SAHR expresses concern with arrest of former President Nasheed

South Asians for Human Rights (SAHR), a regional network of human rights activists and institutions, has expressed “shock and concern” over the arrest and mistreatment by police of former President Mohamed Nasheed this week.

In a statement issued yesterday (February 25), SAHR described police manhandling and dragging the opposition leader into court as “degrading and a ruthless misuse of police powers.”

“The former President has been arrested under counter terrorism laws on charges of anti-state activities for ordering the arrest of a senior judge Abdullah Mohamed in 2012 which led to street riots in the Maldives. Linking the ordering of the arrest of a senior judge with terrorism and anti state activities smacks of political vendetta and a blatant misuse of counter terrorism laws,” reads the statement.

The organisation called on the Maldivian government to “ensure that political considerations does not vitiate the trial and the former President is tried with adherence to fair trial standards guaranteed under international human rights standards.”

The Sri Lankan government meanwhile joined a growing international chorus of concern yesterday with a statement expressing concern about the recent developments in the Maldives.

“It is hoped that all stakeholders in Maldives will resolve their differences in a peaceful manner, within the legal provisions in Maldives,” reads the brief statement by the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry.

On Tuesday (February 24), Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon hit back at statements issued by the Commonwealth, Canada, UN, and the EU, expressing disappointment over “bias” and factual inaccuracies.

“The Government of President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom will not take instructions from a foreign government on any issue in governing the country,” she said.

Meanwhile, Danish Foreign Minister Martin Lidegaard also voiced concern over Nasheed’s arrest and urged the government to “ensure Nasheed his rights, uphold judicial principles and secure a just and transparent trial.”

Lidegaard said he had asked the EU nations to discuss the situation in the Maldives.


Laamu atoll to set benchmark for climate change development, says UNDP

The United Nations in Maldives launched its new project, the ‘Low Emission Climate Resilient Development (LECReD) Programme’ in Fonadhoo, Laamu atoll yesterday (May 18).

Azusa Kubota, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) representative, said the ambitious programme would set Laamu atoll as a “benchmark” for future climate-smart and strategic development.

Minister of Environment and Energy Thoriq Ibrahim echoed the statements of Kubota, stating that the programme would play a pivotal role in shaping the future development of Laamu atoll, paving way for more climate-resilient projects in the social and economic sectors of the atoll.

The 3-year-long initiative seeks to contribute to the existing local development framework by enhancing the capacity to support low-carbon lifestyles, climate change adaptation, and disaster risk reduction in the Maldives.

The US$9.2 million programme will be implemented as a collaborative effort by local organisations, the UNDP, UNICEF, UNOPS, UNFPA, UN WOMEN, the WHO and the FAO.

It is the first joint implementation programme undertaken by the UN in the Maldives, and signals the adoption of a new holistic approach to address localised impacts of climate change in the Maldives, according to the LECReD press statement.

The Government of Denmark, who is funding the project, have a history of supporting the Maldives in climate change awareness and mitigation programmes.

In 2009 Copenhagen supported the Maldives in order that the government could attend the crucial climate change summit, just one day after the former president Nasheed announced that country lacked the funds to participate.

Furthermore, in 2010 Danish ministers announced they would assist with climate mitigation in Maldives during an official visit.

Speaking at a press conference held at the time, officials announced Denmark would fund climate mitigation programs in Kenya, Indonesia and the Maldives as part of its US$40 million ‘fast-track’ climate change initiative.

Danish Minister for Development Cooperation Søren Pind and Minister for Climate Change and Energy Dr Lykke Friis announced they would assist with infrastructure and capacity-building projects in the Maldives.

“In global climate talks there is sometimes the tendency to say ‘If we don’t agree now, we’ll just agree next year.’ But if anyone suffers from that illusion they should come to the Maldives, because here you get an education that action is needed now,” said Dr Friis.

Following the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, Minister Thoriq called for a cap on global temperature rise, and pledged to increase renewable energy to 30% in the next 5 years.

“Averting catastrophe is still possible,” he said in response to the panel’s argument that the world was ill-prepared for risks from a changing climate.

After reports of collapsing glaciers leading to a potentially increased rate of sea-level rise were reported last week, local NGOs suggested that the Maldives was “not prepared at all” for the projected consequences.


Nasheed’s arrest the “end of Maldivian democracy”: MDP

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has called for protests following the arrest of former President Mohamed Nasheed by masked riot police on Monday morning.

Nasheed was in the Dhoonidhoo island detention centre on Monday night, awaiting his trial on Tuesday.

“October 8, 2012 will be remembered as the day that democracy died in the Maldives,” said MDP spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor in a statement.

“The reality is it has been on life-support since February, but today the plug was pulled and the lights turned off,” Ghafoor said.

Thirty-four members of the MDP’s National Council met following Nasheed’s arrest and declared that they would present information about Nasheed’s situation at 8:00pm on Monday evening, before calling for protests.

Nasheed defied a travel ban and multiple summons from the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court, after his party disputed the legitimacy of the court and labelled the charges against him as a politically-motivated effort to sabotage the party’s southern atoll election campaign, and Nasheed’s candidacy in the next presidential election.

“There is huge contention whether Hulhumale’ Court has been granted powers by the law to try any case whatsoever,” wrote former chair of the committee that drafted the 2008 constitution, Ibrahim ‘Ibra’ Ismail.

“The Constitution says very clearly that trial courts will be defined and created by law. When Parliament created courts by the Judicature Act, there was no “Hulhumale’ Court” designated as a Magistrates Court. The Supreme Court itself is still sitting on the case of the validity of the Hulhumale’ Court. It was created by the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), without authority derived from law,” wrote Ismail.

“Therefore the validity of any orders or judgements issued by this court is questionable, and the Constitution says no one has to obey any unlawful orders, ie orders which are not derived from law. Therefore, President Nasheed’s decision to ignore the summons has more than reasonable legal grounds,” he stated.

Ismail further noted that court summons were routinely ignored without consequence by political figures allied with the current government, observing that People’s Alliance (PA) MP and Deputy Speaker of Parliament Ahmed Nazim had defied 11 summons before appearing in court over corruption charges.

“Impunity can only be matched by impunity,” Ismail stated.

“The outlook appears to be rather bleak. There will be chaos. There already is. It may worsen. And then, if we are lucky, out of chaos will emerge order. But what kind of order it will be depends on which paradigm wins. At this point in time, I would tentatively suggest it may be religious extremism.”

Morning arrest

Nasheed was arrested on the southern island of Fares-Mathoda, where he was reportedly scheduled to meet the Danish Ambassador, and was put on a speedboat bound for Male’ where he is due to appear in court on Tuesday.

Saleema Mohamed, a participant of the campaign trip, was inside the living room when the police entered the house, noted an MDP statement.

“They pushed their way in, hurting anyone inside the house. Minister Aslam asked them repeatedly to calm down and to not hurt anyone. He was saying: ‘this is my house’. The police shoved him and pushed him and he fell on the glass table and broke the table,” Saleema said.

According to the party’s statement, “the police forcefully entered Aslam’s house, barging onlookers out of the way. They used shields, batons as well as foul language at the people gathered near the house. Nasheed’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ahmed Naseem, and former Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair, were pepper sprayed by the police and violently dragged from the house, while the police also removed members of parliament from the scene.”

Police Spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef earlier stated that “there was no trouble. Nasheed was very cooperative,” but was unable to confirm whether police had used pepper spray.

President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad said the office wished to “stay clear of this matter.”

“We have asked the Maldives Police Service to notify media of any developments. We know as much as the [media] about developments,” he said.

Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim has meanwhile launched a second case against former President Nasheed, seeking MVR 3.75 million (US$243,506) in compensation for defamation after Nasheed called him a “baghee” (traitor).

Nasheed’s lawyer, former Human Resources Minister Hassan Latheef, said Nasheed would defend himself by proving that the allegations were true.

US Embassy statement

The US Embassy in Colombo has issued a statement urging “all parties to find a way forward that respects Maldivian democratic institutions, the rule of law and the Maldivian constitution, as well as protects human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

“We urge all sides to remain calm, reject the use of violence and to avoid rhetoric that could increase tensions. It is our expectation that former President Nasheed be given every due process that the law allows,” the embassy stated.

“In response to statements that somehow the United States was involved in the detention of former President Nasheed, the Embassy strongly denies that claim,” it added.

“We note that all US law enforcement cooperation [with the Maldives] includes activities that focus on professionalisation and professional development of the police and places special emphasis on the need to adhere to international standards of human rights and the strengthening of democratic institutions and the rule of law.”


Pirate kidnapping did not occur within Maldivian waters, confirms MNDF

The alleged abduction by Somali pirates of a Danish family who set sail from the Maldives last month on their yacht is not thought to have occurred within the country’s territorial waters, defense officials have confirmed.

Denmark-based newspaper the Copenhagen Post today reported that seven Danish nationals – thought to include a family of five and two deckhands – were confirmed by the country’s Foreign Ministry to have been abducted on their way to the Red Sea by Somali pirates.

The Danish Foreign Ministry said it was unable to comment on the reports or clarify whether the alleged attack took place 300 kilometres off the coast of Somalia When contacted by Minivan News.

Major Abdul Raheem of the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) was nonetheless able to confirm that security officials in the country had not received any information concerning the kidnappings or any other kind of “terrorist activities” occurring within the territorial waters of the Maldives of late.

Raheem added that security services in the Maldives would not be reviewing maritime security measures or advice when sailing in and out of the country following the alleged kidnappings.

Experts suggest that a growing number of Somali pirates are moving deeper into the Indian Ocean as they come under increased pressure from international task-forces designed to try and limit piracy attacks around the horn of Africa. As a result of this movement, maritime security has become a notable security concern for the Maldives.

In December, a Minivan News investigation reported that although there had been no confirmed attacks or incidents of piracy in the Maldives, maritime protection groups and European security officials still believed the country has the potential to become a target for pirate vessels thought to have originated from Somalia.

However, despite the abducted party having reportedly set off from the Maldives in a 43-foot long yacht called ING around the middle of last month, Major Raheem said that the MNDF had not been provided with any information of the kidnappings or been asked as yet to assist within any potential investigation into the alleged attacks.

Both the Maldives Police Force and the President’s Office were unable to comment on the issue at the time of going to press.

According to the Copenhagen Post report, the eldest 17 year-old son of the kidnapped family wrote on a blog that their vessel was halfway between the Maldives and the Arabian Sea by Tuesday of last week (22 February) and there had been no problems during the voyage.

However, by the following morning, the paper claimed that the ship’s occupants had managed to issue an emergency call as they came under attack from suspected pirates. The Danish warship “Esbern Snare” is reported to have been sent to the area where they are thought to have gone missing.


Price of an open society “is one we gladly pay”, says visiting Danish minister

Many of the climate-change related impacts occurring in the Maldives appeared to be problems “of planning and capacity building”, visiting Danish Minister for Development Cooperation Søren Pind told Minivan News.

The Danish delegation yesterday toured the islands of Fares-Mathoda and Thinadhoo in the south of the country, both of which are suffering from flooding due to poor drainage, and signed a memorandum of understanding with the UNDP to provide assistance.

Pind said that as a Development Minister it was also very interesting to see first-hand the challenges faced by a country following a transition to democracy, “such as the fight between those who wish to go backwards and those who wish to go forwards – and it’s not always possible to tell the difference.”

Pind noted that Denmark had only adopted a parliamentary democracy in the early 1950s, after a process “that took us 100 years. We had a nasty fight in 1870-1901 between the king and those who wanted a new democratic government.”

Scandinavian countries such as Denmark regularly top human development indices. The country has the highest level of income equality, and in 2006 to 2008 was ranked “the happiest place in the world” by Forbes magazine based on indices of health, welfare and education.

Growing radicalisation

Pind acknowledged that in the years following a transition, “of course there is a threat to democratic stability. I asked President Nasheed and he said he sees radicalisation as a key challenge.”

The way to counter growing radicalisation, Pind suggested, was to foster and promote “open society – civil institutions, NGOs, people fighting for gender rights and freedom of speech – these things counteract the same very conservative thinking that benefits from that prerogative.”

And if a society was found to be going backwards and not forwards, “identify those forces of destabilisation”, he suggested.

Radicialisation, Pind noted, was not a problem unique to the Maldives. “All these countries I’ve visited recently – Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia – all their politicians are talking about this, and referring to some sort of ‘foreign influence’. It seems to be a common problem.”

Pind said he found it sad that concepts such as education, free media “and the whole idea of inalienable human rights” had become a religious issue, “when I have heard people who know Islam say this is not a religious issue, but a political one.”

Asked how he felt the Danish government had handled the issue of the controversial cartoons published by one of its newspapers, Pind said Demark had “never seen it as a confrontation with Islam.”

“But we had to face the fact that one man had drawn cartoons that were published in a major newspaper. We had a hard time explaining that in this country the government could not interfere with the media. That is the price of an open society, and we pay it gladly.”

The Danish delegation – including Pind and Minister for Climate Change and Energy Dr Lykke Friis, visited the Maldives to announce funding of climate mitigation programs in Kenya, Indonesia and the Maldives as part of its US$40 million ‘fast-track’ climate change initiative, but showed a strong interest in other matters affecting the country.


Visiting Danish Ministers announce climate mitigation assistance

Denmark will fund climate mitigation programs in Kenya, Indonesia and the Maldives as part of its US$40 million ‘fast-track’ climate change initiative.

Danish Minister for Development Cooperation Søren Pind and Minister for Climate Change and Energy Dr Lykke Friis held a joint press conference with President Mohamed Nasheed this morning in the President’s Office, and announced assistance for infrastructure and capacity-building projects in the Maldives.

“In global climate talks there is sometimes the tendency to say ‘If we don’t agree now, we’ll just agree next year.’ But if anyone suffers from that illusion they should come to the Maldives, because here you get an education that action is needed now,” said Dr Friis.

“There has been so much debate about [assistance] being just around the corner – what we wanted to do with this visit was get around that corner. We did not come empty handed – we came with some very concrete initiatives with which we will continue to deepen the cooperation between our two countries,” she added.

While the Maldives is graduating from UN Less-Developed Country (LDC) status to middle income in January, something that may lead many donors to perceive the country as less needy’, Dr Friis explained that the Maldives had the ability to “make the case” for climate change action.

“Sometimes climate change is abstract and theoretical – you need concrete case studies like the Maldives,” she said. “Anybody following climate change has been inspired by the President Nasheed’s underwater cabinet meeting.”

“What we take back home is that it is not enough just to talk about climate change, but you have to walk the walk.”

Pind added that travelling to the Maldives and seeing the impact of environment erosion first hand “makes an impression.”

“It is one thing to hear about it, but very different to see it in reality,’ he said.

Pind also added that the Danish delegation had held talks with President Nasheed on other challenges facing the country, such as growing radicalisation.

“I had the opportunity to discuss this with the President,” he said. “I have recently travelled to, Kenya, Somaliland and Ethiopia, and I can tell you that [radicalisation] is not only a challenge faced in the Maldives. We discussed the importance of open societies to be able to combat these challenges.”

During the press conference, President Nasheed also revealed the government’s intention to leave the G77, a coalition of 131 developing nations formed in 1964 to promote their collective economic interests in the United Nations.

“The G77 was formed during the Cold War – now it’s obsolete and unnecessary. I pointed this out in Copenhagen as a well. They do not work on our behalf, and they do not understand our present issues,” Nasheed said. “We do not intend to remain in G77, we do not think this is an organisation that is relevant or necessary anymore. We also think there are many countries within the G77 group that will go along with us.”


Govenment sells 20 percent of MWSC to Hitachi at same price

The ministry of finance has sold 20 percent of the Maldives Water and Sanitation Company (MWSC) to Japanese company Hitachi Plant Technology.

The deal was signed by Minister of Finance Ali Hashim and President of the Hitachi Company Masaharu Suvikawa in Male’ yesterday.

According to Fathmath Muaza, assistant director of the ministry of finance, the total sale was worth US$16 million, with 53400 shares sold at US$ 305.90 per share – the same price the government last bought them for.

Asked why the government has decided to sell part of a profitable business, Muaza said “At the end of 2008, the government had to buy back the shares it had with the Danish company [HOH Water Technology of Denmark] as per the [existing] joint venture agreement. All these years that company in Denmark held 24 per cent of the shares in MWSC.”

Mifzal Ahmed, investment advisor to the ministry of economic development, said Hitachi’s decision to purchase shares in MWSC shows that the foreign investment community regards the Maldives “as a very sound place to do business.”

” It also shows that large companies are interested in engaging with local companies to introduce new technologies, particularly environmentally friendly technologies, that will make a strong contribution to our goal of carbon neutrality by 2020,” Mifzal said.

“We are also confident that these technologies will result in a better quality of service to the people of the country at the most affordable price possible.”


The government has previously come under fire for its privatisation plans.

In 2009, it was accused by the opposition DRP of using funds to the tune of US$20 million, allocated for tsunami relief on Meemu Kolhufushi and Thaa Madifushi, for purchasing the MWSC shares back from the Danish company.

DRP spokesman Ibrahim Shareef said “I don’t think this is a good idea at all, this money should have been used for the tsunami relief effort. Under the joint venture agreement, there is a buy back option for the Danish company, we didn’t have to buy back all the shares.”

Shareef said he thought the biggest problem with the deal was that all the shares were sold at the same price that the government bought them for.

“If they sold it at a premium it might have been a different story, and there wasn’t even an initial public offering.”


Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed of the Dhivehi Qaumee Party, DQP, said he felt the deal was not transparent enough, had no regards for the impending privatisation bill, and questioned why the company was not open for public purchase.

“I don’t see the necessity of selling 20 per cent of a profitable company for US$16 million.”

Jameel said the deal seemed rushed and due to the lack of transparency, said he held a “strong suspicion [that there were] underhand deals”.

In addition, he said, “why was the deal rushed in a recessionary period as we would have got a better price if we had waited a few months?”

In response to these accusations, Mohamed Zuhair, the president’s press secretary, said “DQP is obviously an opposition party and they would refute governtment policy. We deny all allegations that the process is not transparent.”

Zuhair siad that the whole process was monitored through the privatisation committee, public private partnership, Invest Maldives and the ministry of finance.

Previously, the government sold seven percent of its shares in Dhiraagu to Cable and Wireess for US$ 40 million, a deal which was heavily criticised as many felt the deal was largely under valued.