Police deny rumoured pregnancy of Fuvahmulah child prostitution victim

Underaged female victims of a child prostitution ring uncovered in Fuvahmulah last week are not pregnant despite media reports to the contrary, the police have said.

Chief Superintendent Hamdhoon Rasheed told the press today that the 16-year-old and 14-year-old girls have undergone pregnancy tests.

The police began investigating the case on July 5 based on intelligence information, Rasheed said, and 11 men have been arrested so far on suspicion of drugging, blackmailing, and forcing children into prostitution.

Ten suspects were taken into custody on Friday. The Fuvahmulah magistrate court granted 15-day extensions of remand detention the following day.

The eleventh suspect was arrested today and police are searching for more suspects.

Rasheed revealed that five of the suspects have criminal records for assault, theft, drug abuse, and sexual offences.

The suspects are all Maldivian men aged between 20 and 55, he said, and include those who forced the children into prostitution and others involved in the prostitution ring.

Rasheed did not reveal any further details.

CNM reported yesterday that the police began investigating the case upon learning that the 16-year-old victim of the prostitution ring was pregnant. Sources from Fuvahmulah meanwhile told newspaper Haveeru that the girls gave police a list of 50 suspects.

According to CNM, the Fuvahmulah hospital had alerted the police and the gender department last week, prompting an immediate investigation on the island.

The girls were tricked into using drugs and filmed naked, CNM reported. The men threatened to leak the videos and blackmailed the minor.

In February 2014, seven men were arrested from the island of Thinadhoo in Gaaf Dhaalu atoll on suspicion of forcing a 16-year-old girl into child prostitution.

In the first official acknowledgement of child prostitution in the Maldives, then-Gender Minister Azima Shukoor revealed in May 2013 that children were “being used as sex workers, where the children are sent to places as a means to pleasure people and to gain an income from such a trade.”

In June 2013, multiple sources told Minivan News that child prostitution was prevalent in the country, ranging from male benefactors grooming children with ‘gifts’ to parents actively exploiting their children.

A study focusing on Laamu atoll conducted by Consultant Clinical Psychologist Maldives Institute for Psychological Services, Training & Research (MIPSTAR), Dr Aishath Ali Naaz, showed that child prostitution was so “common” among minors that it was considered a normal activity.

She identified a “gradual process” of minors being “groomed” by adults via the internet and/or social media, with children taken to known “spots” and introduced to those involved in the sex trade.

In other instances, the minors are pushed to provide nude photos, and then emotionally blackmailed with threats that the pictures will be posted on the web, and ultimately recruited into prostitution.


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.



Mandhu College announces partnership with international universities

Mandhu College signed four Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) with foreign universities yesterday to enable students to transfer to UK degrees, becoming the first Maldivian higher education institute with direct credit transfer arrangements with international universities.

The private college said in a press release that MoUs were signed with Westminster International College, Brickfields Asia College, SG Academy, and MAHSA University. All four institutions are based in Malaysia.

“With these collaboration arrangements Mandhu College aims to provide a formalised pathway for credit transfer for students,” the press release explained.

“Furthermore, this collaboration aims to facilitate students to transfer to a higher level program at the respective universities, thereby reducing duplication of instruction and enhance earning of academic credits, which will ultimately lead to reduction of costs and time students have to spend to earn these qualifications.”

Last month, the education ministry evicted Mandhu College from its premises in the old Malé English School (MES) building following a protracted dispute.

The college has since reopened in a new three-storey building on Majeedhee Magu near the Reefside shop.

Under its partnership with Westminster International College – a division of London School of Commerce Groups of Colleges – the college explained that students who complete the Mandhu College Foundation for Degree Studies programme will be given entrance to complete their degrees in Malaysia and UK in the field of business studies.

Students who complete the Diploma in Business at Mandhu College will also be admitted into the second year of BA (Hons) Business Studies to complete their degrees in Malaysia and UK.

The Brickfields Asia College will meanwhile accept students who graduate from the Mandhu College Foundation for Degree Studies programme to complete their degree via UK degree transfer programme in the fields of mass communication, business studies, human resource management, business administration, accounting, finance and law.

The UK degree transfer programs are awarded by over 10 renowned universities in the UK, the college noted.

The partnership with with the SG Academy involves the exchange of expertise and knowledge in skill related programmes. “The five star rated institute by the Department of Skill Development of Malaysia awards qualifications from City and Guilds, UK,” the press release stated.

The MoU with the MAHSA University in Malaysia meanwhile “facilitates students graduating from Mandhu College Foundation for Degree Studies Program to gain entrance to degree programs in Nursing studies, biomedical sciences, environmental health and safety, medical imaging, physiotherapy, medicine and pharmacy studies.”

The college said its ‘Going Global’ initiative will “expand learning opportunities for students and at the same time it will enable to establish international education programs that will enhance student’s global engagement and diversify their thinking.”


ADK doctors perform first successful surgery to remove brain tumour

Three Maldivian doctors at the private ADK hospital have successfully removed a brain tumour in the first time the surgical procedure was performed in the Maldives.

ADK managing director Ahmed Affal told local media yesterday that neurosurgeon Dr Ali Niyaf, and general surgeons Dr Abdulla Ubaid and Dr Ibrahim Moomin performed the surgery on July 4.

The patient was a 47-year-old Maldivian woman. She has since been released and is in good health, Affal said.

The patient did not suffer common side-effects such as speech impediment and facial paralysis, he noted.

The first successful removal of a brain tumour in the Maldives represents significant progress for the local health sector, Affal said.

The hospital is now equipped with facilities to perform neurosurgeries, he added, and will be performing similar procedures in the future.

Affal expressed concern with the government’s health insurance scheme ‘Aasandha’ not covering brain surgeries performed in the Maldives.

Aasandha, however, covers the costs of performing brain surgeries overseas, including travel expenses.


President appoints chancellors to Islamic university, national university

President Abdulla Yameen has appointed chancellors to the newly established Maldives Islamic University (MIU) as well as the Maldives National University (MNU).

Former MNU chancellor Dr Mohamed Zahir Hussain was appointed the the MIU’s first chancellor while Civil Service Commission (CSC) chairperson Dr Mohamed Latheef was appointed the new MNU chancellor.

President Yameen also appointed Dr Ali Fawaz Shareef as the vice chancellor of the national university.

Zahir Hussain is the chairman of newspaper Haveeru and had served as education minister for 11 years during the 30-year reign of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

He was appointed MNU chancellor in March 2012 following the resignation of former chancellor Dr Musthafa Luthfy in protest against the transfer of presidential power the previous month.

Today’s appointments follow the ratification of a first amendment to the Maldives Islamic University Act on Thursday.

The new law passed in April was due to come into force in August, but the first amendment fast-tracked the process of upgrading the Islamic College of Maldives or Kulliya to a university and required the president to appoint a chancellor.

Kulliya was officially declared an Islamic university on Thursday.

The appointment of a new MNU chancellor meanwhile follows ratification of amendments to the Maldives National University Act last week, which authorised the president to appoint nine members to the 13-member governing council, including the chancellor and the vice chancellor.

The president could previously only appoint the chancellor.

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


No evidence linking reported abduction to Rilwan disappearance, says police

The police have said that there is no evidence linking the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan in August last year to a reported abduction outside his apartment in Hulhumalé.

Rilwan’s neighbours had reported seeing a man forced into a red car at knifepoint outside the apartment building in the early hours of August 8, at the same time he would have reached home.

In a statement released today, the police said they have received DNA analysis of samples taken from three cars suspected to have been used in the abduction, but could not “conclusively state” that there was a connection between the incident and Rilwan’s disappearance.

“We also note that this analysis did not provide any evidence of a link to the suspects previously arrested in this case,” the police said.

Four suspects had been arrested in October and one suspect was held in police custody for five weeks, but the Criminal Court transferred him to house arrest in November.

One of the suspects was among a group of 12 Maldivian jihadis who traveled to Syria in January. The group also included Azlif Rauf, a suspect in the murder of MP Dr Afrasheem Ali in October 2012, who reportedly died while fighting in Syria in mid-May.

An investigative report published by Maldivian Democratic Network had identified Azlif’s brother Arlif Rauf as the owner of the red car which may have been used in Rilwan’s suspected abduction.

The report implicated radicalised gangs in Rilwan’s disappearance and confirmed evidence of possible “hostile surveillance” at the terminal conducted by two known affiliates of Malé-based Kuda Henveiru gang led by the Rauf brothers.

Home minister Umar Naseer had also also acknowledged involvement of criminal gangs in the case.

Today’s police statement meanwhile follows Rilwan’s family backing an opposition proposal for an independent inquiry last week. The family also announced plans to hold a march on August 8 to mark one year after Rilwan’s disappearance.

The police vowed to continue efforts to find the missing journalist and the investigation into his disappearance “no matter how long it takes” and urged anyone with information to come forward.

Rilwan’s disappearance was “one of the cases that police investigation teams gave the highest priority to and spent the most time investigating in 2014,” the police said.

Police investigators have questioned 198 people, obtained statements from more than 80 individuals, and retrieved more than 293 hours of CCTV video footage, the statement noted.

The police also searched public spaces, closed areas, and industrial areas in Hulhumalè, the statement continued, and searched more than 50 places in the suburb with court warrants.

In a press release last week, Rilwan’s family provided an update of activities conducted in the past year.

A petition with 5,500 signatures calling for a speedy investigation was submitted to the parliament last year, but is stalled at a parliamentary committee. The family said they met with commissioner of police Hussein Waheed last week and last met with home minister Umar Naseer and the police investigating team in May.

The Police Integrity Commission 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.


JP leader Gasim returns to Maldives

Gasim Ibrahim, the leader of Jumhooree Party (JP) returned to Maldives today after the government removed a freeze on his Villa Group accounts over an alleged unpaid fine of US$90.4million.

Gasim spent nearly three months abroad, during which he announced he will resign from politics after his term as Maamigili MP expires in 2019. He has now pledged to hand over the reigns of the JP to new leaders.

“Gasim did not mention any particular reason for coming back. But I note there isn’t any reason for him not to come back,” JP spokesperson Ali Solih said.

The JP split from the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) coalition in January and allied with the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in an anti-government campaign. MDP leader and former president Mohamed Nasheed was subsequently arrested and imprisoned on terrorism charges and Gasim’s Villa Group was slapped with a US$90.4million fine.

The Villa Group maintains the fine is unlawful. However, the JP and the government said they have reached an agreement on paying the fine.

Local media reported that the police had issued an arrest warrant for alleged funding of a historic anti-government protest on May 1. He was also accused of involvement in a plot to assassinate President Abdulla Yameen during the trial of ex defence minister Mohamed Nazim on weapons smuggling charges in March.

Explaining Gasim’s silence on Nasheed and Nazim’s sentencing, JP deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim said the government had “economically – paralyzed” Gasim. Since then, Ameen and JP council member Sobah Rasheed were both arrested and charged with terrorism. The pair have now fled the country.

Gasim was first in Bangkok, and later in Frankfurt.

MDP chairperson Ali Waheed, who was arrested along with Ameen and Sobah, tweeted a photo of Gasim’s arrival at the Malé airport saying: “The picture says it all. This is not fair. President Yameen should remember a time will for others as well”.

He further said the government had forced Gasim to sacrifice his political career

Waheed is in the UK.

While Gasim was abroad, he backed several government proposals, including a constitutional amendment that will disqualify him from running in the 2018 presidential elections.

The amendment sets new age-limits of 30-65 years for the presidency. Gasim will be 66 in 2018.

The JP accepted President Abdulla Yameen’s invitation for talks without conditions. The JP and the government have held two meetings so far. Talks are ongoing between the MDP and the government now.


On social media, an outpouring of support for ex university vice chancellor

The resignation of Dr Hassan Hameed, the vice chancellor of the Maldives National University, has elicited an outpouring of support on social media and a campaign requesting President Abdulla Yameen to re-appoint him to the university board.

Hameed resigned on Thursday in the wake of amendments to the national university law that authorizes the president to appoint nine members to the 13-member governing council, including the chancellor and the vice chancellor.

The president could previously only appoint the chancellor who also heads the governing council.

Hameed had served at the university and the former Maldives College of Higher Education since 1998. He was elected for the position of vice chancellor in 2011.

In a letter to all the staff at the MNU on Saturday, Hameed said he had submitted his resignation on Thursday and asked them to support new appointments to the board. “17 years is a long time in one’s life. If I’ve offended any of you, I wish for your generous forgiveness,” he said.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party has warned that the changes will compromise the MNU’s independence and politicize the institution.

Officials will be hired and dismissed for political reasons if the institution is politicized, the MDP said, and pave the way for the “misuse of the university’s students, employees, and resources to achieve political purposes.”

On Saturday, a supporter started a Facebook Page calling on President Yameen to reinstate Dr Hameed. The “Dr. Hassan for MNU” has gained 1,641 supporters in one day.

“When the university bills were passed by the parliament, I was concerned that Dr. Hassan may not be the choice of the president of at least, that is the rumor I’ve heard. I thought it might not be in the best interest of the nation to be deprived of his service. He is one of the few individuals who have a vision for the advancement of this country in the field of science and engineering in particular, not to mention his passion for the university’s development,” said Ahmed Hussein, who had started the page.

“I would like to respectfully request the president and anyone who is involved in making this decision to seriously consider Dr. Hassan’s invaluable service to the nation and to let him continue to serve the people. There is no replacement for him,” he added.

Hameed was not available for comment at the time of going to press.

He did not state the reasons for his resignation, but many supporters on social media suggested Hameed was forced to resign. Some pro-government supporters, meanwhile, accused him of treating the university “like his home.”

One supporter said: “Another sad day for democracy since the vice chancellor of the nations only university who was democratically elected to the post had to leave because of government sponsored changes to remove autonomy.”

Students and teachers at the university described Hameed as visionary and humble.

Aishath Ali, the registrar at MNU, said Hameed was the first to come into the office and the last to leave. “The people who are closest to him are the security guards, the laborers, those who cannot do anything for him. Despite his great knowledge and high position, he is very humble and down to earth.”

Many supporters said Hameed had turned down ministerial jobs to stay at the MNU. One commenter said he had introduced undergraduate degrees and later postgraduate when “so many people told him this was not possible in a small country like the Maldives.”

Another former employee said: “He supported everyone and had a smile on his face. I like his way of critically thinking on every aspect of what may happen. Learnt a lot from Dr. Hassan Hameed.”

The former minister of Islamic affairs Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari and the minister of youth and sports, Mohamed Maleeh Jamal, said Hameed’s resignation was a loss to the nation.

A former student, Jaleel Ahmed said: “He brought changes to teaching style in Majeedhiyya [a high school in Malé], during the 80s and 90s when he was teaching physics. As a result, many students were able to think on their own, which has resulted in great academic achievements.”