MDP activist arrested for sorcery; party alleges “witch hunt”

Police have allegedly arrested an opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) activist on charges of practicing black magic.

Activist Jennifer Aishath was arrested on Friday night near the ‘Aa Saharaa’ cemetery while she was attending a funeral. She was released at around 2:45am in the morning.

Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef confirmed that police had followed Aishath “because she was up to something”, but did not disclose what this was.

However following her release Aishath produced a police note stating that the reason for her summoning was for questioning over allegations she was using “black magic and sorcery”.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) spokesperson MP Imthiyaz Fahmy has alleged the government was now using charges of black magic and sorcery as an “excuse” to go on a literal witch hunt for MDP activists.

Fahmy, who was present at the time of the Aishath’ arrest, told Minivan News that she had been followed by a police car and a police officer in plain clothes. Aishath raised concerns that a car had been following her every move to the cemetery, where she was attending a funeral.

“She said that a police car had been following her from home. I walked out of the cemetery with her and saw the car which she had mentioned, and it really was following her. The car stopped every time she stopped, it was very obvious,” Fahmy said.

After becoming concerned that Aishath was being followed, he claimed that he went towards the car and asked the driver what was going on.

“I went to the car and said that the lady has told me that she was being followed. They were silent for some time and then they questioned me, asking if I wanted to know what is going on,” Fahmy continued.

Fahmy stated that after the questioning, the driver made a call from their phone and within minutes, a police van of about 25 to 30 police officers in full gear arrived to the area and asked Aishath to get into their van.

“When the van came and the police asked her to get into the van, I intervened saying that you can’t arrest someone like that,” said Fahmy.

“I asked on what grounds was she being arrested and they said they’d tell her after they reached police headquarters.  I resisted and said that such an arrest could only be made after letting the arrestee know what the charges against her were. The arresting officers didn’t even have name tags.”

Fahmy said that a female officer came out of the van and forced Aishath into the van before taiking her away.

Fahmy alleged that the government was running out of excuses to arrest MDP members and were now resorting to charges of black magic and sorcery.

“This is definitely something that Gayoom is behind. He was the first person to say that black magic was being used to try and oust him from the presidency.  This occured during the 1998 presidential referendum by his brother in law Ilyas Ibrahim,” Fahmy claimed.

“ This is hilarious, the coup regime is becoming a laughing stock. Why are they arresting people over allegations of black magic, while the country has greater issues to address such as gang violence and drugs?  For God’s sake, people are being murdered,” said Fahmy.

President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza and Media Secretary Masood Imad were not responding at time of press.

The document issued to Aishath by police, describing the reasons for her summoning as alleged practice of black magic

Police raiding MDP protest camp ‘Usfasgandu’ for alleged “black magic and sorcery”

Earlier this week, police raided the opposition MDP protest camp at Usfasgandu on Tuesday morning, after obtaining a search warrant from the Criminal Court and cordoning off the area from MDP demonstrators.

One of the reasons for the search as stated on the warrant included: “suspected black magic performed in the area.”

Under evidence, the warrant alleged that people in the Usfasgandu area had on May 25 thrown a “cursed rooster” at MNDF officers.

Shortly after the raid, the Civil Court ordered to halt the raid in a temporary court injunction after the MDP challenged the legality of the operation.

However, the government appealed the Civil Court decision in the High Court. The High Court issued a temporary injunction suspending the Civil Court’s injunction.

Police issued a statement right after the High Court injunction stating that there were no more legal obstructions to raiding the camp, but said the police were “thinking on the matter”.

Black magic to be debated in all party talks

With a weekend-long set of all party talks held at Bandos Island Resort concluding today without agreement, MDP spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said that discussions had not progressed past the first point of agenda. Among the main sticking points during the talks, Ghafoor claimed that allegations of black magic were among 30 points of contention raised by government-aligned parties.

“Right now nothing has been accepted [in term of the talk’s agreed agenda],” he said. “We are still at step one.”

Ghafoor said that the first agreed agenda item on the talks – the role of the MDP in causing “public disturbances” through protests and other actions – had been discussed, but few agreements had been reached.

The MDP claimed that it had been requested to “voluntarily stand down” from disturbing the public peace through actions like its ongoing demonstrations. Ghafoor said that a total of thirty other concerns were raised by government-aligned parties that were linked to the first of the the talk’s agenda.

Among these thirty points of concern, the MDP was requested to cease practicing black magic and other malicious forms of sorcery against other parties at the talks, according to Ghafoor.

“I think that some people involved are now playing a hoax. It is hard to believe that the regime is lowering itself to this level. It is both pointless and irrelevant,” he claimed. “It is notable that figures such as former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom are very superstitious.”

Ghafoor said the MDP had agreed to address four out of the thirty points of concern raised relating over the issue of “public disturbances” during the talks, including concerns from some political parties about the use of the word “coup” in relation to February’s transfer of power.

He added that some parties in the talks did not appreciate the use of the word, with the MDP agreeing to refer to the issue as a ‘questionable’ transfer of power in line with issues raised by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group’s (CMAG) concerns.

Ghafoor claimed that MDP representatives proposed three agreements to United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) mediation expert Pierre-Yves Monette to try and move the talks forward. These agreements were that the party would accept four of the thirty points of contention raised by government-aligned parties. They also wished to see the end of the use of “abusive” language used by representatives during the talks.

Finally, Ghafoor claimed that an independent monitor had also been requested to rule on allegations raised about certain representatives during the ongoing talks.

“Right now they are alleging we are terrorists. We need an independent monitor to rule on these accusations and verify the truth of such claims,” he said.

Of the other parties represented during the talks, Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) Vice President Umar Naseer and MP Ilham Ahmed were not responding to calls from Minivan News at the time of press.

Ahmed Thasmeen Ali and Dr Abdulla Mausoom, the respective leader and Deputy Parliamentary Group Leader of the largest government coalition member, the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), were also not answering calls.


Maldives reverts to ‘Sunny side of life’ branding, targets one million tourist arrivals for 2012

The Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) has appointed staff to target specific markets for the tourism industry, in a bid to reach one million tourist arrivals in 2012.

The markets to be targeted included Italy and Japan (Ibrahim Asim), Germany and Switzerland (Fathimath Afra), UK, China and Korea (Fathimath Raheel), Russia and France (Najumulla Shareef), Spain (Fathimath Arushee), India (Aishath Rimna) and the Middle East (Mariyam Rasheed).

In a press conference on Monday, newly-appointed Deputy Minister of Tourism Mohamed Maleeh Jamaal – previously Secretary General of the Maldives Association of Travel and Tour Operators (MATATO) – said the corporation intends to launch several campaigns and PR activities in major tourist arrival markets to the country.

“We have about 102 resorts and around 26,000 beds. If each resort sets a target of bringing three more tourists to each bed, or 77 more tourists than the number that booked the resorts last year, we would easily reach the target,” Jamaal said.

He said the corporation plans to conduct joint promotion campaigns along with the tour operators and resorts, and had segmented itself to target each market.

The MMPRC revealed that it had been given a budget of Rf 70 million (US$4.5 million) to conduct marketing activities for the year.

Jamaal said that the budget for last year had been US$2.3 million, and with that budget they the country had seen the tourist arrivals of around 900,000.

“So this year, with this budget, we are confident that we can reach the target,” Jamaal said.

Jamaal expressed disappointment over the UK-based NGO Friends of Maldives (FOM)’s travel advisory, asking that potential tourists consider the idea of being a “responsible traveller” by avoiding specific resorts owned by people allegedly involved “in the subversion of democracy, and human rights abuses in the Maldives”.

“We are disappointed because, the tourism industry contributes 70 percent of every hundred rufiya every citizen of this country earns, which means from every hundred rufiya, 70 rufiyaa comes from the tourism sector. So every impact on the country’s tourism sector impacts the general living of the people,” Jamaal said.

“I think those who conducts these activities really envy the [success of] the industry. This is very sad. But we have the plans, and the capacity to overcome such negative campaigns, and therefore we will face every challenge and we will overcome that as well,” he claimed.

Regarding a reported recommendation from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that the Maldives increase the bed tax levied on the tourism industry because of the state of the economy, and a comment made during a meeting of parliament’s public finances committee about the decline of the Chinese tourism market, Jamaal said that the tourism ministry did not forecast that the decline would continue.

“The Chinese market is improving. Our [predictions] do not show that the Chinese market will decline to the extent the IMF has said, and we had a positive growth in the last three months. This gives evidence to it,” he said.

Chinese tourist arrivals dropped by 34.8 percent to 12,237 in February compared to the same point last year, according to Asian travel trade newspaper TTG.  Around 6,500 fewer tourists arrived from China last month, largely due to the cancellation of charter flights, which are expected to resume in April.

Asked about the impact  media coverage of the political instability was having on the Maldives’ reputation as a safe and stable tourism destination, Jamaal acknowledged that certain international media coverage had negatively affected tourism.

However Jamaal said he believed the situation would not significantly impact tourist interest in the Maldives as a holiday destination.

“Our efforts to counter the bad image given out by the international media will help us recover the decline,” he said.

“In order to consolidate the Chinese market, a senior delegation consisting of key government officials and members of the MMPRC, in partnerships with Mega Maldives Airlines, had decided to go to four major cities in China to meet the authorities, tour operators and journalists.

“We will build awareness in China about what has happened in the Maldives, and I am sure that after that the Chinese market will improve further,” Jamaal added.

“However, we do not believe that the Maldives will be significantly affected by these negative headlines as the destination remains popular in our major source markets like Europe. Despite the economic slowdown that has taken place across the EU, we have seen positive growth.”

Reverting back to Sunny Side of Maldives

Jamaal announced that the country would be reverting back to its former branding ‘Maldives: the sunny side of life’, instead of the ‘Always Natural’ branding introduced under Nasheed’s government.

Jamaal told Minivan News that the decision to revert back to the Sunny Side of Life branding was based on “a number of questions and research the industry had about adopting a new corporate identity for Maldives tourism.”

“At the time of the rebranding we had to ask ourselves certain questions; such as do we have the budget to support a new brand identity? Was it the best time to introduce a new message?” he said. “The Maldives like many nations around the world is facing an economic crisis.”

Jamaal claimed that relying on a strong and established brand was the best direction at present for tourism marketing, but suggested it would be “enhanced” into subcategories such as “Maldives: the Spiritual Side of Life” to promote spa operations.

“This year instead of more generic messages, we will have specific focuses on certain sectors to mirror the efforts of the country’s tourism industry,” Jamaal said.

MMPRC was established during the time of former president Mohamed Nasheed to spearhead the country’s public relations and marketing strategy, replacing the former Maldives Tourism Promotion Board (MTPB).