Prosecutor General’s Office appeals Criminal Court’s release of PPM Council Member arrested for assault

The Prosecutor General (PG)’s Office has appealed the Criminal Court’s decision not to extend the detention of Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) Council Member Ahmed ‘Maaz’ Saleem for alleged assault.

Saleem was released on Sunday (July 14), the day following his arrest, after police “obtained information necessary for the investigation”, a police spokesperson told newspaper Haveeru.

However some of the individuals arrested after the alleged assault on a ferry captain remain in police custody, following the Criminal Court’s extension of their detention, according to local media.

The PG’s Office called for Saleem to be arrested during the appeal hearing held at the High Court this morning (July 21).

“He was arrested and brought in front of the Criminal Court judge. The judge believed him and ordered his release,” High Court Spokesperson Ameen Faisal told Minivan News today (July 21).

“The Prosecutor General again called for his arrest, which is basically how an appeal case goes on, especially regarding detention,” explained Faisal.

He confirmed that the ruling for Saleem’s detention case is scheduled tomorrow (July 22) at 10:30am.

The Criminal Court and Police Spokesperson Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef were not responding to calls at time of press.

Saleem and three other men were arrested over the alleged assault of an airport ferry captain Saturday (July 13). Saleem allegedly instructed the group to attack the ferry captain after accusing him of stealing a bag containing an iPad, according to a police account of the incident in local media.

Following the alleged assault, police took Saleem and his three companions into custody, as well as the injured ferry captain.

“We have received information that Saleem accused the captain of stealing the bag. He then got off the ferry and returned with a group and assaulted the captain,” a police spokesperson told Haveeru.

PPM MP Ahmed Nihan said the reported arrest of Saleem was a personal matter and was not anything to do with the party.

He said that he had been informed of the arrest at about 12:25am by a party supporter that “something went wrong” outside at the jetty near the Nasandhura Palace Hotel involving a computer or tablet device, but had no further details at time of press.

Nihan added that Saleem had not been directly involved with PPM campaigning since the party’s primary election earlier this year, that saw MP Abdulla Yameen elected as its presidential candidate.


Presidential power struggle in the Maldives: South Asia Journal

The detention of the judge had provided the spark for a police and military mutiny – labelled by many a coup d’etat – which resulted in Nasheed’s departure from office on February 7, 2011, writes Daniel Bosley for the South Asia Journal.

“Alleging his resignation had come under duress, Nasheed and his supporters took to the streets the following day where they were met with brutal suppression by a police force which has yet to be brought to account for the numerous human rights abuses that ensued.

The Kafkaesque legal polemics when Nasheed was forcefully brought before the court for the first hearing in October hinted at deeper issues which underscore the country’s recent crises. Contending legal opinions suggested an illegal arrest warrant had been used, from an illegally assembled court, to bring an illegally removed president to trial, for the illegal detention of an illegal judge.

This labyrinthine situation indicates the urgent need for police and judicial reform in a struggling democracy which is looking increasingly rudderless. After months of political deadlock, street demonstrations, accusation and counter-accusation, Nasheed’s trial presents an opportunity to bring the political crisis back to where it began, with the judiciary and the criminal justice system.

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Reporters Without Borders condemns arbitrary arrest of journalists for taking photos

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned the growing number of arbitrary arrests of journalists by the Maldives Police Service.

In a statement, the press freedom NGO said it “deplores the repeated obstruction of media personnel in the course of their work and urges the government to put a stop to arrests designed to intimidate journalists and encourage self-censorship.”

The statement follows the arrest and detention of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Naish on August 30 while reporting on the arrest of a demonstrator. The area was not barricaded or otherwise designated off-limits by police.

Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef informed Minivan News at the time of the arrest that Naish had been arrested for “obstructing police duty.”

“Riot police known as Special Operations (SO) stopped Naish at 5:30pm in the Malé district of Sosun Magu as he was photographing them arresting a young demonstrator,” RSF reported.”They asked him for his press pass, which he did not have on him at the time, and, after refusing to accept his business card as identification, handcuffed him and led him away.”

“My hands were tied behind my back with a clip and the SO officer who did so kept tightening it,” Naish said, in his account to RSF. “Another officer kept pinching my arms and hitting my ankles with his boot, telling me to walk faster.”

More people were arrested, including two who had been taking photographs or videos of the police, RSF reported.

“They were bundled into a vehicle and taken to police headquarters and then transferred to a detention centre on Dhoonidhoo, an island just to the north of the capital,” the statement read.

“They took my personal belongings (…) I was then photographed and taken before an investigating officer who informed me that I was arrested for obstructing police duty and causing public disorder. I refused to sign the arrest form because, in addition to stating a false reason for the arrest, the place of arrest noted in the form was incorrect,” Naish informed RSF.

“After being placed in a large cell with other people arrested during the demonstration, Naish asked to see a doctor because his wrists were swollen,” read the RSF statement. “The doctor sprayed his wrists and gave him a painkiller. He was then allowed to speak to two lawyers and described to them the circumstances of his arrest.”

“I talked to seven people who were arrested similarly for taking photographs. However all were accused of obstructing police duty, disobeying orders and causing loss of public order,” Naish stated.

At around 2:00am he was moved to a large cell where 25 other people were already being held. He was finally released without charge the next afternoon, after being held for about 24 hours, RSF stated.

“I found out later than government-aligned private broadcaster Villa Television showed footage of my arrest, which would have confirmed that the police lied about the place of arrest. It would also show that I was not jeopardising public order,” Naish told the NGO.

Naish added that journalist Ali Nahyk with Minivan Radio 97FM – a station unaffiliated with the Minivan New online website – was arrested on 31 August for similar reasons.

“Maldives is ranked 73rd out of 179 countries in the 2011-2012 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, which was compiled before February’s turmoil, when President Mohamed Nasheed was forced to resign and Vice-President Mohammed Waheed took over. The media situation has worsened dramatically since then,” RSF observed.

“RSF reminds the authorities that arbitrary arrest violates article 46 of the Maldivian constitution, which says: ‘Everyone has the right not to be arbitrarily detained, arrested or imprisoned except as provided by law by the People’s Majlis [parliament] in accordance with the article 16 of this constitution’.”

The organisation noted that media and netizens had “played an important role during the Nasheed administration’s ouster in February, photographing and filming aspects of the accompanying crackdown that embarrassed authorities.”

Bystander arrested for recording an arrest:


Detention extended for suspects charged with threatening Judge Abdulla Mohamed

The Criminal Court has extended the detention of two men arrested on suspicion of harassing and threatening Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed for a further 15 days.

Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef said Wednesday (August 22) that the court has extended the detention of both men by 15 days in order to further investigate the charges against them.

The two men were arrested on charges of having harassed Judge Abdulla Mohamed on his personal trip to Raa Atoll Maakurathu on August 17.  They have been in police custody since then.


Judge Abdulla’s human rights violated, no physical abuse: HRCM

The Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) has told local media that while Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed had “not been subject to any form of physical abuse“ during his controversial 22 day detention, attempts had been made to violate his fundamental human rights.

Haveeru today reported that HRCM President Mariyam Azra had said that its investigation had uncovered evidence that the judge, who was detained during the administration of former President Mohamed Nasheed over allegations that he posed a threat to national security, had faced attempts to remove him from his post and send him abroad.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), who had been in government during the time of Judge Abdulla’s detention, today raised concerns over what it claimed was the “complicit irresponsibility” of the HRCM – a body it alleged was biased towards the political interests of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Local media reports today claimed that HRCM President Azra had opted against giving the names of those involved in the alleged abuse of the judge’s human rights.  HRCM also declined to give any other details at present that could influence any potential trials after charges were filed against Nasheed and several senior figures in the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) this week.

Azra was not responding to calls when contacted by Minivan News at time of press.

The HRCM used today’s press briefing to publicise its concerns that “efforts” had been made to “coerce” the judge to commit unspecified actions that would have contravened his human rights.

“Serious concerns”

Responding to the press briefing, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) – of which Nasheed is the current presidential candidate – said it held “serious concerns” in the selective nature of the HRCM’s investigations.

MDP MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor today alleged that the HRCM’s investigation had now formed the basis of criminal charges filed against Nasheed.  The case was today returned to the Prosecutor General’s (PG’s) Office after the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court said it did not presently have jurisdiction to hear such a case.

In March, the Prosecutor General Ahmed Muizz told Minivan News that the completion of the Nasheed cases was being delayed whilst police reviewed certain aspects of the investigation.

Ghafoor claimed that the decision to move ahead with the charges this week raised questions about allegations of political influence on the HRCM and the information it made available to the PG’s Office.

“I believe there is a very strong link between the HRCM holding this media briefing today and Islamist factions linked to [former President] Gayoom,” he added. “This week this faction has been very active in lobbying the HRCM, the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) and even the president himself.”

Just last month, Deputy leader of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) Umar Naseer has expressed his confidence that the Prosecutor General’s (PG) investigation into charges against former President Mohamed Nasheed will see his imprisonment before the scheduled elections in July 2013.

“We will make sure that the Maldivian state does this. We will not let him go; the leader who unlawfully ordered the police and military to kidnap a judge and detain him for 22 days will be brought to justice,” local paper Haveeru reported Naseer as having said.

The PPM was formed by former President Gayoom, who also serves as head of the party.

HRCM investigation

Former President Nasheed became the first Maldivian president to be summoned before the HRCM in March this year in connection to his alleged role in the controversial detention of Judge Abdulla.

Nasheed had been requested to attend a HRCM hearing filed to try and understand who was responsible for taking the decision to arrest the judge. The former president attributed the initial arrest call to his Defence Ministry, on the grounds of “protecting” national security relating to alleged ethical concerns about the judge.

The summons of the former president was the first of three cases filed at the HRCM involving Nasheed. These cases all relate to potential human rights abuses allegedly carried out both by and against Nasheed during the lead up and aftermath of a controversial transfer of power that saw President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan installed as his successor.

Representatives of Nasheed’s legal counsel at the time claimed Nasheed has used his testimony to claim that he had been informed by the Home Ministry that the judge had allegedly posed a “national threat” – prompting his eventual detention.

The MDP MP added that Nasheed then claimed that the Home Ministry had communicated with the Defence Ministry on the situation, which in turn led to the decision to arrest the judge after bodies like the Judicial Service Commission has raised alleged concerns over his ethical conduct.

“I was told Abdulla Mohamed would not comply with the police’s summons to investigate allegations [against him],” Nasheed later stated at a press conference following the meeting with the HRCM.

“The Home Minister wrote to the Defense Minister that Abdulla Mohamed’s presence in the courts was a threat to national security. And to take necessary steps. And that step, the isolation of Abdulla Mohamed, was what the [Defense] Ministry deemed necessary.”

Nasheed claimed additionally that he had sent representatives to Girifushi to check on Judge Abdulla Mohamed’s well-being during his detention, alongside allowing the HRCM to visit the judge.

The MDP has also alleged that the decision to arrest the judge was related to a number of possible misdemeanour’s that had been attributed to him dating back several years.

In November, the national court watchdog, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), was ordered to cease an investigation into Judge Abdulla Mohamed by the Civil Court under an action the judge himself instigated.

MDP spokesperson and MP  Imthiyaz Fahmy contended following Nasheed’s first HRCM summons on March 21 that it was ironic that a leader he claimed who had openly discouraged the use of torture and actively campaigned against human rights abuses, had become the country’s first former leader to have been called in front of the HRCM.


HRCM to conclude investigation into the arrest of Judge Abdulla Mohamed before April

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has said the commission will conclude its investigation into the arrest of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed before the end of the month, and forward the findings to the Prosecutor General.

HRCM Member Ahmed Abdul Kareem told the press that the case took so long because some of the people involved “did not cooperate with the commission.”

Kareem told the press that all the statements would be finished by the end of next week, and that before the end of this month the case will be sent to the Prosecutor General (PG).

President of HRCM, Mariyam Azra, today told Minivan News that the commission was hoping to conclude the investigation before next month.

She said she could not confirm whether all the persons involved in the case were cooperating or not.

”Its a different team investigating the case and Ahmed Abdul Kareem is the only commission member in the investigating team,” she added.

Meanwhile, Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam told Minivan News that police investigation in to the case was ongoing as well.

‘’We are still investigating the case and will send the case as soon as the investigation is concluded,’’ Shiyam said.

He also said former President Mohamed Nasheed “has not cooperated with the police.”

Local media Sun Online reported that police have decided to close the case and send the case to the Prosecutor General without including any statement from Nasheed because he had not cooperated with police.

Nasheed had been given the opportunity to give a statement to police at any time he wished, but he had not used the opportunity, Sun reported.

Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed was arrested by the MNDF on the evening of Monday, January 16, in compliance with a police request.

The judge’s whereabouts were not revealed until January 18, and the MNDF has acknowledged receipt but not replied to Supreme Court orders to release the judge.

Prosecutor General (PG) Ahmed Muizz joined the High and Supreme Courts in condemning MNDF’s role in the arrest as unlawful, and requesting that the judge be released.

PG Muizz ordered an investigation by HRCM, and said it would evaluate the situation following the commission’s findings.

The first complaints filed against Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed in July 2005 included allegations of misogyny, sexual deviancy, and throwing out an assault case despite the confession of the accused. The complaints were first made by then Attorney General, Dr Hassan Saeed, now President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s political advisor.

Six years of similar complaints later, the judicial crisis leading to President Nasheed’s downfall was triggered after Abdulla Mohamed filed a case in the Civil Court granting him an injunction halting his further investigation by the Judicial Services Commission.

This was following by a High Court ruling against his police summons on January 16, prompting police to request the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) take the judge into custody.

Then Home Minister Hassan Afeef subsequently accused the judge of “taking the entire criminal justice system in his fist”, listing 14 cases of obstruction of police duty including withholding warrants for up to four days, ordering police to conduct unlawful investigations and disregarding decisions by higher courts.

Afeef accused the judge of “deliberately” holding up cases involving opposition figures, barring media from corruption trials, ordering the release of suspects detained for serious crimes “without a single hearing”, and maintaining “suspicious ties” with family members of convicts sentenced for dangerous crimes.

The judge also released a murder suspect “in the name of holding ministers accountable”, who went on to kill another victim.

At the time Vice President of the Maldives, Dr Waheed  opposed the judge’s detention, stating on his blog that “I am ashamed and totally devastated by the fact that this is happening in a government in which I am the elected Vice President.”

Nasheed’s government then requested assistance from the international community to reform the judiciary. Observing that judicial reform “really should come from the Judicial Services Commission (JSC)”, Foreign Minister Ahmed Naseem said at the time that the JSC’s shortcoming are “now an issue of national security.”

“We have been working to improve the judiciary since we came to power, but we have not succeeded,” said Naseem. “We have asked the international community to assist us in this effort several times, and we find that they are willing to help at this point,” he explained.

On February 7 Nasheed resigned “under duress”, after police joined opposition protesters in assaulting the main military base in Republic Square, vandalising the MDP headquarters, and taking over the state broadcaster.

A subsequent police crackdown on protesters on February 8, including women and the elderly, hospitalised many and triggered a surge of public and MDP-led animosity against the police and the new government.


Comment: Maldives goes from one crisis to another

Stone-walling and deflecting one issue with another have been tested methods of political strategy and administrative tactic in ‘matured’ democracies elsewhere. The young Maldivian democracy seems to have fast-tracked the processes and fine-tuned the methodology, and as a result these two aspects alone have remained three years after the nation heralded multi-party democracy and a directly-elected President in a hotly-contested campaign.

The latest in the series is the arrest of Chief Justice of the Criminal Court, Abdullah Mohammed, and the involvement of the Maldivian National Defence Force (MNDF) in executing the request of the police in this regard. Allegations have remained against the judge since the days of the predecessor Government of President Maumoon Gayoom, but his arrest, the involvement of the nation’s armed forces and the subsequent non-compliance of the orders of the civil court and the High Court in the matter, have all raised serious questions about the future of democracy in the country.

The last time, the Government of President Mohammed Nasheed employed the MNDF likewise was in mid-2010. At the time, the MNDF shut down the nation’s Supreme Court, under his orders, following a constitutional deadlock over the inability of the Executive and Oppositions-majority Parliament to pass required legislation on a variety of subjects, under the new Constitution, before the deadline had passed. Saner counsel (particularly low-profile Indian efforts) prevailed and the deadlock was resolved at the time.

Now, as then, ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) leaders, starting with President Nasheed, have called for ‘judicial reforms’. They have also reiterated the request from 2010, for the UN to help the nation introduce new canons of law and judicial practices. There is truth in the Government claims that most of the 170-odd judicial officers across the country were not qualified in law. As was known at the time of the 2010 crisis, only around 30 of all judicial officers in the country had a university degree in law.

As was again explained at the time, in a country where education stopped at A-Level (Cambridge, to be precise) for most, lawyers, and law and judicial officers with university degrees are hard to come by. Qualified lawyers in Maldives, as has been the wont in most other democracies and for historic reasons, either prefer private practice with a corporate clientele, or politics, or both. Yet, it is often argued, that the rest of the 170-plus were qualified in the Islamic Sharia. It is this that the present regime wanted to rewrite. Inherent to the effort is also the belief that most judges, having been appointed by the previous regime and without formal qualifications, tended to be loyal more to the erstwhile rulers than to the present Government and/or the Constitution.

Rallying cause for the Opposition

Independent of the merits involved in Judge Abdullah’s arrest, it has provided a rallying cause for the Opposition, after the hugely-successful December 23 protest to ‘protect Islam’. In between came the arrest of an Opposition leader, Dr Mohammed Jameel, Vice-President of the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) of Dr Hassan Saeed, one-time Presidential Advisor to incumbent Nasheed and Attorney-General to predecessor Gayoom. The arrest of the otherwise controversial judge, against whom the first charges were laid by Hassan Saeed as Attorney-General as far back as 2005, has seen that the ‘December 23 movement’, launched by non-political NGOs, now consolidating itself into a political front.

With Judge Abdulla’s arrest, the divided opposition that had joined the ‘protect Islam’ rally under the care of religion-based NGOs, have taken over the leadership of the movement, if the latter still claims to be apolitical with a single-point agenda. This may also lend credence to the Government’s argument that the ‘protect Islam’ movement, based on the installation of individual monuments by SAARC member-countries after the Addu Summit in November, was more political and less religious in form and content. In popular perception, that may not be saying a lot, as one after the other, the issues that the Government seems wanting to offer the Opposition, has only helped the latter to sink their differences even more and consolidate their unity, which prior to December 23 protest was not seen as being possible, particularly during the run-up to the 2013 presidential polls.

The controversy surrounding the SAARC monuments, starting with that of ‘Islamic Pakistan’, being idolatrous in nature, may have robbed much of the credit that the Maldivian Government and President Nasheed richly deserved. MDP leaders are not tired of claiming that it was all part of a larger political conspiracy, aimed at upsetting President Nasheed’s growing popularity during the long run-up to the 2013 polls. Conversely, the divided Opposition of the time was arguing that the Government was deliberately flagging religious issues that went beyond the SAARC monuments, if only to ensure that President Nasheed got a party and challenger of his choice in the polls which they were convinced would go into the second, run-off round.

The issues included clearance for liquor sale in a newly-built star-hotel in the national capital of Male, proposals for allowing liquor sale in uninhabited parts of otherwise inhabited islands, both going against existing laws, and the demolition of an Islamic school, again in Male. Neither the pro-Islam NGOs, nor the opposition could have divined the ‘SAARC monuments’ controversy, but when it presented itself, they were not the ones to lag behind. Today, the December 23 rally is being projected as the largest gathering of the type in the country – with most partnering outfits in the erstwhile ‘pro-democratic’ movement of the earlier years having switched sides, since.

Role of the Vice-President

A new dimension has been added to the current crisis with the Opposition leaders and other partners in the December 23 movement calling on Vice-President Mohammed Waheed Hassan. Though it has been a practice for Maldivian political class to hold their public rallies and have their consultations post-dinner time and possibly going beyond 2 am, the urgency with which they called on the Vice-President at 1 am did not go unnoticed. The country’s first PhD-holder (from Stanford University), Waheed has resisted the MDP’s persuasive efforts to merge his GaumeeIththihad Party (GIP, or National Unity Party) with the major electoral partner, for him to be considered for the running-mate of President Nasheed again in 2013. Quiet in temperament, this former UN/UNICEF executive did not take kindly to the MDP later wooing away his senior Cabinet colleagues to its side.

At the end of the meeting with the Vice-President, the interim leader of Gayoom’s newly-floated Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), the controversial Ummer Naseer, told the local media that they had decided to “pledge support to the Vice-President.” Quoting Naseer, local media reports said, “Dr Waheed assured the party leaders that he would “take any legal responsibility he had to within the bounds of the law and was “ready to take over the duties specified in the Constitution.” In an even more significant observation, Naseer was quoted thus: “After these discussions we are now calling upon the nation’s security forces, on behalf of our ‘December 23 Alliance’ of all the Opposition parties in the country as well as the NGO coalition, to immediately pledge their allegiance to the Vice-President.”The stand of the ‘December 23 alliance’ was that President Mohamed Nasheed has “lost his legal status”, the media quoted Naseer as saying further.

The President’s camp did not seem overly or overtly perturbed by the development. President Nasheed’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair was quoted by the media that the Vice-President “has not said anything to cause a loss of confidence in him by the Government. “He was very careful in his statement, which was that he would undertake his duties as stipulated in the Constitution. Had the protesters gone to meet with (Fisheries Minister and MDP president) Dr Ibrahim Didi or (MDP parliamentary party leader) Reeko Moosa they would have said the same thing,” Zubair said.

The protesters claimed to represent 13 political parties and 21 NGOs, Zuhair said, “but all the rallies have seen the involvement of no more than 300-400 people. It is very disproportionate”. According to him, “The protests are slowing down and now they are trying to save face – pledging allegiance to the Vice-President is the same as pledging allegiance to the government. The VP is working in Cabinet today – there is no rift. This is a non-story,” Zubair maintained. The government was not concerned about Dr Waheed’s late night meeting with Opposition leaders, as letting the protesters into his house “was the polite thing to do,” Zuhair said. He also dismissed Opposition claims that there was anti-Government sentiment brewing in the security forces.

As in most democracies, the President – and by extension, the Vice-President, can be removed from office only through an impeachment motion in Parliament, with two-thirds of the members voting in favour. In a People’s Majlis with 77 members, the figure comes to 51. Neither the ruling party, nor the opposition (combine) has the number, and both have been falling back on the Independents to add up the numbers for obtaining a simple majority for their legislative initiatives, from time to time. Like the US pattern, the Maldivian scheme does not provide for fresh elections in case the presidency fell vacant mid-term. The Vice-President steps in, instead, to complete the unfinished term.

At the height of the ‘constitutional crisis’ triggered by the Government, entailing the en masse resignation of the entire Cabinet in mid-2010, Vice-President Waheed, would not comply with the MDP initiative, for him to quit, too. Owing to Vice-President Waheed’s considered stand, the Executive could not proceed with a politico-electoral showdown with the Opposition-majority Parliament, particularly over their criticism of the GMR contract for the modernisation of the Male International Airport, involving the Indian infrastructure major.

The Opposition, going by sections of the local media, has twisted President Nasheed’s alleged statement that he would not go in for fresh elections until he had ‘reformed’ the judiciary. The observation was contained in a leaked tape, which was broadcast by sections of the local media, and is purported to be contained in a conversation with the MNDF. The Opposition has interpreted this to argue that President Nasheed had no intention of holding elections, when due, by arguing that the promised judicial reforms were not yet over. It was also the reason for their mid-night meeting with Vice-President Waheed.

A surprising element in the current controversy is the unexpected criticism of the Government’s action by Dhiyana Sayeed, the Maldivian Secretary-General of SAARC since the Addu Summit in November. A nominee of the Nasheed leadership for the top job in the SAARC, which is as rotational as the SAARC Chair, the first woman Secretary-General of SAARC promptly put in her papers, as the SAARC Charter specifically prohibits the organisation from interfering in the internal affairs of member-countries. In between, she had also courted arrest for a brief while along with the ‘December 23 movement’ leaders, protesting Judge Abdullah’s arrest. Though not very well known nearer home or overseas, given in particular, her short stint at SAARC, the former Attorney-General has still stirred the net, nonetheless.

The writer is a Senior Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Controversial blogger and “prisoner of conscience” released from custody

Ismail ‘Khilath’ Rasheed was released from police custody last night, where he had been held since December 14 without charges while police investigated his role in a peacefully-intended protest held on December 10.

Police confirmed that Rasheed was released on a court order, and said that the investigation into his involvement in a silent peaceful protest on December 10 had been concluded with no findings against him.

Rasheed was arrested on December 14 for his involvement in a protest for religious tolerance held at Male’s Artificial Beach on International Human Rights Day. The group of approximately 30 protestors were attacked with stones, and Rasheed was taken to the hospital with head injuries.

Rasheed’s detention was twice extended by the court, which subsequently launched an investigation into the contents of his controversial blog which was previously blocked by the Islamic Ministry on the grounds that it contained anti-Islamic content.

After Rasheed’s detention was extended a second time on December 27, Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari requested parliament’s National Security Committee to include a clear, strong punishment for those advocating religious freedom within the Maldives in the new Penal Code currently at committee stage.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International declared Rasheed a prisoner of conscience, and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) challenged Bari’s argument that calling for freedom of religious was unconstitutional within a democratic Muslim society.

“The Maldivian constitution bans the promotion of any religion other than Islam but guarantees freedom of assembly and expression as long as it does not contravene Islam. Rasheed professes to be an adherent of Sufism, which emphasises the inner, spiritual dimension of Islam,” read the statement by RSF.

Minivan News was unable to reach Rasheed at time of press.


Government investigates accused MPs’ “dark and evil schemes”, while UK issues travel advisory

The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has issued a travel warning for the Maldives following recent political turmoil in the country, urging caution around “large political gatherings”, while debate on the political deadlock has spread to the House of Lords in the UK Parliament.

During Question Time, the UK Labour Party’s Lord Foulkes expressed “disappointment that President Nasheed seems to be reverting to the bad habits of his predecessor”, following the detention of People’s Alliance (PA) MP Abdulla Yameen, and urged the government to pressure the Maldives to restore “democratic freedoms”.

Conservative Lord Howell, also State Minister for the FCO, responded that the government was “pursuing full encouragement through our high commission in Colombo and other means to ensure that democratic development continues.”

Nasheed’s restoration of his cabinet ministers was “a step forward”, Howell promised.

Conservative Lord Naseby pointed out that the Maldives “is no longer a protectorate of the United Kingdom… and that being the situation, what role do we have at all to interfere in what is in fact the Maldivian exercise of democracy as they interpret it?”

Yameen meanwhile remains in MNDF custody on the Presidential Retreat ‘Aarah’, although appears free to communicate with the media given that Minivan News was able to contact him yesterday.

The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) – and the government – insist that the MP and high-profile businessman is under ‘protective’ custody after demonstrations outside his home last week turned violent.

Yameen has told local media he does not wish to be detained in ‘protective’ custody. The MNDF have also refused to present him before the court on a court order, raising some international eyebrows.

The President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair stuck to that story, insisting Yameen was being “protected” rather than “detained”.

Zuhair also claimed Yameen’s custodial protection was not unconstitutional, as the opposition has claimed, although Minivan News is still awaiting clarification from government lawyers as to how this is so.

“The MNDF is working absolutely within the constitution,” Zuhair said. “Yameen is being held by the MNDF, not the government. If Yameen is concerned about this he will be able to challenge it in court.”

“Dark and evil schemes”

Beyond the debate over Yameen’s detention, and recent court cases concerning the legality of his arrest along with that of Jumhoree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim, Zuhair said that given the severity of the allegations against them, neither could be considered prisoners of conscience.

“I cannot describe these people as political leaders – they are accused of high crimes and plots against the state,” Zuhair said.

“These MPs are two individuals of high net worth – tycoons with vested interests,” he explained. “In pursuing their business interests they became enormously rich during the previous regime, and now they are trying to use their ill-gotten gains to bribe members in the Majlis and judiciary to keep themselves in power and above the fray.”

“They were up to all sorts of dark and evil schemes,” Zuhair alleged. “There were plans afoot to topple the government illegally before the interim period was over.”

Zuhair explained that the government felt obliged to take action after six MDP MPs came forward with statements alleging Yameen and Gasim had attempted to bribe them to vote against the government.

The opposition PA-DRP coalition already has a small voting majority, with the addition of supportive independent MPs, however certain votes require a two-thirds majority of the 77 member chamber – such as a no-confidence motion to impeach the president or vice-president.

“In one incident early on in this administration, following the President’s return from Italy, they set up a telephone and a video camera in a committee room in parliament, brought a judge to sit in, and then tried to get two members of the president’s delegation swear on the Qur’an under oath that the President was drinking alcohol,” Zuhair observed.

The privatisation of Male’ International airport had clashed with the vested interests of the accused MPs, Zuhair claimed, sparking the current political debacle.

“Gasim was concerned the new airport might take the charter flights he had intended would be landing at the new airport he is building in Maamagilli,” Zuhair alleged, “while Yameen is a third party supplier of fuel at Male International Airport through the Maldives National Oil Company, which has representation in Singapore.”

The fuel trade is the most immediately lucrative part of the airport deal, Minivan News understands, and is a key reason behind both GMR’s interest and the government’s decision to award the contract to the Indian infrastructure giant. GMR has told Minivan News it will amalgamate the trade under one umbrella, a decision that will likely affect current third party suppliers.

Meanwhile Opposition DQP leader Hassan Saeed, who opposed the airport privatisation and is currently lobbying in the UK for international support for Yameen’s release, “is receiving huge legal fees from both Yameen and Gasim,” Zuhair claimed.

NGOs speak

A coalition of NGOs including Madulu, the Maldivian Democracy Network, Huvadhoo Aid, Transparency Maldives, Maldives Youth Action Network, HAND and Democracy House, meanwhile issued a statement “categorically denouncing the undemocratic actions of the three Powers of the State, at a time when democracy is in its infant stages in the Maldives.”

“We believe recent political and civil unrest is a consequence of these three arms of the State disregarding the spirit of the Maldivian Constitution,” the NGOs said. “We believe a culture of manipulation of the law to infringe upon the rights of one another has developed and that the three arms of the State have failed to give each other due respect.”

“It is not responsible on the part of the parliament, that they should pass laws that undermine the powers of the executive.

“It is unacceptable that the executive, should use its powers to harass and deter the functioning of the parliament, to disrepute the judiciary and to try to exert undue influence on the judicial system.

“The lack of consistency in the rulings of the courts, and actions which undermine the trust of the people in the judicial system are contrary to the high standards which are expected of Judges. We call upon the judiciary to work to restore the people’s faith in the judicial system.

The NGOs added that “other concerned State institutions” have also failed to “give due regard to the situation” and have acted irresponsibly.

The coalition also urged political parties to refrain from bringing violence to the streets, but condemned the security forces “for stepping outside the boundaries of the law with regards to arrest and detention” and the recent distribution of private telephone conversations by the media containing implications of corruption behaviour among MPs.

Between a rock and the Maldives

The government well aware of its status as international darling on climate change, but Nasheed appears willing to risk international censure for the sake of isolating Yameen while the state accumulates evidence in the background. Police were preparing to “make a splash” on the subject, Zuhair hinted.

However even if this evidence is obtained, demands from the international community – and opposition – that the government respect the rule of law and the judicial system, mean the government is faced with the new problem of legitimising its case against the businessmen and opposition leaders, now that allegations of obstruction have been levelled at the judiciary – including, yesterday, from the police themselves.

The government has been urging public respect for the judicial system – and the President’s Political Advisor Hassan Afeef has stated that the government will abide by any rulings from the Supreme Court.

The Judicial Services Commission (JSC), tasked with reforming the judicial system, has three sitting judges as members and vested interests, according to the President’s outspoken member on the commission, Aishath Velezinee.

“Of the 207 of the judges currently in office, 39 have degrees or higher. Some left school before grade seven, meaning they haven’t completed primary school,” Velezinee noted.

In addition there are seven sitting judges found guilty of a criminal breach of trust; five with allegations of a criminal breach of trust; two being prosecuted for an alleged breach of trust; one on trial for sexual misconduct; two have been found guilty of sexual misconduct; one was found guilty for an offence which had a prescribed punishment in Islam; and another who has both been accused of a criminal breach of trust, and found guilty of sexual misconduct – a total of 19 with documented criminal history.

Behind the scenes the executive is racing to nominate new judges before the interim period concludes on August 7, when sitting judges are granted automatic tenure.

However nominations for any new judges will have to be approved by the Majlis, which was cancelled this morning on points of order that developed into a scuffle outside.

“[The MPs] are trying to derail the process,” suggested Zuhair. “They are also panicking because they have no way of knowing who is going to be [implicated] by these corruption charges.”

As for tourists reading the today’s travel advisory urging caution in the capital, Zuhair observed that they “should be happier to know the top dollars they are paying are not being used for corrupt purposes.”