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.


Islamic ministry raises concern over religious divisions

Expressing concern over religious and social divisions in the Maldives, the Islamic ministry has warned the public against “words and actions that upset social and religious customs.”

In a statement on Thursday, the ministry stressed “age-old Maldivian unity” and said any act that may disrupt religious unity is an offense under the Religious Unity Act of 1994.

“The ministry has noted a spread in words and actions that create social and religious divisions and ideological differences. This has disrupted age-old social order and social customs. Such actions that are contrary to Maldivian customs and public interest facilitate divisions, quarrels and social unrest,” the statement read.

“We take this opportunity to remind and advice [the public] that any actions that undermine religious unity, sovereignty and independence of the Maldives is prohibited under Article 4 of the Religious Unity Act.”

The Islamic ministry’s media official, Ibrahim Abdulla Saeed, declined to reveal details of actions or words that have caused concern.

“This is just a reminder,” he said.

The religious conservative Adhaalath Party, which was controlled the Islamic affairs portfolio in successive governments, split from the ruling coalition in March and launched an antigovernment campaign over the imprisonment of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

Several scholars have since condemned what they call President Abdulla Yameen’s growing authoritarianism and warned of Allah’s wrath over “injustice and brutality.”

Islamic minister Dr Shaheem Ali Saeed resigned in early May shortly after Adhaalath president Sheikh Imran Abdulla’s arrest hours after he led a historic antigovernment protest on May 1.

Imran remains in police custody.


Parliament committee to probe Sheikh Ilyas Hussain’s “false preaching” over draft penal code

Parliament’s committee responsible for drafting the new penal code has slammed the “false preaching” of the Chair of Adhaalath Party’s Scholars Council Sheikh Ilyas Hussain over the bill.

In a sermon given on Friday evening at the Furugaan Mosque, under the title “Purpose of Islamic Sharia”, Sheikh Ilyas declared that the new penal code does not recognise fornication with mutual consent as an offence, said committee’s member MP Nazim Rashaad.

During the parliamentary committee’s meeting held on Tuesday, Thulhaadhoo Constituency MP rejected the claim stating that no such stipulation was included in the draft penal code.

Rashaad said that section 130 of the draft bill states that sexual intercourse with another person without consent is categorised as “rape” under the new bill.

The existing penal code does not explicitly recognise “rape” as a crime, and cases are handled under provisions for sexual offences.

Rashaad contended that whether sheikh or not, nobody could misinterpret the clause and claim that the bill did not recognise “mutually consented sexual intercourse” as an offence, and accused the Sheikh of lying to discredit the bill and parliament.

Briefing committee members on the sections concerning sexual offenses, Rashaad stated that under the draft penal code, both fornication and rape are offences under section 411 of the draft bill.

“These people are deliberately making misleading comments regarding the draft bill without doing proper research.  They are attempting to discredit the bill and incite hatred among people towards the parliament and the members of this committee,” the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP alleged.

Following Rashaad’s comments, Chair of the Committee MP Ahmed Hamza stated that the committee will look into the case.

The committee also decided to send a written request to local radio station Atoll Radio seeking recordings of the sermon which was broadcast.

Amendments to bill

The parliamentary committee’s decision follows its rejection of all but one amendment to the bill suggested by the Fiqh Academy of the Maldives.

Speaking to local media on Monday, Hamza said  the committee had decided to accept only a suggestion concerning the offence of theft.  Other amendments, he said, were merely changes to the wordings of the bill and carried little legal weight.

“They have submitted amendments to abolish certain sections. These include certain legal defences. When we looked into removing those defences, we found this impacted fundamental principles embedded to the draft penal code. So we decided to reject their suggestions,” he said.

Following the decision, Vice President of the Fiqh Academy Sheikh Iyas Abdul Latheef told local newspaper Haveeru that the academy had informed parliament that current draft penal code should not be enforced in the country.

Speaking of amendments proposed by the Fiqh Academy, Latheef claimed that the defence of intoxication included in the bill, if proven in court, could lead to the acquittal of a convict, but said the academy’s proposal to remove the defence had been rejected by the parliament.

“The current draft does not include the Hadds established under Islamic Sharia. There is no mention of the death penalty for murder, the punishment of stoning for fornication, the punishment of amputation for theft and the punishment for apostasy. We proposed amendments to include these punishments,” he said.

Iyas also echoed the remarks made by Sheikh Ilyas Hussain in which he too claimed that the current draft implied that fornication with mutual consent was not an offence.

He also added that the bill stating that a convict should be able to use voluntary intoxication as a defense conflicted with the rules and principles of Islamic Sharia.

Furthermore the vice president of the Fiqh Academy said the draft penal code bill was drafted in such a fashion that it would encourage criminals to commit crimes and disregard the principles behind punishments prescribed under Islamic Sharia.

Along with the Fiqh Academy, the religiously conservative Adhaalath Party has also sent a letter claiming that the bill as a whole contrasts with Article 10(b) of the Constitution which states: “No law contrary to any tenet of Islam shall be enacted in the Maldives.”

Responding to the criticism, Chair of the Committee Ahmed Hamza claimed that even though the committee had decided to reject the suggestions, amendments could be brought to the bill when the committee sends the bill to parliamentary floor.

US assistance with draft

The initial draft of the penal code was prepared by legal expert Professor Paul H Robinson and the University of Pennsylvania Law School of the United States, upon the request of the Attorney General in January, 2006. The project was supported by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

Professor Robinson’s team have published two volumes (Volume 1 and Volume 2) consisting of commentaries on sections of the draft bill.

In an interview given to Times Higher Education UK, Professor Robinson was quoted as stating that the draft bill strictly adhered to the principles of Islamic Sharia and Islamic law as the “law in the Maldives is based on Sharia”.

“The cultural norms are quite different,” He said. “What the Maldives will want to criminalise and the ranking of the seriousness of offences will be different in many ways (from the US system). They criminalise adultery, for example, whereas most American jurisdictions have dropped it.”

“Some of these provisions have symbolic religious significance more than practical importance. I’ve never actually heard of anybody who has more than one wife, though it may well be that there are some somewhere,” he was quoted saying.


Government lacks plan to address “bad shape” of airport: dismissed transport minister

Former Transport Minister Dr Ahmed Shamheed has said criticism leveled at the government by Adhaalath Party (AP) President Sheikh Imran Abdulla over a lack of development at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) was justified considering the “bad shape” of the site.

Dr Shamheed, who served under the current government before being dismissed in November 2012, has warned that failure to outline a development plan for INIA after the government evicted the foreign investor renovating the site could be disastrous for the country.

Late last year President Waheed’s government declared void an agreement with Indian infrastructure group GMR to upgrade and develop the airport, and gave them seven days to leave the country. The deal was the Maldives’ largest single foreign investment project, valued at  US$511 million.

The Adhaalath Party was a key opponent of foreign development of the airport, demanding it be reclaimed on nationalistic grounds.

However speaking to private broadcaster DhiTV yesterday (January 28) the party’s President Sheikh Imran Abdulla claimed that there had been a worrying lack of progress in developing the site after it had been handed to the state-owned Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL).

Sheikh Imran, an outspoken supporter of attempts to “reclaim” the management of INIA from GMR, raised concerns that the airport was returning to the “bad condition” it was previously in, criticising MACL for lacking a vision to manage and develop the site,” according to Sun Online.

“Maldivian people had great hopes when the airport was reclaimed from GMR. It was been two months since and still, there is no vision for the airport. There is no proper plan for how it will be managed,”  he was quoted as saying.

Development plans

Former Transport Minister Shamheed told Minivan News today that he believed Sheikh Imran’s criticisms were fair, adding that if the government did have a plan for development, they had not demonstrated it so far.

“I haven’t heard what the government is planning. They seem to be managing the airport as if everything is perfect. Yet they may have to close down the site in future without further development. If [the government] has a plan they haven’t revealed it yet. All they have talked about is setting up a company to manage the site.”

According to Dr Shamheed, following the decision to terminate the GMR contract last year the government has been facing two key challenges with regard to the airport.

The first of these challenges is securing sufficient financing for completing renovation of the existing terminal and runway.  The second key issue, Dr Shamheed said, obtaining expertise and skilled developers to bring the airport in line with international standards as expected of a destination like the Maldives.

“To get the airport to the right level, they will need to bring in outside help,” he claimed. “The airport is in very bad shape right now and work is needed on the runway, all of which cannot be done without finance.”

Minivan News was awaiting a response from MACL at the time of press. Meanwhile, both current Minister of State for Transport and Communications Mohamed Ibrahim and President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad were not responding to calls.

Despite the criticisms, President Dr Mohamed Waheed today asserted that “shockingly big investments” would be coming to the Maldives in unspecified areas.

Speaking at the opening of the MACI BuildExpo 2012/2013 show at the Dharubaaruge convention hall in Male’, President Waheed claimed that despite the decision to void a sovereign agreement with GMR – a decision backed by Singapore’s Supreme Court – investor trust in the Maldives had not been diminished.

Sublease plans

Just last month, Minister of Tourism Ahmed Adheeb stated that the government was not planning to hand over full control of operations at INIA, but might sublease specific development projects to international parties through a “transparent” bidding process.

Adheeb told Minivan News that privatising the only international airport allowed it to become a monopoly which was not in the best interests of the country.

The Maldives cabinet also last month recommended forming a government-owned company to operate INIA  through a special contract with the Maldives Airports Company Ltd (MACL).