arrested in the Fuvahmulah child prostitution case

Police have today arrested a 17 year old boy in Fuvahmulah child prostitution ring uncovered last week, police media has revealed.

All other suspects are aged 20-55 years, from Fuvahmulah and other islands. Currently 14 men and a woman have been arrested.

Two girls of ages 16 and 14 were tricked into using drugs and filmed naked, CNM reported. The men threatened to leak the videos and blackmailed the minors.

Sources from Fuvahmulah meanwhile told newspaper Haveeru that the girls gave police a list of 50 suspects.

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

The police began investigating the case on July 5 based on intelligence information, Superintendent Hamdhoon Rasheed told the media on Sunday.

A special  team from the Police family and child protection unit is currently  working at Fuvamulah, with the island’s police station.

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.

Almost one in seven children of secondary school age in the Maldives have been sexually abused at some time in their lives, according to an unpublished 2009 study on violence against minors.

The rate of sexual abuse for boys was at 11 percent while the figure for girls were almost twice as high at 20 percent.

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May Day protester pleads guilty to assaulting police officer

A suspect on trial for assaulting a police officer during a mass anti-government protest on May 1 has pleaded guilty to assault charges today.

At the first hearing of the trial today, Mohamed Shinan, from the Malaaz house in Shaviyani Goidhoo, reportedly admitted kicking the Specialist Operation (SO) police officer twice. Shinan noted that he had confessed to the crime during the police interrogation.

Shinan also asked for leniency in his detention when chief judge Abdulla Mohamed asked the defendant if he had anything to add.

Scores of protesters and some police officers were injured during violent clashes on the night of May 1. Video footage shows protesters tripping and kicking the SO officer and one man hitting the policeman over the head with his baton.

Sergeant Abdul Rahman Hussain was flown to Sri Lanka for medical treatment after the assault while the police publicised video footage of the incident and appealed for public assistance in locating suspects.

The prosecutor general’s office has charged 13 people over the incident. The other defendants have been given time to appoint lawyers.

The assault charge carries a jail sentence of between three to five years.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party had meanwhile accused police of torturing and threatening to kill three suspects arrested for assaulting the police officer.

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President’s office seeks new members for HRCM

The president’s office has invited interested candidates to apply for membership of the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) ahead of a 2:00pm deadline next Tuesday.

In an announcement published in the government gazette today, the president’s office said application forms and a list of required documentation are available on the president’s office website.

The five-year terms of HRCM members Dr Ali Shameem and Ahmed Abdul Kareem are due to expire in September.

Last month, President Abdulla Yameen nominated former MP Shifaq Mufeed ‘Histo,’ Aishath Afreen Mohamed, and Aminath Eenas to replace three HRCM members whose terms are due to expire in August.

The nominees were sent for evaluation by the parliament’s independent institutions committee on June 15.

Some 33 interested candidates had submitted application forms to the president’s office.

The three members whose terms are up in August are HRCM president Mariyam Azra, vice president Ahmed Tholal, and Jeehan Mahmood.

Pro-government MPs have previously accused Tholal and Jeehan of bias towards the opposition MDP, an accusation the pair deny.

Meanwhile, in a controversial ruling last month, the Supreme Court found a human rights assessment submitted by the HRCM to the UN unlawful, and imposed an 11-point guideline prescribing how the independent commission should operate within the law.

The guideline barred the HRCM from communicating with foreign organisations without government oversight.

UN rights experts, the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and civil society groups have denounced the guideline as one that restricts the HRCM’s work and its right to share information freely with the UN.

But the government said the guidelines “do no stipulate, in any specific terms, any restriction or limitation on the HRCM’s ability to submit reports to the UN or any other national or international organ in the future.”

The guideline was issued under suo moto regulations that allow the Supreme Court to prosecute and pass judgment.

In its 2014 annual report, described the suo moto proceedings as the biggest challenge the watchdog has faced in its 11-year history.

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