Convict alleges attempts to coerce confession to killing Dr Afrasheem

Murder convict Hussain Humam has claimed that former state minister for home affairs Mohamed Fayaz ‘FA’ threatened to kill his family if he did not confess to killing Dr Afrasheem Ali, local media report.

At a hearing of his appeal at the High Court yesterday, Human alleged attempts by Fayaz, police officers and state prosecutors to coerce a confession.

The state minister told Humam that “the people who murdered Dr Afrasheem can also murder your family,” he claimed.

Humam said he confessed to the crime at the criminal court due to “psychological abuse.”

“I was shown photos of the murdered MP and intimidated by police. I tried to hang myself at jail,” he was quoted as saying by local media.

The late moderate religious scholar and Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP was brutally stabbed to death on October 1, 2013 in a murder that shocked the nation.

Humam was arrested within hours after Afrasheem’s body was found and charged with murder in January 2013. After pleading not guilty, Humam confessed to the killing at a hearing in May 2013 and gave a detailed account of the murder.

However, a month later, Humam retracted the confession, claiming police obtained it through coercion.

Suspicion has since been cast upon the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), religious extremists and President Abdulla  Yameen. Humam is the only person convicted so far despite police saying the murder was premeditated and politically motivated.

The next hearing will be the final hearing in the case, judges said yesterday.

At a previous hearing, Humam alleged the president and tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb’s involvement in the murder, saying the pair “will know best” the details of the case.

Last week, President Yameen threatened to prosecute Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla over allegations linking him to the murder, whilst Adeeb accused the MDP and Humam’s lawyer, Abdulla Haseen, of orchestrating Humam’s remarks at court in a “character assassination” attempt.

Yameen has also vowed to enforce the death sentence against Dr Afrasheem’s murders. Humam was sentenced to death in January 2013.

“God willing the death sentence will be implemented by the end of this year for the murderers of Dr. Afrasheem,” Yameen said in April.

A second suspect charged with murder, Ali Shan, was acquitted of murder in September last year with the court citing insufficient evidence.

Shan was implicated in Humam’s confession, but the judge said several witnesses had testified that the accused was at a restaurant at the time the murder took place.

A third suspect, Azlif Rauf, who Humam said planned the murder, meanwhile left to Turkey with six members of Malé’s Kuda Henveiru gang in January.

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Afrasheem murder suspect dead in Syria, claims family

A suspect in the murder of MP Afrasheem Ali, Azlif Rauf, has died while fighting in Syria, his family has claimed.

Azlif’s brother wrote on Facebook on Friday that he had “lived like a lion and died as a hero.” The family was reportedly informed of Azlif’s death on Thursday night by Maldivians in Syria.

Sources close to the family told Haveeru that the Maldivian jihadis had sent a photo of the dead ex-military officer.

However, there has been no independent verification of Azlif’s death and opposition politicians have questioned whether he had gone to Syria.

A police media official said the police do not have any information on the case. The police are not investigating any cases involving Azlif at present, the official said.

Reliable sources told Minivan News in January that Azlif left to Turkey with six members of Malé’s Kuda Henveiru gang and crossed the border into Syria.

Azlif was under house arrest at the time and police had forwarded terrorism charges against him to the prosecutor general’s office in relation to Afrasheem’s murder. However, the PG office had not filed the case at court.

A counter-terrorism expert told Minivan News today on the condition of anonymity that the reports of Azlif’s death were “not convincing.”

In other cases where Maldivians had died in Syria, there was confirmation from credible independent sources as well as reports from jihadist media, the source noted.

The death of most Maldivian jihadis were reported by online group Bilad Al Sham Media, which describes itself as “Maldivians in Syria.” The group says it represents Maldivians fighting with the al-Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat al-Nusra militant organisation.

The expert also questioned whether Azlif had been radicalised enough to leave for Syria.

Another possibility is that Azlif’s “associates here who wished to hide him” were spreading false reports of his death, the expert suggested.

Hussain Humam Ahmed, now serving a life sentence over the murder of Dr Afrasheem, had said Azlif had planned the murder in October 2012. Humam later retracted the confession and claimed it had come under duress.

Speaking at an opposition alliance rally on Thursday night, ‘Sandhaanu’ Ahmed Didi alleged that Azlif is hiding in Malaysia. He further alleged that tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb had facilitated Azlif’s departure while he was acting defence minister in early January.

After Humam alleged President Abdulla Yameen and Adeeb’s involvement in the murder last month, Adeeb accused the opposition of orchestrating the convict’s remarks in a “character assassination” attempt.

A senior police officer has meanwhile told Haveeru that Azlif is in Armenia while other sources claimed he was in Sri Lanka last week.

An investigative report published by Maldivian Democratic Network (MDN) identified Azlif’s brother Arlif Rauf as the owner of a red car which may have been used in an abduction reported on the night Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan disappeared.

Eyewitnesses told Minivan News they saw a man being forced into a red car at knifepoint in front of Rilwan’s apartment building around the time he would have reached home on August 8.

The report also suggested gang leaders had been exposed to radical Islam during incarceration in prison, saying that they openly supported the actions of the Islamic State in Iraq and recruited jihadists for the war in Syria and Iraq.

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High Court overturns convictions of murdered MP Afrasheem’s brothers

The High Court yesterday overturned the conviction of former MP Ibrahim Ameen on charges of embezzlement.

Ameen was the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP for Raa Ungoofaru, a seat previously held by his late brother, Dr Afrasheem Ali.

The moderate religious scholar was brutally murdered on October 1, 2012. Ameen had won the by-election for Dr Afrasheem’s vacant seat, but did not seek re-election last year.

In May 2014, Ameen was found guilty by the criminal court of embezzling MVR36, 818 (US$2,388) from the Ungoofaru Island Council Office between May 2004 to April 2006 and sentenced to banishment of four years and six months.

Ameen was found guilty as he had been responsible for all incoming cash, but was unable to explain how the cash from the island’s powerhouse went missing.

However, the High Court noted that Ameen’s inability to explain how the money went missing did not amount to a confession or grounds to convict in the absence of other conclusive evidence.

A second brother of Dr Afrasheem, Abdul Nasir Ali, was also handed an 11-year banishment sentence in April 2014 for embezzling MVR114,325 (US$7,414) from the island office. Nasir was also found guilty of embezzling fees paid by the power house.

On April 8 this year, the High Court overturned Nasir’s conviction as well. In Nasir’s case, the appellate court ruled that the funds in question were provided out of Nasir’s pocket to buy diesel for the island’s powerhouse, which reimbursed him through the island office.

The court noted that witness testimony during the criminal court trial proves Nasir’s defence.

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Comment: Afrasheem, Rilwan, and the future of the Maldivian community

Writing in the 1970s, anthropologist Clarence Maloney remarked that religion in the Maldives was limited to “washing, fasting and praying”.

What he meant is similar to what MB Hooker observed in the Southeast Asian Muslim populations – Islam was characterised by “a ‘non-literally’ Muslim culture”, limited largely to practice without much theorisation and philosophising.

However, since the 1980s – and especially since the year 2000 – the most spectacular change in our culture has been the conscious appropriation and questioning of received religious doctrines and practices. Processes associated with modernisation and mass education have enabled this never-ending fragmentation of discourses, interpretations, and different visions at a larger scale.

This is what Eickelman and James Piscatori described as the “objectification of Muslim consciousness” that has now swept the whole Muslim world. Maldives is no exception to this.

Fragmentation

It was in this emerging context of fragmented religious discourses and different religious interpretations that the regime of President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom suppressed both those who embraced Salafi interpretations of Sharia and those drawn toward more pluralist Sharia.

It is in this context – now characterised by extreme political and social uncertainties – that one of the most prominent Maldivian religious scholars, Dr Afrasheem Ali, was murdered in October 2012. It was also in this same context that my friend, journalist, and human rights activist Ahmed Rilwan disappeared six weeks ago.

None of us yet knows the truth about those tragedies. But what we know is that both have significant religious context. Afrasheem had faced harassment and assault on several occasions because of his religious views. Similarly, Rilwan – once a Salafist – received threats because of his criticisms of certain understandings of Sharia.

More importantly, the murder and disappearance sends a chilling message to the rest of us – religious disagreements cannot be tolerated.

The fact of the matter is that, however small and homogenous, ours is now a society characterised by pluralism. We cannot wish away these disagreements on deep questions of what the good life is.

In need of a new moral order…

But ethical and religious disagreements do not mean there is no possibility of a moral order for collective life that we could come to agree upon.

Such a moral order must be based on political and moral principles that we all can – or should – value, i.e. liberty, equality, and peace. These are also among the higher values that Islam stands for.

In this moral order, there should be a maximum and genuine role for religion. It is not a secularist moral order where religion must be privatised, or religion is seen as something that will just disappear with the rise of ‘rationality,’ science, or modernisation.

In my view, both the Maldivian Democratic Party and the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party/Progressive Party of Maldives have failed to articulate a vision of democracy that genuinely respects the place of religion in democracy.

Officials of both governments have characterised religious people as somehow irrational or pre-modern. Both governments have tried to control or co-opt religion in their instrumentalist and ideological narrowness.

A democracy based on such a moral order does not make a fetish out of ‘secularism’ or ‘separation of religion from the state’. Secularism is not about separation as such. It is about certain moral ends, including liberty and equality.

Sometimes separation and at other times accommodation will promote those values. There is no a priori fixed solution (such as “a wall of separation”) to the relationship of religion to the state in order to achieve those ends.

Context is everything. And contextual reasoning is the way forward.

Thus the moral order the Maldives need is not that of the mainstream secularism we find in France, Turkey, or sometimes even the US – where the value of religion and the rights of religious people are not fully recognised.

In this new moral order, religious parties and religious scholars must have an equal place in the public sphere as their secular counterparts. Laws and policies based on religious values must have a place too. How else could it be, unless we think we can simply separate our religious selves from our political selves?

Only a ‘thin’ liberal conception of citizenship based on a ‘thin’ understanding of epistemology would think moral truth is somehow ‘secular’.

…for a new imagined community

To be sure, in concrete terms, this moral order means freedom of religion cannot be denied – citizenship cannot be denied on religious grounds. How can anyone of us in all religious honesty deny this basic and God-given right?

Even Gayoom, who was the architect of the prevailing insular nation-identity based on ‘sattain satta muslim quam/100 per cent Muslim nation’ had to acknowledge that the denial of religious freedom in the Maldives was in spite of Islam:

The real essence of Islam…is that it is non-discriminatory. Its tolerance of other beliefs and religions is clearly established in the Holy Quran…

We Maldivians…hold freedom of belief as sacred and we abhor discrimination…on any grounds whether of creed, colour or race. It is only that we are such a homogenous…society based on one national identity…that we are convinced that the preservation of this oneness in faith and culture is essential for the unity, harmony, and progress of the country.

Gayoom, Address at the Opening Ceremony of the Seminar on ”The Calls for Islam in South and South East Asia’, 1983

In other words, a universal precept of Quran was overridden by his attempt at creating a homogenous ‘imagined community’. While this imagined community had been homogenous, the real community has undergone fragmentation of religious discourse.

As a result, the national self-understanding that Gayoom – still leader of the country’s ruling political party – created is now being subjected to vigorous contestation from all fronts – both religious and secular. That is why we are in need of a new moral order for a new imagined community.

Why Afrasheem and Rilwan matter

Perhaps one of the biggest immediate challenges for a new moral order in the Maldives is related to the tragedies of Afrasheem and Rilwan.

Besides our human concern for them, the need for a new moral order is the long-term reason why we all must be concerned to find truth about them. That is why everyone should be calling for greater accountability of the government in these cases.

That is why I support the #suvaalumarch taking place tomorrow afternoon (September 19) in Malé.

For the future of democratisation in the direction of this new moral order is contingent on seeking truth and justice for Afrasheem and Rilwan.

Azim Zahir is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Muslim States and Societies, University of Western Australia.

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Afrasheem murder suspect Shan acquitted at Criminal Court

Ali Shan has been acquitted of murdering MP Dr Afrasheem Ali in October 2012 at the conclusion of his trial at the Criminal Court yesterday.

In the not guilty verdict (Dhivehi) delivered yesterday, Judge Abdulla Didi stated that the evidence submitted by state prosecutors was not sufficient to prove that Shan – from Henveiru Hikost in Malé – was involved in the murder along with Hussain Human, who was found guilty and sentenced to death by the Criminal Court in January.

The Progressive Party of Maldives MP for Raa Ungoofaru was found brutally murdered near the staircase of his house on the night of October 1, 2012.

While the prosecution’s key witness did not see Shan attacking the moderate religious scholar, Judge Didi noted that witnesses for the defence testified that Shan was at the Jalapeno restaurant at the time the murder took place.

At a hearing last month, four witnesses testified that Shan was at the restaurant until 1:15am.

However, there were slight discrepancies in the testimonies. While one witness – Ali Hashim ‘Smith’ – reportedly claimed that he joined Shan and four others for a coffee at 11:30pm, a second witness suggested Hashim arrived around 10:30pm.

While the fourth witness said he left Jalapeno with Hashim around 1:00m and went to the Labamba restaurant, Hashim had said he left around 12:30am and went to the Laban restaurant in front of the Hulhumalé ferry terminal.

At the final hearing on August 21, a fifth witness, Ubaidhulla Saeed, told the court that he saw Shan at the restaurant around 9:30pm on the night the former MP was murdered.

After having coffee with friends, Ubaidhulla said he and Shan went for a motorbike ride and was at the Dolphin Cafe when he heard of the murder. Shan was with him at the time, he said.

While a witness for the prosecution testified to have seen Shan holding a blood-stained knife over Dr Afrasheem’s body by the staircase of the deceased’s residence, Judge Didi said the minor did not see Shan committing the murder.

At a hearing in February, state prosecutors presented evidence against the accused, including two witness testimonies, the confession of Humam, and a recording of a phone call.

Judge Didi, however, ruled that Humam’s confession was inadmissible as a Supreme Court precedent has established that a convict could not provide testimony either in favour or against an accomplices to a crime.

Moreover, neither the phone call recording nor the medico-legal report of Dr Afrasheem’s fatal injuries were sufficient to prove guilt, Judge Didi said.

As murder was a hudud offence in Islam, Judge Didi reportedly said such crimes must be proven beyond any doubt in Islamic Shariah.

Judge Didi also cited an authentic hadith from Prophet Mohamed (pbuh) in the reasoning for the verdict.

According to reporters present at the trial, Shan’s family members inside the courtroom burst into tears after he was pronounced not guilty.

Shan has been kept in pre-trial detention for almost two years.

Five others – a juvenile identified as ‘Nangi,’ Maldives National Defence Force officer Azleef Rauf, Abdulla ‘Jaa’ Javid (son-in-law of opposition Maldivian Democratic Party MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik), Jaa’s brother Jana and another person identified only as ‘Spy’ – were also implicated in Human’s confession, which he later retracted and claimed had been extracted by police through coercion.

In December 2012, then-Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz described the murder as a “preplanned politically motivated act of terrorism carried out by politicians”.

The current Jumhooree Party MP had also said both Humam and Shan belonged to a local gang who often carried out criminal acts for politicians and businessmen. Riyaz claimed the gang was paid MVR4 million (US$259,403) for the assassination.

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MDP questions sincerity of Islamic minister’s stance on ISIS

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has questioned the sincerity of Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed’s declaration that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) would not be allowed to operate in the Maldives.

“ISIS is an extremist group. No space will be given for their ideology and activities in the Maldives,” Shaheem tweeted on Sunday night (August 24).

The main opposition party contended in a press release yesterday that Shaheem’s statement was “duplicitous” and “insincere” as it was not backed up with concrete action by the government.

“We note with concern that neither the Islamic minister nor the government has taken any action while activities related to terrorism in different forms as well as extremism are carried out in the Maldives, religious strife and hatred is incited widely, and death threats are being made against various people over religious matters,” the statement read.

The party noted that the ISIS flag was used in recent protests in Malé calling for a boycott of Israeli tourists. While the protesters had gathered outside the residence of the Islamic minister in violation of freedom of assembly laws, the MDP noted that the government had not taken any action.

The Islamic ministry has also provided a meeting hall of the Islamic centre for a religious sermon which was advertised with the ISIS logo, the MDP claimed.

The party claimed to have learned that police and army officers were involved in putting up the banners across the capital.

Dr Afrasheem

The MDP also accused the government of not attempting to find the “real killers” of murdered MP Dr Afrasheem Ali, noting that the moderate religious scholar had faced harassment over his liberal views.

Referring to his last television appearance, the party said Dr Afrasheem’s remarks suggested he was “forced” to support radical religious ideology.

Appearing on a live talk show on state broadcaster Television Maldives, Dr Afrasheem had said he was deeply saddened and asked for forgiveness if he had created a misconception due to his inability to express himself in the right manner.

Islamic Minister Shahaeem was quoted in local media at the time as saying that his ministry had not forced Dr Afrasheem to offer a public apology in his last television appearance.

Dr Afrasheem’s moderate positions on subjects such as music had drawn stringent criticism from more conservative religious elements, who dubbed him “Dr Ibilees” (“Dr Satan”).

In 2008, the scholar was kicked and chased outside a mosque after Friday prayers, while in May 2012, the religious Adhaalath Party released a statement condemning Afrasheem for allegedly “mocking the Sunnah”.

NGO Salaf had meanwhile released at least a dozen statements against the late Dr Afrasheem at the time of his death. In a three-page press release (Dhivehi) on July 10, 2008, Salaf listed Dr Afrasheem’s alleged transgressions and advised him to “fear Allah, stop talking any way you please of things you do not know of in the name of religion and [stop] twisting [Islamic] judgments to suit your personal wishes”.

The NGO also called on the public not to listen to “any religious fatwa or any religious talk” from the scholar.

Extremist ideology

The MDP statement meanwhile noted that the US State Department’s 2013 country report on terrorism had stated that “Maldivian authorities believe that funds are currently being raised in Maldives to support terrorism abroad”.

While the report observed that “the Maldivian Central Bank believes that criminal proceeds mainly come from domestic sources, as a large percentage of Suspicious Transaction Reports (STRs) are related to Maldivians,” the Maldives Monetary Authority (MMA) denied it had any knowledge of such activities.

“The MMA has neither received nor communicated any information regarding confirmed operation of terrorist financing activities,” the central bank insisted in a statement.

The MDP said it believes such activities were aided and abetted by both foreign groups and Maldivians, adding that the activities were “well organised” and carried out with “funding and training”.

“There has been particular concern that young Maldivians, including those within the penal system, may be at risk of becoming radicalised and joining violent Islamist extremist groups. Links have been made between Maldivians and violent extremists throughout the world,” the US report stated.

The party also argued that extremism in the Maldives was encouraged by the mass gathering held on December 23, 2011 to “defend Islam” against the allegedly secularist policies of former President Mohamed Nasheed as well as a pamphlet issued by the party of current Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed.

Dr Jameel’s Dhivehi Qaumee Party had issued a pamphlet titled “President Nasheed’s devious plot to destroy the Islamic faith of Maldivians.”

Both the December 23 demonstration and the pamphlet were intended to sow discord and strife for political purposes, the party contended, and reiterated its claim that extremist ideologies were prevalent in the security services.

The party also referred to President Abdulla Yameen’s response when asked about Maldivians leaving to fight in the Syrian civil war following the death of a Maldivian militant in a suicide attack.

President Yameen’s remarks about the government not being involved in sending Maldivians to join militant organisations were “extremely irresponsible,” the MDP said.

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Verdict in Afrasheem murder trial due on September 7

Judge Abdulla Didi has declared today that a verdict in the murder trial of Dr Afrasheem Ali will be delivered on September 7, reports local media.

The accused Ali Shan is on trial for allegedly killing the moderate religious scholar on October 1, 2012 together with Hussain Human, who was found guilty and sentenced to death by the Criminal Court in January.

Following testimony at today’s hearing from witnesses for the defence, Judge Didi said closing statements would be heard at the next trial date on August 28.

At the last hearing, four witnesses testified that Shan was at the Jalapeno restaurant on the night that MP Dr Afrasheem Ali was murdered.

A fifth witness, Ubaidhulla Saeed, told the court today that he saw Shan at the restaurant around 9:30pm on the night the former MP was murdered.

After having coffee with friends, Ubaidhulla said he and Shan went for a motorbike ride and was in the Dolphin Cafe when he heard of the murder. Shan was with him at the time, he said.

At a previous hearing, a witness for the prosecution testified to have seen Shan holding a blood-stained knife near Dr Afrasheem’s body by the staircase of the deceased’s residence.

At a hearing in February, state prosecutors presented evidence against the accused, including two witness testimonies, the confession of Humam, and a recording of a phone call.

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Humam appeals death sentence at High Court

Hussain Humam – found guilty for murdering parliament member Dr Afrasheem Ali – has appealed his death sentence at the High Court.

While local media has confirmed the appeal, it is still unclear if the the case was accepted by the High Court.

The Criminal Court sentenced Human to death on January 16, 2014 , having found him guilty for the crime of intentional murder, stating that it was proven beyond doubt that Humam assaulted Dr Afrasheem with a sharp object and intentionally killed him.

The appeal has come just before the 90 day appeal period for lower court rulings – excluding public holidays – was about to end.

Dr Afrasheem – then MP for Ungoofaaru Constituency and a moderate Islamic Scholar – was found brutally murdered at the his apartment building on the night of October 1, 2012.

Shortly after Human’s sentencing, Home Minister Umar Naseer announced plans to reintroduce the death sentence after an unofficial sixty year moratorium on the practice.

The regulation, published late last month, are set to apply retroactively to all pending death sentences.

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Malé City Council to bring back 24 hour shops and cafes

Malé City Council has decided to bring back the 24 hour service at cafes and shops, seventeen months after it was banned by Dr Mohamed Waheed’s government.

The proposition was passed unanimously by nine members present at yesterday’s council meeting (March 18), though the government has suggested that it does not have the authority to make such decisions.

Councilman Shamau Shareef said that the council decision came in response to a number of request from Malé City residents.

“This is what the people want. The former government discontinued the permissions to operate such places citing criminal activity and instability in the city. But now we have an elected government, and we think it should be reconsidered now,” said Shamau.

He noted that council have now been tasked with issuing trade permits for the city and it is in the council’s mandate under the Decentralisation Act to address this issue.

But the Ministry of Economic Development has today said that the issuing of trade permits was delegated to the council under a memorandum of understand with the ministry, which does not allow issuing 24 hour license.

“The government decided to end the running of 24 hour businesses. From that point the procedure for issuing trade permits were changed. City council have been tasked with issuing permits under those procedures,” the ministry’s Director General Usman Shakir was quoted as saying in Haveeru.

Shakir said that the government has not yet changed it’s position on allowing 24 hour businesses, and warned that the ministry will take action if any such permission is issued.

Responding to the ministry’s statement Councilman Shamau said that there are “some barriers” in implementing the decision, but the council is willing to overcome these issues by discussing it with the ministry.

“We will do whatever it takes. This is the capital city, and there are 24 hours ferries operating, people coming from other islands, people are working round the clock. There should be some way for them to eat or buy things they need. We are talking about basic necessities of the people,” he said.

President Mohamed Nasheed’s government decided to issue permits for 24 hour businesses in December 2010. After the change in government, Dr Mohamed Waheed’s administration in October 2012 decided to put an end to these opening hours.

The ministry’s official reason for decision was national security concerns. There was a high level of concern about increasing rates at the time, particularly with political instability and the murder of MP Dr Afrasheem Ali within the same month.

While it is not known whether the decision had any positive impact in reducing crime rates, the parliamentary national security committee at the time suggested impact it had was negative.

Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party at the time described the decision as an attack against small and medium businesses which ‘left thousands of people unemployed’. Resuming the permits was an election pledge of the party’s presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed in 2013.

Ruling Progressive Party of Maldives was at the time a coalition member of the government, and President Abdulla Yameen was elected as president, the party has maintained support for the ban on 24 hours businesses.

When the permits were revoked in 2012 there were forty four businesses with permit in Malé city, now all shops have to be closed at 11pm and all cafes at 1am.

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