Inter-Parliamentary Union requests urgent visit to Maldives

Secretary General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), Anders B. Johnsson has written to the Speaker of the Majlis proposing an urgent delegation be sent to the Maldives.

“We are concerned that these recent developments and the continued polarisation of the political situation might imperil the Maldives’ fledgling democracy,” wrote Johnson to Speaker Abdulla Shahid.

“I propose that an IPU delegation returns urgently to the Maldives to discuss and agree with the relevant authorities and stakeholders effective steps to ensure that the parliament can fully discharge its legislative and oversight functions freely and independently and that its members can do their work unhindered, without fear of intimidation and harassment or attack on their physical integrity,” added the Secretary General.

The letter obtained by Minivan News, dated October 25, was prompted by the Supreme Court’s decision to strip two MPs of their seats last week.

Following the Majlis’s rejection of the court’s ruling, MDP MP Ali Azim’s was arrested after scuffles with the military as he attempted to enter the parliament on Saturday.

His detention has subsequently been extended for 15 days.

Johnsson’s letter also included the full text of the IPU Governing Council’s recent resolution which expressed concern at “reports of alleged arbitrary arrests, attacks and harassment of MDP members of parliament”.

The resolution, adopted earlier this month, listed 21 cases of Maldivian MPs already being monitored by the IPU with the addition of three new cases.

The IPU General Council “is alarmed at the climate of confrontation spawned by the first round in the presidential election.. [and] is deeply concerned that parliament’s authority is apparently once again being challenged in the current political crisis,” read the resolution.

“[It] is alarmed in this regard that members of parliament may be facing legal action because of opinions they expressed and positions they adopted in parliament; would like to receive the authorities’ views on this matter.”

All MPs listed by the IPU – barring murdered Progressive Party of Maldives MP Dr Afrasheem Ali – are members of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) which has described the prosecution of its MPs as a “purge”.

On-site mission suggested

“The urgency and seriousness of the current situation warrants an urgent on-site mission by the Committee, so that it can gather first-hand information on the allegations and ascertain the prospects for their examination and clarification in the current political situation in the Maldives,” read the IPU resolution.

The MDP last week linked the “intimidation and harassment” of its MPs to crucial votes in the Majlis concerning the imminent transition of presidential power as well as no-confidence motions against senior members of the cabinet.

The MDP’s recent alliance with the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party – one of whose MPs was unseated by the court’s recent ruling – has given it the support of a majority of the chamber.

A motion to allow the Speaker of the Majlis Abdulla Shahid to assume the presidency following the expiration of the current term on November 11 was passed yesterday, in spite of the abstention of all government aligned MPs.

Today’s scheduled no-confidence motion against Attorney General Azima Shukoor was delayed after the AG informed the speaker that she was unwell.

The three new cases noted by the IPU General Council concerned Ali Azim, Alhan Fahmy, and the Speaker Shahid. The list also included fresh allegations concerning MPs Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, Ali Waheed, and Eva Abdulla – the Maldives’ first member of the IPU.

Eva was arrested briefly during protests against the Supreme Court’s involvement in the annulling of the presidential elections earlier this month, whilst the IPU also resolution expressed shock at reported death threats against both Speaker Shahid and MP Ali Waheed.

More recently, Ghafoor has sought protection from arrest in the parliamentary premises following a police summons to attend hearings into drugs and alcohol charges.

US ambassador Michelle J. Sison yesterday met with Shahid and Hamid, whilst US diplomat Christopher Teal called for an end to politically motivated arrests.


Attack against “moderate” Afrasheem an “attack against Islam”: Gayoom

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has alleged the murder of Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Dr Afrasheem Ali, whom he claimed was a leading local advocate against Islam being seen as an “extremist religion”, was an attack on the country’s religious identity.

Gayoom, acting head of the PPM, made the claims at a memorial ceremony held for Dr Afrasheem on his birth island of Raa Atoll Ungoofaaru, alleging that the MP’s murder this week was an attempt by unidentified figures to eradicate Islam from the nation, local media has reported.

Under the Maldives Constitution, it is illegal for anyone to openly practice any faith other than Islam in the country, with nationality tied to following the faith.

According to newspaper Haveeru, former President Gayoom was quoted as acknowledging Dr Afrasheem’s efforts to educate the public on “moderate Islam”, while also raising questions over potential “benefits” to the nation in the significant number of local religious scholars being trained abroad.

“The attack on Afrasheem wasn’t just an attack on him. It wasn’t an attack on his family or his island. It’s an attack against Islam. It’s an attack against the nation. It’s an act by some people who doesn’t want to see Islam prevail in this country,” Haveeru reported Gayoom as saying.

Also speaking during the memorial were PPM MP Ilham Ahmed and the party’s interim Deputy Leader Umar Naseer.

Ilham reportedly told the crowd that he was personally aware of “people” who were discontented with Dr Afrasheem.  The MP added that his fellow party member had ultimately not been afraid to “sacrifice himself in the name of Islam.”

Meanwhile, Umar Naseer reiterated Afrasheem’s view that efforts to strengthen the word of religion in the country could only succeed with political authority.

Umar Naseer, Ilham Ahmed and PPM MP and Spokesperson Ahmed Mahlouf were not responding to calls from Minivan News.

Maldives Islamic Affairs Minister, Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, and State Minister for Islamic Affairs Mohamed Didi could also not be reached for comment at the time of press.


Dr Afrasheem was found murdered near his home on Monday (October 1) after returning from an appearance on the “Islamee Dhiriulhun” (Islamic Life) programme broadcast on state television. He had appeared on the show alongside Deputy Minister of Islamic Affairs Mohamed Qubad Aboobakuru.

Four suspects are presently being held by police in connection to the murder, with the country’s Criminal Court extending their detention for an additional 15 days from Thursday (October 4) as investigations continue.

Authorities have yet to reveal the identities of the four suspects, however the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has alleged that two of its “front-line activists” are among those being detained.

The MDP additionally  expressed concern that the “brutal murder of a respected and elected member of the Parliament” was potentially being used to frame political opponents.

Police have yet to establish a motive for the murder.


MP Afrasheem buried as world condemns his murder

Dr Afrasheem Ali, Islamic Scholar and MP for Ungoofaaru, was buried shortly before 5:00pm at Asahara cemetery in Male’.

Thousands gathered for the funeral prayers which took place at the Islamic Center. The prayers were led by former President and leader of Afrasheem’s party Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

Long queues of those wishing to pay their last respects formed by Republican Square, where the national flag will fly at half mast for the next two days.

Local news source Sun Online covered the day’s events via a live feed.

Sun reported that arrival of the members of Afrasheem’s family in Male’ this morning, as well as the presence of several MPs at the Islamic Center – today’s session of the Majlis was cancelled.

The MP was subjected to a brutal attack last night when returning to his home after appearing on state television.

Afrasheem’s wife found his body, displaying multiple stab wounds to the head and back, at the foot of the stairs outside their home.

A councillor from Afrasheem’s home island told Haveeru that the community had come to a virtual standstill following news of its MP’s death.

“Many still find it hard to believe that Afrasheem is gone. Their faces show despair,” council member Hussain Najeeb told the paper.

Afrasheem’s coffin was draped in a Maldivian flag, which was handed to his son shortly before the final burial.


Afrasheem’s murder has made headlines around the world, with news agencies such as the BBC, CNN, and the Wall Street Journal carrying the news of the Majlis member’s death.

Politicians and institutions of all stripes have today joined with the mourning nation in condemning the slaying and calling for swift justice.

The Maldivian Democratic Party, Adhaalath Party and Afrasheem’s own Progressive Party of Maldives released statements to this effect.

Speaking to local media from the ADK hospital, where Afrasheem’s body was initially taken, Gayoom told Sun Online that the Maldives had lost a talented and unique scholar.

“He was a great teacher. We lost a scholar today, and I am saddened by this. I strongly condemn this act. God willing, the perpetrators will be found and brought to justice through a Court process,” said Gayoom.

Vice President Waheed Deen told local media there would be swift retribution for the crime.

“Law enforcement authorities will not stop until a result is obtained within 24 hours. The investigation won’t leave a stone unturned,” he said.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed, currently campaigning in the SouthernAatolls took to social media to declare his sharing of the nation’s fear and sadness following the murder.

Local media cited “reliable sources” in saying an arrest had been made just before 5:00am this morning, although – more than 12 hours later – Police Spokesman Sub Inspector Hassan Haneef told Minivan News that police were unable to confirm this.

The police have set up a toll free number which can be used for anyone with information regarding the murder: 334 0026.

Numerous institutions including the Elections Commission, the Judicial Services Commission, the Islamic Foundation of the Maldives, and the United Nations have released statements.

The United Nations, on its International Day of Non-Violence, condemned the murder of an “accomplished scholar”.

“The United Nations team in the Maldives is shocked by the murder of Member of Parliament Dr Afrahshim Ali. The United Nations condemns this crime in the strongest possible terms, and hopes justice will be brought to bear,” read the statement.


Religious scholars symposium concludes with consensus on contentious issues

A first-ever symposium for local religious scholars organised by the Ministry of Islamic Affairs concluded last night with participants reaching consensus on a number of longstanding religious disputes and points of contention in Maldivian society.

Among the contentious issues deliberated and agreed upon by the 80 scholars were reciting Qunooth (invocation) during dawn prayer, the exact time of Friday prayer (12.35pm), the number of rak’ah for Tharavees prayers during Ramadan and reciting Bismillah aloud during prayers.

The scholars also opposed authorising Israeli national airline El Al to operate in the Maldives and decided to ask the authorities to remove controversial SAARC monuments in Addu City as they are considered an offense to Islam.

The religious scholars also decided to back Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari’s request to parliament’s National Security Committee that the airline not be allowed into the Maldives.

On the issue of Qunooth – an invocation offered in times of adversity – a majority of scholars concurred that the practice was not a bid’ah (heretical innovation). Sheikh Ibrahim Fareed Ahmed of the Islamic Foundation of Maldives (IFM) and Sheikh Ilyas Jamal however insisted that the invocation was an innovation when the issue was put to a vote.

Moreover, a majority of scholars could not agree that praying in front of pillars in mosques was an innovation.

On the optional Tharavees prayers during Ramadan, the scholars agreed that the number of rak’ah could exceed 20 or end at a lower number.

The decisions made during the symposium also included forming of an association of religious scholars to raise awareness among the public and assist the Islamic Ministry in “responding to those who deny or cast doubt on the Sunnah.”

Seven papers were presented by prominent scholars at the two-day symposium that took place at the Islamic Centre while participants were divided into three discussion groups. In addition to Islamic Minister Dr Bari, the papers were presented by MP Dr Afrashim Ali of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), Sheikh Mohamed Giyas, Sheikh Abubakur Ibrahim of IFM, State Minister for Islamic Affairs Sheikh Hussein Rasheed Ahmed, Sheikh Nasrulla Musthafa and Sheikh Ahmed Saleem Hussein.

The papers focused on points of conflict and disagreement among scholars over issues of ambiguity.

Speaking to press at the conclusion of the symposium last night, Dr Bari said the event was a success and noted the absence of serious disputes among Maldivian scholars.

Dr Bari observed that disputes were more common in the public than among religious scholars.

As a measure to reduce misunderstanding among the public, said Dr Bari, participants at the symposium agreed to issue fatwas only after reaching consensus among all scholars.

Following the success of the symposium, Dr Bari added that the Islamic Ministry was considering making the gathering an annual event.


Gayoom praises MP support during Afrashim vote

Former Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has issued a statement thanking MPs who supported Judicial Services Commission (JSC) member and Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Dr Afrashim Ali during a motion of no confidence that saw him removed from the judicial watchdog yesterday, according to local media.

Miadhu reported that Gayoom praised the 34 MPs who voted against removing Dr Afrashim from his post with the JSC, despite the no confidence motion passing with 38 votes in favour, claiming the Ungufaaru MP had strived to ensure “freedom and independency” in the Maldivian judiciary.

Gayoom used the statement to praise the need for independence in establishments like the judiciary that he said served as “foundations of democracy” that needed to be kept free of “undue political influence.”


Afrashim’s dismissal highlights JSC composition concerns: DRP deputy

A Parliamentary decision passed yesterday by 38 votes to 34 to remove Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Dr Afrashim Ali from the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) raises further questions over the watchdog’s impartiality and reliance on political appointees, Ibrahim ‘Mavota’ Shareef has claimed.

Shareef, a DRP Deputy Leader, told Minivan News that he believed the no confidence motion against Afrashim, forwarded by Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP “Reeko” Moosa Manik, was an “alarming” move by the government that was passed with “no valid reason”.

“If anyone elected to a position is not doing a job properly and perhaps there are more competent people who can do better, then [the removal] wouldn’t be a problem,” he claimed. “However, the MDP reason [for the vote] is not based on this. The government wants to use the JSC as a vehicle for [its own interests].”

The composition of the JSC, which serves as a watchdog for the country’s judiciary, was criticised by one independent judicial review body for failing to ensure transparency in its workings.

The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) has maintained that although it was not illegal to rely on mostly political appointees as opposed to judicial and legal figures to oversee a national legislative watchdog, it was perceived as “bad practice”.

Criticisms of the JSC have also come from within the body itself by a former member selected by President Mohamed Nasheed. Presidential appointee Aishath Velezinee served as a whistle-blower by forwarding allegations of what she called a “silent coup” taking place in the JSC against the government.

Shareef said that he personally held concerns about relying on political figures to serve as JSC appointees when it came to overseeing the country’s courts, despite the process being constitutionally mandated.

“The fact that political appointees are allowed onto the body is not the best for the JSC. I myself have raised the wisdom [of allowing this],” he said. “In my view the JSC should be made up of members of the judiciary. However [composition requirements] are outlined in the constitution and we have to live with that.”

With the removal by parliamentary vote of Dr Afrasheem from his JSC post, Shareef claimed it remained vital to try and ensure the government did not have the ability to potentially “threaten the judiciary” with political appointments to the JSC.

“We [the political opposition] have lost representation on the body and we need a voice,” he said.

With the president entitled under the constitution to appoint a member of his own choice to the body – a position formerly held by Aishath Velezinee before she was dismissed with presidential praise last month – Shareef said he believed the opposition should be allowed a similar appointment.

“The opposition should be given the opportunity to appoint a representative itself to allow for equilibrium in the JSC,” he claimed.

ICJ view

The ICJ said it could not be commenting on Afrashim’s dismissal without additional details.

However, a spokesperson for the ICJ said previous reports on the Maldives had raised issues regarding the composition of the JSC relating to the number of political appointments made to the body compared to legislative and judicial figures.

“[Political representation] was identified as a key issue [by the ICJ] at the time in preventing the JSC from acting in an independent way,” said the spokesperson. “We are in no doubt that this current JSC has had no success in trying to bring about independence in the judiciary. We are not blaming any individual for this, but the JSC is not acting as it should be.”

As a matter outlined under the country’s constitution, the ICJ source said that the organisation accepted that changing such a system and finding a solution was difficult.


Decision to remove Dr Afrashim from JSC “a victory for all reformists”, says Velezinee

Parliament today voted 38 to 34 in favour of a motion of no-confidence to remove opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Dr Afrashim Ali from the Judicial Service Commission (JSC).

The motion to dismiss controversial religious scholar Afrashim from the judicial watchdog body was submitted by Majority Leader “Reeko” Moosa Manik of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) last week.

The DRP had issued a three-line whip in an effort to save the embattled JSC member during today’s vote.

Breakdown of the vote

Afrashim’s defence

Responding to the multiple charges of misconduct, Afrashim denied that his appointment as the JSC’s representative to the Supreme Court violated article 163 of the constitution, which requires a majority of the commission’s 10 members to be in attendance for a vote.

Only five members of the JSC had signed in as present at the meeting in question on February 6.

Afrashim argued that seeking the approval of JSC members through telephone calls was standard practice while meetings could be held without a majority in attendance “under special circumstances.”

If members participated through audio conferencing, he added, “they can be considered to be present in a meaningful sense.”

On the matter of drawing allowances, Afrashim pointed out that the decision to award committee allowances was made by the interim commission in January 2009, prior to his appointment to the JSC.

“When we were selected for the commission, the Judicial Service Commission’s administration informed us to give our [bank] account numbers to deposit money,” he said. “We didn’t even know what that money was for. This is not something that we decided for ourselves unlawfully.”

Article 164 of the constitution states that “A member of the Judicial Service Commission who is not a member of the Executive, the Judiciary, or the People’s Majlis shall be paid such salary and allowances as may be determined by the People’s Majlis.”

Afrashim insisted that the article does not explicitly prohibit remuneration for commission members already receiving state incomes.

Moreover, as the article states that parliament could approve salaries and allowances for all commission members, Afrashim argued that the annual JSC budget, including provisions for committee allowances, was passed by parliament “because it was not in violation of the constitution.”

The JSC budget obtained by Minivan News confirmed that JSC members were in some cases receiving up to Rf 9000 (US$700) a month as a ‘committee allowance’; a total of Rf 514,660 (US$40,000) in 2010.

The DRP MP for Ungoofaru also denied any wrongdoing in the vetting process of reappointing judges in August 2010 – which took place amid concerns about the competency and integrity – as stipulated by article 285 of the constitution.

Echoing claims by fellow opposition MPs, Afrashim alleged that the resolution to remove him from the JSC constituted “an attempt to politically influence the judiciary and transfer judges.”

In his closing statement after the two-hour long debate, Afrashim alleged that President Mohamed Nasheed had called him on former DRP MP Alhan Fahmy’s phone and requested that Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Mohamed “be removed even if it meant disregarding principles and procedure.”

Former President’s Member on the JSC, Aishath Velezinee, described today’s decision in parliament as “a victory for all reformists.”

“The Majlis’ decision to remove Dr Afrashim for breach of trust and acting unconstitutionally raises a fundamental question about the legality of the courts today,” Velezinee said, highlighting the JSC’s hasty and untransparent reappointment of all sitting judges in August 2010.

“I blame the Speaker [Abdulla Shahid] for having sat in the JSC during Dr Afrashim’s treason,” Velezinee added. “He has lost all authority to remain as Speaker and thereby hold his seat in the JSC. The Majlis must now ensure that Article 285 is honoured in full, and judicial reform in undertaken as guaranteed by the Constitution.”

Dr Afrashim’s allegations that President Nasheed had attempted to bully him into dismissing the Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, Abdulla Mohamed, “sounded to me like a last minute life line,” Velezinee said.

“Afrashim never mentioned that in the JSC. And having sat as the President’s appointed member, I can vouch that President Nasheed never made any such request of me.”