Islamic ministry flags publication of religious books without permission

The Islamic ministry has raised concern over publication of  books on Islam in Dhivehi without official approval.

In an announcement, the Islamic ministry noted that the 1994 religious unity law requires written permission from the ministry to preach, deliver sermons, and publish books concerning religion.

The ministry said it has learned that books on Islam and Dhivehi translations of verses and parts of the Quran have been published without authorisation.

The ministry appealed for compliance with the law in publishing religious literature.

The requirement was introduced through amendments brought to the Protection of Religious Unity Act in March 2014. The amendments prohibited “sowing religious discord” in the community, outlawed independent or unauthorised prayer congregations, and required Islam to be taught as a compulsory subject in all public and private schools from grade one to 12.

The changes also criminalised the construction of places of worship for other religions, the sale, possession, or advertisement of expressions or slogans of other religions and the importation, display, advertisement and sale of books of other religions.

Seeking financial assistance from foreigners to propagate other religions was prohibited while permission must be sought in writing from the Islamic ministry before accepting a salary, funds, or a gift from a foreign party for conducting religious activities in the country.

Similar provisions were included in the religious unity regulations enforced in September 2011 to crack down on extremist and unlicensed preaching of Islam in the country.

Meanwhile, in September last year, the national bureau of classification enacted new regulations that subjected the publication of prose and poetry in the Maldives to government approval.

The regulations were enforced to ensure that books and other material adhere to “societal norms” and to reduce “adverse effects on society that could be caused by published literature.”

The Maldives High Commission in the UK told the Guardian newspaper at the time that the regulations would not “limit or interfere with freedom of expression derived from the Constitution, or constructive new thoughts.”

The regulations “only formalise an approval process that has been in operation for a number of years”, the high commission insisted, adding that the “most significant development of the new regulations is that they have reduced the amount of time for books and poetry to be approved”.

“The regulations were made public to ensure that all poetry and books published in Dhivehi [the Maldivian language] are published in accordance with the societal norms of the Maldives, and in accordance with the laws and regulations governing the Republic of Maldives. This is intended to protect the 2,000-year-old history of our unique language,” said the commission.

 

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Police disrupt MDP feast

The police stopped and cleared out a gathering by supporters of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) outside its main office in Malé last night.

The MDP had set up tables with food for a communal tharavees feast, a traditional gathering during Ramadan.

A police media official told Minivan News that the police moved to clear the area around 10:30pm because the party did not seek permission from the housing ministry to close the road.

But the MDP said in a statement today that the police were notified ahead of the gathering and that traffic was not blocked as tables were set up near the pavement on Sosun Magu.

“But a disproportionately high number of police officers suddenly went into the tharavees function, threw away the food and drinks on the table to the street, took away the tables, and pepper sprayed the people there,” the party said.

The police media official said the use of force was prompted by “disobedience to order.”

The MDP meanwhile condemned the police’s “unlawful actions” and called on oversight bodies to investigate the incident.

The police had not stopped a gathering held at the same area by the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) during Ramdan, the party said, “which shows the extent of the police’s illegal discrimination.”

The ruling party had set up chairs and tables in the middle of the road, the MDP noted.

The party believes “police are discriminating and carrying out unlawful actions so openly because of the weakness and toothlessness of the Maldives’ independent institutions or because of the extent of the institutions’ participation in the illegal activities,” the statement added.

MDP spokesperson Imthiyaz Fahmy told Minivan News that the police’s justification for disrupting the festive feast is “complete nonsense”.

He noted that the road was closed for the PPM gathering in the same area earlier this month.

“As usual we had informed the police about the gathering. We keep seeing that rules only apply to us,” he said.

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MDP required to re-register half of its members

The Elections Commission (EC) has ordeeed the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to re-register some 23,058 of its members with fingerprinted forms.

The figure amounts to nearly half of the MDP’s 46,608 registered members.

The EC has asked all parties, with the exception of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), to re-register members before December 31. The PPM was formed in late 2011 after the requirement for fingerprints on membership forms came into force the previous year.

The commission said in a statement on Thursday that the 2013 Political Parties Act requires all political parties to submit membership forms with fingerprints.

MDP spokesperson Imthiyaz Fahmy told Minivan News today that the list of members registered without fingerprints include ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and parliamentary group leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.

“The stupidity of this is that Nasheed, a person who is the president of MDP, who went on to becoming the president as the MDP’s candidate is no longer a member of MDP,” he said.

The MDP was registered in 2005 and is the first political party to be formed in the Maldives.

Fahmy contended that the EC’s intention is to reduce the MDP’s membership to allow the PPM to overtake the opposition party. The ruling party has 36,232 members.

“This is another attempt for the government to use another independent commission as a tool to work in favour of the government. It is because we have more members than them,” he said.

Political parties receive funds from the state budget every year. The amount depends on the size of the party membership.

The MP for Maafanu North accused the government of exerting undue influence over independent institutions and the judiciary “to get their way.”

Fahmy previously argued that the commission could not apply the 2013 political parties law retroactively.

“The MDP was formed before the new act. Back then, a fingerprint was not required, so the membership forms are valid,” he said.

He added that the requirement for fingerprints only applies to new membership forms.

“This is a clear obstruction of the people’s constitutional right to join political parties. It creates an unfair burden on political parties and is designed to reduce our numbers,” he added.

EC member Ahmed Akram meanwhile told Sun Online that members who do not submit forms with fingerprints will be removed from the political party registry.

The Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), from which the PPM emerged as a splinter faction, has 14,750 members. The Jumhooree Party (JP) has 13,990 members.

The religious conservative Adhaalath Party (AP) has 9009 members.

The DRP is to resubmit 10,000 forms and the JP 2,764 forms. The AP also has to resubmit some 2,866 forms.

The EC has previously said it receives complaints from the public about being registered to political parties without their knowledge or consent.

The commission has set up mechanisms to check party registration either through text messages or on the official website.

A text message sent to 1414 with PPR space followed by the national ID card number would show if the person is registered to a political party. Alternately, the EC website has an online database to check party registration by entering the ID card number.

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Young man dies in attempt to flee from police

A 22-year-old young man died in an accident on Sunday night while attempting to flee from the police.

The young man was driving the motorbike when the police attempted to stop him in a drug operation near Flat 133 in Malé’s suburb Hulhumalé at 9:10pm. The young man sped away at high speed and crashed into a car.

He was thrown from the bike and sustained severe injuries. He died while undergoing treatment at the Hulhumalé hospital.

A 24-year-old man was sitting on the back. He broke an arm and a leg and is receiving further treatment at Malé’s Indhira Gandhi Memorial Hospital.

The driver of the car did not sustain any injuries.

The police declined to comment on whether any drugs were found on the suspects.

 

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20 inmates released under pilot tagging project

The home ministry has transferred 20 inmates to house arrest and island arrest under a pilot tagging project.

The inmates were released with an electronic tagging device attached to their ankle, which will send out a signal if he or she steps out of a restricted area.

Home ministry media coordinator Thazmeel Abdul Samad told Minivan News today that a local company called Telvert Maldives won the bidding process for the project and will be handling technical issues with the device, while the police, military, the Maldives Correctional Services will be monitoring the inmates.

Thazmeel said tagging would prove effective in preventing convicts released on parole from engaging in criminal behaviour.

“This device is a reminder not to commit crimes again. Inmates will be more hesitant [with the tag],” he said.

The tagging device will sound an alarm if the inmate steps out of the designated area while a receiver in his home will immediately alert the company.

Thazmeel said an official agreement will be signed with the company in the near future to carry out the tagging project.

Home minister Umar Naseer announced last year that inmates will be categorised into four groups based on security risks. The inmates in the least dangerous category will be tagged and released for work and study programmes with the electronic tags.

In addition to undergoing a security screening, Naseer said they will also have to be nearing the end of their sentence.

“They will have to do one or the other [work or study]. If they are working, we have to know where they are going. We also have to know the exact route they are taking. Through the tag, we can track which streets they are walking on,” he said.

The home minister previously said the tags have been tested during his trip to Singapore.

In May last year, Naseer said older inmates or inmates nearing the end of the sentence will be housed in an open jail on a separate island.

Inmates in category two will be allowed to work on the industrial Thilafushi island, and the most dangerous criminals or category one criminals will continue to serve their sentences behind bars in Maafushi prison.

The open jail is to be established on an uninhabited island. The government will provide modest shelter, run a mosque, and establish an administrative office and a security post. The inmates will cook for themselves and be self- sufficient, but will not be allowed to leave the island, Naseer said.

Updates on the open jail project were not available from the ministry at the time of going to press.

The reforms will reduce the prison population from 1,000 inmates to 300 or 400 inmates, the home minister said.

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All parties, except PPM, required to re-register members

The Elections Commission has ordered all political parties, except the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), to re-register any member who may have submitted membership forms without fingerprints.

The commission in a statement on Thursday said the 2013 Political Parties Act requires all political parties to submit fingerprints of members to register, and ordered all parties to submit membership forms with fingerprints by December 31.

The PPM, formed in 2011, is not required to re-register members as all of its membership forms held fingerprints. The EC had first established the requirement for fingerprints in 2010, and it was enshrined by law in 2013.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), the first party to register in the Maldives in 2005, has claimed the move is designed to reduce its members.

With 46,608 members, MDP is the largest political party in the Maldives.

MDP spokesperson and MP Imthiyaz Fahmy said the commission could not apply the law retroactively. “The MDP was formed before the new act. Back then, a fingerprint was not required, so the membership forms are valid,” he said.

He argued that article 8 (a) of the Political Party Act accepts any party with more than 3000 members before the law came into force as a registered political party. The requirement for fingerprints only applied to new membership forms.

“This is a clear obstruction of the people’s constitutional right to join political parties. It creates an unfair burden on political parties and is designed to reduce our numbers,” he added.

EC members were unavailable for comment at the time of going to press.

Ahmed Akram, an EC member, told newspaper Sun that any members who did not submit forms with fingerprints will be removed from the political party registry.

The PPM has 36,232 members. The Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), from which the PPM emerged as a splinter faction, has 14,750 members. The Jumhooree Party has 13,990 members.

The religious conservative Adhaalath Party has 9009 members.

Political parties receive funds from the state budget every year. The amount depends on the size of the party membership.

The EC has previously said it receives complaints from the public about being registered to political parties without their knowledge or consent.

The commission has set up mechanisms to check party registration either through text messages or on the official website.

A text message sent to 1414 with PPR space followed by the national ID card number would show if the person is registered to a political party. Alternately, the EC website has an online database to check party registration by entering the ID card number.

The EC in 2014 fined the PPM, MDP, JP, Adhaalath Party and DRP for submitting fraudulent membership forms.

The commission in September 2014 fined the Jumhooree Party for a ninth time after it discovered repeated fingerprints by 36 people on some 258 new membership forms.

The PPM was also fined in March 2014, after it emerged that the ruling party had submitted forms on behalf of a dead man.

The Anti Corruption Commission in 2012 interviewed 100 members of then-President Mohamed Waheed’s Gaumee Ihthihaadh Party (GIP) and alleged 85 percent of those polled had no knowledge of ever joining the party.

 

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Maldives threatens to leave the Commonwealth, again

The Maldives “will seriously consider its membership at the Commonwealth” if it is placed on the agenda of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) for a second time in four years, foreign minister Dunya Maumoon has said.

Some Commonwealth members are pushing for the CMAG to assess alleged violations of the Commonwealth’s principles by the Maldives.

Diplomatic pressure has been mounting on the Maldives over the imprisonment of opposition politicians, including ex president Mohamed Nasheed.

In a conversation on Wednesday with Kamalesh Sharma, the Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Dunya said there are no serious violations in the Maldives and criticized Sharma’s alleged failure to follow due process before considering action.

“I said that the trust that had begun to build between the Maldives and the Commonwealth will be seriously undermined if the Maldives is placed on the CMAG agenda,” Dunya told the press today.

The CMAG can recommend measures for collective action to restore democracy and constitutional rule.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) called on the Maldivian government to “stop being so arrogant.”

“Having to leave the Commonwealth for not abiding by its principles will only isolate the Maldives from the rest of the world. And it will not be very healthy for the Maldives, but detrimental,” MP Imthiyaz Fahmy said.

CMAG agenda

The Maldives was placed on the CMAG agenda from March 2012 – March 2013 after President Nasheed resigned amidst a police and military mutiny. He later alleged he had been ousted in a coup d’état.

A Commonwealth backed inquiry found the transfer of power to be constitutional.

The Maldives was previously placed on the CMAG’s agenda “on an unfair basis, based on false allegations, and the country’s economy and democratic governance suffered significantly as a result,” Dunya said.

Placing the Maldives on the CMAG’s agenda for a second time amounts to selective and unfair treatment and violates the Commonwealth’s own rules, she contended today.

She also said Sharma had not raised questions over violations in the Maldives, or extended assistance for redress as required by the Commonwealth’s rules.

Nasheed was arrested in February and sentenced to 13 years in jail on terrorism charges in March over the arrest of a judge during his tenure. His imprisonment triggered a political crisis with daily protests and hundreds of arrests.

The opposition leader’s imprisonment coincided with the imprisonment of ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim on weapons smuggling charges. Three more key opposition leaders have since been charged with terrorism over a historic anti-government protest on May 1.

The Maldives Supreme Court meanwhile ruled a report submitted to the UN by the state human rights watchdog unlawful, and has barred it from communicating independently with foreign organizations.

Signs of a thaw are emerging between the government and the opposition. Nasheed was transferred to house arrest in late June after the opposition backed a constitution amendment to allow President Abdulla Yameen to replace his deputy.

Representatives of the government and the opposition sat for a preliminary meeting to prepare for talks last night.

In mid-June Canada called on CMAG to “urgently put the deteriorating situation in the Maldives on its formal agenda.”

Dunya urged Sharma to take note of the positive changes in the Maldives in the last few weeks. She also accused Canada of undue influence in the Commonwealth as a donor country.

On February 24, in response to statements expressing concern over Nasheed’s trial, Dunya said:

“We don’t get much aid or development from being a Commonwealth country. In 2012, Maldivians questioned the importance of us remaining in the Commonwealth. I am sure the question will arise again.”

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Whale shark sustains serious injuries from boat propellers

The Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme (MWSR) has revealed photos of a whale shark with severe injuries caused by a boat propellor.

The organisation posted photos of a whale shark it has named Naococco with deep cuts and wounds.

“It seems Naococco is the latest shark to fall foul of a boat propeller. The images below show the extent of the injuries which are among the worst we’ve seen,” reads the Facebook post.

[bxslider id=”whale-shark-damage-propellor”]

Naococco was last seen uninjured on June 1, the MWSRP said.

Here’s what he looked like before he was hit by the boat’s propellors:

Whale Shark damage 5

Whale sharks are protected in the Maldives.

The MWSRP is a research-based conservation charity dedicated to study the whale shark and fostering community-focused conservation initiatives in the Maldives and the greater Indian Ocean.

The whale shark’s injuries “highlights the danger that vessels pose to these sharks,” the MWSRP suggested.

“We urge all users of the area to slow down below the 10kts speed limit and keep a dedicated spotter watching ahead of the path of the vessel for the duration of the time they are traveling through the S.A. MPA [the Southern Ari Atoll Marine Protected Area].

“The MWSRP and the network of guides and marine biologists will be monitoring Naococco’s progress and we hope he will defy the odds and make a full recovery.”

The southern tip of Ari atoll, a year-long whale shark aggregation site, was declared a marine protected area (MPA) in June 2009.

It is prohibited to anchor, mine for coral or sand or dump rubbish in MPAs. Fishing and any other activity which may cause damage to marine life is also forbidden.

The MWSRP was not responding to inquiries despite repeated attempts.

According to a report by a marine researcher on the economic value of whale sharks in Maldives,  the estimated direct expenditures for whale shark focused tourism in the South Ari Marine Protected Area for 2012 and 2013 accounted for US$7.6 and $9.4 million respectively.

The figures are based on an estimate of 72,000–78,000 tourists who are involved in whale shark excursions annually.

In 2010, the MWSRP warned that excessive human interaction with whale sharks in South Ari Atoll could eventually lead to the species leaving the area permanently, after receiving reports of tourists touching and even attempting to ride the sharks.

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UN Human Rights Council mulls action against Maldives

The President of the UN Human Rights Council has called the imposition of 11 guidelines on the Maldives human rights watchdog by the Supreme Court as “unacceptable,” and said he stands ready to take appropriate actions within his mandate.

“National human rights institutions play a pivotal role in independently monitoring and protecting human rights. The imposition of restrictions on the HRCM [Human Rights Commission of the Maldives] for its engagement, in particular, with the Human Rights Council, and its mechanisms is unacceptable,” said Joachim Rücker in a letter to a New-Delhi based advocacy group.

The Supreme Court had found a human rights assessment submitted by the HRCM to the UN’s Universal Periodic Review unlawful, and set several guidelines prescribing how it should operate within the law.

The guideline bars the HRCM from communicating independently with foreign bodies, and orders it to protect unity, peace and order, and uphold Maldivian norms and faith.

The Asian Center for Human Rights (ACHR) on June 26 had urged Rücker to condemn the Supreme Court’s judgment against the HRCM, stating that “the act of reprisal” is unheard of.

If the UN human rights council fails to condemn it, it would set dangerous precedent across the world, the NGO warned.

In reply, Rücker said: “Please rest assured that I will continue to closely follow this case, continue the dialogue with the Government of the Maldives, as Member State of the Human Rights Council, and stand ready to take appropriate actions within my mandate.”

The issue had been raised at a human rights council meeting on June 26, and had been discussed at a bureau meeting with vice-presidents, he said. Concern had been raised with Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon as well.

The ACHR had previously called on the UN Human Rights Council to suspend the Maldives from the council.

Suhas Chakma, the Director of the ACHR, on Wednesday called upon President Abdulla Yameen to place a new bill in the parliament to revoke the Supreme Court’s verdict against the HRCM before the end of the ongoing UN Human Rights Council.

The 29th session of the UNHRC is taking place from June 15 to July 3 in Geneva, Switzerland. The inter-governmental body is comprised of 47 member states and meets for 10 weeks every year, in March, June and September.

The Maldives was first elected to the council in 2010 and re-elected for a second term in November 2013.

The ACHR has special consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council and provides information and complaints to national human rights institutions and the UN bodies and mechanisms.

The government had previously defended the court’s judgment, insisting that the court’s decision “clearly stresses” the commission’s independence.

The foreign ministry 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.”

 

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