Parliament cancelled after MDP MPs protest non-inclusion of police brutality debate

Today’s sitting of parliament was cancelled after MPs of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) vociferously protested the non-inclusion in the agenda of a motion without notice to debate police brutality.

Shortly after the sitting began, Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim – presiding in the absence of Speaker Abdulla Shahid – declared that the counselor-general had advised, in reference to section 140(c) of the parliamentary rules of procedure, that MDP’s motion “by its nature was not one that must be debated after setting aside the Majlis’ work.”

Under the rules of procedure, acceptance of a motion without notice opens the parliament floor for a one-hour debate.

Counselor-General Fathmath Filza later posted a message on Facebook explaining  that, “The primary object of an urgent motion is to draw the attention of the Majlis to a recent matter of public importance having serious consequences and in regard to which a motion with proper notice will be too late.

“The Standing Orders of the Majlis require the matter proposed to be of such a character that something very grave which affects the whole country and its security has happened, and the Majlis is required to pay its attention immediately by interrupting its normal business. It is therefore, an extraordinary procedure which, if admitted leads to setting aside the normal business of the House for discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance.”

Following Nazim’s announcement, MDP MPs raised consecutive points of order objecting to the non-inclusion in the agenda. Nazim however ruled that points of order could not be raised on the issue, causing an uproar and forcing the Deputy Speaker to adjourn the sitting until 11:00am.

In his point of order, MDP MP Mohamed Riyaz argued that the issues raised in the motion were of urgent concern, as police in uniform were entering private residences to rob expatriates, and police as well as the Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) had not investigated police brutality against MPs, councillors and civilians on February 7 and 8.

Soon after the sitting resumed, Nazim invoked his authority as the Majlis chair to evict MDP MPs Mohamed Rasheed and Ibrahim Rasheed from the chamber after both MPs continued angrily to raise clamorous points of order.

Nazim adjourned the sitting again at 12:00pm after the MDP MPs refused to leave the chamber.

The Deputy Speaker eventually announced the cancellation of today’s sitting at 1:00pm after only nine MPs were in attendance despite ringing the quorum bell for five minutes. Last week’s sittings were also adjourned numerous times over loss of quorum.

“I have to say with much regret that today’s sitting is over without getting any work done,” Nazim said, adding that “obstruction” of parliament sittings by one of the main parties was “very regrettable.”

Motion without notice

Following the second adjournment today, MDP MP Eva Abdulla tweeted: “Majlis refuses debate on MPS [Maldives Police Service] brutality but starts Freedom of Assembly Bill which ironically defines how much force police can use in a gathering.”

The motion without notice, submitted by MP Imthiyaz Fahmy ‘Inthi’, states that police brutality against civilians since the contentious transfer of power on February 7 had become “systematic.”

Moreover, the motion referred to two police officers in uniform along with a group of plain-clothed police and army officers “intimidating and robbing” expatriates on June 8.

The motion noted that police officers in uniform forcibly entered the premises of the expatriate workers to rob them of their cash and mobile phones, adding that a member of the police investigation team and a Special Operations (S.O) officer were implicated in the robbery.

Inthi’s motion also expressed concern with the arrest of senior police officers on charges of contributing to a report released by two prominent MDP members on the alleged “coup d’etat” that forced the resignation of President Mohamed Nasheed “under duress.”


Journalists banned from Deputy Speaker corruption trial

The Criminal Court refused to allow journalists to observe today’s hearing of the ongoing corruption trial of Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim, who is facing charges of multiple counts of conspiracy to defraud the former Atolls Ministry.

Local daily Haveeru and Sun Online reports that the hearing was scheduled to start at 12:00pm but was conducted one hour earlier at 11:00pm. The court did not inform any of the reporters who registered at the court this morning of the time change.

According to Haveeru, court reporters who learned of the time change and requested entry were told that “the judge has decided to hold a closed hearing.”

Asked by the reporters to offer a reason for the closed hearing, the court official asked the reporters to wait, went inside and did not appear until the hearing was over.

Almost two hours after the hearing concluded, Criminal Court Media Officer Ahmed Mohamed Manik told the court reporters that they were not allowed to enter because “negative perceptions of the court were being created [among the public] because of some journalists.”

Manik was not responding to Minivan News at the time of press.

Queried by the court reporters, the Criminal Court official insisted that the judge was authorised to exclude the public from trials under article 42 of the constitution.

Article 42(c) states that, “Trials of any matter shall be held publicly, but the presiding judge may exclude the public from all or part of a trial in accordance with democratic norms: 1. in the interests of public morals, public order or national security; 2. where the interest of juveniles or the victims of a crime so require; or 3. in other special circumstances where publicity would prejudice the interests of justice.”

However, according to Haveeru, a member of the public was allowed to attend today’s hearing. Under normal court procedure, only trials involving child sexual abuse are closed to the public.

The Criminal Court has since issued a press statement explaining that the judge decided to hold a closed hearing “because the reporters allowed in to the hearing on May 24, 2011, gave the false depiction of the court to the public and because the court believes this depiction could obstruct the course of justice.”

Nazim meanwhile appeared at court today after reportedly failing to comply with eight summons during the past few months.

The minority opposition People’s Alliance (PA) parliamentary group leader is facing four counts of conspiracy to defraud to the Atolls Ministry, which were first identified in an audit report of the now-defunct ministry.

Following an investigation into the claims in the report, at a press conference in August 2009, Chief Inspector Ismail Atheef said police had uncovered evidence that implicated former Atolls Minister Abdullah Hameed, Eydhafushi MP Ahmed “Redwave” Saleem, former director of finance at the ministry, and Nazim in a number of fraudulent transactions.

Police exhibited numerous quotations, agreements, tender documents, receipts, bank statements and forged cheques showing that Nazim received over US$400,000 in the scam.

A hard disk seized during a raid of Nazim’s office in May 2009 allegedly contained copies of forged documents and bogus letter heads.

Police maintained that money was channelled through the scam to Nazim who laundered cash through Namira Engineering and unregistered companies.


Deputy Speaker invokes authority to forcibly evict disruptive MPs

Four MPs of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party’s (DRP) breakaway Z-faction were forcibly removed from the chamber today after Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim invoked the Speaker’s authority to evict disruptive MPs by force from the parliament floor.

Z-DRP MPs Ahmed Mahlouf, Ilham Ahmed and Ali Arif were forcibly taken out of the chamber by MNDF officers while MP Ahmed Nihan left of his own accord.

All four MPs had been ordered to leave by the Deputy Speaker after repeatedly advising disruptive MPs to return to their seats.

“I believe we have to find a solution to Majlis sittings being stopped because of this issue,” Nazim said this morning when Mahlouf refused to leave after about 15 minutes. “I intend to go ahead with getting the MP out under article 54(g). I am adjourning the sitting to do this.”

MPs of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) cheered and applauded the decision. The ruling party MPs had bolted the chamber doors and refused to let opposition MPs leave yesterday.

Article 54(g) of the parliamentary rules of procedure states that the Speaker has the authority to expel an MP who refuses to leave the chamber despite the Speaker’s ruling “in a way that does not undermine the sanctity of the People’s Majlis.”

Crowds of activists and supporters of both parties had gathered outside the parliament building to continue yesterday’s protest. However police had cordoned off the area and used pepper spray to control confrontations between rival supporters.

Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam told Minivan News that while “a few people were temporarily detained,” the scuffles and disturbances were not serious and no one was arrested.

Today’s sitting was meanwhile adjourned a number of times to evict the Z-DRP MPs. However following the expulsion of Vili-Maafanu MP Ahmed Nihan from the chamber, proceedings went ahead smoothly with the exception of disruptive points of order raised by some opposition MPs, notably People’s Alliance (PA) MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla and Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) MP Riyaz Rasheed.

The Z-DRP MPs had contended that a sitting held last week to approve the composition of committees was “unlawful” as MPs were informed via text message just two hours before it began at 8.30pm.

The vote to approve a compromise reached by parliamentary group (PG) leaders over the committee composition was taken while Z-DRP MPs were protesting in front of the secretariat desk. Following the vote, Z-faction MPs vowed to disrupt future sittings in protest.

10.00am: MNDF officers have reportedly entered the chamber and are pleading with MP Mahlouf to leave the chamber.

10.30am: Police have used pepper spray to control protestors and arrested some activists. Male’ City Councillors are reportedly among the crowd.

10:40am: Nazim’s party, minority opposition People’s Alliance (PA), alleged yesterday that the Deputy Speaker suffered an injury in a scuffle with Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs yesterday. “We consider this a criminal offence carried out by some members belonging to MDP and we condemn the act in the strictest of terms. We call on the authorities to investigate the matter,” the party said in a statement. Haveeru published a photograph of a cut finger. Nazim’s explained that his finger was caught between his desk and a chair placed by an MDP MP to block him from leaving the Speaker’s chair.

10:57am: MP Mahlouf has been removed from the chamber by MNDF officers on orders from Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim.

11:50am: Majlis sitting has been adjourned again shortly after it began when MP Ahmed Ilham was ordered to leave the chamber but refused to comply with Deputy Speaker Nazim’s order.

12:10pm: Z-DRP MP Ahmed Mahlouf has told Minivan News that the Deputy Speaker called out his name and ordered him to leave the chamber when he raised a point of order to inquire about some documents missing from his desk.

”I left an agreement and some very important documents on my desk last night and when I came this morning it was missing, so I took point of order to ask about it,” he said.

Mahlouf said that Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) officers came inside the chamber and “dragged me outside using force.”

“Later while I was standing outside, MDP MP Ali Waheed (former DRP deputy leader) came at me, spit in my face and hit me on the face,” he claimed.

Newspaper Haveeru has reported that its journalists witnessed part of the altercation and saw Mahlouf strike Waheed in the back.

12:16pm: MNDF officers have reportedly removed Ilham from the chamber.

12:33pm: MP Ali Arif has also been removed by MNDF officers after he refused to leave the chamber when ordered by Deputy Speaker Nazim.

1:10pm: Majlis sitting has resumed at 1pm without the three evicted Z-DRP MPs. Deputy Speaker Nazim is proceeding with the agenda items. Debate on the government’s proposed amendment to the Import-Export Act of 1979 has begun. The amendment bill is being presented to the floor by MDP MP for Maafanu South Ibrahim Rasheed.

1:42pm: Deputy Speaker Nazim has repeatedly appealed for calm after Z-DRP MPs Ahmed Nihan, Abdul Muhsin Hameed and PA MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla raised points of order to protest the removal of opposition MPs by force. MP Ibrahim Muttalib resumed speaking in the debate but a number of opposition MPs are on their feet in protest. “I don’t believe I can continue speaking in this environment,” Muttalib has said.

1:45pm: Deputy Speaker Nazim has ordered Nihan to leave the chamber and adjourned the sitting.

2:00pm: The sitting has resumed after Nihan left the chamber without being escorted out by MNDF officers.

3:30pm: Today’s sitting of parliament has just concluded. Debate on the proposed amendment to the Import Export Act was completed while preliminary debate began on the Business Profit Tax Bill.


MDP MPs bolt chamber doors, demand sittings go ahead

Supporters and activists of both main parties surrounded the parliament building in protest today after a third consecutive sitting was disrupted by MPs of the main opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party’s (DRP) breakaway Z-faction.

In a protest of their own, MPs of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) bolted the chamber doors and refused to let opposition MPs leave.

Maafanu North MP Imthiyaz Fahmy told Minivan News that MDP MPs shut the chamber door at about 1pm when the sitting resumed after being adjourned in the morning.

“We said Majlis has to go ahead because it has been stopped everyday while there are important economic bills to pass,” he said. “Every day they bring the sitting to a halt and everybody just goes home. Today we said nobody can leave.”

He revealed that the MDP MPs opened the doors at 2.30pm when sittings usually come to an end.

Imthiyaz strongly criticised the Z-DRP MPs for disrupting three consecutive sittings “on orders from [former President] Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.”

“Every day it is just three or four people stopping Majlis,” he said. “These Z-faction MPs don’t even have any legal status. Because if they belonged to a party, they would recognise the party’s leader and accept his decisions.”

Shortly after today’s sitting began at 9.00am, Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim adjourned it when Z-DRP MPs, Ahmed Mahlouf and Ahmed Ilham, refused to comply with an order to leave the chamber.

Both MPs were protesting in front of the secretariat desk when the Deputy Speaker ordered them out after repeatedly advising the MPs to return to their seat – the Z-DRP MPs have now disrupted three consecutive sittings after vowing to do so in protest of the recently approved committee composition.

Under article 54(f) of the parliamentary rules, sittings cannot continue if an MP ordered out remains in the chamber.

Minivan News will continue to cover the situation here as it develops.

2:38pm: MDP supporters have gathered near parliament and are attempting to climb inside. Police are in the area attempting to control the situation.

2:40pm: MDP activists told Minivan News they would “knock down” any opposition MP attempting to leave the parliament.

2:57pm: Activists outside are claiming: “You [MPs] have taken thousands from the state budget to pay your salaries, but have done nothing for the citizens.”

3:15pm: Independent MP Mohamed Nasheed said he left the building shortly before the incident began. MPs inside the building have so far not responded to calls.

3:16pm: Opposition MPs have left the building however MDP MPs remain in the chamber. Former Parliamentary Group Leader Reeko Moosa Manik told media that they would not leave until the sitting was resumed.

3:18pm: Opposition and ruling party supporters have gathered at the same gate and are trying to break the police line and enter parliament. Minivan News observed that the crowd includes supporters of both parties, one shouting about Gayoom (“Golhaabo”), the other about President Mohamed Nasheed (“Ganjabo”).

3.50pm: Scuffles have broken out between MDP and Z-DRP activists. Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam told Minivan News that police are attempting to “bring the situation under control.” Police have formed lines to separate the two groups of supporters.

4.10pm: According to the MDP website, chamber doors were opened shortly before 3pm and some opposition MPs have left the building.

5.42pm: Police have used pepper spray on the protestors while opposition MPs are reportedly being escorted out of the building under guard. Police are warning that the crowd will be dispersed by force.

6.23pm: Crowd has begun to disperse and thin out.

6.55pm: The MDP’s National Council has passed a resolution calling its members in the atolls to come to Male’ to participate in “a large demonstration” in protest of “the Majlis being hijacked by a few members encouraged by former President Maumoon [Abdul Gayoom].”

The resolution proposed by Madaveli MP Mohamed Nazim and seconded by Hoarafushi MP Ahmed Rasheed was passed with 58 votes in favour and two against.

6.57pm: A number of MDP activists are continuing the protest outside all three gates of parliament. The activists have issued a warning to police that they will storm the building between 8.00pm and 8.30pm. They continue to call for opposition MPs to come out.

8.45pm: MDP MP Ahmed Sameer has told protestors still outside parliament that the party is trying to hold a sitting tonight. Among the five MPs designated to preside over sittings in the absence of both the Speaker and Deputy Speaker include MDP parliamentary group leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih.

10.40pm: Tomorrow’s agenda has been published on the Majlis website. Addressing protestors earlier tonight, MDP Chairperson “Reeko” Moosa Manik said that the rules of procedure allowed sittings to be held in the absence of either the Speaker or Deputy Speaker: “We don’t mind if it starts tomorrow morning or at 12 midnight, we are here to do this […] It is not the spirit of the constitution for two members to stop Majlis and bring it to a halt for weeks on end. We showed them today. We were able to bolt the doors and sit in front of the doors. We can do it again. They had to stay inside until we opened the door.”

Moosa alleged that the forced cancellations were “planned in advance at the Deputy Speaker’s office.” The former MDP parliamentary group leader said that the party was ready to pass all the taxation bills in one sitting if necessary.


Deputy Speaker denies dodging court summons

Deputy Speaker Ahmed Nazim denied allegations made at parliament this week by coalition partner Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MPs that the minority opposition People’s Alliance (PA) MP had dodged Criminal Court summons eight times to date.

The Dhiggaru MP in March 2010 pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to defraud the former Ministry of Atolls Development.

Appearing on Villa TV last night, Nazim explained that summons might have been cancelled on occasion when he went out of the county, but insisted that he had informed the court before overseas trips.

Nazim claimed that he had been advised by ruling party MPs as well as former Home Minister Mohamed Shihab to stay out of the country, adding that he was not hesitant to face the charges at court.

“I will face [the trial],” he said. “I will face it and prove to the public that I am innocent.”

The Deputy Speaker also claimed that while four hearings have taken place in his case, MP Ahmed “Redwave” Saleem, who faces similar charges of corruption during his time as director of finance at the Atolls Ministry, has yet to be summoned to court.