President Yameen grants clemency to 169 convicts

President Abdulla Yameen has granted clemency yesterday to 169 convicts serving banishment, house arrest, or jail sentences.

According to the President’s Office, Yameen granted pardons or commuted sentences in accordance with Article 29 of the Clemency Act.

Some 116 individuals were released on parole with conditions following consideration of “age, health, type of medical treatment, time and circumstance, compassion, and behaviour,” the President’s Office revealed in a statement.

Convicts sentenced for drug abuse would be required to complete rehabilitation programmes, the statement noted.

Moreover, released inmates would be returned to jail to serve out the remainder of their sentences if they violate parole or commit a crime.

Persons convicted of murder, a crime with a punishment (hadd) prescribed in Islamic Shariah, terrorism, child sexual abuse, sexual assault or rape, and homosexuality were not among the 169 released convicts, the President’s Office said.

“In addition to the above-mentioned [exceptions], sentences were commuted based on records from the Maldives Police Service without including persons who could pose a threat to society’s safety and security,” the statement read.

It added that President Yameen had announced his intention to release prisoners at a campaign rally in Fuvahmulah last month.

Home Minister Umar Naseer told Minivan News in the wake of President Yameen’s announcement that the release of inmates would not present any difficulties to ongoing efforts to combat drug trafficking.

“It will not be a hindrance because the present Clemency Act prevents serious offenders from being released. Furthermore, this process will be monitored by the Home Ministry,” he said.

President Yameen also commuted the sentences of 24 inmates in January while his predecessor Dr Mohamed Waheed released 39 convicts during his last days in office.

Article 115 of the constitution states that the president has the authority “to grant pardons or reductions of sentence as provided by law, to persons convicted of a criminal offence who have no further right of appeal.”

On January 9, police cleared or expunged criminal records of 1,023 young persons who were arrested for various criminal offences, as part of the government’s pledge to facilitate youth employment.

“Political stunt”

Following President Yameen’s announcement last month, opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Spokesperson Imthiyaz Fahmy described the move as “a very irresponsible political stunt”.

“This is a stunt they are pulling off as elections approach – an act without any form or structure. This is a stunt like they used to pull during the Gayoom administration – as every election nears, they’ll let out numerous prisoners and the streets will be teeming with drug abusers,” the Maafanu North MP said.

Fahmy also defended the release of convicts under the MDP government’s ‘Second Chance Programme,’ which he stressed was “a structured effort, under which applicable prisoners were released under parole to be under the guardianship of a family member.”

They were given training in various skills and were provided with employment opportunities. They were monitored constantly and were taken back in when there is a risk of re-offending crimes.”

“Yameen and the people around him were those who most criticised our ‘Second Chance Programme’. And now look at what they are attempting to do. This clemency plan has no structure and will prove detrimental to the society,” he said.

Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed – who served as Home Minister during the Waheed administration – shut down the ‘Second Chance Programme’ in March 2012, alleging that the MDP government had used it to “release unqualified criminals under political influence and without any clear procedure”.

In July 2012, Jameel blamed a “surge in crime” partly on the ‘Second Chance Programme’, claiming that over 200 convicted criminals released under the scheme had been returned to prison for re-offending.

Jameel also published a comment piece in newspaper Haveeru in September 2011 criticising the programme and emphasising the importance of granting clemency in accordance with the Clemency Act.


50 percent of Second Chancers employed: Home Ministry

Nearly half of the 300 inmates released under the Second Change Programme are employed or earning incomes, the Home Ministry has reported.

Speaking to program participants at the Islamic Centre last evening, State Home Minister Mohamed ‘Monaza’ Naeem said any convicts who violate any of the 25 conditions for their release would be sent back to jail, Haveeru reports.

In September, six convicts released under the program were apprehended for allegedly dealing and using drugs. Three were sent to detoxification centers.

Most of the program’s convicts are living in Male’ (217), while 113 are living in the atolls. Only 100 participants attended last evening’s program, designed to give advice.

Naeem was disappointed in the turnout, and said he expected a better attendance next time, reports Haveeru.

The government intends to continue the program, partially designed to relieve the Maldives’ prison system from overcapacity. Program participants were encouraged to disregard criticism of the program, previously expressed by the Adhaalath Party.


American documentary on new Muslim communities reaches Maldives

Independent American documentary New Muslim Cool was screened at the American Center on Male’ last week. The film follows the efforts of former Latino-American drug dealer Hamza Pérez, now a Muslim convert, to integrate into a Muslim community on the tough north side of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Co-producer Hana Siddiqi, who attended this week’s screenings, said the film addressed one of many versions of Islam in America.

“We were looking at how the youth are creating a new American Muslim culture for themselves, and how arts and music is a big part of that,” she said.

Considering its impact in the Maldives, Siddiqi identified the film as a conversation starter in more traditional or orthodox Muslim communities.

“I think people have a general lack of understanding of Muslims in America because there just isn’t much in the media,” she said. “What you do see is quite negative and political, so I think just the fact that Muslim communities are seeing a film from America that has a Muslim as the main subject is enough to spark their interest. And it just opens up their minds I think to see some people who practice like this.”

New Muslim Cool was produced and directed by Jennifer Maytorena Taylor. Released in 2009, the film has been shown on public television in the United States, at festivals across Europe, Russia, Angola and now the Maldives.

Siddiqi said audience reception has been “quite good” worldwide, and noted that most audiences are curious about the different types of Muslims in America. “I let them know that this is just one story of one individual, and there are so many different types with different backgrounds and experiences and they follow different interpretations of Islam as well,” she said.

Hamza Pérez associates his conversion to Islam with his success in drug rehabilitation.

To contribute to his community, Hamza spoke to social groups and prison inmates about overcoming the drug-dealing culture and discovering faith. He also produced rap albums with his brother under the band name ‘Mujahideen Team’, or M-Team.

In an interview, the Pérez brothers denied the violent connotations of ‘jihad’, a word often translated as ‘holy war’ and associated with ‘mujahideen’. But their promotion of their music walks a fine line between suggestion and interpretation.

In one scene, Hamza distributes copies of his music to Pittsburgh gang members while inquiring after gang activity in the area. When he is told that most are Mexican and few get along, he tells them that Latinos never turn the other cheek but that the city gangs should work together to protect one another.

During a M-Team concert, Hamza takes the stage with a flaming machete in hand. When asked about the weapon’s role in Hamza’s message, Siddiqi said it served several purposes.

“We made a point to have a conversation with [Hamza and is brother] about illustrating that the machete is part of their Latino ethnic history and culture, and that it symbolises the struggles they have faced. When people ask, we make sure we let them now what it really symbolizes.”

The machete is also an attention-grabber.

“A little bit of it is just entertainment to them, they think it’s fun, that’s part of being a stage performer and they always make that point as well,” Siddiqi said.

Partway through production process, the FBI raided Hamza’s mosque during Friday prayers. Siddiqi said that although the raid was disturbing and questions went unanswered, it gave the story direction.

“This is one of many FBI raids to many mosques where there were children present and while they were in the middle of their Friday services, which is something that would never happen at a church or a synagogue. So it’s one of those things that people just need to see is going on in our community.”

Siddiqi said reactions to the film in the Maldives had been positive, but admitted that its relevance was unclear. The US Embassy representative, who was preoccupied with her iPad, waved away questions regarding the agenda.

“I think the work with drug rehabilitation in the Maldives is a factor,” Siddiqi observed. “The film could be a good place to start a dialogue in the community, because the film shows how Islam fueled Hamza’s own rehabilitation. The emotion and energy connected to his conversion basically was his rehabilitation.”

Recently, Dr. William Silcock spoke to Maldivian journalists about the value of public involvement in contemporary news. Siddiqi said journalism was critical for developing and developed communities alike.

“Journalists have one of the biggest responsibilities for getting information to the people. And if that’s not happening in a society then there’s a lack of awareness, and I feel a lack of growth as well.”

New Muslim Cool was awarded the Feature Film Freedom Award at the 5th Annual Al Jazeera International Documentary Film Festival in Doha, Qatar. It was also an official selection Lincoln Center Independents Night, co-sponsored by Human Rights Watch Film Festival.

Correction: Previously this article inaccurately stated that Hamza Pérez had been convicted of rape. It should have stated that a man involved in the FBI raid on Hamza’s mosque held a police record involving accusations of rape. The inaccurate information has been removed from this article and Minivan News apologises for the error.


Cabinet pledges cuts to duties on green tech

Cabinet has pledged to remove all import duties on vehicles powered with electrical or renewable energy sources to try and boost its own green commitments and reduce a national reliance on fossil fuels.

As part of this commitment, the government is also expected to cut import charges on solar panels and batteries that can be used as alternate energy sources for marine vehicles in the country.

According to the cabinet’s recommendations, vehicles and power sources exempt from import charges will require documents from the country’s Environmental Protection Agency to accredit any claimed eco-friendly benefits.

The move is tied to the country’s aims of trying to become carbon neutral by 2020, a goal President Moahamed Nasheed has previously claimed would be a disaster for the nation if not achieved – although the government is yet to outline the exact measures it will take to achieve these aims.

Cabinet’s decision to waive the import charges was made at a meeting held yesterday regarding funding developments to try and encourage greater use of renewable energy sources in everyday life and business. These measures include strategies such as subsidising 50 laari for every unit of electricity produced by renewable energy means.

Aside from this environmental focus, the cabinet was also reported to have taken the decision to cut duties on imports of raw materials and agricultural equipment that could be used to bolster fishing and poultry production to reduce the nation’s overall reliance on imports.

Recommendations were also put forward to develop 15,000 square feet of land in Hulhumale’ into a detoxification and drug rehabilitation centre supported from international donor aid.


Australia and the Maldives strengthening diplomatic relations

Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed met with Australian High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Kathy Klugman, where they discussed the challenges faced by the Maldives and ways in which Australia could assist the government.

Dr Waheed said some of the biggest challenges are employing well trained staff at drug rehabilitation centres, building safer prisons and the lack of job opportunities for Maldivian youth.

Klugman said there are different works being carried out by the Australian government in the Maldives, especially volunteer training programmes in different atolls.

She also mentioned several Australian scholarships for Maldivian students, and said these scholarships present a good opportunity for training in the area of drug rehabilitation.

The meeting took place a day after the first-ever Australian diplomatic event in the Maldives at the Holiday Inn on Sunday, where President Mohamed Nasheed thanked the Australian people and government for their assistance to the Maldives.

He also commended Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd for his help in making the Copenhagen Accord a reality and for his honesty and good work as a politician.

Klugman also spoke at the function. She congratulated the government on the transition to democracy and assured further assistance from Australia to the Maldives, especially in the education sector.


Vice President visits rehab center

The Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed visited the a rehabilitation centre in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Dr Waheed made the visit while on an unofficial trip to the country and met Maldivians currently enrolled at the centre.

The president’s office reports that Waheed secured 35 spaces at the rehab centre for Maldivians.