Inmate found hanged in Maafushi prison

A 35 year-old inmate was found hanged in his cell in Maafushi jail on Tuesday morning, according to Home Minister Hassan Afeef.

Speaking to press this afternoon, Afeef said Abdul Munnim, H. Cozy Corner, who was serving a sentence on drug-related charges, was found dead at around 11.35am in the fifth cell in unit three.

The deceased was alone in the cell today as his cell mate was in Male’ for medical treatment, Afeef explained.

The Home Minister promised a full and thorough investigation “to determine if there was any foul play and if we believe anyone else is culpable, we will take legal action against them.”

A team of journalists was allowed to visit Maafushi jail later in the afternoon by the Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation Services (DPRS) under the Home Ministry.

The family of another inmate in Maafushi jail told Minivan News that some inmates claimed to have “heard a man shouting last night.”

“The inmates knew about his death this morning when prison officers told them about it,” the family member said. “The prisoners said they remember hearing a man shouting that night.”

“The prison officers said that it was a suicide and that he hanged himself using a bedsheet,” he continued. “But that cell he was in when he died is a very small cell and there is no way a person could hang himself to death because that cell will not have enough height.”

The source further claimed that according to prison officers, the deceased was found in a sitting position and his neck was tied to the fence.

“Besides, prison officers are always on duty and it would be impossible to commit suicide in that cell because that’s not a regular cell,” he said. “Prisoners are put there usually when they are caught with something illegal like a mobile phone. The inmates heard that he was put there after prison officers found a mobile [in his possession].”

The source alleged that prison guards told prisoners that the man died of torture and that guards tied his neck to the fence using a bedsheet.

Home Minister Afeef and State Minister for Home Affairs, Mohamed ‘Monaza’ Naeem, currently in charge of DPRS, were unavailable for comment at time of press.

The President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair meanwhile told Minivan News that he believed there was “no institutionalised torture permitted under this government,” adding that torture by prison guards would be “a criminal act.”

“There’s no regimen of punishment that could be described as torture,” he said. “Inmates are under lock and key and are looked after. This government does not condone torture and if someone is accused of such a despicable offence, it will be investigated.”

A senior government official noted that it was possible there still existed remnants of “a culture of torture” among staff in the DPRS persisting from the former government, which faced many allegations of custodial abuse.

Heroin epidemic

In March 2009, Minivan News reported that five heroin addicts died of either overdose or suicide in the space of one month.

On 20 March, Abdullah Shiham, 33, an inmate at Maafushi jail serving a 25-year sentence for drug possession, was found dead in his cell. Police revealed at the time that the inmate died of a benzodiazepine overdose.

A forensic examination of drugs seized had uncovered that heroin sold on the streets was laced with benzodiazepine, a class of psychoactive drugs, according to police.

The combination of benzodiazepine with opiates is known to lead to coma and even death.

A week after the inmate’s death, a 33-year old woman hanged herself in Male’. According to her family, she had been in the local rehabilitation centre some years ago and had been sent abroad for treatment on many different occasions.

She committed suicide two months after police caught her with a small amount of heroin and was subsequently fired from her job.

The night before, on 24 March, police rescued a drug addict in Male’ as he attempted to hang himself.

Earlier in the month, another drug addict, a 29-year old woman, was found hanged at her house. She was reportedly denied the chance of rehabilitation by the authorities.

Over 70 percent of inmates in Maafushi jail were incarcerated for drug abuse, possession or drug-related offences.

A discussion paper on judicial reform prepared in June 2005 noted that between February 2000 and September 2003, there was a 243 percent rise in persons serving prison terms, of which 80 percent were convicted of drug offences and 75 percent of those were under 30 years of age.


MDP protest turns violent outside Gayoom’s residence

A protest launched by the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) turned violent today after party activists clashed with supporters of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in front of his residence Enderimaage, in the Maafanu ward of Male’.

MDP MPs and activists gathered outside the Supreme Court at 3pm this afternoon in anticipation of a verdict in a case filed by Umar Naseer – an interim council member of Gayoom’s Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) – challenging the legitimacy of Thimarafushi MP Mohamed Musthafa’s candidacy on the grounds that he had a decreed debt.

Earlier in the day, the MDP national council conducted an emergency meeting and approved a resolution to launch a protest against the judiciary, claiming judges were unduly influenced by the former President and his half-brother MP Abdulla Yameen.

However a verdict was not delivered by the Supreme Court today, which said the hearing was called “to clarify a few points after reviewing the case.”

After Musthafa emerged from the hearing, the protesters marched towards Endherimaage, where violent clashes erupted between MDP activists and a few Gayoom supporters blocking the entrance to his residence.

The clashes occurred after a large piece of wood allegedly thrown from Endherimaage struck a 17-year-old demonstrator or bystander, who was immediately rushed to hospital on a passing pick-up.

Minivan News journalists at the scene observed gravel, rocks, hot water and sharp metal raining down on protesters from the top floors or terrace of Endherimaage.

Several activists claimed they saw Gassan Maumoon, former President Gayoom’s son, throw stones and pour boiling hot water on the protesters.

MDP activists meanwhile threw large stones at Endhirmaage and attempted to break down the door.

Some windows of the house were smashed while a car parked outside was damaged.

The 17-year-old is currently undergoing surgery at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH). A number of MDP MPs and senior members are waiting at the hospital.

MP Ali Waheed told state broadcaster MNBC that the boy was behind MP Alhan Fahmy when the piece of wood struck him straight on the head.

MNBC One showed blood stains on the MPs’ shirt, which Ali Waheed said resulted from the injury to the boy. The state broadcaster also reported that other people at the area were hurt from falling objects.

Speaking to Minivan News outside IGMH, the brother of the injured boy said that according to doctors “his skull was damaged and parts of the skull have gone inside his brain.”

“He was hit in the right side of his head and the left side of his body is now paralysed,” the relative said.

Doctors could not predict how long the surgery would take, he added.

”The doctors said the surgery was to remove the particles from inside his brain,” he said.

Some of the MDP supporters outside the hospital claimed the boy was hit by a wooden door hurled from the terrace of Endherimaage by Gassan Maumoom.

Police spokesman Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam confirmed to Minivan News that police were investigating reports that the object was thrown from the Endherimaage building.

“We are questioning the witnesses to try and determine how this happened,” Shiyam said.

“This is a very serious issue. Because of this there might be other problems and we do not want there to be political violence.”

Meanwhile in an interview with private broadcaster DhiTV this evening, Gayoom condemned the protest and claimed the violence was organised by the government.

Gayoom said he saw senior MDP members such as Male’ City Mayor ‘Maizan’ Ali Manik and Executive Services Secretary at the President’s Office Mohamed Ziyad. Minivan News also observed Ziyad and Maizan Alibe at the protest.

“They came with their activists and attacked my home,” Gayoom said. “They attacked nearby houses as well.”

As riot police were not at the scene to intercede, said Gayoom, Chief of Defence Forces Moosa Jaleel and Police Commissioner Ahmed Faseeh should “personally bear responsibility” for the damage.

Gayoom said he would inform foreign governments of today’s events.


Transparency asks authorities to investigate MPs for bribery over committee allowance justifications

Transparency Maldives has strongly condemned remarks by MPs justifying their newly inflated allowances by claiming that large portions of their salaries were spent on meeting demands from constituents.

MPs from both major parties have previously admitted that a large, usually undisclosed proportion of their salaries is spent on medical treatment, education and other requests from their electorate – a symptom of an enduring culture of patronage that persists in the Maldives – and confessed that ignoring these demands in such a culture of expectation is extremely difficult.

However, “Transparency Maldives believes such actions fall under article 3 of of the anti-corruption law and article 13 of the Anti-Corruption Commission Act regarding bribery,” Transparency said. “If such acts have taken place Transparency Maldives calls upon the relevant authorities to conduct investigations and take legal measures.”

The statement notes that 16 MPs have so far informed parliament’s secretary-general that they did not wish to take the Rf 20,000 (US$1300) allowance.

Today a group of citizens concerned about parliament’s committee allowances gathered in front of the Finance Ministry and presented a petition signed by more than 1000 people to the ministry, later intercepting President Nasheed as he left the Ministry.

The President spoke with the gathered activists and was requested to sign the petition himself, but asked why he should sign a petition that was to be presented to him anyway.

President Nasheed reportedly told the group that the government had no other choice but to issue the funds for the committee allowances as it had been already approved by parliament. The Rf20,000 allowance was initially approved on December 28, 2010 as part of a pay scale recommended by parliament’s Public Accounts Committee.

Nasheed explained that it was not a matter of whether he supported the allowance, but that “when parliament makes it legally binding the government does not have any discretion [to overrule the parliament’s decision].”

Project Cordinator of Transparency Maldives Aiman Rasheed told Minivan News that the campaign against the committee allowance will continue and there was hope for success.

”Today we presented the Finance Ministry 1365 letters signed by concerned citizens and eight cabinet members, plus high-profile people across the country,” he said.

”We have made plans to continue the letter campaign and to make the citizens aware of the impacts of this committee allowance.”

MP salaries have increased 18-fold since 2004, according to a graph released by the NGO.

The committee allowance was Rf18 million, Rasheed said. ”In comparison, the budget to combat drugs is Rf 14 million, the budget subsiding the fishing industry is Rf12 million, medical services Rf18 million and the budget for small and medium businesses is Rf16 million,” he said, adding that these areas would be impacted by the increased expenditure on MPs.

Opposition Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP) MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom on his Facebook page said receiving the allowance made him feel like “Robin Hood”. Responding to criticism that such a justification would taint future elections by making them unfair for political challengers, he replied that “when the President appoints ‘directors’ for paper-companies and pays millions in public money to promote MDP…. that’s very unfair too. Why don’t we see any protest on that? This is my way of ‘protest’ for irresponsible ‘politically aligned’ spending of the government.”

The government has previously contested that expenditure on the 244 political appointees in the executive branch represented only two percent of the state’s wage bill, or Rf99 million (US$6.4 million) a year, a figure DR Mausoom has previously claimed represents “the tip of the iceberg”.

“The whole country was corporatised,” he explained. “There’s a roads corporation and all sorts of corporations. The people appointed to the boards of these corporations are all purely political appointees. They were appointed directly by the President to promote a political agenda.”

Dr Mausoom told Minivan News today that the moment he received the allowance he would start spending the same amount on his constituency for social projects.

“There is no benefit for the people in keeping the money in the government’s treasury because they will spend it all on political appointees,” he said.

“The real issue is that one institution has too much power. Parliament should not have the power to set their own salaries.”


Gayoom, Z-faction MPs quit DRP to form new party

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, founder and ‘Honorary Leader’ (Zaeem) of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), resigned his post and left the party today followed by MPs of the DRP’s breakaway ‘Zaeem’ faction.

DRP Media Coordinator Ali Solih confirmed to Minivan News today that apart from Gayoom’s letter of resignation, the party has so far received letters from MPs Ahmed Mahlouf, Ahmed Nihan Hussein Manik and Ali Arif.

The Z-faction began collecting signatures to register a new party last night with Gayoom’s half-brother Abdulla Yameen becoming the first person to sign. Yameen has resigned as leader of minority opposition People’s Alliance (PA) and declared his intention to contest in the new party’s presidential primary.

Former DRP Deputy Leader Ilham Ahmed, who quit the party yesterday, was the second signatory after the MP for Mulaku.

After months of factional strife and a litany of grievances aired in the media, Gayoom withdrew his endorsement of DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali in March this year, accusing his successor of “acting dictatorially” and violating the party’s charter in the controversial dismissal of Deputy Leader Umar Naseer.

Of the four deputy leaders elected in its third congress in March 2010, only Ibrahim ‘Mavota’ Shareef now remain. Deputy Leader Ali Waheed defected to the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in May.

In his letter of resignation submitted today, Gayoom said he was “forced” to leave the party he had formed on July 21, 2005 because the DRP had become “politically toothless.”

“And you [Thasmeen] keep saying clearly in the media that you do not need my counsel,” reads the letter shared with local media. “The consequence of that was the loss of hope citizens had in this party. And DRP getting the bad name of the party that gives way to the government while remaining in name a responsible opposition party.”

Vili-Maafanu MP Ahmed Nihan told Minivan News that he expects the registration forms to be submitted to the Elections Commission (EC) tomorrow.

“We decided to form this party because found out that we cannot work along with DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, and we had difficulties in working within the DRP parliamentary group,” Nihan said. “So the only way we can work in accordance of with our principles is to form a new party.’’

While the Z-faction has been functioning independently of the DRP council since April this year, Nihan added that supporters of former President Gayoom had met him on numerous occasions to request that he create a new party.

“We requested him to change his mind and to form this party many times, but then he did not wanted to form a new party, but we are very grateful that he has now changed his mind and decided to form this party,” he said.

Nihan said the main goal of the party was to return to government by defeating the MDP in the next presidential election.

“Many experienced politicians have expressed interest in this party and have singed to this party, and I was surprised that many MDP supporters as well as many citizens that have never joined a party has signed up,” he claimed.

“It is to be noted that we will go for a primary to elect our presidential candidate, and this is a party open for everyone, the ladders to climb up are open for everyone,” he said.

A name for the new party has not yet been finalised, Nihan said.

Z-faction spokesperson and Galolhu South MP Ahmed Mahlouf meanwhile reiterated that Thasmeen was “making deals with the government.”

Mahlouf called Thasmeen “incompetent and dictatorial,” adding that it was “not possible for anyone to work with him.”

“Thasmeen always put his interest and that of his family and associates above everything else,” he said.

DRP Media Cordinator Ali Solih said Thasmeen will publicly respond to the points raised in Gayoom’s letter.

Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid, a member of the DRP council, meanwhile told local media yesterday that the Z-faction’s breakaway activities would see the party “cut up to little pieces.”

Meanwhile President Nasheed’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair said at a press conference today that he doubted whether the former President would attract as much support as he expected.

“Maumoon won’t be able to gather as many members as he expects and I feel that he won’t get the support he expects either,” Zuhair predicted.


Deputy Speaker invokes authority to forcibly evict disruptive MPs

Four MPs of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party’s (DRP) breakaway Z-faction were forcibly removed from the chamber today after Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim invoked the Speaker’s authority to evict disruptive MPs by force from the parliament floor.

Z-DRP MPs Ahmed Mahlouf, Ilham Ahmed and Ali Arif were forcibly taken out of the chamber by MNDF officers while MP Ahmed Nihan left of his own accord.

All four MPs had been ordered to leave by the Deputy Speaker after repeatedly advising disruptive MPs to return to their seats.

“I believe we have to find a solution to Majlis sittings being stopped because of this issue,” Nazim said this morning when Mahlouf refused to leave after about 15 minutes. “I intend to go ahead with getting the MP out under article 54(g). I am adjourning the sitting to do this.”

MPs of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) cheered and applauded the decision. The ruling party MPs had bolted the chamber doors and refused to let opposition MPs leave yesterday.

Article 54(g) of the parliamentary rules of procedure states that the Speaker has the authority to expel an MP who refuses to leave the chamber despite the Speaker’s ruling “in a way that does not undermine the sanctity of the People’s Majlis.”

Crowds of activists and supporters of both parties had gathered outside the parliament building to continue yesterday’s protest. However police had cordoned off the area and used pepper spray to control confrontations between rival supporters.

Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam told Minivan News that while “a few people were temporarily detained,” the scuffles and disturbances were not serious and no one was arrested.

Today’s sitting was meanwhile adjourned a number of times to evict the Z-DRP MPs. However following the expulsion of Vili-Maafanu MP Ahmed Nihan from the chamber, proceedings went ahead smoothly with the exception of disruptive points of order raised by some opposition MPs, notably People’s Alliance (PA) MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla and Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) MP Riyaz Rasheed.

The Z-DRP MPs had contended that a sitting held last week to approve the composition of committees was “unlawful” as MPs were informed via text message just two hours before it began at 8.30pm.

The vote to approve a compromise reached by parliamentary group (PG) leaders over the committee composition was taken while Z-DRP MPs were protesting in front of the secretariat desk. Following the vote, Z-faction MPs vowed to disrupt future sittings in protest.

10.00am: MNDF officers have reportedly entered the chamber and are pleading with MP Mahlouf to leave the chamber.

10.30am: Police have used pepper spray to control protestors and arrested some activists. Male’ City Councillors are reportedly among the crowd.

10:40am: Nazim’s party, minority opposition People’s Alliance (PA), alleged yesterday that the Deputy Speaker suffered an injury in a scuffle with Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs yesterday. “We consider this a criminal offence carried out by some members belonging to MDP and we condemn the act in the strictest of terms. We call on the authorities to investigate the matter,” the party said in a statement. Haveeru published a photograph of a cut finger. Nazim’s explained that his finger was caught between his desk and a chair placed by an MDP MP to block him from leaving the Speaker’s chair.

10:57am: MP Mahlouf has been removed from the chamber by MNDF officers on orders from Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim.

11:50am: Majlis sitting has been adjourned again shortly after it began when MP Ahmed Ilham was ordered to leave the chamber but refused to comply with Deputy Speaker Nazim’s order.

12:10pm: Z-DRP MP Ahmed Mahlouf has told Minivan News that the Deputy Speaker called out his name and ordered him to leave the chamber when he raised a point of order to inquire about some documents missing from his desk.

”I left an agreement and some very important documents on my desk last night and when I came this morning it was missing, so I took point of order to ask about it,” he said.

Mahlouf said that Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) officers came inside the chamber and “dragged me outside using force.”

“Later while I was standing outside, MDP MP Ali Waheed (former DRP deputy leader) came at me, spit in my face and hit me on the face,” he claimed.

Newspaper Haveeru has reported that its journalists witnessed part of the altercation and saw Mahlouf strike Waheed in the back.

12:16pm: MNDF officers have reportedly removed Ilham from the chamber.

12:33pm: MP Ali Arif has also been removed by MNDF officers after he refused to leave the chamber when ordered by Deputy Speaker Nazim.

1:10pm: Majlis sitting has resumed at 1pm without the three evicted Z-DRP MPs. Deputy Speaker Nazim is proceeding with the agenda items. Debate on the government’s proposed amendment to the Import-Export Act of 1979 has begun. The amendment bill is being presented to the floor by MDP MP for Maafanu South Ibrahim Rasheed.

1:42pm: Deputy Speaker Nazim has repeatedly appealed for calm after Z-DRP MPs Ahmed Nihan, Abdul Muhsin Hameed and PA MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla raised points of order to protest the removal of opposition MPs by force. MP Ibrahim Muttalib resumed speaking in the debate but a number of opposition MPs are on their feet in protest. “I don’t believe I can continue speaking in this environment,” Muttalib has said.

1:45pm: Deputy Speaker Nazim has ordered Nihan to leave the chamber and adjourned the sitting.

2:00pm: The sitting has resumed after Nihan left the chamber without being escorted out by MNDF officers.

3:30pm: Today’s sitting of parliament has just concluded. Debate on the proposed amendment to the Import Export Act was completed while preliminary debate began on the Business Profit Tax Bill.


MDP MPs bolt chamber doors, demand sittings go ahead

Supporters and activists of both main parties surrounded the parliament building in protest today after a third consecutive sitting was disrupted by MPs of the main opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party’s (DRP) breakaway Z-faction.

In a protest of their own, MPs of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) bolted the chamber doors and refused to let opposition MPs leave.

Maafanu North MP Imthiyaz Fahmy told Minivan News that MDP MPs shut the chamber door at about 1pm when the sitting resumed after being adjourned in the morning.

“We said Majlis has to go ahead because it has been stopped everyday while there are important economic bills to pass,” he said. “Every day they bring the sitting to a halt and everybody just goes home. Today we said nobody can leave.”

He revealed that the MDP MPs opened the doors at 2.30pm when sittings usually come to an end.

Imthiyaz strongly criticised the Z-DRP MPs for disrupting three consecutive sittings “on orders from [former President] Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.”

“Every day it is just three or four people stopping Majlis,” he said. “These Z-faction MPs don’t even have any legal status. Because if they belonged to a party, they would recognise the party’s leader and accept his decisions.”

Shortly after today’s sitting began at 9.00am, Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim adjourned it when Z-DRP MPs, Ahmed Mahlouf and Ahmed Ilham, refused to comply with an order to leave the chamber.

Both MPs were protesting in front of the secretariat desk when the Deputy Speaker ordered them out after repeatedly advising the MPs to return to their seat – the Z-DRP MPs have now disrupted three consecutive sittings after vowing to do so in protest of the recently approved committee composition.

Under article 54(f) of the parliamentary rules, sittings cannot continue if an MP ordered out remains in the chamber.

Minivan News will continue to cover the situation here as it develops.

2:38pm: MDP supporters have gathered near parliament and are attempting to climb inside. Police are in the area attempting to control the situation.

2:40pm: MDP activists told Minivan News they would “knock down” any opposition MP attempting to leave the parliament.

2:57pm: Activists outside are claiming: “You [MPs] have taken thousands from the state budget to pay your salaries, but have done nothing for the citizens.”

3:15pm: Independent MP Mohamed Nasheed said he left the building shortly before the incident began. MPs inside the building have so far not responded to calls.

3:16pm: Opposition MPs have left the building however MDP MPs remain in the chamber. Former Parliamentary Group Leader Reeko Moosa Manik told media that they would not leave until the sitting was resumed.

3:18pm: Opposition and ruling party supporters have gathered at the same gate and are trying to break the police line and enter parliament. Minivan News observed that the crowd includes supporters of both parties, one shouting about Gayoom (“Golhaabo”), the other about President Mohamed Nasheed (“Ganjabo”).

3.50pm: Scuffles have broken out between MDP and Z-DRP activists. Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam told Minivan News that police are attempting to “bring the situation under control.” Police have formed lines to separate the two groups of supporters.

4.10pm: According to the MDP website, chamber doors were opened shortly before 3pm and some opposition MPs have left the building.

5.42pm: Police have used pepper spray on the protestors while opposition MPs are reportedly being escorted out of the building under guard. Police are warning that the crowd will be dispersed by force.

6.23pm: Crowd has begun to disperse and thin out.

6.55pm: The MDP’s National Council has passed a resolution calling its members in the atolls to come to Male’ to participate in “a large demonstration” in protest of “the Majlis being hijacked by a few members encouraged by former President Maumoon [Abdul Gayoom].”

The resolution proposed by Madaveli MP Mohamed Nazim and seconded by Hoarafushi MP Ahmed Rasheed was passed with 58 votes in favour and two against.

6.57pm: A number of MDP activists are continuing the protest outside all three gates of parliament. The activists have issued a warning to police that they will storm the building between 8.00pm and 8.30pm. They continue to call for opposition MPs to come out.

8.45pm: MDP MP Ahmed Sameer has told protestors still outside parliament that the party is trying to hold a sitting tonight. Among the five MPs designated to preside over sittings in the absence of both the Speaker and Deputy Speaker include MDP parliamentary group leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.

10.40pm: Tomorrow’s agenda has been published on the Majlis website. Addressing protestors earlier tonight, MDP Chairperson “Reeko” Moosa Manik said that the rules of procedure allowed sittings to be held in the absence of either the Speaker or Deputy Speaker: “We don’t mind if it starts tomorrow morning or at 12 midnight, we are here to do this […] It is not the spirit of the constitution for two members to stop Majlis and bring it to a halt for weeks on end. We showed them today. We were able to bolt the doors and sit in front of the doors. We can do it again. They had to stay inside until we opened the door.”

Moosa alleged that the forced cancellations were “planned in advance at the Deputy Speaker’s office.” The former MDP parliamentary group leader said that the party was ready to pass all the taxation bills in one sitting if necessary.


Military ordered to ensure order in chamber as disruptive MPs force Majlis cancellation

Parliament entered its third week of deadlock with the imposed cancellation of today’s sitting by Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim after opposition MP Ali Arif refused to comply with an order to leave the chamber.

Arif and his fellow MPs of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party’s (DRP) breakaway Z-faction had vowed to disrupt future sittings in protest of the “unlawful sitting” last week where a compromise to revise the composition of committees was approved by a 36-1 vote.

Shortly after today’s sitting began at 9.00am, the DRP MP for Vaikaradhoo was protesting in front of the secretariat desk when Nazim – presiding in the absence of Speaker Abdulla Shahid – ordered the MP out after repeatedly advising Arif to return to his seat.

“Article 54 of the rules of procedure states that an MP [ordered to leave the chamber] cannot participate in the remainder of the sitting,” said Nazim, announcing the cancellation after resuming the sitting around 11.15am. “Therefore, I cannot continue today’s sitting with the MP participating.”

At last week’s sitting on Tuesday (July 5), which took place at 8.30pm following repeated cancellations, Z-DRP MPs contended that the committee issue was tabled in the agenda in violation of parliamentary rules. In addition, the MPs claimed that the sitting was not legitimate as they were were informed on very short notice via text messages.

However Speaker Abdulla Shahid pushed ahead with the vote while MPs of the Z-faction along with minority opposition People’s Alliance (PA) and Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) MPs were out of their seats protesting in front of the secretariat desk.

After the result was announced, MPs of the rival opposition faction chased Speaker Shahid, loudly berating him as he left the chamber.

The announcement was met with cheers and applause from MPs of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

While journalists at the public viewing gallery were hurriedly ushered out, Minivan News understands that security personnel and some MDP MPs stepped in between the Speaker and his former colleagues.

Calling in the MNDF

Meanwhile in the wake of the Z-DRP MPs’ threats to disrupt future sittings, Major General Moosa Ali Jaleel met with opposition MPs yesterday. The army chief reportedly informed them that the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) would escort MPs out of the chamber should they refuse to comply with orders from the Speaker.

Following the meeting, Z-DRP MP Ahmed Mahlouf told press that Jaleel discussed with them the legal obligation of the MNDF to uphold the Speaker’s authority and to ensure the safety of all MPs.

Article 105 of the constitution tasks the army with maintaining “the security of the House of the People’s Majlis, all property attached thereto and all offices and facilities where its work is conducted” as well as “ensuring the protection and safety of all members of the People’s Majlis.”

Moreover, the Defence Forces Act empowers the army to enforce the Speaker’s rulings to maintain order in the chamber.

Mahlouf claimed that the involvement of the MNDF signified “a deal made between President [Mohamed] Nasheed, Speaker Abdulla Shahid and DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali to destroy us.”

Speaking in his weekly radio address on Friday, President Nasheed made an appeal to the Z-DRP MPs to let parliament resume its legislative responsibilities as “such attempts [to disrupt sittings] are in truth attempts to bring the state to a halt.”

“For three or four people to come out and try to bring the state to a halt is surely not wise,” he said. “If the Speaker wished to do something special in a particular way, I do not doubt that he has the means to do it. The state has means that can be used to speed things up.”

“Military rule”

Speaking to Minivan News today, Z-DRP MP Ahmed Nihan explained that the MPs were mainly objecting to last week’s “unlawful sitting.”

“If the Speaker accepts that the sitting was unlawful and considers having another sitting to appoint MPs to the parliament committees, the major issue will be solved,” he said.

He added that it was “a big joke” that the MNDF’s legal department was offering legal advice to parliament: “They have said it is their duty to protect the parliament and to maintain the rule of law.”

Nihan suggested that MPs “felt intimidated” following the MNDF’s legal advice to the Speaker.

“The Speaker has the authority to take other actions against MPs who do not follow the regulations, such as cutting an amount from their salary,” he said. “Now this country is becoming like Myanmar [Burma] has been in the past years – the Maldives is bit by bit turning to a military rule.”

Nihan added that he would also like to clarify “whether it was the President or Speaker Abdulla Shahid that asked MNDF to [intervene in parliament].”

MNDF Spokesperson Major Abdul Raheem confirmed that the Chief of Defence Force Major General Moosa Ali Jaleel met yesterday with both the Speaker “and some MPs.”

“They discussed the issues occurring inside parliament and said it was the legal duty of the MNDF to protect the parliament and other state institutions,” he said. “We will maintain the rules and laws in whatever action we take and we will not hesitate to take any action required to take to fulfill our legal duty.”

At the beginning of today’s sitting, DQP MP Riyaz Rasheed raised a point of order demanding to know which law authorised MNDF officers to enter the chamber and “drag MPs away.”

Addressing the concerns, Deputy Speaker Nazim replied that he was aware of the meeting between the Speaker and the Chief of Defence Forces.

“MNDF [officers] will not enter the Majlis chamber without the permission of the Speaker,” he said. “The Speaker does not intend to give permission and I will not do it either.”


President alleged to have met with Thasmeen as Gayoom withdraws support for opposition leader

A “secret” meeting between President Mohamed Nasheed and Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) leader Ahmed Ali Thasmeen, is alleged to have taken place yesterday as the opposition party leader faces intensified criticism from his predecessor and former President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

In a series of media alerts issues to the press, Umar Naseer, a former DRP deputy leader dismissed from the party in December, has claimed that President Nasheed was “secretly” meeting with Thasmeen and other party members thought to include MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom at Aarah island.

Gayoom publically announced on Thursday that in his position of the DRP’s ‘honorary leader’ he would no longer be backing Thasmeen as his preferred candidate to stand for the party during the country’s next Presidential Election – slated for 2013 – over concerns he has about his successor.

Both the President’s Office, Thasmeen and a number of DRP representatives were unavailable for comment on the alleged meeting at the time of going to press.  Yet the developments have highlighted apparent divides within the main opposition party that continue to grow between its current leader and Gayoom.

Gayoom had previously appointed Thasmeen to succeed him as party leader back in February 2010.

With the formation of factions within the DRP between supporters of Thasmeen and backers of Umar Naseer, who had campaigned with Gayoom during the DRP’s national campaigning for last month’s local elections, the nation’s one time leader issued a statement on Thursday that derided his successor for acting solely to serve his personal interests in the Majlis.

In his statement, Gayoom accused his successor of voting on matters involving personal interest, noting that business tycoon and Maamigili MP Gasim Ibrahim had not participated in such votes, while he also withdrew support for Thasmeen as a future presidential candidate.

The DRP ‘Honorary Leader’ noted that his former running mate has not addressed any of the main points he included in a 12-page letter issued on 9 March.

The issues addressed in the letter were said to include a failure by Thasmeen to propose the bill on privileges and protection for former presidents, despite claiming that he would personally present it to the floor during a DRP council with Gayoom in attendance.

The latest statement notes 14 points in response to the claims in made by Thasmeen in a letter that he had drafted.

These points focused on a number of issues such as:

• Gayoom disputed Thasmeen’s claim that the DRP council decided on 17 November, 2008 to hand over day-to-day management of the party to Thasmeen.

“It was my decision alone. The party’s charter does not the council authority to make such a decision. I made the decision and informed the council at the meeting that day,” he wrote.

• Gayoom denied Thasmeen’s claim that it was the former president’s decision not to seek a coalition with the Republican Party despite “signals” to the contrary.

“The council felt that since DRP got 40.6 percent and MDP only 25.1 percent in the first round, it would be easier for us to get 10 percent more votes than for MDP to get an additional 25 percent,” added the former president.

• Gayoom denied recommending former Attorney General Hassan Saeed and former Justice Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed face the party’s disciplinary committee for dismissal. “The council decided that day only to send the case of those two to the disciplinary committee, not to recommend them for ‘dismissal.’”

• Gayoom denied not providing details of the coalition agreement with his half-brother Abdullah Yameen’s People’s Alliance (PA) party. He went on to claim that the fact that nobody asked him demonstrates the confidence they had in his leadership.

• Gayoom wrote that Thasmeen could not claim credit for the party’s parliamentary election successes as Gayoom himself had toured the islands.

“Most DRP members believe that DRP’s success in the parliamentary elections was mainly because of my efforts. I know that Deputy Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, too, believed this very well at the time. The proof is that he requested that I travel to the constituencies where five of his family members were contesting to win support,” he added.

• Gayoom claimed that he believes it was his call for a membership drive that has seen an additional 10,000 people register with the DRP in the past two years and not Thasmeen’s as he claimed. He further accused Thasmeen of holding onto a lot of membership forms until after he became leader to submit it to the Elections Commission.

• Gayoom denied casting aspersion on either the DRP parliamentary group or council. “What I said was that most affairs of the parliamentary group and the council were being managed by the leader in violation of the party’s charter as well as democratic principles. That is a fact.”

• Gayoom accused Thasmeen of securing a majority of the council through arm-twisting and pleading before the vote on Umar Naseer’s dismissal case, adding that the disciplinary committee was not independent or fair.

• Gayoom alleged that the leaders of other opposition parties leaders had complained that the DRP did not consult with them contrary to Thasmeen’s claim.

• Gayoom claimed the DRP’s Youth Wing (headed by MP Ahmed Mahlouf) was excluded from the party’s ongoing “Coffee with DRP” campaign aimed at young people.

• Gayoom disputed claims from Thasmeen that he had been informed of the hiring of British consultant Jonathan Upton to aid his political career.

“I was told about him by another council member.” The consultant was hired to formulate strategies to improve the party’s appeal among the public and offer advice for the DRP’s 2013 presidential campaign.

Gayoom wrote that he met Upton in October 2010 after being asked by the council member to do so. Thasmeen noted in his own letter that Upton was hired to advise Thasmeen’s political career and not the DRP per se, while Gayoom responded that he had heard Upton had advised Thasmeen to get rid of the former president from the party.

• Gayoom also looked at recent issues such as a leaked audio clip reported to have been made by DRP spokesperson Ibrahim ‘Mavota’ Shareef about his party campaigning that led to a number of complaints and protests outside the party’s offices.  He added that the least Thasmeen could have done with regard to the leaked audio was to send the matter before a party committee.

“However, [Thasmeen] did not want to do anything of the sort within the party.”  Shareef later claimed that his voice had been doctored in the audio clips and was being used by some party members in attempts to seize leadership of the DRP.

• Gayoom also criticised how Thasmeen had used an official statement to detail an amount of money supplied to the former presidents’ family.

“While in his letter, the leader stated that he gave a large amount of money to my daughter Yumna Maumoon and her husband Mohamed Nadheem during the 2008 presidential campaign, I wonder why he did not mention either the amount or the date it was given,” he writes, adding that he “deeply regrets” the way the matter was revealed in Thasmeen’s letter.

Yumna told DhiTV the amount came to Rf300,000 – this is disputed by Thasmeen’s faction.

• Thasmeen had also “placed serious obstacles” to DRP becoming a strong political party by not holding the government accountable and taking measures against those within the party who try to stop the government’s harmful policies, the former president claimed.

“In this as in many other things, [Thasmeen] continues to act dictatorially in violation of the party’s charter and democratic principles,” he writes.

“Therefore, since Ahmed Thasmeen Ali became DRP’s leader because I directly paved the way for him, I sincerely ask the forgiveness of DRP’s beloved members.”

• Gayoom added that he would no longer support Thasmeen’s potential presidential campaign after his successor was alleged to have declared to the media last Thursday during “Coffee with DRP” that he no longer needed the support of his predecessor. “I would like to regretfully inform DRP’s beloved members and the general public that I do not support Ahmed Thasmeen Ali being DRP’s presidential candidate for 2013,” Gayoom stated.

“I do not believe that there is any need for further debate on the points I have noted in this statement,” Gayoom concluded in the letter.


Leaked audio implicates MDP MP in secret deals with Thasmeen

A leaked phone call between MP Mohamed Musthafa and Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim discussing a bill proposed by the former to cease state benefits to ex-President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has emerged in local media, suggesting a secret relationship between the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP and embattled Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali.

In the leaked audio clip, Musthafa explains that while he did not believe that former President Gayoom deserved financial benefits after returning to active politics, he had considered withdrawing the bill but was dissuaded by Thasmeen.

Moreover, the MP for Thimarafushi claims that Thasmeen had offered financial assistance to his campaign in 2009 against Gassan Maumoon, son of the former President.

Musthafa told Minivan News today that he would not comment on the leaked audio clip.

”It was Gayoom who leaked the phone conversation, he has a phone tracing machine, which was once in [presidential palace] Theemuge during his administration. He took it with him when he left,” alleged Musthafa. ”He has violated our privacy.”

“Because of him, Thasmeen and I had to go into a verbal quarrel. Thasmeen was very concerned,” he continued. ”We can’t even sleep with our wives now because of Gayoom.”

Neither Thasmeen nor minority opposition People’s Alliance MP Nazim has responded to Minivan News at time of press.

In July 2009, Musthafa told Minivan News that one of the “five richest MPs in DRP” had secretly helped his campaign.

Meanwhile, in his letter condemning Thasmeen’s leadership last week, Gayoom accused Thasmeen of not participating in any DRP trips to Thaa atoll for Gassan’s campaign.

In July 2010 both Musthafa and Nazim were arrested on charges of bribing a Civil Court judge with US$6000 and a two-way plane ticket to exert influence on a court case; however Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed ruled there was not reasonable grounds to extend the detention of the two MPs.

Translated transcript of the leaked phone conversation:

Nazim: You know that bill on Maumoon you submitted, the one about terminating benefits? That’s coming up, either tomorrow or the day after, it’s going to come…so how did that come about? I’m asking because you submitted it.

Musthafa: Yes, that. Well, a lot of people know why it has been submitted, right? Even whom it was that asked [me] to submit it. In truth, I proposed it during those days when I was saying I am going to sue Gayoom. And he came back to politics and it looked as if things were going to go back to the way they were, it was round then that I did it. It’s not something I approve of in any case – resigning, announcing to the whole country that he was stepping aside from politics, and then coming out again and taking to stages, that’s really not good. So that’s why I submitted it – on the notion that he did not deserve those benefits.

But in fact it wasn’t just me who backed it. I did it because some people asked me to do it. But afterward, when [others were telling me] to amend it or withdraw it, they told me ‘Musthafa, we’ve heard about this, why would you want to take it back, don’t withdraw it.’ And the person who said this is someone who has always given me great assistance and support.

But, when two others requested that I withdraw it, I asked him again, what should I do, I’m facing pressure from your party. They’re telling me to pull it out.

Nazim: MDP is asking you to withdraw it?

Musthafa: Er, now, it’s not just MDP alone. You know these so-called Maumoon factions?

Nazim: Hmm.

Musthafa: It’s some of them. It was mainly Mahlouf who talked to me about it, asking me to take it back. After he met me about two or three times, I changed my mind and thought about withdrawing it, thinking that I did not really want to pressurize someone so advanced in age. I was going to take it back and asked that side.

Nazim: What is this ‘side’ you’re talking about? How would I know when you say ‘that side’?

Musthafa: You know very well that it’s Thasmeen. Anybody would know. He is someone who has helped me a lot with this even in the past. For example, during Gassan’s campaign – it’s even noted in that letter Maumoon sent. Whether it is Maumoon or anyone else who says it, it is a fact. [Thasmeen] never once went to Thimarafushi. He was in Fonnadoo near Thimarafushi once but he wasn’t going to go to Thimarafushi to campaign against me and challenge me, right? That is how it is.

Nizam: By help do you mean he gave money to your campaign? But then, he’s not going to give Musthafabey money when there’s someone from DRP [contesting].

Musthafa: [Laughs] That’s a big misunderstanding among them, isn’t it? If you think about it, even a child would know that neither Thasmeen nor his family would want Gassan to come into this. That is how it is. Everyone in the country knows that.

To put it briefly, I cannot withdraw it without a word from that side. That’s it. I’ve even got different offers, asking me to take back that bill I proposed to cut off Maumoon’s benefits. Even within my own party, some have asked me. [they’ve said], ‘what is this for’.

But it’s not going forward because of this problem. The way it is now it is very difficult for me to go against Thasmeen and them and take it back. Even if something happens to me tomorrow, they are the ones who are going to help. So I can’t do it. If not, I would have done what I could.