No restrictions as UK updates Maldives travel advisory over potential CNI unrest

The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has updated a travel advisory for the Maldives on August 24 to account for potential violent clashes linked to the release of findings by the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI). Despite the update, the advisory has not recommended any restrictions regarding travel to the Maldives.

A statement on the official website of UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office stated that there was a risk of unrest that may become worse after the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) releases its report on the controversial transfer of power on February 7.  The CNI is charged to look into the controversial transfer of power on February 7 that brought President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan into office.

‘’There have been political demonstrations in the capital island of Male’. There is currently an increased risk of unrest and this may heighten towards the end of August when a politically significant report is expected to be released,’’ the statement said.

‘’Some previous demonstrations have resulted in violent clashes involving police, military and demonstrators. We advise that you stay alert, exercise caution and avoid demonstrations and spontaneous gatherings.’’

Meanwhile, in a video statement posted Friday (August 23), the UK High Commissioner for the Maldives and Sri Lanka, John Rankin, said that he would not like to speculate on the contents of the CNI Report before it is released when he was queried whether he thinks it will be fair.

“The UK follows the events in the Maldives closely and I and my team visit their on a regular basis. It will be wrong for me to speculate on the contents of the CNI report, we look forward to seeing it when it comes out,’’ Rankin stated in the video.

‘’But in the meantime we urge all the parties to remain clam, for people to refrain from violence. And for there to be a political dialogue, UK remains in touch with all the parties and our shared goal is for stability, peace and democracy for the Maldivian people.’’

Ahmed Adheeb Abdul Gafoor, Minister for Tourism, Arts, and Culture and Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal were not responding to calls by Minivan News at the time of press regarding the update to the FCO advisory. The Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) Secretary General ‘Sim’ Mohamed Ibrahim was also not responding to calls at the time.

Following February’s controversial transfer of power, the UK FCO advised against “all but essential travel to Male’ island” in reaction to violent clashes at the time between security forces and protesters against the new government of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan.  Former President Mohamed Nasheed and his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) have alleged that the present government of Dr Waheed came to power at the time in a “coup d’etat”.

In the ensuing clashes, the travel industry was quick to respond at the time that there had been no violence or unrest at the country’s main airport, from where guests are transferred to their resorts safely without having to travel through the capital of Male’ where protests had been mainly based.

Kuoni, which is one of the largest European tour operators working in the country, continued to fly UK customers to the country without incident, yet urged caution for tourists staying in Male’, while cancelling all excursions to the capital.

The United Kingdom was the source of tourists to the Maldives before 2010, before being overtaken by China. In 2011, however, the UK market still represented 11.2 percent of all arrivals in the country.

The travel advisory was followed by similar moves from major European travel markets such as Germany. These advisories were removed by the respective authorities as of March 2012.


US Ambassador “alarmed” by reports of violence as MDP protests continue

US Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives Patricia Butenis has said she is “alarmed” by reports of police violence during the opposition Maldives Democratic Party’s (MDP) continued protests in Malé.   Butenis claimed intimidation of protesters and attacks on journalists “threaten Maldivians’ freedom of expression and right to information, and only contributes to instability.”

MDP members have meanwhile continued their street protests for a fourth consecutive day. The MDP alleges former President Mohamed Nasheed was ousted in a coup d’etat on February 7, and have held regular protests calling for fresh elections.

Although protests have generally remained peaceful, Monday night saw violent clashes between police and protesters. Over 50 protesters have been arrested since Sunday (July 8), but only 12 remain in police custody at present. Two journalists were also arrested on Monday evening, but released after a few hours in detention.  Private broadcaster DhiTV has meanwhile alleged that one of its presenters was attacked by MDP supporters on Tuesday (July 10) afternoon, whilst the Maldives Journalist Association (MJA) appealed for media representatives to refrain from taking part in opposition protests.

“We call on journalists and the police to behave professionally as they carry out their respective, crucial functions,” Butenis told reporters at a press conference this morning.

Raajje TV has denied accusations its journalists had been directly involved in the protests, claiming that staff had conversely received “various forms of harassment and verbal abuse from the Maldives Police Service” as they attempted to cover the MDP protests held this week.

Butenis also expressed concern over the knife attack which nearly killed blogger Hilath Rasheed. He claims he was attacked because he advocated secularism.

Butenis said the government must protect protesters’ rights to demonstrate peacefully, and urged protesters to work with the state’s human rights protection mechanisms by filing police brutality allegations with the Human Rights Commission (HRCM) and the Police Integrity Commission (PIC).

Butenis also welcomed the reconstitution of the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) to include a foreign judge and a member to represent former President Nasheed.  The CNI, which was set up by President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan to investigate the controversial transfer of power, was reconstituted following international concerns over its impartiality.

The CNI report will inform the decision on whether and when to have early elections, Butenis said, adding that the US government will keep working with President Waheed’s administration in the meantime.

The US government will continue to keep a close watch on the progress of the CNI and the now-stalled all-party talks, she said. In her meetings with President Waheed and former presidents Nasheed and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, Butenis said she emphasised the importance of the all-party talks and the CNI as a peaceful way forward.

The US government has previously pledged US$500,000 to provide technical support to the Elections Commission (EC) in order to ensure that the next presidential polls meet international standards. The US will also provide a US$20,000 grant to restore pre-Islamic artifacts in the National Museum, which were destroyed by a mob that broke into the building amid February 7’s political turmoil.

A further US$ 7million is currently in use to increase resilience of Dhidhoo and Hinnavaru Islands to climate change. The Ambassador visited Dhidhoo Island yesterday (July 10) to monitor a project to provide sustainable source of drinking water to the island’s 4000 inhabitants.

“It goes without saying that climate change is a major threat to the Maldives, so we’re partnering with the Maldivian government to create solutions that protect its islands,” Butenis said.

She will retire from her position as the US Ambassador to the Maldives and Sri Lanka in August.


PPM “threatening” and “intimidating” police and military CoNI witnesses: MDP

The ousted Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has accused the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) of “threatening” and “intimidating” police and army officers to prevent them from testifying at the inquiry commission set up to investigate the February 7 transfer of power.

In an interview to DhiTV on June 30, PPM deputy leader Umar Naseer claimed six high-ranking police and military officers loyal to deposed President Mohamed Nasheed were holding secret meetings with other security officers in a bid to persuade their colleagues to tell the commission that the change of government occurred through a coup d’état.

“We know that these things are being done,” said Naseer. “We are very closely following the actions of these people. All I have to say to these people is that the government has changed, within the boundaries of the law. Hence, stay with this government. Otherwise, change your thinking, and leave your current posts. Don’t force us to take action in these matters”.

The six officers named are Chief Superintendent of Police Mohamed Hameed, Superintendent of Police Adnan Anees, Chief Inspector of Police Mohamed Abdul Samad, Lieutenant Colonel Jihad, Lieutenant Colonel Zubair and Colonel Ziyad. DhiTV also broadcast pictures of the six officers.

In a press release on July 3, MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Gafoor said Naseer’s statements were “thinly veiled threats” to “intimidate potential witnesses before the CoNI.”

The Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) was set up by President Mohamed Waheed Hassan to assess the circumstances surrounding President Mohamed Nasheed’s resignation. Following international concerns over the commission’s impartiality, Waheed reconstituted CoNI in June to include a foreign judge and a member representing Nasheed.

Nasheed’s former Environment Minister Mohamed Aslam and National Security Advisor Ameen Faisal released a report outlining what the MDP government knew of then-opposition’s plan to topple the government by soliciting “about 500 police officers” to protest in Republic Square – a demonstration that was joined by opposition supporters and led to Nasheed’s resignation “under duress” on February 7. The government described the report as a “terrorist act.”

Chief Superintendent Mohamed Hameed was subsequently arrested, while other police officers who had cooperated with the report were rounded up and detained, and their houses searched.

Police initially denied the allegations of a “witch hunt” and issued a statement accusing the media of “circulating baseless and false reports”. However court warrants for the arrest of Hameed and Staff Sergeant Ahmed Naseer were subsequently leaked.

In DhiTV’s report, Naseer said the six officers were plotting to influence CoNI’s report to reflect Ameen and Aslam’s findings.

“[Loyalist elements] of the police and military have been made well aware of these people, who are trying to ensure that the report of the Commission is in favour of Nasheed, by their own actions, during Nasheed’s regime,”Naseer warned.

“All I have to say to these people is that we have been very closely observing your actions,” he repeated.

Following the reconstitution of CoNI, an additional 244 people have registered to testify at the commission. CoNI is expected to complete its report by the end of August.