Government rejects ex-president as MDP representative in talks

The government has rejected ex-president Mohamed Nasheed as a representative for talks with the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

In a tweet today, president’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali said the government had rejected Nasheed’s name because he is serving a jail sentence.

Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in jail in March on terrorism charges relating to the detention of a judge during his tenure.

Foreign governments and international bodies including the UN have criticised the trial for apparent lack of due process, while the European Union parliament has called for the ex-president’s immediate release.

Nasheed’s arrest and jailing triggered daily protests and a historic anti-government protest on May 1. Nearly 20,000 people took to the streets and some 193 people were arrested.

The government subsequently called for separate talks with the three allied opposition parties – the MDP, the Jumhooree Party and the Adhaalath Party.

The MDP’s national council yesterday proposed Nasheed, chairperson Ali Waheed and parliamentary group leader MP Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Mohamed Solih to represent the party in talks with the government.

MDP vice-president Mohamed Shifaz said the party will hold a meeting to decide on a response to the president’s office’s statement.

“But I personally believed that we should be able to determine who should represent us. Not the government,” Shifaz said.

“When they say he is serving a jail term, we need to look at the circumstances in which he was sentenced. The Maldivian public and the world do not accept the trial and its verdict. Nasheed is a former president, and a man loved by a large majority of the public. Maldivians do not see him as a convict.”

In late April, the pro-government majority voted through amendments to the Prison and Parole Act that prohibited inmates from holding high-level posts in political parties. The revised law effectively stripped Nasheed of the MDP presidency.

Some ruling party MPs have also threatened to cut financial payouts to Nasheed by amending the law on privileges and immunities of former presidents to exclude individuals serving a jail sentence.

Speaking to Minivan News, Muaz said the government will proceed with the talks as soon as representatives are decided.

“If there is no legal, medical, physical or administrative obstructions regarding the representatives proposed by the three parties, we will proceed with the talks,” he said in a tweet today.

President Abdulla Yameen’s proposed agenda for talks focuses on three aspects: political reconciliation, strengthening the judiciary and legal system and political party participation in economic and social development

The government has ruled out negotiations over the release Nasheed and former defence minister Mohamed Nazim, insisting the president does not have the constitutional authority to release convicts before the appeal process is exhausted.

The opposition has previously questioned the government’s sincerity, pointing out that several opposition leaders had been arrested from the May 1 protest.

While the Jumhooree Party (JP) has accepted the invitation for talks, the religious conservative Adhaalath Party proposed its detained president, Sheikh Imran Abdulla, among the party’s representatives.

Imran was arrested on May 1 and remains in police custody.

The JP’s representative for talks, deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim was also arrested, but released by the High Court. The police are appealing the court’s ruling at the Supreme Court, a move the opposition says is aimed at barring Ameen from representing the JP.

During the national council debate yesterday, MP Eva Abdulla stressed the importance of talks involving all political parties, including the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

“MDP is the first party that called to solve the political crisis. So we are happy the government took the initiative to hold talks and we accept it. But we want to hold the discussions together, not separately as the government has suggested,” she said.

“We are not going to discussions to talk only about what the government wants. The discussions will include what the government wants, but also what we want. The agenda of the talks also should be set at the discussions.”

The opposition coalition has called for a third mass protest on June 12.


Fiqh academy reconstituted without Adhaalath Party scholars

The ministry of Islamic affairs has reconstituted the Fiqh academy and excluded senior members of the Adhaalath Party.

Former members, Sheikh Ilyas Hussain, Sheikh Iyaz Abdul Latheef, and MP Anara Naeem were not included in the reconstituted academy. Ilyas is the president of the Adhaalath Party’s religious scholars’ council while Iyaz was the vice president of the Fiqh academy.

The religious conservative withdrew its support for the government in March and joined the opposition ‘Maldivians against tyranny’ coalition.

Former Islamic minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed meanwhile resigned from the cabinet earlier this month following the detention of Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla.

Imran was arrested in the wake of the May Day anti-government demonstration and accused of inciting violence. He remains under police custody.

Deputy Islamic minister Ibrahim Ahmed told local media today that the ministry decided to reconstitute the academy because the previous council was not functioning properly.

Former chief justice under President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Sheikh Mohamed Rasheed Ibrahim, was re-elected as president of the academy, and Islamic college rector Ibrahim Rasheed Moosa was elected vice president.

Rasheed and Moosa were elected at the first meeting of the reconstituted 16-member academy on Wednesday with nine votes in favour out of the 12 members present.

The academy was instituted during the administration of former President Mohamed Nasheed in 2010. His successor, President Dr Mohamed Waheed, reconstituted the academy with a Sharia council and advisory council in December 2013.

The academy’s mandate includes resolving differences of opinion and disputes on religious issues.

The academy has issued fatwas on abortion, kosher meals, marriage of inmates, Muslims visiting temples, taxation, and life insurance.

The other members on the reconstituted academy are Dr Gubad Abubakuru, Sheikh Mohamed Latheef, Sheikh Ali Zahir, Sheikh Adam Shameem Ibrahim, Mohamed Easa, Abdul Sattar Abdul Hameed, Sheikh Ali Najeeb, Sheikh Ishaq Mohamed Fulhu, Samir Zakariyya, Sheikh Ibrahim Ahmed, Sheikh Hassan Thaufeeq, Dr Aishath Muneeza, Mariyam Shabana, and Hassan Saeed.


Opposition alliance to discuss president’s offer for talks

The opposition ‘Maldivians against tyranny’ alliance will discuss President Abdulla Yameen’s invitation to hold talks for the “stability and benefit of Maldivian citizens” at a meeting tomorrow.

“There will be a steering committee meeting of the opposition coalition tomorrow. We will decide then,” main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) vice president Mohamed Shifaz told Minivan News today.

Shifaz had previously said the MDP will accept the president’s invitation only if imprisoned ex-President Mohamed Nasheed and MDP chairperson Ali Waheed could represent the party.

The Adhaalath Party (AP) also demanded the release of the party’s leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla as a condition for participating in the talks.

However, Jumhooree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim welcomed the president’s appeal for dialogue.

The AP leader, MDP chairperson, and JP deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim were arrested in the wake of a mass anti-government demonstration on May 1 along with nearly 200 protesters. They were accused of inciting violence against the government.

Last week, the tax authority froze the bank accounts of several companies owned by Gasim, while the criminal court reportedly issued an arrest warrant for the JP leader the following day. The business tycoon is accused of funding the May Day rally.

The opposition alliance meanwhile continued its activities with a rally on Thursday night and a protest march in Malé on Friday. The allied opposition parties have been protesting since February, calling for the release of former President Nasheed and former defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

President Yameen had initially rejected the opposition’s calls for dialogue to resolve the political crisis, insisting that he cannot interfere with the judiciary and urging the pair to appeal their sentences.

President’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali told Minivan News last week that the government’s stance has not changed and that discussions can only be held on “lawful demands.”

Asked if the president’s office was ruling out negotiations on Nasheed and Nazim’s release, Muaz said the government has not set an agenda or a representative for negotiations, but reiterated that talks can only proceed on “demands the president can meet.”

Speaking at Thursday night’s rally following his release from police custody earlier in the day, Ameen Ibrahim said President Yameen is “miscalculating” by imprisoning opposition leaders and protesters.

The president believed the opposition’s mass gatherings on February 27 and May 1 have failed, but the alliance’s resolve has not weakened and will eventually “emerge victorious”, he said.

Both Ali Waheed and Imran urged supporters to remain steadfast and continue protests against tyranny and injustice, Ameen said.

Ameen said the three opposition parties will jointly propose rules or conditions for talks with the government, but did not reveal any details.

The opposition alliance has also accused the government of illegally imposing restrictions on the constitutional right to freedom of assembly after the police announced that the opposition must obtain prior permission before holding a protest.

Since the May Day demonstration, the police have cracked down on opposition street protests by briefly detaining key figures.

On Thursday, the police banned the use of four-wheeled vehicles in the opposition’s protests without prior permission. The step was necessary after a lorry drove through police lines at high speed during the May Day protest, police have said.

The opposition frequently uses lorries and pickups at protests to hold speaker systems, and for public announcements during the day.

Following the ban on vehicles, the opposition alliance used a handcart to carry the sound system during Friday’s protest march. Senior members of the allied parties took turns dragging the cart across the capital.



Opposition leaders welcome president’s call for talks

The three opposition parties have welcomed President Abdulla Yameen’s call for talks, but some have called for the release of imprisoned leaders ahead of negotiations.

Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim in a tweet said his party is ready to commence talks with the government, while Adhaalath Party spokesperson Ali Zahir said the religious conservative party will always heed calls for negotiations called for in good faith.

Welcoming the president’s call, the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) vice president Mohamed Shifaz insisted the party’s imprisoned leadership – ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and party chairperson Ali Waheed – must be able to sit at the table.

“We are ready to talk with President Yameen. These are discussions with President Yameen. Our leadership will participate on our behalf,” he said.

The Adhaalath Party has also said its detained leader, Sheikh Imran Abdulla, will represent the party in any official talks.

The religious conservative party called on the government to “create an atmosphere conducive to dialogue” by releasing Imran and other protesters arrested from the May Day anti-government demonstration.

President Yameen’s appeal comes amidst growing international pressure to release ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence Minister Mohamed Nazim.

The JP, the Adhaalath Party and the MDP formed a coalition in March and continued daily protests over what they called the government’s attempt to silence the opposition.

The Maldivians against tyranny coalition have previously called for negotiations and demanded the government release Nasheed and Nazim. However, president Yameen maintains the pair were tried through independent courts, and says he cannot meet the opposition’s demands.

The president’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali told Minivan News that the government’s stance has not changed, and the president can only negotiate over lawful demands.

Nasheed and Nazim must appeal their respective convictions on terrorism and weapons smuggling, he said.

Meanwhile, MDP parliamentary group leader Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Mohamed Solih told local newspaper Avas that the opposition coalition’s steering committee will discuss the president’s offer before making a comment.

The opposition held a 20,000-strong march in Malé on May Day after labelling President Yameen’s overtures at talks “insincere.” The president had appointed tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb as his representative for talks, but the opposition says they will only sit with the president himself.

They’ve also accused Adeeb of corruption and illicit connections with gangs, a claim the tourism minister has denied.

Nearly 200 people were arrested at the May Day protest and hundreds were injured in a police crackdown. Police used tear gas, stun grenades, pepper spray and baton charges to disperse protesters when they attempted to enter Malé’s restricted Republic Square.

MDP’s chairperson Ali Waheed, Sheikh Imran and JP deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim were arrested and remanded for 15 days.

The high court released Ameen today, but upheld the remand detention of Waheed and Imran.

Meanwhile, the criminal court has reportedly issued an arrest warrant for Gasim over the police’s claim he had funded the May Day protests. The JP leader is in Thailand at present.


High Court upholds detention of MDP chairperson, Adhaalath Party leader

The High Court has upheld the criminal court’s order to hold Adhaalath Party leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla and main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party chairperson Ali Waheed in remand detention for 15 days.

However, the appellate court has released Jumhooree Party deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim from police custody, overturning the criminal court’s 15-day remand order.

The three leaders of the allied opposition parties were arrested from their homes with court warrants on the night of May 1. All three subsequently filed appeals at the high court challenging the legality of the criminal court’s remand detention orders.

The arrests followed a crackdown on the May Day anti-government demonstration. Nearly 200 people were arrested after protesters clashed with riot police.

The opposition leaders were accused of inciting violence against the government and threatening police in their speeches on May 1, which police contend led to protesters assaulting police officers, damaging property, and disrupting public order and safety.

The High Court noted in the verdict in Ameen’s case that according to police an intelligence report and an audio recording of Ameen’s speech as evidence to the criminal court.

The criminal court judge accepted the report but did not accept the CD with the recording. Police had said at the appeal hearing that the report did not have a verbatim transcript of Ameen’s speech.

The criminal court judge had not determined whether Ameen had incited violence and encourage criminal offences before deciding that he posed a danger to society, the three-judge panel of the High Court ruled unanimously.

In Ali Waheed and Imran’s cases, the High Court ruled that the criminal court order was lawful. The judges dismissed procedural issues raised in the appeal and noted that police do not have to submit enough evidence to prove guilt to be granted a request for extension of detention.

However, in Ali Waheed’s case, judge Ezmirelda Zahir issued a dissenting opinion, while judges Ali Sameer and Abdulla Hameed issued the majority opinion to uphold the lower court order.

Waheed saying that protesters must go home after freeing imprisoned ex-president Mohamed Nasheed was not sufficient to determine that he threatened police or posed a danger to society, Zahir noted in her dissenting ruling.

All three were members of the opposition ‘Maldivians against tyranny’ alliance’s steering committee, which organised the protest.

Journalists were not allowed to observe the appeal hearings under a new rule that bars media from appeals of detention orders.

The criminal court has meanwhile issued an arrest warrant for JP leader Gasim Ibrahim, who is currently out of the country. The business tycoon is accused of funding the May Day demonstration.


President appeals for talks, no apparent change in terms

President Abdulla Yameen has called on the opposition to begin talks for the “stability and the benefit of Maldivian citizens,” but the president’s office says discussions can only be held on “lawful demands.”

The Maldives has been gripped by political turmoil over the imprisonment of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and former defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

The president has previously described the allied opposition parties’ demands for the pair’s release as unlawful, saying they must appeal their sentences at the high court.

President Yameen stresses he has no role in Nasheed and Nazim’s incarceration, insisting charges were raised by the independent prosecutor general’s office and tried in independent courts.

Speaking to Minivan News today, the president’s office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali said the government’s stance “has not changed,” stating: “There are boundaries and limits to everything, and in this case it is the law.”

President Yameen’s earlier refusal to substantially engage with the opposition had resulted in a 20,000-strong march in Malé on May 1. Nearly 200 people were arrested and hundreds were injured in clashes.

The leaders of the Maldivian Democratic Party, the Adhaalath Party and the Jumhooree Party were arrested shortly afterwards, and remanded for 15 days.

When asked if the president’s office was ruling out negotiations on Nasheed and Nazim’s release, Muaz said the government has not set an agenda or a representative for negotiations, but reiterated that talks can only proceed on “demands the president can meet.”

He once again said the pair must appeal their sentences, and said the president was merely repeating an earlier appeal for talks.

The opposition has previously accused the government of insincerity in overtures for talks, especially after President Yameen appointed tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb as his representative. The opposition had accused Adeeb of corruption and illicit connections with gangs and had insisted President Yameen himself must sit down with them.

Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in jail on terrorism and Nazim was sentenced to 11 years on weapons smuggling charges. The trials have been condemned by foreign governments and international bodies including the UN for apparent lack of due process.

Nazim has filed an appeal, but Nasheed was unable to as the criminal court failed to provide required documents within the ten day appeal period, shortened by the Supreme Court a month before his arrest.

The government, however, maintains Nasheed can still appeal, but his lawyers say the Supreme Court’s new regulations are silent on late appeals.

The apex court had struck down an earlier provision giving judges the discretion to accept late appeals in the same ruling that shortened the 90-day appeal period to ten days.

Nasheed’s family has now asked the UN working group on arbitrary detention to rule his imprisonment as illegal and arbitrary.

The allied opposition parties are also calling on the government “to stop targeting” Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim’s businesses. The tourism ministry in February slapped a US$90.4 million fine on Gasim’s Villa group, which the company insists is unlawful.

The central bank yesterday froze the bank accounts of several of Villa group’s subsidiary companies.


Anti-government campaign takes religious turn

The opposition’s campaign against President Abdulla Yameen’s “authoritarianism” has taken a religious turn, while Minivan News has learned the government is labeling the campaign as one that promotes Islamic radicalism.

On Friday night, the religious conservative Adhaalath Party’s Sheikh Ilyas Hussein held a sermon attended by thousands, where he warned of a calamity if brutality becomes common, and appealed to the security forces to be compassionate towards citizens.

“If there’s one group of people I respect in Maldivian society, it is the police officers and soldiers, because I believe they are carrying out a religious and national duty. I know the burdens they have to bear.

“But do not harm anyone without a just cause. No matter how high up the order comes from, do not harm anyone without just cause. Allah is watching. On the days He switches on his CC cameras, there will be nothing you can do,” he said.

Ilyas’ sermon comes amidst a crackdown on the opposition with the arrest of opposition leaders including Adhaalath president Sheikh Imran Abdulla, Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) chairperson Ali Waheed and Jumhooree Party deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim.

The three were arrested after a 20,000 strong rally on May 1. Nearly 200 people were arrested and scores were injured in violent clashes.

Protesters were calling for the release of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim, who were jailed on terrorism and weapons smuggling charges, respectively.

The Adhaalath Party had played a key role in Nasheed’s ouster in 2012, but formed an alliance with Nasheed’s MDP in March when Nazim was sentenced to 11 years in jail.

Opposition aligned Raajje TV is now broadcasting clips of Ilyas’ sermon with scenes of police arresting, beating, and pepper spraying protesters on May 1.

Ilyas and nine other Islamic scholars from the Adhaalath Party and the MDP also held a press conference on Saturday, where he said the majority of religious scholars are now against the government.

“We are announcing today that we do not accept the ongoing tyranny in the Maldives. We especially cannot tolerate such brutal acts from our leaders,” he said.

President Abdulla Yameen has refused to listen to the citizen’s concerns, he said, adding it is now obligatory on Muslims to protest.

Former state minister for Islamic affairs Dr Mohamed Didi said brutality is haram or forbidden in Islam and urged the government to review the “politically motivated trials” of Nasheed and Nazim.

“We call on all the Maldivian citizens to work together to stop this tyranny. If we are unable to do so, if tyranny continues, it will damage all of us, our entire nation and society.”

Sheikh Shuaib Abdul Rahman, a former member of the judicial watchdog, says citizens could pray for a curse on tyrants and unjust judges. Prayer is a powerful weapon, he said, adding that police officers will have to bear responsibility for any acts of brutality, even if they are committed on their superior’s orders.

President Yameen had previously turned down calls for dialogue, saying he will not release Nasheed and Nazim. Instead, the pair must seek an appeal at the high court, he said.

An information brief from the Maldivian mission in Geneva on May 1, obtained by Minivan News, claimed that the organizers of the protest had “mobilized people known to have radical connections in the Middle East and elsewhere, and paid for their travel to Malé and join the demonstration with the explicit purpose of creating violence.”

“The police have intelligence that some of the hardcore radicals Sheikh Imran has paid for were activists who took part in the incident on the island of Himandhoo in 2007,” read the brief.

Dozens, including police officers, were injured in clashes in Himandhoo when police attempted to enter a mosque in search of evidence related to a bombing in Malé.

Ambassador-at-large at the ministry of foreign affairs Mohamed Naseer has also told Sri Lanka’s The Sunday Leader that the May Day protesters had attempted to promote Islamic radicalism through the protest march.

Meanwhile, an anonymous video surfaced on YouTube today warning senior officials in the government of a suicide attack if they do not release Sheikh Imran.

“We came up like this cause we don’t have other option left. We will never let this country become a Mafia gang,” says a masked individual, against the backdrop of the Maldivian flag.

“We call on immediate release of Sheikh Imran Abdulla and stop mistreating him. We assure we will never let Sheikh Imran be dealt like Nasheed and Nazim,” said the individual in the video.

“If you sentence Sheikh Imran falsely, as our religious scholars said, we can have your life and blood. We will stop this! If necessary we do not hesitate to go for a suicide attack!”

A police media official said they have now started looking into the video.



Islamic Minister resigns from the cabinet

The minister of Islamic affairs Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed has resigned from the cabinet today.

The Adhaalath Party member announced his resignation in a tweet. “I have resigned from the Islamic minister’s post,” he said.

Shaheem’s resignation comes after the police arrested Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla during a mass anti-government protest on Friday. The religious conservative party had split from the ruling coalition in March after the arrest and trial of ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim on weapons smuggling charges.

Dr Shaheem said that it was an immense pleasure to be part of President Abdulla Yameen’s cabinet, and thanked the government for its support.

His resignation comes within two days of opposition-aligned religious conservative Adhaalath Party calling upon all party members in high-level government positions to resign immediately.

President’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali confirmed the resignation via twitter, but declined to comment further.

Several members of the Adhaalath Party had resigned from the government in March and joined the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in a campaign against government authoritarianism.

But it is not clear if Shaheem will join the campaign. He was unavailable for comment at the time of going to press.

The Adhaalath Party has congratulated Shaheem for the “courageous” decision to resign from the cabinet, describing it as one that would benefit the country.

Speaking to Minivan News, former deputy gender minister Sidhatha Shareef said Shaheem’s resignation demonstrated his loyalty to the party.

However, she pointed out that she quit the ministry in order to “respect the party’s stand after it split from the ruling coalition. Dr Shaheem resigned after the party called upon party members in the government to resign.”

Adhaalath Party secretary general Iyaadh Hameed on Sunday called on all party members to resign following Imran’s arrest. The sheikh has been remanded for 15 days.

The opposition is continuing its protests despite a crackdown and the arrest of nearly 200 people from the May Day protest.


President dismisses calls for resignation

President Abdulla Yameen says he will not resign or negotiate with the opposition despite the threat of mass antigovernment protests on May Day.

The Maldivians against brutality coalition says it will bring out 25,000 people on to the streets of the capital on Friday, and has called on president Yameen to initiate talks immediately and free imprisoned former president Mohamed Nasheed and ex defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

But the president at a press conference today reiterated his belief that there was no room for negotiations in court verdicts and said ordinary Maldivians are not facing any difficulties in their day to day life.

“There is no reason for me to resign. The opposition shouting out what ever they like is no reason for a president to resign,” he said.

“As I govern, I am the first to take the initiative to resolve issues arising from my mistakes. They have not said anything substantial as of yet.”

The criminal court last month sentenced Nasheed to 13 years in jail on terrorism and Nazim to 11 years on weapons smuggling. Foreign governments and international rights groups have condemned the trials for lack of due process.

Tens of thousands have signed a petition urging president Yameen to free Nasheed. The opposition leader’s lawyers say the Clemency Act authorizes the president to shorten an inmate’s sentence to any period depending on the circumstances surrounding the prisoner’s conviction.

But Yameen today dismissed calls for Nasheed’s freedom, stating: “MDP says president Yameen can release president Nasheed even tomorrow. President Yameen will not release president Nasheed tomorrow. He is serving a sentence. The sentence can only be reduced according to due process.”

The coalition – made up of MDP, religious conservative Adhaalath Party, members of the Jumhooree Party and independent MPs – says it will end the government’s tyranny on May Day. Opposition politicians have been traveling across the country in recent weeks urging supporters to converge on the capital on May 1. Meanwhile, daily small scale protests are continuing.

But president Yameen says he faces no pressure stating: “I would like to say, May 1 will once again mark a day where the rule of law is upheld in the Maldives.”

“May 1 is coming. I will wait and watch. Those who violate the laws must know they will be punished. We have been advising [the opposition] through the relevant institutions. We will not allow [the opposition] to bring out young people and put them behind bars,” he said.

He accused the opposition of inciting violence and undermining the rule of law by using religion as a shield, and advised the opposition to cease its efforts immediately.

Last week, tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb challenged the opposition to a confrontation on May Day.

The government has said Nasheed and Nazim must appeal their sentences, but the opposition says it has no faith in the judiciary saying the president controls the judiciary.