Minivan News Apologises for Technical Difficulties

Minivan News apologises to all its readers for recent unavailability of the website. The problem has now been rectified and the website is available at:

The web address is still unavailable however.

The reason for the temporary unavailability of the site is thought to be the huge number of visits the website received on Tuesday evening. Minivan News has now changed its internet service provider to increase capacity and ensure the problem does not happen again.

Many thanks,

The Editors


One Hundred Days in Gayoom’s Jails

Hundreds of pro-democracy activists – in prison, under house or under Male’ arrest – will wake up this morning having spent one hundred days in detention.

The issue of the pro-democracy detainees is a combustive one. It divides the country and divides the country from the rest of the world. One just needs to look at the reaction of the Europeans – who continue, privately, to chatter about imposing sanctions – to see just how far Gayoom has travelled down the road to becoming an international bogey-man and the Maldives a pariah state.

However, when one thinks of it dividing the country, it is not down the middle, with one half of the population supporting the incarceration of innocent democracy campaigners and the other opposing it, it is more a division between the ruling elite – Gayoom’s family and friends – and everybody else.

More than just dividing the country though, the issue of the detainees also exposes just how fragile Gayoom’s rule really is. How many Maldivians, if you asked them in private, would actually support Gayoom’s polices on the detainees? How many support Gayoom at all? All the evidence – the opposition’s showing in the Special Majlis elections, the popularity of the reform meetings, the popularity of independent media, and of course 12,000 people on the streets in August – leans towards the conclusion that Gayoom is profoundly unpopular.

This entrenched unpopularity – some might say loathing – of Gayoom and his regime shifts the balance of power in the Maldives away from the regime and into the hands of the people. Although many may not realise it, the most powerful force in Maldivian politics today is not Gayoom, nor his supporters, nor even the NSS. It is the people.

As Fathimath Shimla argues in her peice “the limits of foreign intervention in the Maldives”, the power of mass public protest in the Maldives is enormous. Can anyone remember a time – the coup attempt aside – when Gayoom has looked so fallible? Can anyone remember a time when his own cabinet were divided, when his own family members were conspiring against him, when his own security services were dangerously split, and when 15% of Male’ rose up against him? However, there is still a key missing ingredient for real change to occur – a belief by ordinary Maldivians in their own ability to achieve that change.

As key opposition figures spend their one hundredth day in detention, some must wonder why they are still held captive and why Gayoom is still in power. For it is not wishful thinking but the simple truth to say: if enough Maldivians believed tomorrow they would bring down the dictator, tomorrow they surely would.


Left behind: Minivan News takes a closer look at Abdulla Rasheed

Abdulla Rasheed, better known as ‘IC’, has been held in solitary confinement – without charge – for 98 days following his involvement in the peaceful pro-democracy rally of 12-13th of August. Whilst the majority of those arrested following the August rally have been transferred to house or Male’ arrest, IC remains behind bars in Dhoonidoo. Minivan News spoke to his family and friends to discover why this 35 year-old man from Addu Atoll is so threatening to the Maldivian regime.

IC first attracted public attention during the 1999 parliamentary elections. As the campaign manager for Mohamed Nasheed in Male’, IC quickly garnered a reputation as someone who had both the organisational and leadership skills to pull off political victories against the odds. His ability to ‘get out the vote’ especially among Male’s’ large and disenfranchised youth population made him a key player in winning the seat for Mr. Nasheed. As Nasheed puts it “without IC…I couldn’t have taken Male’.”

As a co-founder and owner of the popular Haruge’ Café, on the eastern shore of Male’, IC gained further attention – particularly with corrupt government officials – as the businessman who refused to pay bribes. However, his ethical stance against corruption did not do him many favours in business, he soon lost his stake in the Haruge’ enterprise.

This ethical stance seems to be the main driving force behind IC. During his days as a resort manager for Villa Hotels, IC became popular with his employees. “He was always kind to his staff. He would never just fire someone indiscriminately as others did.” a family member commented. In fact, IC’s refusal to budge on issues he feels strongly about appears to be the cause of his current incarceration.

A week before his arrest, IC received a tip-off that both he and Fulhu were to be arrested. IC caught the next flight to Colombo but after spending a couple of days there he felt he had to return home, regardless of the consequences. “I begged him not to go back to Male’” said IC’s ex-wife Tanya, who remains a close friend. “I knew he might get taken, but IC said he had to go back and continue the fight for democracy, he said he couldn’t just hide in Sri Lanka. I knew there was no point arguing with him.”

After Fulhu was arrested on 12th August, IC was one of the first to protest outside the NSS Headquarters in Male’. If the regime didn’t know it already, they knew then the threat IC posed. Several hours later, twelve thousand people had joined him.

“He’s had to sacrifice everything dear to him for his beliefs – his business, his family, and his freedom” says Tanya. With more reports of NSS brutality being exposed daily, IC has certainly suffered for his democratic values. On the 15th August, just hours after his arrest, he was taken from prison to hospital in Male’. He was reportedly suffering from vomiting and temporary paralysis of the legs, caused by the beatings he received at the time of his arrest.

Despite this, his family and friends remain strong and increasingly supportive of IC’s prominent stance against the government. “His family are behind him. They love him and will always support him” says Tanya. “A friend of his saw him last week when he was on hunger-strike. They conveyed messages of support to him. IC said he felt stronger than ever.”

The recent outpouring of support for IC – from his family, from the opposition movement and from the hundreds of young people who look up to him – perhaps most poignantly comes from his son. “I know they were protesting for democratic laws, I know they were campaigning for democracy, I know my father has been arrested but I know he’s not a criminal. Protesting for democracy is not being a criminal” said ten-year old Thaim.


Hunger strikers return home

Two of the most prominent hunger strikers, Shuaib Ali and Mohamed Ziyad (Ziyattey), have been transferred from Dhoonidoo Prison to house arrest in Male’, it was reported yesterday evening.

Both prisoners, arrested after the 12-13th August pro-democracy rally, had been in jail without charge for 96 days. Under the terms of their house arrest, they are forbidden from receiving any visitors or making external communications.

Both prisoners have reportedly suffered horrific torture at the hands of NSS officers.

On Black Friday, Mohamed Ziyad was beaten so badly by NSS officers he passed out. Unable to walk, the NSS dragged him into their van by his arms. Mr Ziyad was also reportedly “maltreated” by police at Maafushi Prison on 19 September 2004, a witness said.

Shuaib Ali was blindfolded and severely beaten on his genitals on Black Friday. Mr Ali’s treatment in detention was so bad that he begged his wife to go to the Maldivian Human Rights Commission and report it.

Both of the prisoners were leading figures in the Dhoonidoo Jail hunger-strike, which ended this week after 10 days, although it was reported that Mohamed Ziyad never broke the strike. Both prisoners are known to be physically weak after their ordeal.


Candidates for Majlis elections include reformists in detention

Reformists in detention are among the 156 candidates who forwarded applications to stand in the forthcoming general elections, reports quoting family members from Male’ said. The Elections Commissioner closed the opportunity to contest at 1400 Hrs Tuesday, announcing that those standing also include 8 women.

Among reformists in detention who made submissions are Hon.Ibrahim Ismail for Male’, Hon Ahmed Adhil for Haa Dhaal Atoll, Mr.Shuaib Ali for Haa Dhaal Atoll, Hon.Ilyas Hussain Ibrahim for South Ari Atoll, Dr.Hussain Rasheed for Thaa Atoll.

Candidates are required to submit an application form including copies of all the material they will be using in their campaign. These include slogans, logos, leaflets, designs of T-shirts, hats, badges and introduction letters to constituents, which would be passed by the Elections Commissioner.

The candidates’ lists would be announced by the end of the month, Elections Commissioner Ahmed Rashad announced on Tuesday. The Maldives government bans campaigning before the announcement of the list. Hence candidates would have 30 days to campaign as polling is set for 31st December, in 21 constituencies of the archipelago.

Many reformists allege that government backed candidates had unlawfully begun their campaigns months ago. Pro-government candidates are permitted to ignore the law and use treasury funds to illegally finance their campaigns, they said. “Many government backed candidates are continuing extensive trips to the islands in their constituencies ostensibly on official business. They campaign as they wish at public expense, meeting and lobbying voters. Government-backed candidates have promised various government funded projects for islands as rewards for voting for them”, the Maldivian Democratic Party said in a statement published early this month.
After the violent break-up of the pro-democracy rally on the 13th August 2004, the Maldives government declared a state of emergency and arrested many reformist MPs and activists. With the state of emergency the President abrogated among others, Article 15 (1) (d) of the Constitution, which states that persons charged with an offence cannot be kept in detention for a period exceeding seven days except as provided by law.
Prior to announcing a date for the upcoming parliamentary elections, the government unlawfully blocked more than 15 potential candidates who had previously garnered popular support. Among these are the existing members of the parliament, Hon. Ibrahim Hussain Zaki and Dr. Mohamed Munavvar as well as Members of the Constitutional Assembly, Mr. Qasim Ibrahim, Hon. Ali Faiz, Hon.Mohamed Naseem, and Hon. Ahmed Shafeeq. 18 pro-democracy activists are also still in jail, including at least one contestant for the general elections, family members of detainees reported from Male’.

Speaking in Colombo, Maldives Democratic Party Spokesperson Mr Mohamed Latheef noted that “the government through its total control of the Maldives media has continued to defame detained reformists. The submission by some of them to contest general elections is a symbol of their resolve not to be intimidated by the brutal tactics of the government.” Asked whether his party, banned in Maldives was participating, he said that “all contestants are standing as independents, as this regime is averse to political association. In addition to known reformists, many other candidates sympathetic to the party are contesting. This is the people’s opportunity to endorse pluralism, freedom of expression, assembly and dissent”.


Protests around the world for Maldives detainees

Following Friends of Maldives’ protests outside the Maldivian High Commission and Hilton Hotel in London last week, a further protest was held outside the Maldivian High Commission in Colombo on Sunday, 14th September.

The protest in Colombo was organised by Sri Lankans sympathetic to the democracy struggle in the Maldives and wishing to show solidarity with fellow Maldivians democrats jailed in the Maldives.

It was reported to Minivan News that at 5pm around 20-25 people descended upon the Maldivian High Commission in Colombo with placards demanding the release of the hunger-strikers still held in jail in the Maldives after the Maldivian government’s crack-down of the August 12-13th pro-democracy rally.

After about 10 minutes of protest, traffic police came with a public address system and told the protestors to leave the area as they were disrupting the Maldivian High Commissioner’s Eid party. The protestors then left and regrouped around the corner at the Euro Cinema. Around 100 demonstrators are thought to have taken part in the protest outside the cinema.

Meanwhile in London, Friends of Maldives staged another protest outside the Maldivian High Commission in London, which took place yesterday (Monday). A spokesperson for Friends of Maldives stated that “as long as pro-democracy prisoners remain in jail in the Maldives, we will do our utmost to disrupt the functioning of the Maldivian High Commission in London.”

The protestors wore black hoods and were chained together outside the embassy in central London, symbolising the way pro-democracy activists were arrested and held on Black Friday.


Schools remain under-funded, students accuse Gayoom of “destroying our generation”

Students at the Centre for Higher Secondary Education (CHSE) in Male’ have accused President Gayoom of systematically trying to destroy their future by keeping their school grossly under-funded.

CHSE students have complained that in their school of 1,300 pupils only 2 computers have internet access. They also highlight damaging cut-backs by the Ministry for Education in recent months. “Before there was pocket-money given for the students who come from the atolls to study but this has been abolished. The pocket money was especially important for students who came from poorer families” reported students, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“It’s the government’s responsibility to provide better education but they are trying to deprive us of an education.” The students went on to say. “They are trying to keep our generation uneducated.”

The Maldivian Democratic Party has come out in support of the students. In an interview with Minivan News, Mohamed Nasheed said “the MDP feels the under-funding of schools, especially secondary schools, is a component part of a broader government policy to keep Maldivians in the dark. School under-funding is accompanied with a state-controlled media that is banned from criticising Gayoom, draconian checks on books to weed out anything that might challenge the government, and a ban on teaching regime-threatening subjects such as politics. It is a disgraceful situation that benefits Gayoom and his cronies at the expense of the country’s future – its children.”

Students and parents have also previously accused the President of under-funding schools in a direct attempt to keep the population under-educated and therefore less able to criticise his regime.

Whilst Gayoom spends $30,000 per day on personal expenses and CHSE gets less than $2 per student per day, is it surprising students feel Gayoom is stealing their future?


MDP regrets Maldives regime insults of eminent and brotherly Sri Lankans

The Maldivian Democratic Party expresses profound regret that the Maldives regime officials and their sponsored publications have insulted eminent and brotherly Sri Lankans who organized the peaceful demonstration of 14th November in the vicinity of the Maldives High Commission in Pamankada, Sri Lanka.

Maldives High Commission officials were reported to have foul-mouthed high profile Sri Lankans who were among the organizers of the demonstration, including film maker Manik Sandarasagara, and his colleagues.

A group of about 25 Sri Lankans carrying placards gathered in front of the Maldives High Commission in Sri Lanka on Sunday and voiced concern for political detainees in Maldives. They called for the restoration of electoral and civil rights of would-be candidates being barred by the government to contest general elections for which the application deadline is November 15. The Sri Lankan traffic police dispersed the group as the street leading to the Maldives High Commission was a narrow lane and vehicles carrying invitees to Eid (Ramazan festival) there were having difficulties accessing the road, a Sri Lankan news reporter on the scene told MDP officials.

The demonstrators later regrouped in front of the Euro Cinema in the vicinity of the Maldives High Commission. “By then the group was about 70 strong. They stayed there about an hour and a half before peacefully dispersing”, a journalist said.

“They (High Commission officials) called us impotent idiots and coup-plotters and kept saying it was Sri Lankans like us who sponsored the attacks in Male in 1983”, a spokesperson for the organizers complained to the MDP. Maldives regime sponsored publications described participants of the demonstration as “People who were barefooted, wearing sarongs and chewing puak or betel leaf, ….. riff raff- the equivalent of partey’s (a Maldivian jargon for drug dealers)”

An eminent Sri Lankan who called the MDP offices in Beddegana explained : “The demonstration was not planned to coincide with any national or religious functions but with November 14th, (a Sunday) which was the last day of forwarding applications to stand for the forthcoming general elections. It was deplorable that they would revile Sri Lankans in such a manner”.

Many would-be candidates for the forthcoming general elections are being barred from their civil and electoral rights, pending trials or release from arrest, a spokesperson for the organizers noted. “The government is thereby depriving the constitutional rights of thousands of their supporters” he said.

The Maldivian Democratic Party extends its gratitude for the sympathy expressed by the demonstrators for political detainees and their solidarity with us for condemning violations of human, civil and electoral rights by the Maldives government.


Hunger strike moves into the 8th day

Maldivian hunger-strikers, arrested after the 12-13th August pro-democracy rally in Male’, have begun their 8th day without food.

Fourteen detainees remain on hunger strike, which started when prisoners in Dhoonidoo Jail refused to break their Ramzan fast on Thursday of last week. The prisoners are striking over their prolonged detention, without charge in solitary confinement, when investigations into their alleged crimes of the 12-13th August appear to be over. Families of the detainees report that the prisoners have not been interviewed by the authorities for weeks.

Those on hunger strike are known to include Ahmed Shafeeq MP, Abdulla Rasheed, MDP Council Member Mohamed Ziyad, Ismail Asif, Saaz Waleed, Shaihk Fareed and Shuaib Ali.

On 7th November 2004, the warden at the interrogation center, Staff Sergeant Ibrahim Manik, requested the wives, relatives and friends of those on hunger strike to go to the interrogation center on Dhoonidhoo Island. Five close associates of the detainees did speak to them. Sources quoting the detainees say that the detainees believe that it is up to the detaining authorities to normalise the situation.

On 10th November, the Maldivian government transferred four detainees from jail to house arrest in Male’. Ilyas Hussein Ibrahim, Ahmed Manik (AKA: Dhumburi), Ahmed Athif (AKA: Soney) and Mohamed Yousuf Fulhu left jail after 88 days in solitary confinement.

The Maldivian Democratic Party in a statement this week said: “The continued detention of those protesting, friends believe, is to thwart their opportunity to participate, some to contest, in the forthcoming general elections, for which the application deadline is the 15th November… Mr.Shuaib Ali, a pro-democracy activist of repute and a would-be candidate in the forthcoming general elections, is believed to be alternating between unconsciousness and fainting spells. His worsening health is causing much distress to family members and friends.” Shuaib Ali has reportedly asked to make his will.

The Maldivian government has played down the hunger strike, claiming many of the hunger strikers are eating dates. The families of the hunger strikers have denied the charge.