Maldives to boycott Israeli products, annul bilateral agreements

The Government of Maldives has today announced the boycott of Israeli products and the annulment of bilateral agreements with the country.

“President Yameen and the Maldivian citizens are with the Palestinian people”, said Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon at a press conference this afternoon.

Dunya also announced that the Maldives would join other Arab nations in co-sponsoring a resolution at this week’s special session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) calling for the protection of an independent Palestinian state and the extension of humanitarian aid.

As well as an admittedly “symbolic” boycott of Israeli products, three agreements – signed in 2009 under the administration of President Mohamed Nasheed – would now be annulled, explained the foreign minister.

The agreements involved cooperation in areas of health, culture and education, and tourism.

“I do not think Maldivians want any help from Israel or want to keep up relations with Israel. So from now on, the agreements have been annulled,” she said.

While she noted that neither that former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom nor the current government believed in maintaining such relations, she stopped short of announcing the severing of diplomatic ties.

Criticising Nasheed for having established diplomatic relations with Israel, Dunya said that his current statements in support of the Palestinians could not now be accepted.

Addressing the UN General Assembly in 2009, Nasheed argued that renewed diplomatic relations with Israel would be used to reiterate the Maldives’ support for a two state solution.


Acknowledging the impact of the Maldives’ boycott would be small, Dunya today noted that other small nations had done likewise with symbolic acts that had been appreciated by the Palestinian government.

“Even though what we give is small or symbolic, the way it is received is important. The message we want to give is we are with the Palestinian people,” said Dunya.

Explaining the boycott, Mohamed Hussain ‘Mundhu’ Shareef, minister at the President’s Office, said the government would soon announce a moratorium on the import of Israeli goods into the country after discussions with the Ministry of Economic Development and Maldives Customs Services.

While the government is calling on businessmen to join the boycott, it will still be possible for some Israeli products to enter the Maldives as the country does not check for the country of origin or manufacturers of imported products. Even so, the government will remove such products from shops in accordance with the Customs Act.

Shareef said that the Maldives may consider lifting the moratorium if the Israeli government’s violation of international resolutions stop.

Regarding other economic links, he noted that there were few tourists arriving in the Maldives from Israel and that there were no Israeli investments in the country.

“Israeli investment is not important for us. We want investments from countries with human rights practices that are acceptable to us,” said Shareef.

Israeli tourists – numbering 2,569 in 2013 – constituted 0.3 percent of total tourist arrivals. In June 2014, 254 Israeli tourists visited Maldives, a 72 percent increase from 12 months earlier.

Domestic pressure

At home, the government remains under pressure from both the opposition and civil society who have called for bolder action concerning the recent escalation of violence in Gaza.

After the opposition leader Nasheed called on human rights defenders to raise their voices against “indiscriminate killings in Gaza”, his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) held a rally on July 12 in Malé criticising the government’s initial silence.

On the same day, President Abdulla Yameen phoned Palestinian President Dr Mahmoud Abbas to condemn “Israel’s inhuman actions”, and pledged to do everything necessary in the international arena to aid Palestinians.

Days later, thousands of Maldivians from all sides of the political spectrum gathered across the country to rally in protest against the Israeli offensive.

Nasheed has since called on MDP members to take the initiative and go to Gaza in order to act as a “human shields” protecting Palestinians.

Those who organised the nationwide rally are currently circulating a petition to be submitted to the People’s Majlis calling for a resolution to be passed by MPs.

Speaking to Minivan News, a member of the group said that over 8000 signatures had been collected in just two evenings. Working alongside civil society organisations in the atolls and local councils, many more were expected.

A second online petition has also been launched calling on the government to use Maldives’ seat in the UN HRC to request an investigation into human rights violations in Israel and Palestine and to hold discussions to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

The religious conservative Adhaalath Party, along with 11 civil society organisations, had established a donation fund to assist Palestinians affected by the ongoing conflict.


Majlis accepts bill to criminalise tourism boycotts

With additional reporting by Daniel Bosley

The People’s Majlis has today accepted a bill prohibiting tourism boycotts, with 30 members voting for, 30 members voting against, and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Abdulla Shahid casting the deciding vote as speaker of the house.

The tourism boycott bill would criminalize calls for a boycott, as well as the supporting or endorsing of a boycott, participating in a tourism boycott, or any act that would incite fear amongst tourists.

Amendments to the penal code were also introduced in the Majlis today, with MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy submitting amendments to a number of articles, including article 81 – under which MDP presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed is currently being charged.

The boycott bill – submitted by the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) MP Ali Arif – has now been sent to the Majlis Economic Committee.

Depending on the level of participation in the boycott, those found guilty could be fined MVR150,000 (US$9740), have their trade permits cancelled, or have any honors or privileges awarded by the state revoked.

Discussions of a tourism boycott have always been particularly sensitive in the Maldives, with the country reliant on the industry which contributes over 70 percent of the country’s GDP.

Government ministers have in the past described the industry as “sacred”.

A selective tourism boycott labelled the ‘Maldives Travel Advisory’ appeared in the months following the contested transfer of power in February 2012, although the website was soon taken down.

Similarly, Nasheed himself told the Financial Times in July last year that tourists planning to visit the Maldives should cancel their holidays.

This call was not repeated, however, with the party’s National Council never agreeing to adopt such a policy.

Removals from existing code

In addition to removing Penal Code’s Article 81, Imthiyaz Fahmy proposed removing Articles 75 and 87.

Article 81 of the penal code regards public servant using authority to arrest or detain innocent persons.

“It shall be an offense for any public servant by reason of the authority of office he is in to detain or arrest in a manner contrary to law. Person guilty of this offense shall be subjected to exile or imprisonment not exceeding 3 years or a fine not exceeding MRF 2,000,” reads the article.

Former President Nasheed is currently being charged under Article 81 for the arrest of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed – an incident that precipitated Nasheed’s ouster in February 2012.

The arrest followed the failure of parliament and the Judicial Services Commission to taken action over an extensive list of allegations against Mohamed.

The Nasheed trial subsequently stalled at the high court level after the legitimacy of the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court – specially assembled for the case – was disputed.

The composition of the court and the conduct of the trial was also criticised by UN Special Rapporteur Gabriella Knaul as “arbitary” and of questionable legality.

The Progressive Party of Maldives called for the trial to be resumed earlier this month, though not further action has yet been taken in the courts.

Penal code article 75 concerns the making of false charges: “Whoever institutes a claim against another person with the intent to cause inconvenience, loss or injury to that person without lawful grounds shall be subjected to a fine not exceeding MRF 2000.”

Section 87 of the code relates to the failure to assist public servant in his duties, with offenders subject to exile, six months imprisonment, or a MVR500 fine.

The amendments come at a time when several MDP MPs, including Fahmy, are being investigated for contempt of court and for criticising the judiciary.

The current penal code was written in 1968. Work on a new penal code started in 2008, but it is still at committee stage.


President Waheed slams efforts to boycott Maldives tourism over nation’s “shortcomings”

President Dr Mohamed Waheed has criticised unspecified groups that are calling for a boycott of the Maldives’ tourism industry, expressing concern that it is the largest source of income for the nation.

According to the President’s Office website, his comments were made during a visit to the island of Neykurendhoo as part of a wider tour of  South Thiladhummathi Atoll ahead of elections scheduled for September this year.

The president raised the concern on the back of over two million people signing a petition on the Avaaz website pledging to target the Maldives’ lucrative tourism industry in order to pressure authorities to drop the charges against a 15 year-old convicted of fornication, and to pursue wider legal reforms to prevent similar cases.

Minivan News understands that officials from Avaaz had visited the Maldives last week to meet with government officials and research the case.

Meanwhile, NGO Amnesty International last month raised concerns that minor’s handling by authorities was the “tip of the iceberg” in terms of the country’s treatment of victims of sexual offences

President Waheed told islanders on Neykurendhoo yesterday (May 3) that he didn’t believe “defaming” a country was the best way to ensure development of a nation, while also condemning the “efforts of a minority of people attempting to create animosity and hatred between families and societies”.

The president added that no matter how well developed any country was, all nations faced political and social problems that needed to be addressed, he therefore criticised any attempts to use such “shortcomings” as a means to back a boycott campaign.

President Waheed also used the visit to lay the foundation stone of the Neykurendhoo Friday Mosque on the island, while also promising wider infrastructural development to provide improved sewerage and water systems expected to be established in the near future.

The new mosque is being built with the assistance of Saudia Arabia, according to the President’s Office.


Maldives records double-digit tourist arrival growth during first quarter of 2013

Tourism arrivals to the Maldives during the first quarter of 2013 were up 14.6 percent over the same period last year, as declining Western European demand failed to offset growing interest in the destination from Asia and Eastern Europe.

According to official statistics, 293,112 tourists arrived in the country between January to March 2013.  During March alone, 99,498 visitors were recorded in total – an increase of 30.1 percent on a year-on-year basis.

Over the last month, the tourism industry has faced several potential boycotts as a result of negative headlines, such as the controversial flogging sentence handed to a 15 year-old rape victim who admitted to having consensual sex with an unnamed man during a police investigation.

So far over two million people have signed an online petition backing a selective tourism boycott by  The petition aims to launch a media campaign targeting local resort businesses to pressure key decision makers to push for legal reforms in how sexual offences are dealt with.

Similar boycott action has been threatened in China, where concerns over alleged discrimination of Chinese nationals by one resort operator created negative publicity for the Maldives across local press and social media services.

However, tourism authorities told Minivan News late last month that after a“challenging” 2012 following political upheavals – a much more optimistic outlook was expected for the industry over the next two years. The country is presently well on target to meet a one million visitor target that it failed to reach by the end of 2012.

Regional visitors

During the last three months, China has continued to remain the key driver behind growth in tourism arrivals.  Some 70,570 arrivals were recorded for the first quarter of 2013, an increase of 51.2 percent over the same period last year. China accounted for 24.1 percent of all tourist arrivals to the Maldives between January and March, remaining the largest national market in terms of arrivals by over ten percentage points.

Total tourist demand from the Asia Pacific region was up for the quarter by 41.6 percent, amounting to 109,233 visitors, according to the statistics.

Meanwhile, European visitor numbers were up 0.3 percent over the same period last year, as demand from Central and Eastern Europe during the quarter rose by 24.2 percent – amounting to 39,273 people.

Russia remained the key market in the region, amounting for 8.3 percent of all arrivals to the Maldives over the first three months of the year. Visitor numbers from the country between January and March reached 24,255 people – up 21.8 percent over the same time last year.

In Western Europe, tourist demand fell 5.5 percent for the quarter, amounting to 69,747 visitors. This region still represented a 23.8 percent share of total arrivals to the Maldives for the first three months of the year.

During the same quarter, visitors from key markets including Germany and France fell by 2.6 percent and 11.3 percent respectively.

Elsewhere in Europe, arrivals from the United Kingdom and Italy – key traditional markets for the Maldives – were also down. Visitors from the UK for the first three months of the year fell by 7.6 percent to 22,550. Italy posted a 13.7 percent decline for the quarter – amounting to 23,247 guests.

In Africa, 1,588 people visited the Maldives during the quarter, up by 28.9 percent over the same period last year.

Across the Americas, demand rose by 31.8 percent for the first three months of the year, amounting to 8,006 people.  Between January and March, 2013, Middle Eastern arrivals increased by 53.4 percent over the same period last year, with 6,665 visitors.


Ahead of the release of the March 2013 statistics, Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal told Minivan News last month that the outlook for the year ahead was much more optimistic than in 2012.  He pointed to protests in Male’ during the build up and aftermath of last year’s controversial transfer of power as a key difficulty faced by the industry last year.

With the bulk of protests following the change in government last year having been concentrated in the capital, Maleeh said that “false information” indicating that tourists staying at the country’s isolated island resorts would be affected by protests had since been dispelled.

However, in light of political uncertainty in 2012, the incoming government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan had sought to utilise public relations groups and advertising to try and offset the perceived impact of negative news headlines following the transfer of power.

This focus has included agreeing a US$250,000 (MVR 3.8million) advertising deal to promote the country’s tourism industry on the BBC through sponsorship of its weather services, as well as signing a £93,000 per month (US$150,000) contract with public relations group Ruder Finn to try and improve the country’s image internationally.

Despite some challenges posed by a reduced state budget for marketing this year, Maleeh said authorities were continuing to press for private funding to help with mainstream ad pushes on services like CNN and the BBC.

“We hope to have an announcement by the middle of the year,” he said.

Maleeh added that between April to August this year, a number of foreign journalists from all over the world would be invited to take part in ‘familiarisation trips’, which were claimed to have proved “very effective” the previous year.

Efforts are also expected to be undertaken in china to provide promotional focuses in mainstream media, such as state broadcasters state broadcasters, to promote the destination with local assistance.


Government pursues legal reforms with cabinet shake-up

The government has appointed Aishath Bisham as Attorney General (AG) to replace Azima Shukoor, who has taken the role of Minister of Gender, Family and Human Rights to oversee legal reforms previously proposed by the government.

President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad confirmed that the government had decided to transfer Shukoor as part of commitments to potentially end the use of flogging as a punishment for sexual offences – a practice it previously alleged serves to punish victims of rape and abuse in some cases.

Bisham’s appointment as AG comes as an petition calling for a moratorium on flogging and better laws to protect women and girls in the Maldives reached more than two million signatures – more than twice the number of tourists who visit the country each year.

The campaign stems from concerns over the Juvenile Court’s sentencing of a 15 year-old girl to be flogged after she confessed to authorities of having consensual sex with an unknown man during investigations into a separate case of abuse.  The abuse was allegedly carried out by her stepfather.

Sources on Feydhoo in Shaviyani Atoll, where the 15 year-old girl originates from, last month told Minivan News that concerns had been raised by islanders since 2009 that the minor had allegedly been the victim of sexual abuse not just by her stepfather, but by a number of other unidentified men on the island.

During her time in the Attorney General (AG’s) Office, Azima Shukoor appealed the court’s decision regarding the minor’s sentence. Meanwhile, international pressure has continued to mount on the government to review the charges against the girl and push for reforms of how sexual offences are dealt with by the local court system.

President Dr Mohamed Waheed’s government has previously criticised the sentence, but warned this week that any form of boycott such as those proposed by Azaaz would serve to setback to the economic opportunities and rights we are all striving to uphold for women, girls and the hardworking Maldivian people in general.”

In a letter published on Minivan News on Saturday (April 6), Executive Director Ricken Patel insisted that the organisation had not called for a outright tourism boycott.

“What we do stand ready to do, however, is to inform tourists about what action is and isn’t being taken by the Maldives government to resolve this issue and change the law, and to identify those MPs and resort owners who are using their influence to push for positive change – and those who are not,” Patel said.

“Around the world people are interested (and have a right to know) what kind of systems they’re supporting with their tourism dollars, and to make their holiday decisions accordingly,” he added.

Legal reform

The President’s Office has previously expressed hope that punishments such as flogging would be debated by relevant authorities to try and find an amicable solution to the problem.

The Maldives Constitution does not allow any law that contradicts the tenets of Islam, with the criminal charge of fornication outlined under Islamic Sharia.

However, President’s Office Spokesperson Masood previously noted that the Maldives had a tradition of turning away from practices such as the death sentence and various forms corporal punishment that form part of Sharia law.

He said that punishments such as removing the hand of a suspect in the case of theft had not been used since back in the 1960′s.  Masood maintained that there was a history of reviewing the country’s relationship with Sharia law in the past and that a similar process could be had with the debate about flogging.

He concluded that all authorities involved in proposed legal reforms would have to tread “a very fine line” in order to tackle long standing “traditions” and beliefs in the country.

Avoiding prosecution

A senior legal expert with experience of working under both the present and former governments has told Minivan News that that while the Maldives Constitution requires that laws in the country do not contradict Islamic Sharia, there were ways of avoiding prosecuting suspects on charges of fornication.

“There are many Islamic legal interpretations that place several conditions to fulfill before a prosecution on fornication be brought forward. Some scholars even go further and argue that hudood offences cannot be practiced in the legal justice systems at the current time,” claimed the legal source, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“Their argument is that Islamic Sharia is a way of life and you cannot pick and choose which areas you need to implement. Basically, you cannot implement Islamic criminal justice system in its original form when Islamic commercial system or Islamic governance is not observed.”

Despite his government’s stance on flogging, President Waheed’s Gaumee Ithihaad Party (GIP) has recently declared itself part of a coalition with the religious conservative Adhaalath Party (AP), which has publicly endorsed the 15 year-old’s flogging sentence, stating that she“deserves the punishment” as outlined under Islamic Sharia.

The Adhaalath party, members of which largely dominate the Maldives’ Ministry of Islamic Affairs, stated that the sentence of flogging had not been passed against the minor for being sexually abused by her stepfather, but rather for the consensual sex which she had confessed to having to authorities.


Ministers slam Nasheed for “bluffing” over guesthouse commitments

Former President Mohamed Nasheed’s pledge to expand guest house tourism in the country has been strongly criticised by senior government figures, who accuse him of lacking sincerity and “bluffing” over his commitments to mid-market tourism.

State Minister for Finance Abbas Adil Riza and Minister for Tourism Ahmed Adheeb both this week slammed Nasheed, claiming guesthouse bed numbers more than doubled last year after President Dr Mohamed Waheed came to power.

The ministers, who represent the government-aligned Gaumee Ithihaad Party (GIP) and  the Progressive Party of Maldives respectively, also criticised Nasheed over previous remarks he made in international media calling for a boycott of the country’s tourism sector.

However, Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has claimed that after reintroducing the guesthouse concept to the Maldives during its administration, the party’s latest manifesto gave further importance to growing mid-market tourism.  The MDP claims such growth will be vital to tackling what it called a “total disconnect” between the lucrative island resort model and local people.

With the inclusion of development of small and medium businesses – particularly in the emerging guesthouse sector – in a “mini-manifesto” drawn up by the MDP, mid-market tourism has emerged as a key potential issue for elections in September 2013.

Bed numbers

Speaking to Minivan News, Abbas Adil Riza accused Nasheed of lying in regards to his commitments to mid-market tourism development, criticising him for a wider failure to protect small and medium businesses in the country.

“My concern is that Nasheed is bluffing. Between 2009 to 2011, there were 16 new guest houses built,” he said, claiming these properties amounted to some 180 tourism beds.

Abbas said that in 2012 alone, the number of guesthouse beds available to tourists in the country had almost doubled as a result of programs implemented by the Waheed government to provide smaller-scale loans leading to 37 guest houses being developed.

“During Nasheed’s administration, outsiders were given public land and there was no funding supplied,” he said. “After February 7, we gave small-scale loans to 37 individuals.”

Abbas also accused former President Nasheed of failing to support small and medium enterprises and local industry in general.

He added that small and medium scale businesses had to be set up in harmony with local culture and traditions, particularly on small islands.

“He can’t just say that he is the champion of these things,” Abbas added.

Boycott concerns

Traditional holiday staples for large numbers of tourists coming to the Maldives, including being able to wear bikinis and drinking alcohol, are not permitted by law on local islands that are classed as being inhabited.

Speaking to local media, both Abbas and Tourism Minister Adheeb have hit out at claims by the MDP published in international media last year calling for travellers to boycott Maldives tourism.

Adheeb told Sun Online that Nasheed had not made sense by previously calling for the promotion of guest houses in the build up to this year’s presidential election after calling for a boycott last year.

“President Nasheed had made a global call to boycott Maldives tourism, and now he is calling to promote guest house businesses, targeted at Maldives tourism. This does not make sense,” he was quoted as saying.

Nasheed last year called for a tourism boycott of the Maldives, as he continued to question the legitimacy of the government of President Waheeed – his former vice president.

However, these calls were soon dropped by Nasheed and supporters of the now opposition MDP.

The Ministry of Tourism last year fell short of its stated aim of welcoming one million visitors to the country during 2012, citing difficulties resulting from media coverage of political turmoil following the change of government that brought President Dr Mohamed Waheed to office.

However, authorities in the country have since pledged to surpass the one million visitor goal in 2013, claiming late last year that the “hard days” were over for tourism in the country following 2012′s political turmoil.

Despite this stance, as part of a so-called silent protest at this year’s ITB event, anti-government campaigners distributed leaflets entitled ‘the cloudy side of life‘ – a play on the country’s official ‘Sunny Side of Life’ tourism slogan to draw attention to alleged human rights violations under the new government.

“Paradigm shift”

MDP MP and Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor responded that Nasheed’s government had sought to reintroduce and expand guest houses in the Maldives – a development the party claimed was needed to bring a “paradigm shift” in general thinking and economic development in the Maldives.

After 40 years of concentrating primarily on exclusive island-based resort tourism, Hamid accused former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom during his 30 years of power of creating a “total disconnect” between local people and the country’s famous high-end tourism product.

“They local people Islamic rhetoric while talking something very different to tourists,” he claimed.

Pointing to the ‘mini-manifesto’ released by the MDP in the build up to this year’s elections, Hamid claimed that was capacity for an additional 600,00 tourists to travel to the Maldives annually, yet there was not enough options to accommodate them.

“All across this country, you see that many islands are ready for [middle-market tourism]. There are impressive cafes. People who have worked in the tourism industry are setting up businesses based on their experiences,” he said. “Tourism is very much a business we know and some of these places are quite sophisticated.”

As part of the MDP’s election pledge, Hamid claimed that some MVR120 million was set to be pledged as part of a policy to provide “seed money” to help establish guest houses and supporting industries.

He said that guest houses have always been a central policy of the MDP to support national development.

By comparison, Hamid claimed that before coming to power, the previous government under former President Gayoom had tried to paint tourism on local islands as “haraam” to discourage interest and investment.

He claimed such a strategy was overseen by certain resort owners and tourism magnates alleged by the MDP to being central in bringing the present government to power on February 7, 2012.  Nasheed himself resigned following a mutiny by sections of the police and military.

Both Nasheed and the MDP have continued to contend that the transfer of power was a “coup d’etat”, despite the findings of a Commonwealth-backed Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) last year.

Responding to the party’s previous reported support for a tourism boycott, MP Hamid claimed the party had always committed itself to what it called selective boycotts – rather than calling for tourists to outright reject the destination.

“We are not saying that all resort operators are bad. But some of them were directly involved in the coup and have sought to exploit their positions,” he said.

Hamid denied the party had sought to boycott the industry outright, claiming instead to be targeting resort owners that he alleged ran their businesses unethically in the style of “cartels”.

Nasheed’s tourism potential

Just last month, in an open-editorial piece reprinted in Minivan News, former President Nasheed claimed that only 50 people directly profited from the resort industry in the Maldives, limiting what he claimed were a wealth of economic and social policies.

“What the average Maldivian wants is basic. We want a way to increase our income. We want to broaden our narrow financial horizons through development.

It is not that we lack this capacity to develop. We have plentiful natural resources. If we settle for the current economic status quo, believing that what we have now is the limit to what we are entitled to, it will mean that our true wealth potential remains untapped,” he wrote at the time.

“What the MDP and I have always pointed out is this basic fact: we want to develop. To upgrade beyond the current status quo. The ordinary Maldivian’s complaint is that of poverty, of financial anxiety. We want a wallet with the wads; we want to realise that financial progress is possible. The political office is a place that should offer solutions to these complaints. This is its responsibility and obligation.”

Meanwhile, an island owner involved in the country’s burgeoning mid-market holiday sector last week slammed new regulations imposing financial restrictions on tourism joint venture projects with the government, claiming the legislation outright excludes small and medium-scale investors.


Maldives minister slams “dubious” motives behind Avaaz boycott campaign

Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal has slammed what he calls the “dubious” motivations behind an petition calling for tourists to boycott the Maldives in protest over the sentencing of a 15 year-old rape victim to flogging, alleging the campaign is “politically motivated”.

While accepting a need for “capacity building” in parliament and other institutions, Maleeh said tourism had been a key driver in ensuring national development and democratic reforms for the last 40 years, granting the industry “sacred” importance in the Maldives.

“People should not be doing anything to damage the industry. In Switzerland, you would not see a campaign designed to damage Swiss chocolate. Likewise you would not see a German campaign to damage their automobile industry,” he said.

The comments were made as over 1.7 million people worldwide have signed a petition on the Avaaz site aiming to target the “reputation” of the Maldives tourism industry and encourage the dropping of charges against the 15 year-old rape victim, as well as wider legal reforms to prevent similar cases.

The girl was sentenced on charges of fornication after confessing to having consensual sex with an unknown man during investigations into her alleged abuse by her stepfather. The girl is also alleged to have been abused by a number of unidentified men on her island dating back to 2009, according to sources on the local council.

The government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed has pledged to appeal the sentence given to the minor by the country’s Juvenile Court, while also reviewing local laws to enact potential reforms of the use of flogging. No time-line for such reforms has yet been set beyond the commitment to hold talks.

Democratic path

In an interview with Minivan News today, Deputy Minister Maleeh argued that over the last 40 years, the tourism industry has been an intrinsic part of not only relieving poverty nationally, but also driving the country’s democratic transition process – leading eventually to elections in 2008.

Presidential elections are now scheduled for later this year in a highly-polarised political environment that follows a controversial transfer of power in February 2012 that saw President Waheed come to power following a mutiny by sections of the police and military.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed and his opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) have alleged that his government was ousted in a “coup d’etat”.  Nasheed has maintained these claims despite the findings of a Commonwealth-backed Commission of National Inquiry (CNI).

“Chaos and anarchy”

Considering the present political landscape, Maleeh claimed had been deliberately “misinformed” in a politically motivated attempt to destabilise the government and tourism industry through negative media headlines.

“By misinformed, I mean that I don’t think they have taken the government’s stand into account, the president has already spoke on the issue , as has the attorney general,” he said. “I think that in time, Avaaz will be informed of this and will even be our partners.”

Maleeh criticised the intentions behind the campaign, alleging the petition was being used for political gain, rather than focusing on the welfare of the 15 year-old girl at the centre of the sexual abuse allegations.

“I would say the motivation [behind the campaign] is dubious. The problem ultimately needs to be addressed by the judiciary and parliament, not the tourism ministry,” he said. “We are in the middle of a successful democratic transition. Killing the most important industry in the country will not give way for reforms, but chaos and anarchy.”

Maleeh claimed that when accounting for the economic significance and societal benefits of tourism to the Maldives, the industry was very fragile.

He added that the tourism industry has ensured continued national developments in “the right direction” that had helped to alleviate general poverty and improve the quality of life in the country. Maleeh pointed to the availability of consumer goods such as like branded coffees and other foods and produce as an example of the quality of life.

Maleeh added it had been tourism that helped drive democratic developments in the nation, with international parties encouraging former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who served as the country’s autocratic leader for 30 years, to undertake a path towards democratic reforms.

“In the last 40 years [since the introduction of tourism]. we have listened to groups like the World Bank and the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO),” he said.

Pointing specifically to reforms that had brought a new constitution to the Maldives in 2008, Maleeh said that rather than seeking a damaging boycott, international partners like the EU, the US and Australia had in the past engaged in dialogue instead.

“We have western-educated people here. We know there are issues in parliament and with capacity building that needs to happen. But we cannot be compared to a Middle Eastern country for example,” he said. “ We are a successful transitional democracy.”

“Concerted effort”

Maleeh said that after facing the impact of negative international and domestic headlines following the controversial transfer of power last year, the country had undertaken a “concerted effort” to promote the Maldives.

“Negative news needs to be minimised as I believe that tourism should be sacred here in the Maldives. In recent years, the democratic system has helped tourism, so we encourage openness and are not afraid of media.  What we want to see is correct information being out there. There needs to be more accountability with stories proven with facts,” he said.

“As far as the tourism ministry is concerned we don’t discriminate against any media. It is only those channels who call to boycott [the industry] that we would hesitate to speak to.”

The government last year agreed a US$250,000 (MVR 3.8million) advertising deal to promote the country’s tourism industry on the BBC through sponsorship of its weather services, as well as signing a £93,000 per month (US$150,000) contract with public relations group Ruder Finn to try and improve the country’s image internationally.

For the coming year, Maleeh added that the Maldives was again seeking similar support from private groups to engage in high-profile marketing efforts with media organisations like CNN and the BBC to try and push the Maldives unique selling points – namely “sun, sea, sand and spa”.

He added that with the expected introduction of new high-profile hotel chains to the country’s resort industry, including Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH), there was strong potential for positive international headlines in the media.

With a reduced promotional budget available for the coming year, Maleeh added that regardless of the allegiance of the next government, consistency needed to be seen in the country’s promotional budget to better plan future campaigns.

Accepting the potential budgetary challenges ahead, Maleeh said he believed that the Maldives tourism industry had become adept at promoting itself even with limitations, pointing to the growing importance of social media services like Twitter and Facebook to destination marketing – especially in terms of photo sharing.

“The Maldives stands at an advantage in that no one can take a bad picture here,” he said.

Addendum: Avaaz Executive Director Ricken Patel sought to justify the organisation’s petition in a subsequent comment piece published in Minivan News.


“Cloudy side of life” protest pamphlet distributed at ITB trade show

Maldives anti-government campaigners have attempted to use this year’s ITB Berlin trade show to draw attention to allegations of police brutality and human rights abuses following the controversial transfer of power back in February 2012.

The Ministry of Tourism last year fell short of its stated aim of welcoming one million visitors to the country during 2012, citing difficulties resulting from media coverage of political turmoil following the change of government that brought President Dr Mohamed Waheed to office.

However, authorities in the country have since pledged to surpass the one million visitor goal in 2013, claiming late last year that the “hard days” were over for tourism in the country following 2012’s political turmoil.

Despite the government’s stance, as part of a so-called silent protest at this year’s ITB event, anti-government campaigners distributed leaflets entitled, ‘the cloudy side of life‘ – a play on the country’s official ‘Sunny Side of Life’ tourism slogan. The publication includes excerpts of reports from the Amnesty International NGO and select quotes from the UN high commissioner for human rights concerning alleged abuses.

“White sandy beaches, dancing palm trees and sparkling cocktails beckon the eager tourist to the Maldives: the emerald Isles in the warm blue Indian Ocean,” the leaflet reads.

“However, a few miles away from your secluded resort island, the same government, backed by the same resort-owners who wave over the honeymooners to the sunny side of life, with their other hand, imposes great injustices, brutality, and human rights abuses on us, the citizens.”

No identification of any organisation or political party in the Maldives affiliated with the leaflet is included on the publication, which accuses the current government of President Waheed of coming to power through a coup and being backed by resort owners advertising at the fair.

It concludes by requesting visitors “reconsider” a decision to visit the Maldives that will “directly fund” alleged human rights abuses and the present “illegal” government.

Last year, a Commonwealth-backed Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) report welcomed by the US and the UN rejected accusations that the present government came to power illegally, despite claims from former President Nasheed that the report’s conclusions were flawed and failed to include key witness statements and evidence. These allegations were later backed by Fathimath Dhiyana Saeed, a one time SAARC Secretary General and Former Human Rights Minister under the current government who was dismissed from her post late last year.

ITB Berlin, which ran this year from March 6 until yesterday (March 10), is one of the world’s largest tourism shows and was attended by Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb, as well as a host of local tourism industry figures.

Adheeb was not responding to calls from Minivan News at the time of press,while Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal was not in the country when contacted.

Industry confidence

Speaking back in January this year, Tourism Minister Adheeb said he was confident the industry could meet it goals of bringing one million visitors to the Maldives in 2013,  despite falling short of this mark by 40,000 people in 2012.

“There were a lot of hiccups last year with the political turmoil that the country experienced. It is important that we do not compare ourselves to other destinations like Sri Lanka or Seychelles, as our tourism market is very different. We have a high-value tourism market,” he said at the time.  “We will formulate a strategy to go forward this year.”

Following last year’s transfer of power, the incoming government of President Waheed sought to utilise public relations groups and advertising to try and offset the perceived impact of negative news headlines following the transfer of power.

This focus included agreeing a US$250,000 (MVR 3.8million) advertising deal to promote the country’s tourism industry on the BBC through sponsorship of its weather services, as well as signing a £93,000 per month (US$150,000) contract with public relations group Ruder Finn to try and improve the country’s image internationally.

Boycott calls

Former President Mohamed Nasheed last year called for a tourism boycott of the Maldives, as he continued to question the legitimacy of the government of President Waheeed – his former vice president.

However, these calls were soon dropped by Nasheed and supporters of the now opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), which is still pressing for early elections.

Despite wider fears about the impact of political uncertainty on holidaymakers, Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal claimed back in September 2012 that “the hard days” were over for the Maldives tourism industry following the release of the CNI’s findings.


Calls for Chinese tourism boycott over allegations of ‘cup noodle’ discrimination

Additional reporting by Neil Merrett.

Calls for a tourism boycott of the Maldives have exploded across Chinese social media networks, after allegations of discrimination against guests from China at one resort became widely circulated.

On March 1, dismissed Chinese employees of the Beach House Iruveli resort – formerly Waldorf Astoria – posted allegations on the Chinese forum Tianya that guests from the country were receiving inferior treatment to Europeans, despite paying the same prices.

The staff alleged that this discrimination extended to removing kettles from the rooms of Chinese guests, to prevent them making instant noodles in their rooms and thereby forcing them into the resort’s restaurants.

Despite claiming that 90 percent of the resorts guests were Chinese, the resort assumed Chinese guests should be able to speak English and was unwilling to hire Mandarin speakers who were able to communicate with the guests, the dismissed staff alleged.

“We watched our compatriots suffer unfair treatment but could do nothing,” wrote the employees, in Mandarin.

Chinese staff at the resort who voiced concern were dismissed and sent back to China, the staff alleged, and in some cases were made to pay their own airfare out of their owing wages.

One of the staff members began a “revolt”, according to the post, and refused to agree to the terms of his dismissal from the “Human Resources Ministry”, labelling it “unfair treatment”.

The Chinese staff members said they are ultimately forced to resign “after the Ministry of Personnel and Security began 24-hour surveillance, confiscating our phones, blocking our internet and controlling our [communications] with the outside world.

“We were treated like criminals to be monitored, and felt our safety was threatened. We simply could not imagine things would develop to the point where our heart is filled with panic, we tried every way to appeal to the outside world for help.

“Later, with a friend’s help, we called the Chinese Embassy in Sri Lanka, and Ambassador Hu was able to guarantee our safety,” the staff wrote.

The staff said they were too exhausted by that stage to argue with the deductions on their wages imposed by the Human Resources department, as the just wanted to the experience to “end as soon as possible” and return home.

“We do not want this kind of discrimination, not this unfair treatment. Our Chinese tourists spend money here not to be frowned upon, to be discriminated against as second-class guests. We want fair treatment and truly five-star service.

“For those who discriminate against Chinese guests, I hope you will sincerely apologise to the Chinese people,” the post concluded.

Resort responds

In response to the allegations of the dismissed staff, Beach House Iruveli issued a statement confirming that a group of five Chinese staff members “resigned on their own accord on February 18, 2013.”

“We continue to operate a dedicated staff of Chinese Villa Hosts at the resort who are solely responsible for looking after the specific needs of our Chinese guests. Our resident Chinese staff are happy and fulfilling their duties as per the high standards of the resort and guest expectations,” the statement read.

“The Beach House Iruveli did remove some damaged kettles from rooms as part of routine maintenance due to the fact that these kettles were damaged by guests by cooking food. However, nespresso machines are always available in all rooms as part of full amenities and also dispense hot water to all guests,” stated Haydee Cruz, the resort’s Director of Sales and Marketing.

“The Beach House Iruveli has a policy to allocate a Villa Host to the respective language spoken by the guests. In this regard, we have Chinese Villa Hosts for Chinese speaking guests. We have not received any guest complaints regarding the alleged discrimination from a specific group of former employees relating to a difference of treatment and continue to only receive positive comments and appreciation from our Chinese guests,” Cruz said.

“The Chinese market is very important for us and are always warmly welcomed to the Beach House Iruveli. As a result of the defamatory accusations against The Beach House Iruveli our legal representatives have been engaged,” Cruz added.


By Sunday, the employees’ post had been forward over 91,000 times across the Chinese blogosphere, according to one report from the International Herald Tribune, and sparked calls for a Chinese tourism boycott of the Maldives in Chinese media.

One Bejing-based travel agent specialising in the Maldives told the South China Morning Post that many Chinese tourists had started cancelling their plans to visit the country.

Discriminatory treatment was “very rare” at resorts in the Maldives, the agent explained, however “after the incident, my clients now all make a new request when booking resorts: no discrimination.”

Chinese tourists now dominate tourism statistics in terms of arrivals, accounting for almost a quarter of all visitors to the Maldives in 2012.

Despite the high numbers – more than double the Maldives’ traditional UK market – many resorts regard Chinese guests as relatively ‘low-yield’ due to lower spending on extras such as food and drink, and instead use their numbers to boost occupancy rates during the off season.

A Chinese boycott now would hit the tourism sector in the Maldives just as the industry goes into its off-peak period.

Meanwhile, the sector’s once explosive double-figure growth fell to just 0.7 percent last year, falling from 15.8 percent in 2010 and 9.1 percent in 2011.

The market has also proved very sensitive to political upheaval, and was the first targeted for a ‘reassurance’ mission by the Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation (MMPRC) following the events of February 2012 and the cancellation of several charter flights.

A few Maldivian travel agencies who work closely with the Chinese market told Minivan News at the time that “quite a lot of Chinese customers are very concerned of this situation. Some of them are hesitant to make reservations now,” said Emy Zheng, a Chinese national working at Villuxa Holidays. She noted that only a few bookings were been cancelled, while others have tried to postpone their holiday.

Government responds to boycott claims

Minister of Tourism Ahmed Adheeb said no formal complaints had been received by Maldivian authorities over alleged discrimination at the country’s resorts.

However, Adheeb asked that in future, any tourists who had such complaints about their treatment file such concerns with the tourism ministry and other relevant authorities rather than through the press and social media.

“We have not received any complaints of discrimination like this, but we do take such incidents seriously,” he said, claiming that the Iruveli allegations appeared to have been raised by disgruntled former resort staff.

“What seems to have happened is that a staff member has been dismissed from this resort and has a lot of hate for the company,” Adheeb said.

“China presents a new market that has seen rapid growth I think since 2009. We are working to try and adapt at the best level possible and we have seen Chinese staff now working at resorts and even Chinese restaurants are being set up to cater for guests,” he added.

Since the inception of the Maldives tourism industry 40 years ago, Adheeb claimed that there traditionally had been teething problems for the resort industry in adapting to new markets, but that these had always been overcome with time.

“In the early days [of tourism], there were some tensions between German and Italian tourists at resorts, but we always have figured out how to adapt to this,” he said.

“Looking at some of the letters the ministry has received, we used to get complaints from resorts about noise created by Russian tourists. However they are now often the most preferred guests in the country. Travel trends are always changing.”

While expressing sadness at allegations raised in Chinese media, Adheeb said expressed his belief that particularly with China being the largest tourism market for the Maldives, the tourism industry was not biased or discriminatory.

“We [Maldivians] are not biased or discriminatory by nature. There is perhaps a little bias with Asians in the region similar to us, but not to the Chinese,” he added.