Unlike Charles, Marcelin was able to leave the Maldives despite being owed over US$13,000, after his new club Becamex Binh Duong Football Club in Vietnam paid for his flight out of the country.
“I feel very, very sad for the club [Valencia], I had helped to win cups in the Maldives, but they are still saying they cannot pay me my money,” Marcelin told Minivan News.
“The club’s management said they would send me all of the money in Vietnam, but I have not received anything yet,” he added.
According to Marcelin, he is still owed US$10,210 from January 2009 to May 2009, as well as a one-way ticket home worth US$1,500.
A number of emails obtained by Minivan News detailing contact between Marcelin and Club Valencia officials from 2010, show the Cameroonian striker pleading with team management and Football Association of Maldives to rectify the problem.
In a message addressed to both the former general secretary of Club Valencia Mohamed Ahmed and the club’s former Chairman Ahmed Saleem, Marcelin claims they had promised to send the money to him 10 months ago.
“I’m not good [at] this moment because my father is sick in Cameroon [and] I don’t have [the] money to give for a hospital,” reads the message, dated March 2010.
A single response sent on March 2010 from Club Valencia’s former Chairman, Saleem, reads: “Thank you for your mail. Sorry for being able to answer your call. I will try to settle your outstanding [payment] ASAP.”
Despite later pleas for the club to pay half of his owed salary for his father’s treatment and a complaint to Football Association of Maldives (FAM) – the most recent dated from February 2013 – Marcelin has received no response.
Club Valencia’s current Chairman Ibrahim Raai Rasheed was not responding to calls or text messages from Minivan News at time of press.
Football Association of Maldives
In regard to Marcelin’s complaint, FAM General Secretary Mohamed Hanim stated that the issue should have been addressed by the former FAM administration.
“We are a new administration that came in on January 26 this year. As soon as I receive a complaint on my table, I will address that problem accordingly.
“FAM will always stand for the rights of players and the clubs. If there is a player [who has a complaint] they should follow procedures for it to be addressed,” Hanim told Minivan News.
When asked if there was any concern from FAM regarding rumours that certain clubs were taking away the passports of foreign players, Hanim said: “We will not taken action on speculations and rumours, instead we take action on matters documented by players or the club itself.
In regard to the rights of players, the FAM Secretary said that the topic will be on the agenda for next Executive Committee meeting.
“The next meeting will involve discussing in more detail what actions we can be taken in regard to mistreatment of players.
“The meeting will highlight the rights of both foreign and local players and that they should be dealt with in a manner that could be regarded as inhumane. This goes for every club,” Hanim said.
Had to survive off handouts: Wright Charles Gaye
Former Club Valencia striker Wright Charles Gaye was finally able to return home on Sunday (March 10) after six months of living in poverty in Male’.
Charles, who resigned from Club Valencia in September 2012 due to a lack of salary, was left stranded in Male’ as he waited for two month’s worth of salary from the club and a promised one-way-ticket home.
Speaking to Minivan News the Liberian national said that he had been forced to live in accommodation with no water or electricity and had survived on just MVR 500 (US$32.49) a week.
Club Valencia’s management stated that the reason behind the delay in Charles’ payments, was because there had been a delay in securing financial assistance from both the sports ministry and from the club’s sponsorship.
Media coverage of Charles’ situation resulted in Club Valencia paying him US$2,600, a one-way ticket home and an extra month’s salary.
In June 2011, 29 staff members working at the Conrad Rangali Island Resort in the Maldives alleged they had been dismissed from their posts following a strike held by workers in March that year.
According to the letter sent this month by the SFWU’s National Secretary John Ryall, 22 of the workers made redundant later challenged their dismissal at a local employment tribunal and won.
The tribunal ordered the workers be reinstated and receive backpay, however the ruling is being appealed.
Ahmed Saleem, who is a director of Crown Company which owns Conrad Hilton resort on Rangali Island, told stuff.co.nz that neither he nor his company were part of the decision-making process at the Resort.
He said management of the Rangali Island Resort, as it was then known, was given to Hilton International in 1997.
“All management decisions of Conrad Maldives [are] made by the management of Conrad Maldives, independent of Crown Company,” he told New Zealand media.
A spokesperson for Conrad Rangali Island Resort told Minivan News earlier this month that the case is currently under appeal at the High Court.
“Conrad Maldives Rangali Island is aware that there are petitions for the reinstatement of employees made redundant in 2011. We would like to remind the media that the resort is not required to reinstate the previous employees while the High Court considers the appeal,” the spokesperson added.
New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully said he had received a letter about the matter from the New Zealand Service and Food Workers Union, earlier this week and had asked the Foreign Affairs Ministry for further information, stuff.co.nz reported.
The Criminal Court today ruled that MP ‘Red Wave’ Ahmed Saleem not guilty in the corruption case filed by the state, accusing him of paying Neyza Enterprises Private Limited 50 percent of the money given to the former atolls ministry to buy sound systems for mosques in the islands.
The alleged corruption was uncovered in the audit report of the now defunct Atolls Ministry, released in 2009.
The court ruled that according to witnesses and statements, Saleem was not the person assigned to make announcements for bids.
The court also ruled that none of the statements or witnesses produced to the court proved that Saleem has abused his position to defraud the Atolls Ministry.
Following a police investigation requested by the Presidential Commission, the Prosecutor General’s Office had charged Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim, MP Saleem and former Atolls Minister Abdulla Hameed with three counts of conspiracy to defraud, abuse of power and violation of the state finance and asset regulations.
According to newspaper ‘Sun’, witnesses told the court that Saleem was not the person who was announcing for bids. The person who handled that duty, witnesses said, was Naseema Moosa, who was dead.
Last week the Criminal Court dropped all charges against Nazim, an MP in the party headed by Gayoom’s half-brother, Abdulla Yameen.
The dismissed the three remaining counts of fraud against Nazim, stating that his “acts were not enough to criminalise him”.
The Supreme Court has disqualified former ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Mohamed Musthafa over a decreed debt which the court concluded makes him constitutionally ineligible to remain in the seat.
MDP MP Mohamed Musthafa was also that week disqualified from his seat by the Supreme Court which upheld a verdict concerning a decreed debt, which the court concluded made him constitutionally ineligible to remain in the seat.
Two judges, including the Chief of Justice Ahmed Faiz, concluded that it cannot be ruled Musthafa had a decreed debt as the loan had been taken on the name of Musthafa’s company Seafood and Trade International and added that in August 1997 the lower court had ordered the “company” to repay the loan.
Earlier this week the Supreme Court upheld criminal charges against Independent MP for Kaashidhoo Ismail Abdul Hameed, who has a record of voting alongside the MDP, and also stripped him from his seat.
The Criminal Court had last year sentenced the Independent MP to one and a half years banishment for corruption. The charges were upheld by the High Court in November.
The MDP meanwhile today accused the Dr Waheed’s government of using the courts to “purge” parliament of MDP MPs and MDP-leaning MPs, “in order to secure a controlling majority.
“While in government, MDP consistently maintained that key parts of the judiciary are in the hands of the supporters of former President Gayoom. Now we are seeing the truth of that claim. Dr Waheed’s regime is using the courts to settle old scores, to reduce MDP’s parliamentary majority and to wipe the slate clean for government supporters,” claimed MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor.
Eydhafushi MP Ahmed “Redwave” Saleem has pleaded not guilty to charges that he was allegedly responsible for the illegal transfer of state funds to a private company in a violation of the country’s Anti-Corruption Act.
According to local media reports, prosecutors at the Criminal Court today alleged that Saleem, acting of his own accord, transferred 50 per cent of some government development funds to a company called Neyza Enterprises. The allegations date back to 2003, when Saleem served as director of the Ministry of Atolls Development.
Haveeru reported that Saleem rejected allegations that he had been responsible for the funds transfer, claiming the charges against him were politically motivated and an attempt by President Mohamed Nasheed to destroy his poltical career.
Judge Abdulla Didi reportedly told Saleem, who potentially faces a year in prison as well as the loss of his parliamentary seat if convicted, to avoid talking about politics and the president during the trial and discuss the charges against him.
Saleem’s lawyer MP Ibrahim Riza said that the charge documents had failed to clarify whether the defendant had been required to make an announcement concerning the development project linked to the case. Riza claimed the situation was complicated by the government holding control of the documents in question.
Both the prosecution and defense submitted their respective list of witnesses to the court as the trial continues, Haveeru added.
The Maldives has secured a seat in the UN Human Rights Council, the first time the country has won a seat at a major UN body.
Lobbying for candidature began in March this year, when Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Ahmed Shaheed spoke in front of an audience of world leaders at the 13th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.
At the time, Dr Shaheed told Minivan News the Maldives was running for candidature because of the country’s “own positive experience with the international human rights system,” and added, “we understand, through first-hand experience, [the council’s] value and its capacity to bring about change.”
Dr Shaheed then visited New York in April to seek further support from UN member states and had a special meeting with members of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC).
There were four available seats for Asia in the Human Rights Council and five candidates. The other four candidates were Malaysia, Thailand, Qatar and Iran.
How the seat was won
Iran recently withdrew its candidature, leaving the four seats open for all four remaining candidates to win a seat on the council. Dr Shaheed said Iran withdrew its candidacy “because they knew they would not be able to contest against the other countries.”
When hearing of the secured seat in the council, Dr Shaheed said, “as the smallest and poorest country in the race, there was a lot of speculation as to whether the Maldives would be able to stay in the race and compete against the more influential states, but in the end we were able to mount the most intensive campaign and perhaps the most credible candidature.”
Dr Shaheed said, “in March, I estimated we would lose. But we worked very hard and within two weeks it was made clear we would take one of the four [winning seats].”
Because of Iran’s withdrawal, all four remaining countries are guaranteed a seat in the council, although elections are still required to take place. A vote will be cast at the UN’s Headquarters in New York on 13 May, when the final results will be announced.
Dr Shaheed said he suspects not every country will get the necessary 51% of votes from UN member states that are required to attain candidacy, but since there is no more competition, the results will simply show the ranking. He believes the Maldives could even be number one.
The minister said he believed gaining a seat in the Human Rights Council would improve human rights within the country because it will give the Maldives greater access to resources and more UN systems which will help regulate and improve current laws and regulations in the country.
“There will be more opportunities to reinforce strength in the domestic agenda of human rights,” he said.
Dr Shaheed said the Human Rights Council is seen as “top players” in the international human rights arena, and a seat for the Maldives shows “we are seen as a country doing quite well regarding human rights.”
The Maldives will hold a seat in the council for three years, and the current mission in Geneva will be in charge of the work relating to the council.
Human Rights Commission of the Maldives
President of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) Ahmed Saleem said he was “very delighted” the Maldives won the seat in the council, as it “reflects well on us, as well.”
He said although the HRCM “are not part of the government, the membership has been possible also partly because of the way the human rights commission has performed.”
Saleem said the membership “comes with a lot of responsibility” as they will now deal with “everything” concerning international human rights. He noted the Maldives will now be under “very close scrutiny, so we have to set an example for everybody else.”
He said the government works very closely with the commission, and “I have seen positive change. This is a very good opportunity for the government to realise [they have] to make necessary changes.”
Saleem noted the commission “does not criticise the government unnecessarily” but tries to help the government by pointing out the problems the country is facing concerning human rights. He said unless the government takes the HRCM’s recommendations seriously, “the international community is not going to look positively on the government.”
He is sure the Maldives’ membership in the council will improve human rights in the country, “because the government also will have to act very positively now, there has to be room for improvement in the way the government reacts to human rights issues.”
Saleem added he had “always been very positive about this commitment because it’s good for us. We can take advantage.”
Saleem said membership also meant the Maldives could run for presidency of the Human Rights Council as it’s the Asian group’s turn, “but I think it’s too early. We should be content in being a member of the Human Rights Council itself. It’s the first time we are there.”
He said if the Maldives performed well, they could think of running for presidency the next time they have the opportunity.
He claimed HRCM was “one of the best in South Asia”, as most other countries in the region except India “don’t have commissions that are credible.” But he noted the HRCM was not working at its full potential because it is not yet a full member of either the International Criminal Court (ICC) or the Asia Pacific Forum (APF).
“We want very badly to be full members of the ICC and APF,” Saleem said, “our work suffers because we’re not full members. Everybody knows we work much better than most other members that are full members…but there is nothing they can do.”
The reason the HRCM can’t become a full member of these organisations is directly related to freedom of religion, he claimed.
“The HRCM legislation states that all members be Muslim,” Saleem explained, and noted that international human rights bodies see this as a violation of human rights.
Saleem proposed it be changed to say “all members must be Maldivian” but not to specify they must be Muslim, as the country’s Constitution already states that all citizens must be Muslim. “That would fix everything,” he said.
He added the government and the Attorney General “are working on it. It’s no big deal.”
“HRCM should be able to work well, fully and effectively, but we are not able to work to our full capacity,” Saleem said. He noted membership in the Human Rights Council was “a very good opportunity” for the government to do something about the Maldives gaining full membership in the ICC and APF.
He said, overall, “I am very delighted. I hope things will change positively…and hopefully there will be marked improvements.”
Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has called on the president, independent institutions and all the political parties to come together and discuss issues around human rights in the Maldives and express their ideas.
President of HRCM Ahmed Saleem said the commission had sent letters to President Mohamed Nasheed, Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Shahid, Attorney General Husnu Suood and to representatives of all the political parties.
”We want to hear the voice of political parties and government institutions,” he said.
He said the commission intended to draft a report on human rights in the country and visit the atolls after meeting with government institutions and political parties.
”We advise everyone in connection with human rights including the media to cooperate with us,” he said.
Press Secretary of the President Mohamed Zuhair said the president had not decided whether he would attend, but that he would undoubtedly support the assembly.
Secretary General of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Abdulla Mausoom said the party would decide to what to do after discussing it.
He said he do not believe a survey of human rights was necessary, “as for instance is there any use to a survey to find out whether people like to eat?”
He claimed the government had abused the rights of freedom of opinion by threatening private media.
Recently inducted Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Alhan Fahmy said the party would support the gathering, noting that while human rights in the Maldives was progressing day by day, ” there are things to be corrected.”
Minivan News presents the first in a series of in-depth interviews with the heads of the independent commissions in the Maldives.
The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) would seem a vital institution to a government that was elected on a platform of human rights and accountability. Founded by former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in 2003 it came to the fore following the death in custody of Evan Naseem.
More recently, HRCM has come under heavy criticism from parts of government for its unwillingness to investigate human rights abuses committed prior to 2000. President of HRCM Ahmed Saleem defends the commission, claiming it is misunderstood.
JJ Robinson: What do you see as the role of HRCM?
Ahmed Saleem: HRCM’s major role since 2003 has been teaching the population what human rights and democracy are all about. It’s extremely difficult – you know the pressure we have been under. We are a non-political body – we don’t take sides, and there is always friction with the government in power. That’s very natural. But while I don’t mind the opposition or members of parliament criticising HRCM, it becomes a problem when the sitting government criticises and slanders independent commissions. Independent commissions must be respected, because without these independent commissions, democracy cannot work. Our job is an extremely difficult one to do without taking sides, and I think we are doing our best.
JJ Robinson: What would be some specific incidents of criticism you consider to have been the most damaging?
Ahmed Saleem: It is not even in the interest of the government [to slander us]. HRCM doesn’t go on TV shows, and we don’t retaliate even if somebody attacks us – you’ve never seen us retaliate, because we want to respect even those who criticise us. When people like the press advisor to the president criticises the commission, that means the government doesn’t respect the commission and that’s a problem because this government came to being on platform human rights and democracy – the government can’t afford to criticise the commissions, least of all the human rights commission. There are times we criticise the government but that’s because we are obliged to do so by law.
The government should respect our criticism, find out what’s wrong and talk to us. We cannot demonstrate our independence if the government gives the impression it is trying to use HRCM to achieve its own objectives, like investigating abuses [under the former government]. For that we have suggested a way: a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
JJ Robinson: Groups such as the Torture Victims Association (TVA) and the Maldivian National Congress (MNC) have attacked the former president for human rights abuses committed during his administration. Do you think this is a productive way forward?
Ahmed Saleem: [TVA founders] Moosa Ali Manik is my brother in law and and Ahmed Naseem is a friend of mine, so I know very closely exactly what happened. These are people who have suffered grievously, and I can’t blame them. I am not at liberty to criticise anybody. It it is the system – the system is wrong.
We must look into these abuses, we must investigate and find out who is responsible and who is not responsible. They have genuine grievances and I think it would be wrong for anybody to say nothing happened during the last 30 years. Abuses have taken place, and we must find out who did it, why it happened, and also find out how this can be prevented in the future. That is why we have suggested a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
JJ: Do you think the TVA was attempting undermine HRCM through its promises to bring in international lawyers to document and review human rights abuses?
Ahmed Saleem: We definitely support them doing that, but I don’t think it’s so easy. It doesn’t happen that way. They are saying they will take statements and submit them to international courts – it’s not that easy; there are procedures and ways of doing these things.
If they can do it we would welcome it, but I have my doubts as to how successful they will be without the support of the opposition. That why I always talk about a national effort – even if this TVA claim they are not political, the people involved in it make it extremely political.
There are people like my brother-and-law who are not political, but I know for sure what he went through. He was hurt really badly, and until recently he did not want to even talk about it. Abuses have taken place in the past, but only they know what they went through – we will never understand it. As a human rights commission we will support any NGO working to promote the protection of human rights as long as there are no politics.
JJ: A lot of people currently in power have gone through some terrible things. Do you think that at any stage those experiences can compromise some body’s ability to work effectively in a government with an opposition?
Ahmed Saleem: Yes, I think so. And I think it is worth making an effort. After all we are one people, we are all Muslims here and almost everyone is related, it’s like one big family. The Maldives is just not like any other country that has many cultures and communities – everything here is homogeneous.
That’s why I’m saying we must put the country first, otherwise we may create problems that affect the country and our very existence. But if they feel like [investigating the past] we should do it in the right way. We will play a major role if this Truth and Reconciliation Commission happens, but it will have to be initiated by the government.
JJ Robinson: You yourself were appointed by the former government, and as a result some of these groups have attacked your willingness to investigate past abuses. Has this position you’re in made your work more challenging?
Ahmed Saleem: Yes it has. But we are going to stick to our policy. If you have seen our law, we can’t investigate any issue before 2000.
For instance there is this case some MDP people are trying to pursue through us which took place in 1994. This particular issue has been up taken by my wife’s own family, the person in question is my wife’s brother-in-law, but it happened in 1994. It was very cruel the way he was handled, and we talking about an 80 year-old man. Putting him in jail and harassing him was completely wrong. They brought this case to HRCM and we had to say, ‘no we can’t investigate that’. Because if we did investigate, we’d have to investigate each and every case or I would be open to accusations of favouring family members.
If we take a case like this it has to really do with the sovereignty of the country – we can’t handle so many cases otherwise. Right now we are investigating the political abuse case of someone who is very close to the MDP, the high commissioner to Malaysia. He says he was abused, and we looking into it because that case occurred after 2000.
JJ Robinson: The Maldives is a very small country and you have many links here yourself. How has being president of HRCM affected you? Have you been subject to threats or intimidation?
Ahmed Saleem: We don’t have threats like we used to have. I was personally attacked, my car was attacked, I was attacked by people on the street in those days, when the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) was in the opposition. The previous government attacked me and my family, and MDP was very supportive of us. But this the life of a Human Rights Commission. That is what it was all about. HRCM is misunderstood so I don’t take anything personally. I do understand when people criticise on street, but talk to them and most people don’t understand what we trying to do. Creating awareness of human rights is the main objective of HRCM.
JJ: What kind of public support do you think there is for HRCM?
Ahmed Saleem: We don’t see anybody working against us, and understanding of HRCM and its work has increased. In 2003 when we came into being everybody felt HRCM was only about caring for inmates in jails. We visit jails because there is nobody else to care for [the inmates], but that’s only a fraction of what we do.
People who’ve never been to jail don’t understand what happens in there. We work very closely with government because if the government fails, we fail. We ensure the government does its job and respect article 18 of the constitution, but some in senior levels criticise us and I feel that’s not right. We have enormous support from UN Ambassador for Human Rights, and with this in mind it is very damaging for the government to criticise the human rights commission. Because HRCM could fail.
JJ: Is there a risk of HRCM failing?
Ahmed Saleem: Yes there is a risk. If we keep being attacked by the government on a daily basis we have an obligation to let our friends in human rights circles know this is happening, and they would not be happy about this. They expect a government that came into being on a platform of human rights and democracy to work with HRCM and other independent commissions; they don’t expect the government to criticise the commission all the time.
JJ: Why is the government criticising the commission, then?
Ahmed Saleem: Let’s be very clear. I don’t think the government as such has any policy on it – it’s individuals [in the government]. Sometimes we find it difficult to be mature politicians instead of activists. I think this is something we have to learn quickly – there are those in high positions in the government who must change themselves into mature politicians, because the things they say can have enormous effect.
As far as the president is concerned we work very closely and I have enormous faith in him. For instance, he has told me personally to ‘never ever give up on torture.’ ‘If you do that, the government itself will torture people,’ he said. He has gone through it himself.
The president keeps saying ‘If we never let go of the past we’ll never have a future.’ But then he might say HRCM’s work will never be complete until it has investigated past abuses, and the next day he says something different. I don’t think he himself wants to dig into the past.
JJ: Who are these individuals in the government who have a problem with HRCM?
Ahmed Saleem: There are a few in the government. I don’t think some of them even believe in the policies President Nasheed has issued. He is milder, compared to some of these people.
I’m talking about only a few people here; these are the same people who criticise HRCM and other independent commissions. You’ve never heard the president criticise HRCM or any other commission. He is more democratic than most of these people and he knows value of commissions. I have great confidence in the president, but he has a very challenging job.
JJ: What are some of the areas in which HRCM hasn’t achieved what it set out to do?
Ahmed Saleem: One thing I would say is the culture of torture. I remember a few years back, on human rights day, I said there was a culture of torture in the Maldives. During the previous government someone came up and said ‘you’re wrong, you’re making a very big mistake – there is no culture of torture in the Maldives.’ I stick to my word and stand by what I said.
You can still see it happening. But unlike before the police have changed; police tactics have changed, and they want accountability. We are working with police and the police integrity commission, and the police are giving us all the evidence we need because they feel we should be investigating [complaints].
But I can be 100% sure that the new government has no policy of torture. It’s been the system – it’s the system that’s been wrong, whether it was President Nasir, President Gayoom… under that system anybody could do anything and get away with it.
That’s not the case now, and that is why [the previous government] was a dictatorship – there was no separation of powers, there was no justice. But right now the nature of politics in this country is so divisive it is threatening the existence of this country. I think at some stage the opposition must acknowledge that violence took place in the past.
JJ: Let’s look at some specific issues around human rights in the Maldives. How important is gender equality to the country’s future?
Ahmed Saleem: I think it’s extremely important. I don’t think you’ll find any other Muslim country that has so little discrimination against women; even in the government there are more women than men. At the top levels there are fewer women because they started late – this used to be a very male dominated society.
We have extremely well-educated young ladies these days and I think we should be bringing more of them into the government. Women in Maldives had voting rights long before many other countries, and the only hitch we had as far as human rights were concerned was that women were barred from running for president – that’s gone from new constitution.
I don’t think any there’s effort being made against women being active in society except by conservatives – extremists I would say, who are a threat to the very existence of this country.
JJ: How has religious extremism affected the country? And how has this changed under the new administration?
Ahmed Saleem: I think there is more extremism [in the Maldives] now than then. I also think that unless we can bring it under control we are going to be in danger. In our 2006 report we predicted that there would be serious problems in society not because of politics but because of extremism, and that’s become very true – we see it happening now. People are misusing freedom of speech and expression.
We have had moderate Islam [for a long time] and most of us belong to moderate Islam, but there are a few – I would saw half-baked – religious scholars who are advocating something totally different. I think the Islamic Ministry has to take huge responsibility for this.
JJ: Do you think the Islamic Ministry is fulfilling this responsibility?
Ahmed Saleem: I don’t think so. They should be doing much, much more.
JJ: Where are these scholars coming from? Why has this suddenly surfaced?
Ahmed Saleem: We never thought of religious extremism as a problem, so nobody really thought of doing anything about it. Now I think the present government recognises the danger, and are even trying to restrict people going to certain countries and certain colleges.
I think that’s very good. This state is a democracy and anybody can go anywhere, but when it threatens the whole of society and the country I think it’s time the government takes action. I heard the other day [the government] is trying to restrict people from travelling to certain madrassas in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan.
JJ: How much of this happening because people are seeking higher education opportunities that the Maldives cannot provide?
Ahmed Saleem: This happening because the people advocating this kind of extremism don’t understand what Islam is. Islam is a very simple religion. I don’t think Islam advocates any violence – it doesn’t do that. But some of these extremists think any non-Muslim should be killed, for instance, which is wrong. They go on jihad to various countries – Afghanistan and Pakistan. This is highly against the religion.
I don’t know if this is anything to do with our education system. I think our own system should work on this, and try to [cater to] those who want to learn religion. I think the Islamic and education ministries should really think about how best they can handle this situation [internally], rather than have large numbers of people going outside the country and returning with different beliefs and only half an education. It’s a very serious problem that must be addressed.
JJ: Do you think human rights can be guaranteed under the current constitution?
Ahmed Saleem: Yes, I think so. We have never had a Constitution like this – it’s very democratic, but it’s not perfect; no constitution is perfect. I think it was done in a hurry in a way, and there are lots of changes that must come with practice. Our own legislation needs change – the Maldives is one of the few countries that has signed almost all human rights instruments, and there are so many laws that must be incorporated into Maldivian law.
This ought to be done by the Majlis (parliament). At a time like this, during a process of transition, there is so much to be done, and yet the members of parliament are going on leave for two months. I think that is very irresponsible – now is the time to do this, before people get fed up with democracy, before they start thinking that the former dictatorship was better because there was no quarrelling; there was stability under dictatorship. I don’t know why the Majlis has to take two months leave, and cannot take leave like we do. They are elected by the people why not take leave like we do? There are so many laws pending and so much work to be done.
JJ: Do you think the members of parliament are as informed about human rights as they need to be?
Ahmed Saleem: Democracy cannot function without rights. So much is missing because they are not in session. Some people are saying there is more peace in the country because the Majlis is not in session. It is going to take maybe 20 years to create the kind of parliament we are trying to imagine.
JJ: How much success has the media had in the last year in becoming independent, and what do you think of its current condition?
Ahmed Saleem: The media has developed a lot. But with media independence also comes responsibility – we need responsible journalism these days. I find there aren’t too many people who can investigate a report or analyse a situation and suggest recommendations for the government and independent bodies. People just go and report anything they want, and in most cases they want sensationalism. And they don’t follow up their reports – just one report and that’s it. The media needs to mature.
JJ: Until recently media in Maldives existed on government subsidies for quite some time. Do you think it is possible to have a fully independent media that receives subsidies from the government?
Ahmed Saleem: In order for the media to develop I think the government must provide some kind of media subsidies until they mature. The media is the fourth pillar of democracy, and unless there is a genuine and productive media I don’t think we can work as a democracy.
JJ: Has one of the failings of journalism in the Maldives been its political attachments?
Ahmed Saleem: The only problem is unfortunately we are still learning what democracy and human rights are all about. That people are misusing both is a matter of great concern – there is a limit to criticising the government and making the government responsible. I don’t think anywhere else in the world people call for the ousting of the government at every meeting of the opposition – you just don’t do that. I wish there was some kind of law to prevent that from happening.
JJ: Would that conflict with freedom of speech?
Ahmed Saleem: I don’t know, but at this time we must do what is right for the country. I’m not saying if the time is right the opposition shouldn’t call for a no confidence vote, it is the opposition’s mandate to do that. But not at every rally; you don’t do that without a reason.
It is a difficult situation for the government in power – extremely difficult after so many years without democratic rule. People are misusing freedom of speech and freedom of expression to a great extent, and that is a concern.