Ex-president’s wife continues high-profile campaign in Europe

Former president Mohamed Nasheed’s wife, Laila Ali, is continuing a high-profile campaign in Europe to free her husband.

The former first lady met with the president of the European Union parliament Martin Schulz in Strasbourg, France, on Tuesday and met the UN high commissioner on human rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein in Geneva, Switzerland, on Wednesday.

Nasheed’s trial on terrorism charges was widely criticized for apparent lack of due process.

The UK prime minister David Cameron, the European Parliament, and US Senators John McCain and Jack Reed have called for his immediate release.

The opposition leader was transferred to house arrest in late June amidst mounting diplomatic pressure.

“We are hopeful, but cautious,” said Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, the spokesperson of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

“President Nasheed is not free, he could be returned to house arrest any minute. There are some 1400 opposition supporters and politicians facing charges. So we must continue our campaign.”

Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in jail over the military detention a judge during his tenure.

The MDP and the government recently commenced talks, but a third meeting was cancelled tonight as some ministers are out of the country. The opposition has also backed a constitutional amendment that would allow President Abdulla Yameen to replace his deputy as a confidence building measure.

An aide who had accompanied Laila on her Europe trip said she had discussed Nasheed’s imprisonment and the human rights situation in the Maldives during her visits. She met with EU MEPs in Brussels on Monday before calling on Schulz and Al-Hussein.

“The government needs to demonstrate its sincerity by freeing all political prisoners, including Nasheed, and ensuring they can fully return to public life,” the aide said.

In April, the EU parliament adopted a resolution calling for Nasheed’s freedom, and requested member countries to warn travelers on the human rights situation in the Maldives.

Shortly after Nasheed was sentenced, Zeid said the trial was rushed and “appears to contravene the Maldives’ own laws and practices and international fair trial standards in a number of respects.”

Heavyweight international human rights lawyers including Amal Clooney, the wife of Hollywood actor George Clooney, have taken up Nasheed’s case at the UN working group on arbitrary detention.

A ruling is expected in September or October. The government has hired a law firm chaired by Cherie Blair, the wife of UK’s former prime minister Tony Blair, to respond to the petition.

Meanwhile, Cameron has called for political dialogue in the Maldives and Nasheed’s release following a meeting with Laila on June 25. The former first lady had also met UK MPs and Hugo Swire, the minister of state, foreign and commonwealth office in her visit to London in late-June.

US Senators McCain and Reed, who chair the Senate Armed Forces Committee, on June 2 urged the US government to press for the opposition leader’s release and warned that the Maldives’ decisions are “having serious adverse consequences on its relationships abroad.”



Third meeting of talks cancelled

The government has cancelled a third meeting in ongoing talks with the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) as some ministers are out of the country, the president’s office has said.

The government was due to propose mechanisms to release jailed opposition politicians and withdraw charges against more than 1,400 opposition supporters.

The long-awaited talks has raised hope of an end to a six month long political crisis that was triggered by the arrest and imprisonment of former president Mohamed Nasheed.

The MDP had proposed that talks conclude within a two-week timeline.

Minivan News is awaiting comments from the MDP and the president’s office on whether the cancellation could be considered a setback. A date has not been set for the next meeting.

MDP parliamentary group leader Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Mohamed Solih is representing the party, while the home minister, the fisheries minister and the presidential affairs minister are representing the government.

President Abdulla Yameen’s proposed agenda for talks comprised of three aspects: political reconciliation, constitutional and judicial reform, and political party participation in development.

The government has conceded to an MDP demand to commence all-party talks at a second stage of talks when constitutional and judicial reform is discussed. Three separate teams of ministers were assigned to the MDP, the Jumhooree Party (JP) and the religious conservative Adhaalath Party.

Nasheed was transferred to house arrest in late June. The opposition subsequently backed a constitutional amendment that will allow the president to replace his deputy Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed.

“I believe this is the time for major reconciliation by finding a consensus through talks. The government, to show its sincerity, will make all the concessions we can,” home minister Umar Naseer had said at a first meeting of the talks.

Ex defence ministers Mohamed Nazim and Ibrahim Tholhath, and former ruling part MP Ahmed Nazim were also sentenced to jail within weeks of Nasheed’s sentence. Meanwhile, Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla is in police custody awaiting a trial on terrorism charges over a historic anti-government protest on May 1.

Ex-MP Nazim was hospitalized today over back-pains.

Two senior JP leaders and the MDP chairperson Ali Waheed have fled the country. The three were also arrested on May 1. JP deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim and council member Sobah Rasheed were charged with terrorism, but formal charges have not been brought against Waheed yet.

The government last week removed a freeze on JP leader Gasim Ibrahim’s Villa group accounts. Gasim has announced he will retire from politics when his term as MP expires in 2019.

The tourism tycoon left the Maldives in late April and has not yet returned. The newly passed constitutional amendment, which set new age limits of 30-65 years for the presidency, will bar Gasim from the 2018 presidential elections.

MDP has said the opposition and government must come to an agreement on “politically motivated charges and sentences” before discussing constitutional and judicial reform.

The MDP has also asked for an independent inquiry into the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan and the brutal murder of MP Afrasheem Ali.

The party has also proposed a change from the Maldives’ current presidential system to a parliamentary system.

Representatives of the government and the opposition have said they are committed to a resolution and political stability.

Talks with the JP are ongoing, but meetings between the government and the Adhaalath Party are yet to begin.


Corruption alleged in use of MVR150m budget for independence day

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) is investigating corruption in the home ministry’s use of an MVR150million (US$9.7million) budget allotted for independence day activities. The ministry is accused of awarding lucrative projects to private companies without a bidding process.

The Maldives will mark 50 years of independence from the British on July 26.

An office set up under the home ministry has awarded a restaurant New Port with a MVR1million catering contract and a British company called The Projection Studio with a contract to manage sound, light and projection at the official celebrations.

Several monuments, public parks and the official jetty are also under renovation. A civil society group has been given a professional fee of MVR1million to make a replica of a historic boat.

President Abdulla Yameen has meanwhile bought a brand new luxury yacht worth US$4million for the independence day celebrations.

“The ACC formed a special committee to investigate the office on its own initiative after receiving complaints,” said assistant director Hassan Manik.

However, the head of the Minivan 50 (independence 50) office and deputy home minister Ahmed ‘Maaz’ Saleem denied corruption and said: “Instead of opening a public bidding process we are approaching local and foreign companies with relevant expertise and awarding the contract to the cheapest option with a special permit from the finance ministry.”

He also told Minivan News the ACC was overseeing the office’s transactions on their invitation.

Minister of Finance and Treasury Abdulla Jihad confirmed the provision of a special permit for the Minivan 50 office to “hand out some of the projects.”

While Saleem had refused to disclose the budget of allocated to independence day celebrations, Jihad confirmed to Minivan News that the figure amounted to MVR150 million.

Saleem insisted that the private companies were not profiting off of independence day activities, but that they were only charging a “professional fee.”

The deputy minister said the activities had been planned after a public consultation. The home ministry had called for proposals in 2014 and held a public forum this year to discuss proposals. “The celebration activities were decided by the public,” he said.

The home ministry has held a mandatory parade for all students, a swim between capital Malé and suburb Villingili and slaughtered 150 goats for the golden jubilee of independence.




Trial begins for eight suspects accused of assaulting police officer

The trial of eight suspects accused of assaulting a police officer during a mass anti-government protest on May 1 began today.

Scores of protesters and some police officers were injured during violent clashes on the night of May 1. Video footage shows protesters tripping and kicking a Specialist Operations (SO) officer and one man hitting the policeman over the head with his baton.

The seven male suspects and one female suspect were charged with assault. At the first hearing of the trial at the criminal court today, the presiding judge reportedly gave the defendants three days to appoint lawyers.

Sergeant Abdul Rahman Hussain had been flown to Sri Lanka for medical treatment after the assault while the police publicised video footage of the incident and appealed for public assistance in locating suspects.

The police forwarded cases against 15 suspects for prosecution in late May.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party had meanwhile accused police of torturing and threatening to kill three suspects arrested for assaulting the police officer.


Journalist’s family backs independent inquiry into disappearance

Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan’s family has supported the opposition’s call for an independent inquiry into his disappearance a year ago in a Malé suburb.

Speaking to the press outside the Hulhumalé ferry terminal in Malé, Rilwan’s sister Aishath Fazna also announced plans to hold a march on August 8 to mark one year after his disappearance.

Rilwan was last seen entering the ferry terminal in the early hours of August 8 last year. He is believed to have been abducted at knifepoint outside his apartment building in Hulhumalé.

The police prevented the family from speaking to the press today, stating that permission is required from the state-owned Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) to speak to the press on its premises.

An independent inquiry into Rilwan’s disappearance and the brutal murder of MP Afrasheem Ali was proposed by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to pave the way for political reconciliation in ongoing talks with the government.

Rilwan’s family said the panel must be impartial and its composition must be decided on consultation with civil society groups. The inquiry must consider the circumstances surrounding his disappearance, including death threats to journalists and the rise of religious extremism in the Maldives, the family said.

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Announcing a march on August 8 amidst police obstruction, the family said: “Taking to the streets is the only recourse we have. The people who have abducted our bother remain on the streets. As long as the perpetrators are not brought to justice, we are not safe.”

The police in April said it had received a DNA analysis of samples taken from cars suspected to have been used in the abduction. Family members have criticised slow progress in the investigation.

In a press statement, Rilwan’s family provided an update of activities conducted in the past year. A 5,500 signature strong petition calling for a speedy investigation was submitted to Majlis last year, but is stalled at a parliamentary committee. The family said they met with commissioner of police Hussein Waheed on Tuesday and last met with home minister Umar Naseer and the police investigating team in May.

The Police Integrity Commission (PIC) was asked to investigate police negligence in October last year, but the oversight body has yet to produce a report.

The family has also submitted a petition with the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances in September last year.


Defence minister summoned over Chinese submarine ‘incursion into Maldivian waters’

Defence minister Moosa Ali Jaleel has been summoned to parliament to answer whether a Chinese Yuan class 335 submarine entered Maldivian territorial waters between March 31 and May 22.

Eva Abdulla, an MP with the main opposition Maldivan Democratic Party (MDP), submitted the questions to parliament yesterday. Under parliamentary rules, a 14-day notice must be given for minister’s to appear for questioning.

An Indian newspaper India Today reported on June 27 that “China’s deadliest attack submarine” crossed the Arabian Sea and entered Karachi port on May 22.

The submarine is reportedly equipped with torpedoes, anti-ship missiles and air-independent propulsion.

“Beijing’s first-ever deployment of a submarine to Pakistan signals a new cat-and-mouse game in the region,” India Today observed.

According to the magazine, Indian navy chief Admiral RK Dhowan told reporters in New Delhi on May 28 that India was “minutely” monitoring Chinese naval activity in the Indian Ocean and “signalled the start of a new great game over the world’s most important water body.”

China’s rising presence in the Indian Ocean region has stoked concerns in New Delhi that the rival Asian power is creating a ‘string of pearls’ to encircle India, including Chinese investments in ports and other key projects in Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

The questions submitted by Eva ask the minister if the Chinese submarine was granted leave to enter Maldives’ territorial waters and if the security forces are aware if the submarine had entered the Maldives’ territorial waters without prior permission.

The docking of two Chinese submarines in a Sri Lankan port in November last year sparked concerns in New Delhi. The new Sri Lankan government in February pledged to ensure such incidents will not be repeated.

During an official visit to China last month – his second since assuming office in November 2013 – President Abdulla Yameen declared that Sino-Maldives relations are at an “all-time high” with the establishment of a cooperative partnership between the countries last year.

President Xi Jinping in his historic state visit in September invited the Maldives to “journey with China on the high-speed bullet train to progress and prosperity,” President Yameen said in a keynote address delivered at the opening ceremony of the 10th China-South Asia Business Forum on June 12.

The Maldives has also become one of the first partners in the Chinese ‘Maritime Silk Route’ initiative and a founding member of the Chinese-led new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).

In September last year, former President Mohamed Nasheed criticised the decision to join the Silk Route initiative, contending that it would threaten Indian Ocean security.

In January, the Chinese embassy in the Maldives denied Nasheed’s suggestions that the Maldivian government is planning to hand over large parts of Laamu Atoll to China for a military base.

“It is a common knowledge that China pursues a national defense policy that is defensive in nature,” the Chinese embassy said.

“China does not maintain any military in any foreign country”.

The opposition leader had alleged that the Maldives was to hand over large parts of the southern atoll to China for a military base on a 99-year lease, in exchange for US$2 billion.

India Today meanwhile noted that China is planning to sell eight Yuan class submarines to Pakistan within the next few years.

“According to a New York-based Council on Foreign Relations report, Pakistan has the fastest growing nuclear programme in the world. Its arsenal, built with the help of Chinese technology, stands at between 100 and 120 warheads, compared with China’s 250 and India with between 90 and 100,” the magazine reported.


Jailed ex MP admitted at hospital for tests

Imprisoned former ruling party MP Ahmed Nazim has been admitted at the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) to conduct tests.

According to local media, the former Progressive Party of Maldives MP for Dhiggaru was brought to Malé last night to treat back pains.

He was treated at the observation ward and admitted at the hospital after a doctor recommended further tests.

Nazim is serving a 25-year prison sentence at the low-security ‘Asseyri’ jail in Himmafushi. He was found guilty in April of defrauding the state of MVR1.4 million (US $91,400) by submitting bids on behalf of non-existent companies to supply 15,000 national flags to the now-defunct atolls ministry.

Nazim, a former close associate of President Abdulla Yameen, appears to have fallen out of favor with the government. He had served as the deputy Speaker of Majlis from 2009 – 2014.

The opposition has requested the former MP’s transfer to house arrest to pave the way for political reconciliation at ongoing talks with the government.

Nazim was sentenced shortly after ex-president Mohamed Nasheed, ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim, and ex-defence minister Tholhath Ibrahim were sentenced to jail on a variety of charges.

Nasheed was transferred to house arrest in late June after months of street protests and mounting diplomatic pressure. The government justified the transfer saying that the doctor had requested bed rest and a stress free environment for Nasheed.

Soon afterwards, the opposition backed a constitutional amendment which will allow the president to replace  his deputy.

Ex-defence minister Nazim’s family has also called for his transfer to house arrest.


President to appoint members to university governing council

The parliament has amended the 2011 national university law authorizing the president to appoint nine members to the university’s 13-member governing council.

The government-sponsored amendment bill was passed with 38 votes in favour and 16 against at today’s sitting of the People’s Majlis.

Under the existing law, the president only appoints the chancellor of the university, who becomes the head of the governing council.

Once the amendments are ratified, the president will appoint the chancellor, vice chancellor and deputy vice chancellors in addition to five members from outside the university to the council.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) had warned that the changes will compromise the university’s independence and politicise the institution.

Politicising the university would pave the way for hiring and dismissing officials for political reasons as well as the “misuse of the university’s students, employees, and resources to achieve political purposes,” the party said earlier this week.


Police searching for assault suspect

The police have appealed for assistance from the public in locating a man suspected of assaulting a shopkeeper around 11:30am on Tuesday.

An eyewitness at the shop in the Maafanu ward of Malé told newspaper Haveeru that a foreigner assaulted the elderly shopkeeper after the latter refused to give out MVR80 worth of purchases on credit.

The foreigner grabbed a knife on the counter and stabbed the shopkeeper. The victim was stabbed eight times and taken to the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) for treatment. He reportedly did not sustain serious injuries.

The police have meanwhile posted CCTV footage of the suspect and urged anyone with information about the suspect to call the police hotline number 3322111 or the organised crime department at 9911099.