Maldives included in United Nations’ US$2 million anti-piracy project

United Nations Trust Fund for the Fight against Piracy has approved a US$2 million package of projects for affected nations, including the Maldives.

The aim of the five projects, approved April 30, is to ensure ongoing piracy trials are conducted in a fair and efficient manner and that the human rights, health and safety of individuals suspected of piracy are protected. This includes facilitating the repatriation of detainees suspected of piracy from the Maldives to Somalia.

Other initiatives involve providing support to law enforcement authorities and prosecutors in “front-line States” to investigate illicit financial flows from piracy. Biometrics-based fishermen database systems will also be implemented to support monitoring and surveillance of fisheries resources, while also providing important information to counter-piracy forces. Projects have been approved for Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, the Seychelles, and the Maldives.

United Nations Assistant-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Tayé-Brook Zerihoun acknowledged the gains made in controlling piracy, but stressed that the international community “should not be under any illusion that piracy has been conclusively brought under control” during the announcement of the projects in New York.

“The dramatic decline in pirate attacks is clear evidence of years of hard work by United Nations Member States, international and regional organizations, and actors in the shipping industry,” said Zerihoun.

“The international community should continue to support the efforts of Somalia and States in the region to strengthen their maritime law enforcement capacities and their rule of law sector.

“With the Trust Fund’s resources largely spent, now is the time to replenish the Fund to bridge critical gaps in counter-piracy efforts,” he added.

The United Nations Trust Fund for the Fight against Piracy was established in 2010 and have received approximately US$17 million in contributions from member states and the maritime industry. The funds have been used for 31 projects, totalling approximately US$16 million, and “short-term needs related to unforeseen expenditures”.

The purpose of the trust fund is to “defray expenses” associated with prosecuting suspected pirates and undertaking other activities to fight piracy.

The trust fund’s Board is comprised of 10 voting member States – Germany, Italy, Kenya, Republic of Korea, Norway, Qatar, Seychelles, Somalia, Turkey, and the United Kingdom – and three non-voting entities, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and the United Nations Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS).

Piracy threat

The Maldives is situated at a strategic intersection of sea trade routes, and a significant amount of global maritime traffic passes through or near the country’s northern atolls.

Due to increasing pirate attacks in the Indian Ocean and the frequent encounters with Somali castaways in Maldivian territory, maritime experts have speculated that the piracy threat is growing in Maldives.

“We are very concerned about piracy in the Maldives since we are located in the Indian Ocean, one of the major areas [at risk],” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali told Minivan News today (May 6).

“The Maldives has already raised these issues with international organisations and international media,” he added.

Ali confirmed that although recent joint military exercises with neighboring SAARC countries, such as India and Pakistan, were not solely for anti-piracy purposes, that issue was included.

“We are seeking protection [from pirate attacks] from SAARC countries,” said Ali.

In an effort to address the growing threat of piracy and rising concerns over the security within Maldivian territorial waters and the wider Indian Ocean, the Government proposed an anti-Piracy bill in January 2013.

The stated purpose of the bill is to establish a legal framework to deal with piracy within the territorial waters of the Maldives amidst concerns at the growing risk of maritime crime in the Indian Ocean over the last few years.

The bill also seeks to outline legal procedures to deal with individuals suspected of committing acts of piracy within Maldivian territorial waters, give that such procedures do not presently exist in the country’s legal system.

Pirate attacks

The Maldives experienced the first confirmed case of piracy within its waters back in March 2012, when a Bolivian-flagged vessel headed for Iran was hijacked by Somali pirates. The vessel was released a few days later.

The Maldives’ government first expressed concern over the growing piracy threat in 2010 after small vessels containing Somali nationals began washing up on local islands.

In March 2012, 40 Somali castaways in the custody of Maldives authorities refused to return home despite arrangements that were made for their safe repatriation.

“Some of the Somali refugees are not in the Maldives. I can’t say exactly how many have been repatriated. The process has been ongoing. The Home Ministry and so many others are involved,” explained Ali.

In January 2012, an American luxury passenger line en route to the Seychelles was stranded in the Maldivian waters due to an alleged “piracy risk”, while the passengers departed to the Seychelles through airline flights.


Police play down political motivation for burglaries, dhoni fire

Politicians and public figures linked to both government-aligned parties and the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) have raised concerns about a spate of potentially politically motivated crimes, though police urge caution in drawing early conclusions.

Early this morning, the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF) confirmed that its fire team put out a blaze that badly damaged a dhoni based in the waters around Hulhumale’. The vessel has since been confirmed to belong to high-profile Jumhooee Party (JP) member Mohamed ‘Inthi’ Imthiyaz, who recently left the MDP.

Both the MNDF and the Maldives Police Service confirmed to Minivan News that they were currently investigating the cause of the blaze, stressing it was too early to tell if the incident was being treated as arson or an accident.

The fire, which saw a man hospitalised with severe burns, is the third incident involving prominent political figures to be investigated by police during the last three days.

Police have confirmed they are also looking into break-ins that occurred Saturday morning at offices belonging to Vice-President designate Waheed Deen and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Interim Chairperson ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik. Both offices are based in the same building in the capital of Male’.

Police Spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef said that forensic analysis of both these crime scenes and the dhoni fire were under way, but said that it was not yet possible to ascertain if there was any link between the incidents. Sub-Inspector Haneef added that findings from the cases would be cross referenced, but he did not wish to speculate if a common motivation existed between the incidents before ongoing investigations were concluded.

Dhoni fire

Addressing the dhoni fire today, vessel owner Mohamed Imthiyaz said that he was also unsure if his boat was destroyed intentionally or by an accidental fire.

However, Imthiyaz claimed that the blaze occurred after he had received threatening messages from alleged MDP supporters after making a public speech two days ago criticising the party. Imthiyaz was himself previously a member of the MDP before joining the JP, which is part of the coalition government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan.

“I have received [SMS] threats from people I know are MDP supporters and I have passed on their numbers to police,” he added.

Imthiyaz said he believed that public figures needed to be “careful” about their security in the current political climate, particularly considering the potential involvement of organised crime in attacks and vandalism.

Heavy Load

A spokesperson for MDP MP Reeko Moosa Manik’s Heavy Load company was in no doubt that the enterprise had itself been the target of a political attack over the weekend.

The company’s headquarters, based in Male’s Jazeera building, was broken into early Saturday morning along with the offices of the Six Senses resort group and Vice President Deen’s Bandos Island Resort – all situated at the same address.

“[The break in] was definitely politically motivated. The intruders broke in to damage and vandalise equipment like computers that could have been taken for profit. They also wrote threats all over the walls of the office,” the Heavy Duty spokesperson said.

Following the break in at Heavy Load, local media reported yesterday that several messages were left for Moosa Manik across the office. These messages reportedly read, “Moosa, you may have escaped this time but you will be killed,” and “We will vote for you next time if you put some cash next time”.


A number of attacks and cases of vandalism against political figures has been making headlines recently.

Late last month, three former ministers who served in the government of former President Mohamed Nasheed were reportedly attacked along with their wives on the street’s of Male’, leading to condemnation of the crime by President Mohamed Waheed Hassan.

The president has also criticised MDP supporters on his Twitter account following reports of attacks on police officers and the car of Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hassan’s during the same month.

“Violence by Nasheed’s supporters keeps increasing,” the president wrote at the time.

The MDP itself moved to issue a statement following these incidents condemning attacks on police officers and calling for supporters to mantain peaceful protests against the government it alleges has come to power in a “coup d’etat” In February.

The offices of broadcaster Villa TV (VTV) were also heavily damaged in March during clashes between anti-government protesters and security forces .

VTV is owned by MP ‘Burma’ Gasim Ibrahim, the leader of the Jumhoory Party (JP) – part of Dr Waheed’s government coalition.


Terrorism tip-off letter sent to DRP MP, forwarded to authorities, media

The opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) is publicly claiming to have received an anonymous letter warning of a supposed terrorist attack against the Maldives.

DRP MP Ahmed Mahlouf said he received the letter at around 8:30pm on Saturday evening, signed by “someone who loves their country”, purporting to have information regarding an attack later this month and detailing a list of targets, including the past and current President, senior officials, MPs from both parties, Criminal Court judges and foreign diplomats.

Speaking at a press conference on Sunday afternoon, DRP Deputy Leader Umar Naseer said the party had yesterday “learned of the plot [concerning] a foreign group planning to attack the Maldives”, while People’s Alliance (PA) MP Abdulla Yameen – chair of the National Security Committee – confirmed there would be a meeting on Monday.

Umar went on to reveal the supposed ‘hit list’, which included President Mohamed Nasheed, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, MDP MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, Jumhoree Party (JP) MP Gasim Ibrahim, Yameen, DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, DRP MPs Ilham Ahmed, Ali Waheed and Mahlouf, former Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed, former Supreme Court Justice Mujthaz Fahmy, Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed, UN Resident Coordinator Andrew Cox, and himself.

Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) media coordinator Major Abdul Raheem confirmed that Chief of Defence Forces Major General Moosa Jaleel had been verbally informed of the letter, and an investigation was underway.

“There is no information as to the origin [of the letter], but we are taking it seriously and looking into the matter,” he said.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said police “are not saying anything officially.”

Mahlouf acknowledged the “odd” choice of targets for a supposed foreign terrorist group, but noted that the letter had asked him to pass the information to the concerned authorities. It was written in Dhivehi, he noted.

“I don’t know if it is true or false or a trick to threaten us. Still, it’s a letter I take very seriously,” he said. “In 1988 there was talk that the then defence minister received information about the attempted coup, but action was not taken because it was not thought to be serious.”

“Even when I first read [the letter] I thought it was a joke, but I discussed with my fellow MPs and decided to send it to the police,” he said. “I called Gasim and he said he had also received a note.”

Mahlouf said the DRP MPs had further decided to publicise the threats in the media “because we believe some people would try to frame the opposition as being involved in this. Also if there is an attack planned, [the attackers] may not go ahead because of the publicity.”

The President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair said the government wished to thank the DRP MPs for bringing the threats to the government’s attention, and said he believed “there might be some truth” to the claims as the MNDF had said they were “not isolated to one source.”

“It coincides with the importation of a stun gun and other security [events] by a Maldivian individual,” Zuhair observed.

Maldives Customs stopped two men aged 20 and 25 with a stun gun and nine masks from the midnight Sri Lankan Airlines flight. The 3,800 watt stun gun was found on the 20-year-old.

In past weeks, customs officials found five 3-feet long swords in a general cargo shipment at the Male’ commercial harbour, while on August 9, customs seized 250 toy guns guns and handed them over to the MNDF for investigation.

Zuhair added that he did not subscribe to the “theory of others” that the publicising of the letter was an attempt at political gain, but that rather its release showed the opposition “is trying to gain the confidence of the government following conclusion of the interim period.”

However, regarding the threats in the letter sent to Mahlouf, Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed said he had “never heard anything more ridiculous in my entire life.”

“Obviously there’s a madman on the loose. But why wasn’t the information shared just with police? It doesn’t require scaremongering. My concern is that this is scaremongering, and that is not very helpful.”

Dr Shaheed further observed that “the collective wisdom of the ages is that one shouldn’t cry wolf if there is no wolf, and if there is a wolf, the concerned authorities should be allowed to make a swift, sharp and discreet investigation. Terrorists may be mad, but there is method to their madness.”

The concept of a military coup remains a sensitive subject in the Maldives, following an attempt by 80 armed mercenaries of the Sri Lankan People’s Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam (PLOTE) to overthrow the Maldives government in 1988.

The plot was foiled when Indian paratroopers arrived less than 12 hours later on request by then-President Gayoom. 19 people died in the fighting, along with several hostages.

More recently the government has expressed concern at rising levels of Islamic fundamentalism in the Maldives, culminating in the 2007 bomb attack in Sultans Park that injured 12 tourists, and an armed stand-off between islanders from Himandhoo in North Ari Atoll and police who were attempting to close the unsanctioned Dhar al Khuir mosque. Footage from a video taken inside the mosque prior to the police raid would later appear in an Al Qaeda recruitment video.

Last week, two of the three men sentenced to 15 years prison for the Sultans’ Park bombing, Ahmed Naseer and Mohamed Sobah, had their sentences commuted to suspended sentences by the government under the new Clemency Act, with accompanying promises that they would be “well observed”.

The bomb attack near the Sultan Park was the first such incident to occur in the Maldives and received widespread publicity around the globe, damaging the tourism industry.


President condemns attacks on media

President Mohamed Nasheed has condemned the attacks against the media following attacks on DhiTV and Haveeru on 15 March.

The president said the government would not tolerate “threats or actions against freedom of the press”.

“The Maldivian media is free and open now,” Nasheed said, adding that the Maldivian government “will always support the efforts of the journalists to keep this freedom alive and will value their efforts.”

He urged the public to cooperate with police in identifying the suspects.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) meanwhile called on the police to “seriously investigate” death threats made against journalists by extremist bloggers.

Concerns from the media

Independent MP and former Minister of Information, Mohamed Nasheed, said the issue was one of “political punching. People in the government are accusing opposition media and people in the opposition media are accusing the government.”

He said the media has always been divided into two camps, and sometimes looking at the same editorial content from different news agencies “you feel as if two different stories are coming out.”

“Political activists, the religious quarter and violent criminals” are against the media, he said, explaining that the struggle for press freedom was a “tug of war.”

“This is where the temperature needs to be brought down. We need to stop politicising the media and work with them.”

He added that “a democracy cannot see the media as a friend”, but should instead treat it as a medium to dialogue.

Managing Director of Miadhu, Abdullah Lateef, said “so far the government has not been able to give the media enough protection” from violent attacks.

He claimed the former government “used gangsters,” who “still don’t understand this is not Gayoom’s regime.”

“These gangsters don’t value the media,” Lateef said. “They think they can do anything; they attack anyone.”

He said that because the government had not shown the public the value of the media and the work the media was doing, they did not value it: “Even when we go to a scene, it is a risk we are taking.”

Lateef said he had “personally received a lot of threats”, and claimed that “politicians will call and try to make us scared.”

But he noted that “this government has done a lot for us, like giving us the freedom to write without being arrested. I am not afraid of my death – the former government gave me enough threats so I don’t mind.”

Public Concern

The Human Rights Commission Maldives (HRCM) has also “strongly condemned” the attacks on media.

A statement from the HRCM said the organisation “was sad that people are instigating fear among journalists at a time when Maldivian media is not very stable.”

HRCM said it believed the incidents had occurred because of the “judicial system’s reluctance to convict people. They are released into society and are not abiding by laws and regulations and respecting human rights.”

The statement notes that such cases of violence are “alarmingly increasing” and “the Commission is calling for the authorities to take legal action against the people who are releasing these criminals into society.”

“To stop these things from happening we are calling on stake-holders, government, authorities, media, civil society, NGOs and the public to work together.”

Meanwhile the Maldives Journalists’ Association (MJA) condemned threats made against journalists and bloggers and the “continuous attempts to intimidate press freedom by the extremists in the name of Islam.”

The MJA called on the government to take action against growing extremism and said it believed there would be a solution “if the president and all the institutions work to raise awareness.”


‘We don’t have guns but we can fight with our pens’: Hiriga

Attacks on five senior DhiTV senior officials and the stabbing of a Haveeru employee yesterday afternoon have sparked concern among media outlets that they could be subject to further attacks over their content.

DhiTV reported on its 2 o’clock news yesterday that alleged gang leader Ibrahim ‘Chika’ Nafiz  had been released to house arrest. Soon after the broadcast, a gang reportedly stormed DhiTV studios.

Three hours later a Haveeru printery worker left in a critical condition after being stabbed outside the building.

Police have not yet confirmed whether the two cases are connected, but arrested ten people yesterday evening suspected of involvement in the attacks, including Chika.

“He was arrested in his home last night,” said a police spokesperson, “and today the court gave us five days for further investigation.”

Chika will remain under police custody until the court hearing. Police have meanwhile launched a special operation to investigate the attacks.

The spokesperson said he did not know if the attacks were intended to be a direct message to the media, but said “this really shows how the situation is here.”

‘We will fight with our pens’

President of the Maldives Journalism Association (MJA) and Editor of Haveeru, Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir, said he believed the incidents were “direct attacks on the media.”

“The ruling party members are consistently blaming the media, and suddenly a gang leader leaves jail and attacks us,” Hiriga said, claiming there were political motives behind the attacks.

“The media is in a very bad situation, it is very vulnerable and young.”

Hiriga said he believed DhiTV and Haveeru were targeted because they are “the most vibrant media in this country” and the attacks were “certainly connected.”

He said the attackers had mentioned Haveeru when they entered the DhiTV building, and the police had been informed of this “but did not take enough precautions.”

Hiriga said he did “not want journalists to be afraid, but they are.”

He mentioned that some TV presenters were now “unwilling to appear on TV, and unwilling to report particular news items” because they were “very much afraid that their lives could be put in danger.”

“When law enforcement agencies fail, anything might happen at any time,” he said.

DhiTV CEO Yousuf Navaal said yesterday that “until we receive assurance [of our safety] that we can report this type of news, we will not cover it anymore.”

Hiriga however described Navaal’s approach as “not very professional”, especially since DhiTV had “asked Haveeru not to report on the issue either.

“The media should be one front and approach [these issues] as a collective, but this doesn’t happen,” Hiriga said, suggesting that Navaal was “reluctant” to report the story “because he has not been given enough confidence that the law is under control.”

Deputy Director General of TVM, Mohamed Asif, said the station had not taken extra security measures and were “hesitant and reluctant to report on these issues.”

Hiriga said media should not give in to intimidation: “We don’t have guns but we can fight with our pens!”


DhiTV reported yesterday that Chika had been released to house arrest by the Department for Penitentiary and Rehabilitaion Service (DPRS).

State Minister for Home Affairs Ahmed Adil said the media had been reporting the wrong information, and “he was not released to house arrest”, but had in fact been taken to the DPRS for questioning two days ago.

Adil said the DPRS was investigating Chika and “he signed a paper saying he would cooperate and not leave his house.”

Spokesperson for the DPRS Moosa Rameez said Chika had been in the department’s rehabilitation programme for “six to seven months”, and referred Minivan News to DPRS Managing Director, Mohamed Rasheed.

However Rasheed said he did not want to comment on the issue.

A person familiar with the matter told Minivan News that Chika had been brought to Malé from Maafushi jail for an MRI scan. The source said it was common practice to bring prisoners to Malé when they require medical attention.

Police confirmed Chika had not been placed under house arrest, but would not say why he was in his house yesterday evening.