Letter sent to speaker calling for prosecution of foreign minister

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has written to Majlis Speaker Abdullah Maseeh Mohamed requesting that the foreign minister Dunya Maumoon be prosecuted under the Parliamentary Privileges Act.

The MDP sent a letter today (November 13) in relation to comments made in the Majlis regarding discussions between India and China on the latter’s Maritime Silk Road project.

“Article 4 and 7 of the Majlis’ Privileges Act states that deliberately misleading the parliament is denying the parliament of its privileges. According to Article 8 of the same act it is punishable by a fine or jail time,” read the MDP letter.

“As foreign minister Dunya Maumoon had deliberately lied to the parliament and therefore broken the constitution, I would like to request to under Article 29 of Majlis’ privileges to submit foreign minister Dunya Maumoon’s case to the prosecutor general as a criminal offence,” it continued.

After Indian officials last week released a statement denying having discussed joining the proposed Chinese trade route, the Maldives foreign ministry responded by offering what it alleged was proof such talks had taken place.

This week has also seen both President Abdulla Yameen and members of his cabinet accuse “Western colonial powers” of anti-Islamic sentiment, prompting the MDP to call the country’s current foreign dealings a “policy of exclusion”.

Cabinet members also told the press yesterday (November 13) that the EU’s ending of preferential treatment for Maldivian tuna exports was a response to the Maldives’ refusal to allow “homosexual relations and the opportunity for people to follow any religion they want”.

Qualification for the EU’s Generalised System of Preferences Plus requires states to have acceded without reservation to a number of international treaties, including the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

The Maldives signed up to the ICCPR in 2006, making reservations regarding only Article 18 which mandates freedom of religion. Article 23 of the ICCPR mandates the right of marriage, although legal opinions differ on whether it mandates same sex marriage.

After reforming the GSP law in 2012, the EU drew up criteria for those eligible for the new GSP Plus scheme – which now includes 13 states.

The Maldives – ineligible for the standard GSP arrangement due to its recent graduation from least developed country status – subsequently chose not to apply for the new GSP Plus tariff .

Of the treaties required to be wholly acceded to by GSP Plus eligible nations, the Maldives has also made reservations to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

In his Republic Day address this week, President Abdulla Yameen said the “government’s thinking is changing towards the East”, accusing the EU of imposing trade restrictions on the Maldives for refusing to change or abandon Islamic principles.

MDP Spokesman Imthiyaz Fahmy told Minivan News today that it was the government that was damaging relations, after ministers had accused his party of the same earlier this week.

“That the economic minister and the fisheries minister have commented on or criticised issues regarding diplomatic relations between countries or organizations goes to show that some of our ministers are at a loss,” said Fahmy.

Both the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives and the government have accused the opposition of stirring up trouble with bilateral partners.


President Yameen slams “Western colonial powers,” declares foreign policy shift to East

The European Union (EU) imposed restrictions on Maldivian export of canned tuna for refusing to change or abandon Islamic principles, President Abdulla Yameen claimed today, declaring a foreign policy shift to the East.

In his address to the nation on the occasion of Republic Day, President Yameen said economic cooperation with China does not involve the same challenges to remaining an Islamic state posed by “Western colonial powers”.

“Participating in business with China does not involve any such compulsion for us,” Yameen said at a ceremony at the Dharubaaruge convention centre this morning.

Yameen referred to the EU’s refusal to extend the duty-free status of imported fish from the Maldives following the country’s failure to comply with international conventions concerning freedom of religion.

Until January 2014, fish exports to the EU – the single largest export partner by value – were duty-free under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) programme, a non-reciprocal trade agreement extended to developing countries.

Last year, the government’s application for a year’s extension under the ‘GSP Plus’ program was declined as it had not ratified all 27 required international conventions. The Maldives holds reservations concerning the freedom of religion component of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Former Fisheries Minister Shafeeu told Minivan News in November 2013 that the Maldives would lose its competitive advantage over the larger fishing fleets of nearby Sri Lanka and Thailand with a 14-20 tariff on fish imports, and reduce profits to “a marginal value”.

President Yameen said there was “no way forward” for the country regarding the issue.

“The government’s thinking is changing towards the East,” he said.

Under the Maldivian Constitution, all citizens are required to be Sunni Muslim and the practice of other religions as well as places of worship are prohibited. Customs authorities forbid the import of religious items and scan the baggage of tourists arriving at the airport.

Former Minister Shafeeu explained last year that the EU’s move was not unexpected as Maldivian fisheries had been given a three year extension of its duty-free status after graduating from the UN’s definition of a ‘least developed’ country to ‘middle income’ in 2011.

Silk Route

The government decided to participate in the Chinese 21st Century Maritime Silk Route initiative because China is currently the strongest and fastest growing economy in the world, President Yameen said.

As a result, Yameen continued, the government believes that the “multi-million dollar infrastructure investment” needed for economic development would “arrive through this door.”

Participation in the Silk Road initiative would not adversely affect either the Maldives independence and sovereignty or the Islamic identity of the nation, he insisted.

Ahead of his maiden state visit in September, Chinese President Xi Jingping called on the Maldives “to get actively involved” in the creation of a maritime trade route linking China to the east coast of Africa and the Mediterranean.

Meanwhile, former President Mohamed Nasheed has criticised the decision to join the Silk Route initiative, contending that it would threaten Indian Ocean security and risk putting the Maldives in the middle of war or disputes between Asian powers.

“Indian Ocean stability depends on a firm Indian hand. President Yameen must reverse his decision on Maldives being a party to the Silk Route,” the opposition leader tweeted on November 8.


EU concerned at gang violence and religious intolerance in Maldives

The EU delegation in Colombo and EU member states have noted concern at “mounting gang violence and signs of increasing religious intolerance” in the Maldives.

“The EU Heads of Mission, the Ambassador of Norway and the Charge d’Affaires a.i. of Switzerland are very concerned about the recent reports of attacks, intimidation and death threats faced by journalists, politicians, human rights campaigners and representatives of civil,” read a statement released today.

The offices of Minivan News were attacked last week, as were those of the Maldivian Democratic Party, and the homes of a number of MPs. Journalists have continued to receive death threats, warning against reporting on such activities.

The EU representatives, as well as the Embassies of Norway and Switzerland, today said that these instances were “contributing to a climate of growing fear in the Maldives and reducing the space for public discussion.”

It was also suggested that the ongoing legal action initiated by the Supreme Court against the Human Rights Commission of Maldives “risks undermining the independence of the HRCM, a key democratic institution”.

The Supreme Court’s suo moto case relates to the publication of a report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council earlier this month for its Universal Periodic Review on grounds that the compilation of and the content of the report was against procedures, and contained false information.

“In the interests of both the Maldives and the many visitors to the country, we call upon the Maldivian authorities to create a safe and enabling environment in which citizens and institutions can operate freely in full respect of their constitutional rights.”

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird yesterday expressed concern at the “deterioration” of the human rights situation in the Maldives while the US and UK have also noted their own concerns this month.

Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon has also condemned the recent attacks, reiterating the government’s commitment to an “environment that gives protection to media personnel to exercise their duties freely and responsibly.”


INIA passes inspection to remain part of EU supply chain

Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) has been awarded ‘Regulated Agent from a third country’ status (RA3) by the EU, meaning that it can continue to act as part of the supply chain for imports into the European Union.

RA3 three status means that INIA will be able to continue to receive air cargo en route to the EU after July 1st, when new regulations will require all EU cargo to be transported through an EU validated supply chain.

The new EU procedures follow the October 2010 attempt to sabotage two planes travelling to the EU from Yemen.

“This is a huge milestone achieved as Maldives exports tons of Cargo EU countries every month,” read an MACL press release.

A small ceremony was held at the cargo department today after a three day validation process. The official report was handed over to MACL Managing Director Ibrahim Saleem by the EU aviation validator Sander De Man.

“MACL has brought major infrastructure changes to the cargo facility and had done mandatory trainings to adhere to the EU required standard,” added today’s press release.


EU urges government to retain moratorium on death penalty

The European Union (EU) has called on the government to retain the unofficial moratorium on implementing the death penalty following the enactment of new regulations to enforce capital punishment.

In a statement on Thursday (April 29), EU High Representative Catherine Ashton expressed deep concern with the adoption of the procedural regulations, which would “break the de facto moratorium which has been in place since 1953 when the last execution took place.”

The High Representative holds a strong and principled position against the death penalty. The abolition of the death penalty is one of the key objectives of the European Union’s human rights policy worldwide. It is essential for the protection of human dignity, as well as for the progressive development of human rights,” the statement read.

The death penalty is cruel and inhumane, and has not been shown in any way to act as a deterrent to crime.”

The High Representative urged the Maldivian government to retain the longstanding moratorium, “including in cases that involve juvenile offenders, and to work towards abolishing the practice altogether.”

The EU’s concerns were echoed in a statement last week by the the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which called for the abolition of the death penalty.

“We urge the Government to retain its moratorium on the use of the death penalty in all circumstances, particularly in cases that involve juvenile offenders and to work towards abolishing the practice altogether,” said Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the OHCHR.

“We equally encourage the Government to repeal the new regulations and other provisions that provide for the death penalty,” she added.


The OHCHR noted that that the new regulation “provides for the use of the death penalty for the offence of intentional murder, including when committed by individuals under the age of 18.”

While the age of criminal responsibility in the Maldives is 10, the statement noted that children as young as seven could be held responsible for hadd offences, while minors convicted of homicide could be executed once they turn 18 according to the new regulation.

Hadd offences include theft, fornication, adultery, consumption of alcohol, and apostasy.

The new regulation means that children as young as seven can now be sentenced to death,” the OHCHR observed, adding that “similar provisions in the recently ratified Penal Code, allowing for the application of the death penalty for crimes committed when below the age of 18, are also deeply regrettable.”

“Under international law, those who are charged and convicted for offences they have committed under 18 years of age should not be sentenced to death or life imprisonment without possibility of release,” the statement continued.

“International human rights treaties, particularly the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Maldives has ratified, impose an absolute ban on the death sentence against persons below the age of 18 at the time when the offence was committed.”

Local NGO Maldivian Democracy Network has also condemned the government’s decision to reintroduce the death penalty, contending that the “highly politicised and corrupt” judiciary was unfit to pass death sentences.


Parliament approves ambassador for Sri Lanka as president withdraws nominee for EU post

The Majlis today unanimously approved Zahiya Zareer as the Malidves’ ambassador to Sri Lanka with 49 votes.

Zareer previously served as the Minister of Education in President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s administration and ran for parliament.

President Abulla Yameen’s nomination for the ambassador for Pakistan, Major General (Rt) Moosa Ali Jaleel was also sent for review by the National Security Committee as per parliament regulations.

Jaleel was the Chief of Defence Force under President Mohamed Nasheed and is revered as a national hero for his services during the attempted coup by Tamil mercenaries in 1988.

However , president Yameen today withdrew the name of Hassan Sobir whom he earlier nominated as the new ambassador to Belgium and the European Union. No official reason was given for the withdrawal.

Sobir served as the tourism minister and fisheries minister in President Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom’s administration. He also served as the ambassador for Singapore and the UK.


Majlis elections: Supreme Court’s actions overshadowed polls, say international observers

The European Union has noted a “violation of rules” by the Supreme Court, as well as warning that the right to a free vote had been “undermined” by reported vote buying in their observations of the parliamentary elections.

The European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) and the Commonwealth Observer Group both presented their interim reports at press conferences held today (March 24) in Malé.

Presenting the EU’s statement, Chief Observer Eduard Kukan said that although the voting was “calm and orderly,” with the process conducted in a “professional, impartial and transparent manner,” the Supreme Court’s removal of two members of the Elections Commission less than two weeks before the poll “raised serious concerns” and “overshadowed the electoral period”.

“The [Supreme Court’s] consequent removal of the chairperson and his deputy represented an assertion of power reserved to the People’s Majlis. It was a violation of the rules in both the constitution and the Elections Commission Act,” the EU EOM statement noted.

Similarly, the Commonwealth group’s interim statement – presented by the Chair Bruce Golding – congratulated the Maldives on holding a “peaceful and conclusive election,” but was “deeply concerned” by the Supreme Court’s actions which “inevitably had a negative effect on the overall electoral environment”.

As a result of this, the COG noted it was “disappointed that there was still a lack of clarity regarding inconsistencies between the Maldivian Electoral legislative framework and the guidelines issued by the Supreme Court last year.”

When reporters asked Mr Kukan if the Supreme Court influenced the results of the elections, he noted that it made a “difficult electoral environment,” but added that their sole mission was to observe the election process.

“It’s up to the people who they vote for,” he added.

Vote buying, media plurality, and female candidates

Another key finding in both statements was reported vote-buying and excessive campaign expenditure.

The EU EOM highlighted the tradition of high spending during elections, with candidates legally spending up to 1,500 MVR or some €70 per voter in a constituency.

According to the report, this spending is “insufficiently regulated,” and concluded that the lack of cap on spending “undermines” the right to a free vote from compulsion or inducement.

The Commonwealth mission made the recommendation that “concerted and systematic efforts need to be made to address this issue”.

Allegations of vote buying were highlighted in a previous statement by NGO Transparency Maldives (TM), who stated that “wider issues of money politics threatens to hijack [the] democratic process.”

Furthermore, TM revealed that a survey conducted prior to last year’s presidential election showed that 15 percent of respondents had been offered “money or other incentives” in exchange for their vote.

In addition to vote buying, both the EU EOM and the COG expressed concern over the media and freedom of expression during the elections. According to the Commonwealth, local stakeholders expressed concern that coverage by private media outlets were influenced by political affiliations.

“The liberalisation of the media sector in 2008 has so far not led to media pluralism,” stated Kukan. “Ownership of the main private TV and radio stations is concentrated in the hands of a small number of businessmen and politicians whose ideology is reflected in the editorial decisions.”

Kukan added that the “significantly partisan editorial content” hinders the “diversity and impartiality” in the election coverage. Kukan named broadcasters such as Raajje TV and VTV who he accused of “overly promoting their chosen party and candidates.”

The EU EOM also noted deficiencies in the legal framework’s adequacy to support the elections according to the international standards to which the Maldives has subscribed.

“Contary to the ICCPR [International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights], the rights to vote and to stand to election are limited on the grounds of religion, as citizenship is limited to Maldivians of Muslim faith, and candidates must be Sunni Muslim.”

The EU report added, “the Maldives has entered a reservation to article 18 of the ICCPR, thus restricting freedom of religion, and a reservation to article 16 of  The Convention on the Elemination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) restricting gender equality in family matters, thereby protecting inheritance laws which discriminate against women.”

The report noted an “extremely low numbers of female candidates,” with a total of 23 female candidates – just 5 of whom were elected. This indicates a decrease from 6.4 to 5.8 per cent female members of parliament.

The report noted that this, along with the low voter turn out for women was in part down to “prevailing and increasing social and cultural norms which disempower women, confining them to the domestic sphere.”

After continuing to observe the post-electoral period, the EU EOM will produce a detailed final report including recommendations for future elections.

The Commonwealth’s official report will be published following the group’s departure on March 28.


Week in review: March 9 – 14

This week’s headlines were largely dedicated to the Supreme Court’s decision to dismiss the senior leadership of the Elections Commission (EC) on charges of contempt of court and disobedience to order.

The decision – which also included a six month sentence for EC Chair Fuwad Thowfeek – brought international condemnation as well as universal praise for the work of the commission.

The EU observer mission, currently in the country for the scheduled March 22 poll, quickly pointed out the considerable “time pressure” on a timely and credible election.

Domestically, both the Maldivian Democratic Party’s Mohamed Nasheed and the People’s Majlis declared the decision unconstitutional.

The Majlis Secretariat relayed this message in writing to Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz and senior government figures, while a Majlis committee stated that it still considered the dismissed members to be elections commissioners.

Alternatively, government supporters quickly backed the decision, with President Yameen saying that the government would abide by the ruling. Yameen also criticised the opposition’s discussion – conducted without a resolution – of boycotting the polls.

The President’s Office rounded on the court’s international naysayers while the chief justice said that the international statements included “falsified claims, and undermine the respect and authority of the Maldivian judiciary”.

Fears that the EC would not be able to conduct the election without its quorum were soon assuaged, however, as Ismail Habeeb – nominated to the commission after the resignation of the fifth EC member last October – was approved by the Majlis.

The PPM has called for the final two places on the commission to be filled before the elections, though Speaker Shahid has prorogued parliament until after the vote.

Other news…

Elsewhere this week, police seized 24kg of what was suspected to be heroin in their biggest haul to date, while repeated confiscation of unusual pets during drugs raids – as well as a python on the streets of Malé – prompted customs to tighten security in order to prevent the import of illegal animals.

The export of legal animals – in the form of Halal certified fish – is a policy the Islamic Ministry this week claimed was generating great enthusiasm.

Leaders at the Chamber of Commerce rounded on the EU’s trade policies with regards to Maldivian fish, suggesting a fisherman’s protest could be on its way.

One protest did arrive this week, at the international airport, as staff demonstrated against bad bonuses and worse food.

The Human Rights Commission was summoned to the Juvenile Court after repeated attempts to discuss a report the court claimed misled the public about the handling of the infamous 15 year old flogging trial.

Maldivian Development Alliance leader Ahmed ‘Sun’ Shiyam was presented to the Criminal Court this after failing to attend previous hearings regarding his alleged attempts to smuggle alcohol into the country in 2012.

Already in custody, Maldivian Democratic Party MP Abdulla Jabir learned this week that he would remain during his appeal case for his recent conviction.

Finally, local NGO Advocating for the Rights of Children (ARC) launched an anti-bullying campaign in Malé as well as a new network to support the rights of disabled children.

Meanwhile, the Maafushi jail inmate – left in a coma with critical head injuries after being attacked by cellmates last month – was flown to Sri Lanka for further treatment.


EC dismissals: Court decision condemned by international community, EC praised

The decision of the Supreme Court to dismiss members of the Elections Commission (EC) this week has been roundly condemned by the international community.

In statements released today, the US has said it “strongly objects” to the courts actions, and Canada has said that it was “deeply troubled” by the decision, while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon has also expressed concern.

Meanwhile, all three statements have praised the work of the EC over recent months – the US noting that the EC has made “laudable efforts to hold multiple successful elections despite previous judicial interference.”

“The Maldives Election Commission has done an exceptional job under especially difficult circumstances in ensuring transparent, inclusive and credible electoral processes in the Maldives,” read the Canadian statement.

Similarly, the UN stated noted that Ban Ki-Moon “commends the Elections Commission for its professionalism and tireless efforts to ensure credible and transparent elections.”

The growing international criticism of the court’s decision comes alongside domestic accusations that the ruling has undermined the constitution and the independent institutions contained therein.

With less than two weeks remaining until the Majlis polls on March 22, the EU’s Maldives Elections Observer Mission has noted the significant “time pressure” which now weighs on the EC.

Following the dismissal of EC President Fuwad Thowfeek and Vice-President Ahmed Fayaz on Sunday (March 9), the EC is left without a constitutionally mandated quorum needed to hold meetings.

The government is currently taking applications for the vacant positions, after which the president is legally required to submit names to the Majlis for approval.

The Majlis yesterday wrote to both the Chief Justice and the Attorney General stating that the constitution granted the powers for appointments and dismissals of the EC to the legislature.

International critics

“The Court’s decision to censure all members of the commission for ‘disobeying and challenging’ previous Supreme Court judgements also raises questions regarding due process and judicial interference in the electoral process,” read today’s Canadian statement.

“An independent and effective election commission is an essential element in any genuine democracy, and undermining the commission and its ability to function again places the Maldives’ democratic transition in question.”

In a similar vein, the US statement suggested that the court’s decision represented an “unprecedented expansion of judicial powers”.

“The Supreme Court’s insistence on holding parliamentary elections on March 22 while imprisoning the very official responsible for holding those elections calls into serious question the government’s commitment to democracy,” said the US State Department.

Ban Ki-moon underlined the “importance of respect for the principle of separation of powers, the rule of law, and the independence of constitutionally established bodies.”

Today’s criticism comes after repeated warnings from the government to refrain from criticising the country’s courts.

President Abdulla Yameen yesterday noted that the tendency for “first world” countries to “interfere” in the internal matters of small countries was concerning, echoing comments recently made by the Maldives’ foreign minister at the UN Human Rights Council.

“We request our international partners to support us. We request you to contribute constructively in overcoming our challenges. We urge you not to undermine our judicial system,” said Dunya Maumoon the HRC’s 25th session last week.

Dunya yesterday also called upon the Commonwealth – a notable critic of the Maldives during the recent protracted presidential elections – to become a more “relevant” and “responsive” body.

The Commonwealth had not released any statements on the current EC case at the time of press.

The Maldives judiciary has been the subject of international criticism on a number of occasions in recent months.

The UN Human Rights Committee on civil and political rights has previously said it is “deeply concerned about the state of the judiciary in the Maldives”, while the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay last year accused the Supreme Court of “subverting the democratic process”.

UN Special Rapporteur for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul expressed concern over the judiciary in a 2013 report, while the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) had in 2011 stated that the Maldivian courts were failing to serve the public impartially.