Government appeals for ‘fair and objective assessment’ from Amnesty International

The government has urged an Amnesty International delegation currently visiting the Maldives to conduct a “fair and objective assessment of the situation on the ground.”

The human rights organisation had released a briefing report titled ‘Assault on civil and political rights’ after a fact-finding mission in the Maldives from April 17 to 22.

The foreign ministry at the time accused Amnesty of tarnishing the Maldives’ image in collusion with the opposition and dismissed its observations of a “rapidly deteriorating” human rights situation as “preposterous fabrications with zero truth.”

At a press conference today, foreign minister Dunya Maumoon said the government was concerned with the Amnesty delegation’s decision in April to meet with only officials and supporters of the opposition party.

Dunya said the government had offered to arrange meetings with senior officials and to facilitate a visit to former President Mohamed Nasheed in prison at a latter date, “but they didn’t respect our word and came to the Maldives at a convenient time for them.”

Amnesty International’s Maldives researcher, Abbas Faiz, told Minivan News at the time the government was informed on April 2 of the visit planned for later in the month.

“The government suggested that we delay the visit until mid or end of May to better facilitate requested meetings with the authorities,” he said.

“Amnesty International informed the government in response that it will proceed with its visit in April as planned, that this visit will focus on meeting members of civil society, and that we are planning to have another meeting in May to meet government representatives as suggested by the authorities.”

The foreign ministry has since arranged meetings with high-level officials for the Amnesty International team in the Maldives from June 23 to 26.

“Constructive engagement”

Dunya said the government will cooperate with Amnesty International and address its concerns despite the organisation previously spreading “falsehoods” about the Maldives.

“The government reiterates the importance of constructive engagement to avoid one-sided reporting that would tarnish Maldives’ reputation without grounds and affect the stability, development and democratic progress made in the country,” the foreign ministry said in a statement today.

“Again, the government notes the biased and baseless allegations made by Amnesty International in the past.”

The Maldives is “still a young democracy”, it added, and stressed the government’s commitment to legislative and constitutional reforms.

“The government of Maldives expects international partners to recognise the progress made and values collaboration based on constructive engagement so long as any such work does not seek to create division within the Maldivian society,” the foreign ministry said.

Dunya said the human rights situation in the Maldives has been “improving steadily” and that the current administration has “enacted a total of 18 key human rights legislations within a period of less than 18 months, which is an unparalleled record in the history of the Maldives.”

In its briefing report, Amnesty had said that the government was cracking down on peaceful protests, stifling dissent, and “abusing the judicial system” to imprison opposition politicians.

In response, the foreign ministry accused Amnesty of seeking to “undermine and defame the Maldives judiciary and its national institutions.”

Abbas said Amnesty’s recommendations to the government were made “on the basis of solid evidence, as detailed in our press release and briefing.”

“We have highlighted the cases of individuals regardless of their party affiliation. We urge the authorities to address the violations documented in our reports, including the serious breaches of fair trial standards,” he said.

Amnesty had called the conviction of former President Nasheed on terrorism charges in March “a travesty of justice.” The 19-day trial was widely criticised by foreign governments and the UN over its apparent lack of due process.

In recent weeks, diplomatic pressure has been mounting on the Maldives to release “political prisoners.”

The European parliament in April adopted a resolution condemning the “serious irregularities” of Nasheed’s terrorism trial while US secretary of state John Kerry said during a visit to Sri Lanka that the opposition leader was “imprisoned without due process”.

“This is an injustice that needs to be addressed soon,” he said.

Earlier this month, US senators John McCain and Jack Reed urged their government to press for the release of all political prisoners in the Maldives.


Ex-defence minister’s appeal stalled

The High Court today cancelled the third hearing into an appeal filed by former defence minister Mohamed Nazim following the Supreme Court’s transfer of two judges on the panel to a newly created appellate court in the south.

Nazim is serving an 11-year jail term on weapons smuggling charges. The retired colonel maintains he was framed by rogue police officers.

Appeal hearings began on Sunday and were to continue daily and conclude this week.

The Supreme Court yesterday transferred Judges Abbas Shareef and Shuaib Hassan Zakariyya to the southern branch of the High Court. The two are among the five-judge panel overseeing Nazim’s appeal.

A family member said they have not been informed when the next hearing is to take place.

There are now a number of issues that could stall Nazim’s appeal. A panel of at least three judges must preside over the case.

Two criminal court judges who had sentenced Nazim were recently appointed to vacant seats on the nine-member High Court bench. The High Court has previously said the pair – Judges Abdulla Didi and Sujau Usman – will not oversee the appeal.

Of the seven judges left, judge Azmiralda Zahir was also transferred along with Shareef and Zakariyya to the southern branch.

This leaves only four judges to oversee Nazim’s appeal.

The High Court could proceed with a three-member panel. But the Supreme Court could at any time transfer any three of the remaining six High Court judges in Malé to a second regional branch in the north.

If any of the two former criminal court judges sit on the Malé bench, the appeal cannot proceed.

The division of the High Court into three regional branches with three judges each was required through amendments to the Judicature Act in December last year.

The regional branches can only hear appeals of magistrate court verdicts, while only the main branch in Malé can hear appeals of challenges to laws and regulations.

Critics have previously questioned the need to divide the high court bench, noting magistrate courts typically only hold trials on petty crimes. The bulk of complicated civil and criminal matters are heard at the Malé’s superior courts.

The opposition has described the judges’ transfer to the regional branches as a demotion, and said it will allow the Supreme Court to transfer judges it is not happy with to the regional branches.

The apex court’s decision to divide the High Court comes at a much later date than that required by law. The amendments said the Supreme Court must establish the regional branches within 90 days of the ratification of the law.

On Sunday, Nazim highlighted several lapses in due process at the criminal court, including judge’s failure to call defence witnesses, discrepancies in testimony by anonymous police officers and police failure to follow standard procedures in the midnight raid on his apartment.

State prosecutors on Monday said police are authorised to change their standard operating procedures at any time.


MDP vice-president, arrested in the middle of a speech, released

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s vice-president, Mohamed Shifaz, was arrested in the middle of a speech and detained for two hours last night.

Police entered the opposition’s headquarters at Artificial Beach around midnight without a court warrant and arrested Shifaz while he was addressing a crowd of supporters.

Officers said Shifaz had been arrested for disturbing the peace by using loud speakers beyond midnight.

The police in May had banned the use of loud speakers beyond 11pm and protests beyond midnight. The opposition has condemned the move as an obstruction of freedom of assembly and expression.

“I was taken to the police headquarters and advised not to repeat my actions. I told them that advising me will not stop us from exercising our right to freedom of expression. My arrest is a blatant obstruction of that right,” Shifaz told Minivan News.

He was released at 2am.

The police also arrested two others from the opposition Haruge for obstruction of police duty. The pair were also released in the early hours of the morning.

The MDP has condemned the police’s actions, claiming they had switched off the loud speakers on the street by midnight.

Despite Shifaz’s arrest, the opposition rally continued till 1am.

The rally was held to prepare for the MDP’s tenth anniversary on June 26, Friday. The party has announced it will hold a march at 10pm on Friday.

Supporters have highlighted the party’s achievements on social media with the hashtag #MDP10years.

The MDP was the first political party to register in the Maldives.

Photo from social media


Nasandhura to be developed as a 15-storey luxury hotel

The government has revealed plans to develop the recently closed Nasandhura Palace Hotel on the waterfront of Malé as a 15-storey luxury hotel with apartments and a convention centre.

Speaking to Minivan News today, deputy tourism minister Ibrahim Lirar said Nasandhura will be re-developed as a five-star city hotel by Galaxy Enterprises – a company owned by President Abdulla Yameen’s brother-in-law Mohamed Manik.

“The company is going through all the design phases, which then has to be approved from the tourism ministry before they can start construction,” said Lirar.

Nasandhura Palace Hotel, located in front of the airport ferry terminal, first opened in 1981 and was managed by the government.

The site was previously handed to Shangri-la in May 2008 to develop a 15-storey hotel, before a crack in the coral reef outside the area doomed the project.

Shangri-la was provided land near Dharubaaruge to develop the hotel, but the project has since been stalled.

The hotel development project on the Nasandhuraa plot was awarded to Galaxy Enterprises five years ago.

The large plot of land also accommodates the state-owned Island Aviation Services’ head office, which has now been provided new premises to move its operations, said Lirar.

Island Aviation’s head of administration Ali Nashaath told Minivan News that the airline will be moving its headquarters to the vacant Raiveriyaa restaurant in the western end of Malé.

“We never had our own land to operate from for the past 15 or so years. So we are planning to develop the Raiveriyaa site as our permanent headquarters,” said Nashaath.

Haveeru reported that the cabinet’s economic council last month had requested Island Aviation to move out from Nasandhura, after transferring ownership of the plot of land from the housing ministry to the tourism ministry.

Asked about the bidding process in the hotel development project, Lirar said the tourism ministry followed all due procedures.

“The government will decide what happens to the land as it is government-owned. We will employ it in ways which would provide the maximum benefit to the government,” said Lirar.


Eight arrested for eating during daylight hours

Eight people have been arrested on suspicion of eating during daylight hours in the first five days of Ramadan.

Four were arrested from Thaa Atoll Dhiyamigili today, while another four were arrested in Malé this week. The police say they have received seven complaints over eating during daylight hours.

A court in Thaa Atoll Veymandhoo has detained the four men for three days. Three of the four arrested were arrested previously for drug abuse, the police said.

The criminal court in Malé on Friday extended the remand detention of three men arrested in Malé to seven days and one suspect to five days.

Some suspects were released after interrogation or with advice, a police media official said.

Consumption of food without a reasonable excuse during Ramadan is a criminal offence in the Maldives. The cases are usually proved with testimonies of eyewitnesses or the perpetrator. Those guilty are fined MVR150 for “disobedience to orders” under article 88 (a) of the 1968 penal code.

The criminal court has fined several people found guilty of eating or smoking during fasting hours.

In 2013, the police said they arrested on average two people a day for eating during daylight hours in Ramadan.


Maldives awarded Indian Ocean’s leading beach destination

The Maldives has been recognised as the ‘Indian Ocean’s Leading Beach Destination’ at the World Travel Awards Africa & Indian Ocean Gala Ceremony 2015.

Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) managing director Abdulla Ziyath accepted the award on behalf of the Maldives.

Some 150 industry leaders from 20 countries attended the awards ceremony at the Kempsinki Seychelles Resort Baie Lazare on Saturday night.

Seychelles took the title of ‘Indian Ocean’s Leading Destination.’

Maldivian resorts and hotels meanwhile won in several other Indian Ocean categories, including leading culinary hotel (Conrad Maldives Rangali Island), leading green resort (Park Hyatt Maldives Hadahaa), leading hotel suites (Royal Island Suite at JA Manafaru, Maldives), leading leisure hotel (Hulhulé Island Hotel), leading luxury resort (Cheval Blanc Randheli), leading luxury water villas (Ocean Suites at Paradise Island Resort & Spa, Maldives), leading villa resort and spa (Ayada Maldives), and most romantic resort (Baros Maldives).

The Ibrahim Nasir International Airport won the Indian Ocean’s Leading Airport award while Trans Maldivian Airways won the leading seaplane operator award.

Get Into Maldives Travels was recognised as the Indian Ocean’s Leading Travel Agency.

The MMPRC said in a statement on Sunday that the World Travel Awards brand is “globally recognised as the ultimate hallmark of quality”.

The awards covers the globe each year with a series of regional gala ceremonies staged to “recognise and celebrate individual and collective successes within each key geographical region.”

The Maldives hosted the first Indian Ocean World Travel Awards in 2013.