MDP cries foul over government refusal to honour deal

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has called on President Abdulla Yameen to honour commitments made to release former president Mohamed Nasheed and other jailed politicians.

Instead of releasing Nasheed on Thursday as rumoured, the state decided to appeal his terrorism conviction. His 13-year jail term, however, has been commuted to house arrest.

Revealing details of the government’s demands for the first time, the MDP said President Yameen had requested opposition backing to amend the constitution to set new age limits of 30-65 years for the presidency and vice presidency, and the impeachment of Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed.

The government also asked for legislative support for specific projects, later revealed to be a second constitutional amendment to allow foreigners to buy land in the Maldives.

The MDP said it had delivered on all counts by issuing a three-line whip on the first two demands, and a free whip on the controversial foreign freeholds amendment. The party said it had also complied with a moratorium on street protests.

The free whip on foreign freeholds has divided MDP supporters. The party said it had issued a free whip line because it believes in free ownership of land and property, but had reservations that the amendment could lead to foreign, non-commercial logistical installations or military bases being built in the Maldives.

In return, it had asked for freedom for political prisoners, including Nasheed, the dropping of charges against more than 1,000 political activists and reforms to the judiciary and independent institutions.

The government agreed and home minister Umar Naseer made a number of promises during the talks that began on July 1, the party said.

“The MDP believes the government of Maldives must follow through on its commitments before the Independence Day celebrations on July 26,” the party said.

Stressing that it had entered talks with the government in good faith, the MDP said it had hoped to see meaningful reform to the “hopelessly politicised and corrupt” judiciary and independent institutions. Further, the party also wished to usher in a parliamentary system of government for the Maldives.

Nasheed’s legal team on Friday called the Prosecutor General’s decision to appeal the terrorism conviction “a charade,” and said they will make a decision to participate after discussion with the opposition leader’s international legal team.

The lawyers said the appeal could affect ongoing talks between the opposition and the government over the release of jailed politicians.

President’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali said in a tweet yesterday that he did not believe the actions of independent body of the state could “obstruct talks between the government and MDP.”

In a brief statement on Thursday, the PG office said the decision to appeal the conviction was made based on concerns raised over due process in the trial and Nasheed’s request for the PG to appeal the conviction as well as his contentions over procedural violations, insufficient time to mount a defence, and inability to appeal due to the criminal court’s failure to provide a full report and transcripts of the trial within a 10-day period for filing appeals.

Diplomatic pressure had been mounting on President Yameen to release Nasheed, but the international community has been silent since the MDP started negotiating with the government.

The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) opted to keep the Maldives off its agenda soon after talks began. President Yameen has now asked the parliament for its counsel on leaving the Commonwealth.

The UN working group on arbitrary detention is meanwhile expected to rule on Nasheed’s imprisonment in September or October. In a response to the UN, the government insisted Nasheed must appeal the sentence.

There appears to be no progress on the release of the Adhaalath Party president or two former defence ministers.


Independence Day celebrations kick off with fireworks

Celebrations for the Maldives’ golden jubilee of independence kicked off on Friday night with a massive fireworks display at the newly renovated Republic Square.

Thousands watched in awe as the night sky over Malé lit up for more than half an hour with the largest display of fireworks the country has ever seen.

President Abdulla Yameen, first lady Fathimath Ibrahim, former presidents Maumoon Abdul Gayoom and Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan oversaw the celebrations. Judges, cabinet ministers, heads of independent institutions and some diplomats were present as well.

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

A team of 23 individuals, including students, doctors, pilots and sportsmen cut the ribbons and officially opened the Republic Square before the fireworks display.

State owned Maldives Transport and Contracting Company has built a new musical fountain at the main square. At the center of the fountain is a monument symbolizing unity. The fountain started sprouting water when a group of children carrying traditional water containers poured water inside it.

Photos courtesy of President’s Office

Housing minister Mohamed Muizz said millions had been spent to renovate the Republic Square. According to the Finance Ministry, a budget of MVR150million (US$9.7million) has been allocated for Independence Day celebrations.

All government buildings, streets, lampposts and hundreds of trees and walls in Malé city have been decked in blinking red, yellow and white neon lights.

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena will arrive at 12:45pm today for the official function to be held at the Usfasgandu area tomorrow morning. He is the only head of state to attend Maldives’ golden jubilee of independence.

Other dignitaries from China, Pakistan, India, Saudi Arabia, Mauritius, Japan, Bangladesh are expected to arrive throughout the day today.

The government is yet to disclose the full program of events for the weekend. The celebrations include a parade by the army and school brass bands, reopening of public parks, official games at the national stadium and football tournaments.

Former presidents Ibrahim Nasir and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom will receive an honorary shield at the official function tomorrow.

A three hour play, depicting different stages of Maldivian history from the Buddhist-era to the present will take place at the national stadium on July 27.

Bollywood pop star Sanam Puri is to perform in Malé tonight.

The anti-corruption commission is investigating the home ministry’s use of the MVR150million budget.


Adhaalath leader transferred to high security prison

The president of the religious conservative Adhaalath Party Sheikh Imran Abdulla was transferred from a police remand center to a high security prison on Thursday. He is charged with terrorism and is awaiting trial.

A Maldives Correctional Service (MCS) media official told Minivan News the transfer is legal because “according to the law suspects at remand stage awaiting sentencing are the MCS’s responsibility.”

Suspects awaiting trial are usually kept at the Dhoonidhoo Island Detention Center, and only convicts are housed at the high security prison on Maafushi Island.

Expressing concern over the move, Imran’s lawyer Ali Zahir, said: “This is not what they usually do. Imran has been in remand stage for some time now. He is not a convict and his trial is still ongoing.”

The transfer signals a reversal of the government’s conciliatory stance on making concessions for jailed politicians.

Instead of freeing former president Mohamed Nasheed as rumored on Thursday, the state decided to appeal his 13-year jail term on terrorism charges. Meanwhile, former defence minister Mohamed Nazim, who is serving a jail term on weapons smuggling charges, was brought to Malé for treatment on Thursday amidst rumors he may be transferred to house arrest, but he was taken back to prison on the same day.

Imran is charged with terrorism along with Jumhooree Party (JP) deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim and council member Sobah Rasheed. Ameen and Sobah have fled the Maldives.

The three are charged with threatening to harm police officers and inciting violence at the May Day protest. Charges were pressed under the 1990 Anti-Terrorism Act.

So far only one hearing has taken place in Imran’s trial. He has denied charges. The trial has been stalled since early June after two of the three judges on the criminal court were appointed to the High Court.

The High Court in late May rejected an appeal challenging the criminal court’s decision to hold Imran in police custody until the conclusion of his trial, claiming it could not review decisions of judges to hold defendants in custody for the duration of a trial.

The Adhaalath Party has meanwhile said that Imran’s health is worsening under police custody.  He has been brought to Malé several times to consult specialist doctors.

On June 21, the party said that Imran has diabetes and high blood pressure. Tests conducted after his arrest show high blood pressure and cholesterol levels as well as high urine acidity.

He is also suffering back pains as a result of having to sleep on a hard surface, the statement added.

Imran’s continuing incarceration is a “planned and shameful atrocity carried out to psychologically and physically weaken him,” the Adhaalath Party said.

The party also said Imran’s wife has written to the home minister and the Human Rights Commission of Maldives to express concern over his health.

Imran was first arrested on the night of May 1 and held in remand detention for 26 days. Hours before the criminal court ordered his release on May 27, the High Court overturned the criminal court’s May 17 ruling to keep Imran in police custody for 10 days.

The appellate court ordered his transfer to house arrest, noting that Imran has diabetes and that tests conducted following his arrest showed high levels of blood pressure, cholesterol, and urine acidity.

A doctor had also recommended that Imran should not sleep on hard surfaces due to a spinal injury.

Imran was arrested again on the night of June 1, a day before the terrorism trial began.