Foreign minister slams UK, US, EU, Canada over tweets

Foreign minister Dunya Maumoon has expressed concern over tweets by the British High Commissioner, the European Union Ambassador and the Canadian and US missions to the Maldives regarding fresh terrorism charges against three opposition leaders.

The Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla, Jumhooree Party’s deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim and its council member Sobah Rasheed are accused of inciting violence at a historic antigovernment protest on May 1 and charged with terrorism.

The UK’s new high commissioner to the Maldives, James Dauris, in a tweet on Tuesday expressed hope that judges would follow international standards and said: “Will be watching closely.”

The Canadian high commission said it was watching closely with concern. The US Embassy, meanwhile, suggested the government must take steps to restore confidence in democracy and the rule of law.

In response, Dunya tweeted today from the foreign ministry’s official twitter account saying: “I am concerned by the tweets of some countries.”

The government will not intervene in the judicial process, she said. However, she said justice will be served according to the Maldivian constitution and said “criminal activities and incitement to violence will not be condoned.”

Imran denied charges at a first hearing on Tuesday night. He was arrested from his home on Monday night and is to be kept in police custody until the trial concludes.

Ameen and Sobah’s hearings were cancelled last night. The two are out of the country.

If convicted, the three face between 10 and 15 years in jail.

Nearly 20,000 people took to the streets 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 same three judges who sentenced Nasheed and Nazim are now overseeing Imran’s terrorism trial.

Foreign governments and international bodies, including the UN and Amnesty International, have expressed concern over the apparent lack of due process in Nasheed and Nazim’s trials. The parliament of the European Union has called for Nasheed’s immediate release.

The government, however, insists Nasheed and Nazim were granted fair trials, and condemned foreign governments for criticism of the judiciary.

The new terrorism charges follow President Abdulla Yameen’s invitation for separate talks with the three allied opposition parties, prompting concern over the government’s sincerity.

The president, however, blames lack of progress in talks on the “insincerity” of the oppoisition parties.

The MDP chairperson Ali Waheed was also arrested along with Ameen and Imran, but the PG office has reportedly not made a decision on prosecuting the former MP.

This article was amended on June 4 to include a tweet by the European Union Ambassador to the Maldives


More than 124,000 migrant workers in the Maldives

The migrant worker population of the Maldives exceeds 124,000, the department of immigration has revealed. The figure includes 94,492 registered expatriates and more than 30,000 undocumented workers.

Controller of immigration Mohamed Anwar told the press on Monday that the department’s main focus at present is strengthening the labour migration system.

The department signed Memoranda of Understanding with four companies this week for deporting undocumented workers.

Under the “shared responsibility” programme, Amin Construction, Ensis Fisheries, Hotels and Resorts Construction, and the China Machinery Engineering Corporation agreed to hire undocumented workers for projects, after which they would be deported.

A government report in 2011 revealed human trafficking to be the Maldives second most lucrative industry after tourism – worth an estimated US$123 million a year.

The US state department said foreign workers in the Maldives experience forced labor, including fraudulent recruitment, confiscation of identity and travel documents, withholding or nonpayment of wages, and debt bondage.

The government last month launched a five year strategic action plan to prevent human trafficking in Maldives, but the ministry of economic development did not disclose details of the plan.

The immigration department has deported more than 2,000 foreign workers so far this year, including 1,401 under a voluntary departure programme and 101 workers deported due to criminal offences.

Some 427 undocumented workers were deported after their arrest in various operations while 56 expatriates unfit for working due to poor heath were denied entry.

The majority of migrant workers in the country work in the construction industry.

Anwar said the Maldives needed foreign labour as the country lacked a large workforce. The department’s task was “managing” the influx of migrant workers, he added.

Last month, the immigration department instructed local businesses to send back migrant workers hired as photographers and cashiers before June 7 and apply for cancellation of employment approvals. The department warned that employers who do not comply will be penalised.

Deputy controller of immigration Abdulla Algeen said at Monday’s press conference that 95 percent of migrant workers enter the Maldives legally, but became “irregular” due to the fault of both sponsors and the employees themselves, who often “flee.”

A performance audit of the immigration department released last month noted that the absence of effective enforcement measures prior to 2014, after which the department “started conducting frequent investigations and they have strengthened their enforcement measures such as levying a fine on employers violating the regulations.”

The 2014 census recorded only 58,683 expatriates were residing in the Maldives. The department of national planning had said the figure was much lower than numbers recorded by the immigration department.

NGO Transparency Maldives (TM) estimates there are 200,000 migrant workers in the Maldives – two-thirds of the country’s 341,256 local population.



Opposition councilors barred from Dhiggaru office over PPM lunch

Two opposition councillors in Meemu atoll Dhiggaru say they were barred from the council office today because of a lunch set for the ruling party’s campaign team.

Former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, his son and ruling party candidate for the Dhiggaru by-election Ahmed Faris Maumoon, and senior party officials are on the island ahead of Saturday’s polls.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) councillor Ahmed Nishan said they were unable to work today as lunch had been set for the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) campaign team in their offices.

“When I came to the office I found out that a lunch was set up in the office where the councillors usually work. The lunch was for Faris Maumoon’s campaign team,” Nishan said.

Dhiggaru lunch

The five-member council consists of three PPM councillors and two MDP councillors.

Dhiggaru council president Imran Ismail denied that lunch had been set at the council office.

“I am not aware that any councillors are facing difficulties as of yet,” he added.

The council’s vice president, also a PPM member, declined to comment on the matter, while a staff at the council office hung up the phone when asked about the lunch.

Nishan said he believed the lunch was bought on PPM’s funds, as all council members must be informed of expenditure from public funds.

Former President Maumoon reportedly arrived at the council office in the island health centre’s ambulance.

Faris will contest against the MDP’s Ahmed Razee and independent candidate Moosa Naseer Ahmed in the June 6 poll.

The opposition has accused the PPM of vote-buying and bribery after PPM donated x-ray machines and air conditioning units to the constituency.

President Abdulla Yameen this week pledged to provide a 140 kilo-watt power generator for Dhiggaru and urged Dhiggaru constituents to vote for Faris to ensure development.

“If you do this, no doubt when the budget comes, under the principle where constituencies with our members are prioritised now, this constituency will be noted very early on,” he said.

The generator will arrive before Ramadan, and projects to establish water and sewerage systems in Dhiggaru will begin early next year.

An outer wall for the Dhiggaru football field will also be built in two months and a futsal pitch will be built during the year, he pledged.

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

The by-election was triggered by the jailing of former MP Ahmed Nazim, also a PPM member. He was convicted of defrauding the former atolls ministry and imprisoned for life.

Dhiggaru is a PPM stronghold and a support base of the former president.

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


Convict alleges attempts to coerce confession to killing Dr Afrasheem

Murder convict Hussain Humam has claimed that former state minister for home affairs Mohamed Fayaz ‘FA’ threatened to kill his family if he did not confess to killing Dr Afrasheem Ali, local media report.

At a hearing of his appeal at the High Court yesterday, Human alleged attempts by Fayaz, police officers and state prosecutors to coerce a confession.

The state minister told Humam that “the people who murdered Dr Afrasheem can also murder your family,” he claimed.

Humam said he confessed to the crime at the criminal court due to “psychological abuse.”

“I was shown photos of the murdered MP and intimidated by police. I tried to hang myself at jail,” he was quoted as saying by local media.

The late moderate religious scholar and Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP was brutally stabbed to death on October 1, 2013 in a murder that shocked the nation.

Humam was arrested within hours after Afrasheem’s body was found and charged with murder in January 2013. After pleading not guilty, Humam confessed to the killing at a hearing in May 2013 and gave a detailed account of the murder.

However, a month later, Humam retracted the confession, claiming police obtained it through coercion.

Suspicion has since been cast upon the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), religious extremists and President Abdulla  Yameen. Humam is the only person convicted so far despite police saying the murder was premeditated and politically motivated.

The next hearing will be the final hearing in the case, judges said yesterday.

At a previous hearing, Humam alleged the president and tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb’s involvement in the murder, saying the pair “will know best” the details of the case.

Last week, President Yameen threatened to prosecute Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla over allegations linking him to the murder, whilst Adeeb accused the MDP and Humam’s lawyer, Abdulla Haseen, of orchestrating Humam’s remarks at court in a “character assassination” attempt.

Yameen has also vowed to enforce the death sentence against Dr Afrasheem’s murders. Humam was sentenced to death in January 2013.

“God willing the death sentence will be implemented by the end of this year for the murderers of Dr. Afrasheem,” Yameen said in April.

A second suspect charged with murder, Ali Shan, was acquitted of murder in September last year with the court citing insufficient evidence.

Shan was implicated in Humam’s confession, but the judge said several witnesses had testified that the accused was at a restaurant at the time the murder took place.

A third suspect, Azlif Rauf, who Humam said planned the murder, meanwhile left to Turkey with six members of Malé’s Kuda Henveiru gang in January.


Elections Commission reveals funds allocated for political parties

The Elections Commission has announced MVR 20,869,839 (USD 1,357,829.50) as funds allocated for political parties in the 2015 state budget

In a tweet yesterday the commission revealed figures of the funds available for each party. Funds are allocated based on party membership.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) will receive the largest sum as it has 46,608 members. The MDP is to receive MVR 7,058,586(USD 4, 59,244.38), according to figures from the EC.

The second largest party, ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) will receive MVR 5,487,790 (USD 3, 570, 45.55). The PPM has 36,236 registered members.

Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) is the third largest party, with 14, 750 registered members. The commission has allocated MVR 2,233,852 (USD 1, 453, 38.45) for DRP.

DRP was founded by former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in 2005. On Februray 2010, Gayoom announced then-MP and his running mate in the 2008 polls, Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, would succeed as the leader of DRP.

However, in March 2011, the party broke into two factions, led by Thasmeen and Gayoom, respectively.

Gayoom’s faction went on to form the PPM and Thasmeen is now a member of the MDP.

The DRP has remained dormant in the political scene since then.

The business tycoon Gasim Ibrahim’s Jumhooree Party (JP) will receive MVR 2,118,762 (USD 1, 378, 50.49) for their 13,990 members.

Religious Conservative, Adhaalath Party (AP) will receive MVR 1,364,375 (USD 88,768.71). The AP has 9009 registered members.

Businessman Ahmed Siyam’s ruling coalition’s partner, Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) has 7666 registered members. The EC has allocated MVR 1,160,983 (USD 75,535.66) for MDA.

The Islamic Democratic Party (IDP) has 2,148 members and will receive MVR 3,25,035 (USD  2,1164.93).

The EC has said that the funds will be released to the parties next week, according reports from the local media.

The 2013 Political Party Act states the state must allocate 0.1 – 0.2 percent of the budget for political parties. Funds must be disbursed within the first three months of the year according to the number of members in each party.

The parties must submit an annual report and an audit report before funds can be disbursed.

The EC announced the figures of allocated funds amidst allegations the commission is delaying funds to obstruct political party activities. But the commission blamed the delay on challenges to verifying the exact number of members in each political party.

There are 15 parties registered in the Maldives. Many are dysfunctional.

The commission in March fined the MDP and the opposition Adhaalath Party by MVR47,000 and MVR33,000 respectively on the charge of inciting violence in their daily protests.

The allied opposition parties are protesting over the imprisonment of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim, and alleged targeting of JP leader Gasim Ibrahim’s businesses.

The two parties have refused to pay the fines and asked the commission to review its decision. The commission has said it has not made a decision on the appeal yet. The commission is authorized to deduct the sums from the annual payouts.


Education ministry locks up Mandhu College

The ministry of education locked up the Mandhu College in Malé last night after a 24-hour eviction notice expired yesterday, sparking an outcry on social media outcry.

Education ministry officials entered the building around 1:00am with police officers, padlocked the gate, and put up a notice that read, “these premises are now under the ministry of education.”

The notice stated that entering the grounds without a special permit from the ministry is illegal, and advised contacting the ministry to make arrangements for removing private property.

“Nobody and nothing is safe,” Mandhu College chairman Ibrahim ‘Ibra’ Ismail tweeted last night.

The civil court reportedly granted a stay order halting the eviction, before holding a separate hearing to annul the stay order.

“Going into court in 15 mins to try and save 1500 students’ future. Many of them too poor to come to Male’ to study. Pray for them,” Ibra tweeted yesterday after the education ministry gave a notice to to clear the premises by 3:00pm.

Mandhu college launched a virtual campus in August last year and offers online courses to students residing in islands across the country.

The education ministry said in a statement on Monday that the old Malé English School building was leased in December 2008 for development of an international school

The owner of the international school transferred the agreement to Malé High Pvt Ltd, which operates Mandhu College, and registered the international school under the company.

Operating a college in the premises was contrary to the purpose of the agreement, the ministry said, noting that public schools in the capital faced problems due to lack of capacity.

The education ministry previously ordered Mandhu to vacate the premises in January, but extended the deadline to May 30. The first semester at the college ended last week.

The ministry said the college had not responded to requests for discussions to formulate a timeline for vacating the building,


In a Facebook post today, Mandhu College urged students to remain calm and patient while the college sets up “alternative facilities for next semester.”

“It is with deep sadness that the college has to inform its students that the police have forcibly and unlawfully entered the college premises at around midnight tonight and evicted all staff and taken over all property of the college,” the college said.

One student expressed support for the college in a comment: “Our loyalty cannot be shaken by any such intimidation. We are with you Mr. Ibrahim Ismail and team.”

The forcible eviction has sparked outrage on social media, with one opposition MP suggesting that shutting down higher education institutions was a higher priority for police than investigating murders and other serious crimes.