Adhaalath Party, Jumhooree Party leaders charged with terrorism

Adhaalath Party (AP) president Sheikh Imran Abdulla, Jumhooree Party (JP) deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim and JP council member Sobah Rasheed have been charged with terrorism for allegedly inciting violence during the May Day anti-government demonstration.

The prosecutor general’s (PG) office reportedly filed the terrorism charges at the criminal court today. The charges under the 1990 Anti-Terrorism Act carry a sentence of between 10 to 15 years in prison.

Imran and Ameen were arrested after the May Day protest and accused of encouraging violence in their speeches, which police contend led to protesters assaulting police officers, damaging property, and disrupting public order and safety.

Sobah Rasheed was arrested from an opposition street protest on May 3.

Main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) chairperson Ali Waheed was also arrested on May 1, but the PG office has reportedly not made a decision on prosecuting the former MP.

The terrorism charges follow President Abdulla Yameen’s invitation for separate talks with the three allied opposition parties. Imran, Ameen, and Ali Waheed are among the representatives of their respective parties.

Following his release last week after 26 days under police custody, Imran denied the allegations of encouraging violence. The police had also accused the opposition leaders of threatening President Yameen and other senior government officials.

More than 20,000 people took to the street on May 1 calling for the release of imprisoned former President Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim, whose arrests sparked the ongoing political crisis.

The May Day demonstration was the largest anti-government protest in over a decade.

Nasheed was charged with terrorism over the detention of a judge during his tenure and sentenced to 13 years in prison in March.

The PG office has also filed terrorism charges against the driver of a pickup that broke through police lines during the May Day demonstration.

The pickup used at the protest drove through barricades and the line of Specialist Operations police officers at high speed and was stopped near the Islamic centre.

The police said at the time that the driver was instructed and paid by protest organisers to break through the police lines.

Riot police cracked down on the May Day demonstration with tear gas, pepper spray and baton charges after protesters attempted to enter Malé’s restricted Republic Square at dusk.

Nearly 200 people were arrested and scores of protesters and some police officers were injured during violent clashes.

The opposition alliance has meanwhile called for a mass protest on June 12.

The terrorism charges against Sheikh Imran also comes after President Yameen threatened to prosecute the religious conservative party’s leader over allegations linking the president to the murder of MP Afrasheem Ali in October 2012.


Thulhaadhoo council defies order to withhold pay for suspended councillor

The Thulhaadhoo island council has defied orders from the Local Government Authority (LGA) to withhold the monthly salary of a councillor suspended for attending a mass anti-government protest on May 1.

The council informed the LGA last week that the authority’s order was contrary to relevant laws and regulations. Unless a court of law rules otherwise, the Thulhaadhoo council said it would be following an “unconstitutional order” if it enforced the decision.

Thulhaadhoo council member Ziyau Rasheed Ibrahim was among several councillors suspended for two months without pay following their arrest from the May Day protest.

The council noted that Ziyau was no longer under arrest and that the constitution guarantees “fair wages and equal remuneration for work of equal value”.

The LGA’s chair, home minister Umar Naseer, had ordered the council secretariat not to pay Ziyau as he had been arrested from an “unlawful assembly.” Naseer had also asked the anti-corruption watchdog to penalise any councillors who had traveled to the capital on state funds.

According to the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), some 300 of its 450 island and atoll councillors had taken part in the protest.

Ziyau told Minivan News today that he had taken a leave of absence and traveled to Malé with his own money.

“I support the decision made by the council as the LGA has no reason to suspend me,” he said.

Vice president of the Thulhaadhoo council, Ahmed Rasheed, said the council believed the provision the LGA referred to in its letter was irrelevant to Ziyau’s case.

The decision not to enforce the LGA order was approved unanimously.

LGA media officer Mohamed Azmeen said the Thulhaadhoo council’s decision will be addressed at the next board meeting due to take place on June 24 and suggested contacting the home minister for further details.

Naseer was unavailable for comment at the time of publication.

However, Rasheed said the LGA has replied to the council’s letter, advising the council to challenge the legality of the order at court.

Ziyau meanwhile revealed that he is facing charges of obstruction of police duty.

“They have sent me a summons today asking me to attend court for a hearing on some charge against me. A second chit said I would be given further details at a meeting,” he said.

Earlier this month, MDP island and atoll councillors in Noonu atoll decided to chip in to pay the salary of suspended Holhudhoo councillor Hussain Habeeb.


President Yameen promises engine for Dhiggaru during campaign trip

President Abdulla Yameen visited Meemu Dhiggaru today to campaign for the ruling party candidate ahead of the upcoming by-election for the constituency’s vacant parliament seat.

“There will be a 145 kilowatt generator in Dhiggaru before the start of Ramadan,” he said at a campaign event, according to president’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali.

The president’s nephew, Ahmed Faris Maumoon, is contesting the June 6 by-election as the Progressive Party of Maldives’ (PPM) candidate. Faris is the eldest son of PPM leader, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

President Yameen’s pledges follow PPM MPs assuring development of the five islands in the Dhiggaru constituency if Faris wins the by-election, prompting allegations of undue influence and bribery.

In his remarks at Dhiggaru, President Yameen also slammed the opposition’s continuing protests, saying demonstrations would not lead to development.

Tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb, housing minister Dr Muiz, and more than 25 PPM MPs accompanied the president during the trip. The delegation also visited Madduvari and Muli in Meemu atoll.

According to the president’s office, the president met the people of the three Meemu atoll islands and inquired about the difficulties being faced by the residents. ‎

“Addressing the people of the islands, the president mainly ‎highlighted the developmental projects to be carried out in the islands,” the president’s office said.

“The ‎president also reiterated the government’s commitment to realise the ‎developmental aspirations of the people. Further, the president underscored ‎the importance of receiving greater cooperation, and the significance of a ‎peaceful and harmonious society for the successful implementation of such ‎developmental projects.‎”

The PPM has previously been accused of bribery over the delivery of an x-ray machine to Muli last week.

The government has also signed an agreement with state-owned Maldives Transport and Construction Company to build a harbour in Dhiggaru.

The ruling party was previously also accused of vote-buying after openly handing over air-conditioners to a school in Raa Atoll Alifushi, shortly before an island council by-election.


Addu City shops hike prices of frozen goods after subsidy cut

Shops in Addu City have hiked the price of frozen goods and reduced business hours due to losses caused by the government’s decision to cease electricity subsidies to businesses in the atolls.

The majority of businesses in the southernmost atoll voted to increase the price of frozen goods by 15 percent and other items by five percent at a meeting organised by the city council last night.

“There were around 145 businesses in the meeting last night. More than 90 percent agreed to increase the prices,” said Mohamed Luthfy, assistant director at the council.

The government’s decision to discontinue electricity subsidies to businesses sparked protests across the country in April with shops, cafés and restaurants shutting down in protest. Electricity bills doubled, and in some case tripled, when the subsidy was cut for more than 5,700 businesses.

The Addu City business owners also decided to shorten business hours from 6:00am to 6:00pm and to keep shops closed at night.

However, neither decision will be implemented immediately as businesses from Hulhumeedhoo could not attend the meeting.

“So nothing will be implemented until a vote is taken amongst businesses of Hulhumeedhoo,” Luthfy said.

Earlier this month, grocery shops in Haa Alif Ihavandhoo increased prices of goods due to higher electricity prices. Owners also decided to keep shops closed from 6:00pm to 8:00pm.

Electricity charges in Addu and Fuvahmulaku are 37 percent higher than the capital and up to 72 percent higher in Haa Alif, Haa Dhaalu and Shaviyani Atoll.

The state-owned electricity provider to the atolls, Fenaka Corporation, has said its hands are tied as it is only implementing the government’s policy. Presenting the 2015 budget, the finance minister announced plans to target subsidies to the poor in an attempt to reduce expenditure.

Renewable energy

At last night’s meeting, Addu City businesses also discussed the possibility of using solar panels to generate electricity.

“We’ve negotiated with Fenaka Corporation to come to a solution but with no results. We prefer solar panels, so do the businesses,” Luthfy said.

Fenaka’s expenses on the island of Thinadhoo in Gaaf Dhaal atoll was halved after the implementation of a 2008 World Bank renewable energy pilot project.

Thinadhoo’s hospital, two public schools, powerhouse and mosque are powered by solar panels.

However, the Thinadhoo island council has said that the government’s utility company was benefiting more from the project than the island’s residents.

“Fenaka Corporations expenses have been reduced in half but still the price of electricity is has not gone down. In fact it has gone much higher with the subsidy cuts,” said island councillor Saudh Ali.

Businesses in the northern hub of Kulhudhufushi are meanwhile expected to take similar measures following the subsidy cuts.

“We are waiting for the electricity bills for the public to be issued. This is government tyranny and we will not wait in vain,” said Adam Shareef, a member of a steering committee formed by businesses in the island to negotiate with the government.

In early May, Fenaka cut off electricity to several businesses, including a private hospital in Addu City, when owners refused to pay bills.

Four businesses lodged a complaint with a magistrate court over power cuts. The court initially issued a stay order, but a new judge appointed to oversee the case overturned the ruling and said Fenaka was authorised to cut electricity if businesses fail to pay bills.

Last week, Fenaka blamed arsonists for a fire at its offices in Addu City, which two weeks after a group of people threw rocks and shattered windows at the home of Fenaka’s regional director Abdulla Zuhair.

A retail shop owner in Addu City told Minivan News that the attacks might have been a result of “desperation” due to the unresolved dispute over electricity prices between the power company and local businesses.


Home minister claims 100,000 participated in independence parade

Home minister Umar Naseer has claimed that more than 100,000 students and teachers participated in a parade held yesterday to celebrate the upcoming golden jubilee of independence.

Naseer’s claim was met with skepticism on social media as the number of students in government, community and private schools in the Maldives is 86,799, according to official figures.

Thousands of students, teachers and parents across the country joined the parade on Saturday in what the home ministry said was the “biggest event” held so far with the participation of students.

Students from the atolls marched on the main street of their island while the parade took place on Majeedhee Magu and Ameenee Magu in Malé.

“We can say with a lot of certainty that over 100,000 students participated in the event,” said home ministry’s media coordinator Thazmeel Abdul Samad.

Social media users have questioned the accuracy of the figure, with one user calling the claim a “joke.”

The parade in the capital started from the Maafannu stadium, went through the city’s main thoroughfare, and ended back at the stadium.

Home minister Naseer, foreign minister Dunya Maumoon, education minister Dr Aishath Shiham, and other high-ranking officials took part in the parade, wearing national colours.

The parade concluded with a skydiving event at the Maafanu stadium with the four foreign skydivers signing autographs and taking photos with participants.

The skydivers are due to conduct a training exercise for 15 locals for a skydiving event planned as part of the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of independence on July 26.

Other events planned by the home ministry to mark the golden jubilee include a swimming competition, a sea sports festival, a world record attempt, float parades, an international football tournament, a police tournament, several music shows and the unveiling of the new currency design.

The government has also started decorating the streets of Malé with national flags and sacrificed 150 goats in a public ceremony in April.

The Independence Day celebrations have drawn criticism over the lack of transparency of expenses made out of the state budget. However, the ‘Independence 50’ office under the home ministry has said that most of the work is done by volunteers.


Crisis in Maldives: Can talks succeed?

After months of daily protests and hundreds of arrests, the Maldivian government has called for separate talks with the allied opposition parties. But Maldivians are skeptical of a solution with the government unwilling to discuss the triggers for political unrest – the imprisonment of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) insists Nasheed must represent it at the talks, but President Abdulla Yameen has rejected the former-president’s nomination on the grounds he is serving a 13-year jail-term on a terrorism conviction.

The president’s agenda consist of political reconciliation, strengthening the judiciary, and political party participation in economic and social development.

Ahmed Faraz, a 21-year-old law student at the Maldives National University, said he has no hope: “The president is unwilling to compromise at all. He has already decided the agenda and rejected the MDP’s main demand, which is to release Nasheed. So I don’t see a solution unless one party decides to give in.”

The belief the government wants to keep Nasheed in jail at all cost is widespread.

Aishath Sana, a mother of two, said: “One thing is clear to me. Yameen wants Nasheed to remain in jail and the MDP doesn’t want that. If the government sincerely wants a fruitful end to the discussions they would have at least agreed to discuss Nasheed’s release.”

The government insists Nasheed and Nazim must exhaust all domestic appeal processes, while President Yameen says he has no constitutional authority to release the pair.

A ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) activist from Fuvahmulah said he, too, does not expect a meaningful outcome from the talks.

“The government has not released Nasheed and Nazim despite repeated calls from the international community to release the pair. So why would they listen to demands from domestic political parties?” Basil Thuthu, 22-years, questioned.

Why does the government want to keep Nasheed in jail?

“If the government decides to release Nasheed, which I don’t think will happen, he would again fight for the presidency and the government would want to shut him up again. So hope for a politically stable country is a much too ambitious goal,” Basim Abdulla, a young professional designer said.

“With Ramadan just a few weeks away, I think political activity will slow down. But I do not see lasting stability,” he said.

Some see MDP’s call for Nasheed’s release as stubborn. A lawyer who wished to remain anonymous said the government, for the first time, is willing to discuss judicial reform. The MDP must use the opportunity to reform the judiciary, a step that will lead to Nasheed’s release, he said.

“We all know the justice system is corrupt and weak. This is the reason why Nasheed is behind bars right now. So why not stop all the work and work on reforming the justice system? The government with all its might is saying they won’t release Nasheed. I think it’s time for MDP to compromise,” he said.

But others say if the MDP compromises and gives in, it will lose public support.

“The government is not backing up even a bit. So if MDP gives in now, and stay quiet, they will face a big defeat in the next election,” Mohamed Ismail Umar, 46, from northern Kulhuduhfushi Island said.

One PPM activist, however, said he expected a solution soon.

“The president wants to involve everyone in the discussions. I think it is impossible for Nasheed to participate in the talks and it doesn’t make any sense as he serving a sentence right now. So eventually, if the political parties want a solution, which I think is what everyone wants right now a positive outcome will come,” Ahmed Abu Bakuru, a coordinator at the youth ministry, said.

The invitation for talks was extended on May 14, but there has not been any substantial progress yet.

The opposition is now planning a third mass protest for June 12. Many opposition supporters say they have no choice but to keep on protesting.

The MDP youth wing’s president Mohamed Azmeel said he is encouraged by the increasing support for the opposition. The numbers at protests are growing, he said.

Over 10,000 attended a mass protest on February 27, while over 20,000 attended the May 1 protests, he said.

“The call for talks is just a game. The government only wants to appear reconciliatory when, in fact, they are not. I do not see any hope at this moment. But this will eventually end in the citizens’ favour. The longer this stalemate continues, more and more people will get fed-up, and the government will be eventually forced to back down,” he said.

For others, the government’s intransigence in the talks signals a slide into authoritarianism.

“I think the future is quite clear. The country will be stable but we won’t be practicing democracy. We might get a glimpse of development here and there but people won’t be free. We are heading towards a long dictatorial regime,” Ibrahim Lirar, a 27-year-old resort worker said.

Photo by Dhahau Naseem


Resort workers rally for ‘living wage’

Resort workers staged a rally in Malé today calling on the government to set a US$600 minimum wage and to pass a trade union law to allow collective bargaining.

The Tourism Employees Association of Maldives (TEAM) organised the rally after collecting about 7,000 signatures on a petition with five main demands.

“Our campaign calling on the government and resort owners to fulfil our demands will go on, even if, in the process, resorts become unable to operate,” secretary general of the TEAM, Mauroof Zakir, told Minivan News at the rally.

TEAM has circulated the petition in more than 70 of the Maldives’ 108 resorts since April. More than half of the 11,426 Maldivians employed in the multi-billion dollar industry have signed the petition.

The other demands include a mandatory 12 percent service charge, resort shares for workers as pledged by the president, and an 80 percent quota for Maldivians in the tourism industry.

Mauroof said TEAM will present the petition next week to the president’s office, the parliament, the tourism ministry, the economic ministry, the attorney general’s office and the youth ministry.

TEAM has previously warned of strikes if the government does not heed the demands.

About 50 resort workers joined the rally at the artificial beach today. Mauroof said TEAM was satisfied with the turnout and had not planned for most workers to take leave at the same time.

Protesters wore red T-shirts with the demands printed on the back and draped banners that read, “Sustainable tourism = living wage for tourism workers” and “Unfair dismissal = unfair tourism.”

“Our rights are being taken away. Resort owners discriminate between Maldivians and foreigners,” a resort worker at the rally, Abdulla Jaleel Ibrahim, told Minivan News.

“[Foreign workers] get leave to go visit their families whenever they want or to bring them to the resort with a holiday package, whereas local employees have to wait up to eight months even to get a leave. We are not allowed to bring our families there either.”

Adam Hamdhy, who has been working in the tourism industry for 13 years, said resort owners did not care about local staff employed in low paying jobs.

“They don’t care about how room boys and waiters may have to live. I am truly disappointed to note that local resort employees in higher positions are working against the TEAM’s campaign and their colleagues in lower positions,” he said.

Jumhooree Party MP Ali Hussain also attended the rally and encouraged the resort workers not to give up hope or lose focus.

Hussain vowed that he would submit legislation on industrial relations if the government does not heed the demand.

Deputy tourism minister Hussain Lirar previously told Minivan News that the government will consider the petition.

“The industry consists of a lot of stakeholders, not only TEAM. We will have to hold discussion with all of them before implementing new regulations,” he said.

The Maldives does not have a policy on minimum wage and setting one will require an amendment to the Employment Act. Current laws meanwhile require 50 percent of resort employees to be local, but the rule is not widely enforced.

Preliminary figures from the 2014 census indicated that foreign employees amount to 59 percent of all tourism employees, with 16,342 expatriate workers.

According to TEAM, US$358 million is transferred out of the country as wages for migrant workers annually.

Mauroof previously said that implementing the quota would help achieve the current administration’s pledge of creating 94,000 new jobs.

Providing shares in resorts to their rank-and-file employees was a campaign pledge of President Abdulla Yameen. Most resorts in the Maldives are owned by private companies and controlled by a few wealthy individuals.

In February 2014, President Yameen said that by the end of the year, a number of resorts would be floating a portion of their shares to the public, and urged Maldivian employees to become shareholders.

Last week, tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb said the government will announce a model for offering shares to workers before the end of the year.


‘External actors’ supporting radical elements, says foreign minister

Foreign minister Dunya Maumoon has expressed concern with external actors providing support to radical elements in societies transitioning to democracy.

“Radicalism has no place in Islam,” Dunya declared at the 42nd session of the council of foreign ministers of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Kuwait.

“Nonetheless, in every corner of our Ummah, faces of radicalism stare back at us. It is most distressing to the Maldives that external actors to continue to provide all forms of support to such radical elements, particularly in emerging democracies,” she said in an address delivered on Thursday.

Nearly a dozen Maldivian jihadis have reportedly died in Syria.

Since the first reports of Maldivians travelling for jihad surfaced last year, a steady stream of recruits have left the country, including couples and entire families. The government has not previously suggested that foreigners could be involved in recruiting locals.

In January, commissioner of police Hussein Waheed estimated over 50 Maldivians could be fighting in foreign civil wars, but the opposition says the figure could be as high as 200.

The government has since drafted a new terrorism law that criminalises participation in foreign wars.

Dunya meanwhile called for unity among Muslims in order “to rebuild the fallen bridges of tolerance.”

Islamic civilisation was once the standard bearer, “not only in science and innovation, but also in maintaining peace and promoting tolerance,” she said, and “tolerance was once the soft power of the Islamic Ummah.”

She also condemned “Israel’s illegal settlements in Palestine” on behalf of the government.

“The Maldives calls on countries around the world to support the state of Palestine and to recognise its sovereignty in Palestinian territories,” she said.

“Peace has to win over war in Syria, Libya, and Yemen. Compassion has to be shown to the large number of Rohingya Muslims stranded in the open seas in South East Asia.”

Dunya said she was “heartened to see an increased number of women colleagues” in the OIC meeting.

“Around the world women continue to face hardships. Islam liberated women and elevated their status in society and family. And Muslim countries need to continue with, instead of constraining, the rights of women,” she said.

The democratic reform agenda launched in 2004 by her father, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, “has transformed the country into a vibrant multi-party democracy without compromising our Islamic values and heritage,” she continued.

“The government of President Yameen is determined to see through the reform process. Islamic civilisation brought revolutionary changes to the systems of governance,” she said.

“It recognised the dignity of the human. The OIC is ideally placed to reposition the Islamic Ummah in the global platform as the new-age House of Wisdom.”


STELCO signs US$90m power development project

The State Electricity Company (STELCO) has signed a US$90 million power development project with China’s Dongfang Electric International Corporation to generate an additional 50 megawatts of electricity.

The state-owned utility company provides electricity services in Malé and its suburbs and presently produces 60 megawatts using 22 engines.

Under its fifth power development project, the company will install six engines over the next two years capable of generating eight megawatts each.

Speaking at a project inauguration ceremony on Thursday, STELCO managing director Abdul Shukoor said the company struggled to generate enough electricity for Malé during the recent hot northeastern monsoon.

STELCO was also unable to do maintenance work on engines and machinery, he said.

Once the power project is complete, Shukoor said STELCO would be able to provide electricity services without interruptions or technical problems.

The project will be financed through the STELCO budget and with loan assistance. The new engines are to be kept at the vacant plot next to the garbage dump.

Shukoor said the company plans to carry out another power development after four years, which will be four times bigger than the current project.