“Our prayers are as powerful as swords”: Malé is calm, but anger simmers

On a rainy Sunday night, dozens of families gathered in Malé to meet with lawyers over the detention of their loved ones, arrested from a mass anti-government protest on May 1. The vast majority of the 193 detainees had never been arrested before.

Some families had travelled rough seas and weathered strong winds to come to Malé to find out the news. Lawyers passed on messages from those in custody—where keys had been left, progress on monthly rent, extent of injuries—and advised families on how they could seek redress for police brutality.

The May 1 arrests were the largest numbers detained from a single protest in a decade. Some 20,000 protesters took to the streets on May Day against authoritarianism, and called for the release of jailed ex-president Mohamed Nasheed. When protesters attempted to enter Malé’s main square at dusk, the police cracked down with tear gas, pepper spray, baton charges, stun grenades and indiscriminate arrests. Malé’s streets were empty by 1:00am, and three leaders of the allied parties were arrested.

The government declared ‘victory’ with a fireworks display and said that President Abdulla Yameen will not negotiate over Nasheed’s imprisonment.

With opposition leaders and scores of supporters still in jail, the opposition coalition’s activities have slowed. Police have prohibited gatherings beyond 12:00am, and dispersed any attempts at street protests by arresting key figures. Malé City is calm for now, but anger is simmering.

Opposition supporters remain determined to continue protests, with many saying the police brutality they witnessed on May Day only strengthened their resolve. Growing international pressure over Nasheed’s imprisonment and scrutiny of the judiciary is giving many further hopes.

Anger in Dhoonidhoo

Businessman Mujthaba ‘Muju’ Saeed, 40, was among the first 50 detainees released last Thursday. The protesters in Dhoonidhoo detention centre are angry, but remain strong, he said. “As soon as I was released, I went to the opposition rally. We are not afraid, we are angry.”

According to Muju, two ruling party supporters were also arrested; one was on his way to open a shop while the other was on his way to a safari boat where he works.

Conditions at Dhoonidhoo island detention centre are cramped, with 40 people packed into cells designed to hold just 20. Some are sleeping upright, or sleeping by the entrance to the bathrooms. Many are still nursing injuries from beatings and pepper spray. Several people who were recently released said detainees are calling for the resignation of president Yameen, police chief Hussein Waheed and tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb from their cells.

Some 116 people have now been released, and the police have asked the prosecutor general to press charges against 129. If prosecuted, many face a MVR3,000 fine or a six-month jail term. Charges range from disobedience to order to assaulting police officers.

Zahiya Abdulla, 47, and two of her sisters were also arrested from the protest. In the women’s cell, those arrested from the protest held yoga classes, and bonded with others held on charges of drug abuse and sexual offences. “No one was crying despite the physical and verbal abuse they suffered. I will always be on the front lines of the protests,” she said.

An even bigger rally

The opposition has vowed to continue protests, with Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Mohamed Solih pledging to hold “an even bigger rally” by the end of the month.

“We have re-formed our ranks, and we’ve are out to go forward once again. Our resolve remains strong,” he told a thousand supporters at a rally this weekend.

At the rally, some voiced concerns over the how disorganised the May Day protest was, yet they described it as a success. A 23-year-old student marvelled at the sheer number of people at the rally: “People are aware now, they know what is going on.” A housewife said: “We came out by the thousands, we were unarmed, but they pushed us back because they had shields, batons, tear gas and pepper spray.”

Some were scared, but angry. A 62-year-old boat owner said he will march and protest as long as the police do not crack down.“But I do believe we will prevail. Our prayers are as powerful as any sword,” he said.

“We’ve been here before”

A 46-year-old, who had played a key role in organising the pro-democracy “August 12/13 protests” of 2004, told Minivan News he, too, was amazed by the numbers on May Day. He believes approximately 8,000 people had participated in the August12/13 protests a decade ago. “Now, we are seeing thousands more, women, young people, elderly, who’ve never participated in political rallies before,” he said.

The August 12/13 protests had forced then-President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to bring in liberal reforms, a democratic constitution and hold multi-party elections in 2008.

“We’ve been here before,” MDP MP Eva Abdulla said. “The exact same situation—large numbers of people on the street, president Nasheed in jail, the same heavy-handed tactics by the government, defiance to the international community, jailing hundreds, including parliamentarians – until the point the government just couldn’t continue.”

For Eva, there is no choice for the opposition but to continue with protests. “Public opinion does not matter to this government. But we must show all observers, we, the Maldivian public are not OK with what is happening.”

The international spotlight is once again on Maldives. Calls for Nasheed’s release are growing, with several countries, including the US, UK and India slamming the Maldives’ politicised judiciary at a recent human rights council session. The EU parliament last month urged member states to warn tourists over Maldives’ human rights record, and Nasheed’s family has asked the UN’s working group on arbitrary detention to rule his imprisonment as illegal.

But the government maintains the international community cannot dictate what the Maldives must do, and the home minister Umar Naseer has vowed to keep Nasheed in jail.

Eva said President Abdulla Yameen will relent as international pressure grows: “We are absolutely and entirely dependent on international goodwill.”

Back at the meeting between lawyers and families of detainees, one woman said she will now join the opposition protests because of her resort worker husband’s arrest on May Day. She had gone by the criminal court to see if she could catch a glimpse of him at his remand hearing the next day, but instead, she was verbally abused, pepper sprayed and pushed back by police in riot gear. She said she saw police officers pepper-spraying a pregnant woman.

“I’ve never seen such brutality before. It is almost as if the police view us as their enemies. But we are the real power here,” she said.

Photo by Shaari

Likes(0)Dislikes(0)

Maldives human rights watchdog under siege

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has slammed the judiciary for compromising its independence, describing the Supreme Court’s suo moto proceedings over a submission to the UN Human Rights Council as the biggest challenge the watchdog has faced in its 11-year history.

In its 2014 annual report, the independent commission noted the Supreme Court and the Juvenile Court accused the HRCM of making false allegations in the Universal Periodic Review and a confidential report into a 15-year-old rape victim’s flogging sentence.

The Supreme Court and Juvenile Court’s charges affected the commission’s independence and ability to carry out its mandate, the report said.

The controversial suo moto regulations allow the Supreme Court to initiate proceedings, prosecute and pass judgment. The first case of its kind, in March 2014, saw the apex court sack the Elections Commission’s President and Vice President for contempt of court.

Jumhooree Party (JP) MP Ali Hussein said the judiciary’s “harassment of HRCM” was an indication of the “extraordinary levels of judicial activism in the country.”

“The judiciary is acting outside its boundaries, it is annulling laws, making laws, dismissing members of the independent commissions. The judiciary needs to be restrained immediately. But there is no way to hold them accountable.”

Judges must be educated and sensitised to human rights, fundamental norms and best practices in a democratic society, he continued.

However, lamenting President Abdulla Yameen’s decision to appoint disgraced Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed to the judicial watchdog Judicial Services Commission (JSC), Ali said judicial reform was only possible through a long hard people’s struggle.

Hameed was implicated in a series of sex tapes involving foreign women, but the police have closed the investigation citing non-cooperation from the judge, according to media reports. The JSC subsequently refused to take action against Hameed.

Meanwhile, parliamentary group leader of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), Ahmed Nihan, said the People’s Majlis must play a key role in mediating the conflict between the HRCM and the judiciary to ensure the commission’s independence.

The majority leader described the dispute as “a teething trouble in a nascent democracy,” and said the HRCM must continue to exist as “a pillar of multi-party democracy.”

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) agreed the responsibility for ensuring HRCM’s independence rested with parliament, but said the PPM-dominated Majlis had no regard for the independence of the state’s watchdog bodies.

MDP MP Eva Abdulla also accused ruling party MPs of harassing human rights commissioners through the parliament.

The five members of the HRCM were summoned separately to the Majlis last week and questioned in a closed-door meeting regarding the commission’s statement condemning the Criminal Court’s 13-year sentence on former President Mohamed Nasheed.

The HRCM on March 14 expressed concern over apparent lack of due process in the opposition leader’s trial, and said the Criminal Court had failed to respond to a request to monitor court proceedings.

Eva also noted increasing threats against the HRCM, most recently that of a group of angry men on February 24 entered the commission’s officers and threatened to harm the five commissioners following a statement condemning the police’s mistreatment of Nasheed ahead of a hearing on February 23.

HRCM Vice President Ahmed Tholal meanwhile received threatening calls and messages after the police claimed he had called them “baagee” or traitor on February 22. The police have since withdrawn the claim.

The Supreme Court’s suo moto case is still pending “like a sword hanging over the HRCM,” Eva said.

The MP for Galholhu North also concurred with JP’s Ali Hussein, stating the judiciary should be held answerable through the JSC.

“We must end this judicial dictatorship. Within the People’s Majlis we must ensure the JSC fulfills its mandate. And above all, appoint qualified judges to the judiciary,” she said.

The HRCM in its report said the judiciary faced the most number of challenges in protecting human rights in 2014. The commission also expressed concern over the sudden dismissal of Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz and Justice Muthasim Adnan in December.

 

Likes(0)Dislikes(0)

MDP to launch national civil disobedience campaign to free Nasheed

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has decided to launch a national civil disobedience campaign to free imprisoned leader, former President Mohamed Nasheed.

A resolution passed at an MDP national council meeting declared the party does not accept the Criminal Court’s 13-year jail term against Nasheed for his role in the January 2012 military detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed.

The terrorism conviction effectively bars Nasheed from presidential elections in 2018.

“The MDP resolves to free President Mohamed Nasheed from this government’s injustice, to do all necessary to stop the persecution of other politicians, to involve other political parties and other supporters in our work as extensively as possible, to launch a national civil disobedience movement, to reform judiciary and ensure judicial independence, to launch protests and organise petitions, and to accept Nasheed’s last appeal and establish a people’s government,” the resolution said.

Nasheed had called on supporters to confront President Abdulla Yameen’s “dictatorial regime” and “to take all of your lives in your hands and to go out onto the streets in protest.”

Speaking at the council meeting, MDP council members called for targeted boycotts against pro-government resorts and businesses and urged mass protests in Malé.

Nasheed will remain the party’s president and 2018 presidential candidate, MP for Galholhu North MP Eva Abdulla said.

“We, all of us together, we don’t have the sort of courage Mohamed Nasheed does. But we have learnt to take heart from his courage. That is why I say, don’t you dare think we will take a step back,” she said.

Pointing to several irregularities in the trial, MDP council members declared they would not accept the guilty verdict, and called on supporters to have courage.

“I am eight months pregnant, yet I am determined to continue this fight for justice for President Nasheed and Maldivian citizens. If I have the courage, so does every single MDP member,” said Nasheed’s lawyer Hisaan Hussein.

Hisaan at MDP National Committee

Democracy is won through long hard struggles, many council members noted.

“We must remember, history is rife with such atrocities. Authoritarian rulers, in our neighboring India, Mahatma Gandhi, in South Africa, Mandela, sentenced them to long years in jail in an attempt to destroy their political careers. But ultimately, they came out national heroes,” MP and former Speaker Abdulla Shahid said.

After the meeting, council members led hundreds of supporters in a march through Malé, calling for Nasheed’s release.

When the march ended at approximately 12:30am, hundreds of young men continued calling for Nasheed’s freedom on foot and on motorbikes.

Ali Waheed at protest

Six protesters were arrested last night, the Maldives Police Services said.

In the wake of the Criminal Court sentencing the opposition leader to 13 years in jail on Friday night (March 13), the United States, United Kingdom and the European Union expressed concern with the lack of due process, while Amnesty International said Nasheed’s conviction “after a deeply flawed and politically motivated trial is a travesty of justice.”

Domestically, the Human Rights Commission of Maldives said the former president was denied fundamental rights that guarantee a fair trial in line with the Maldives’ obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

Moreover, human rights NGO Maldivian Democracy Network urged the UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges to intervene in order to prevent a “slide back to autocracy,” whilst Transparency Maldives expressed “grave concern” and stressed that Nasheed was denied legal representation, the right to appeal, and sufficient time to mount a defence.

President Abdulla Yameen has meanwhile called on all parties to respect the Criminal Court’s verdict against former President Mohamed Nasheed.

In a statement released by the President’s Office last night, President Yameen noted that the opposition leader has “a constitutionally guaranteed right of appeal” to challenge his conviction on terrorism charges at the High Court.


Related to this story

Respect Criminal Court verdict, says President Yameen

US, EU, and UK concerned over lack of due process in Nasheed trial

Government will ensure Nasheed’s right to appeal conviction, says spokesperson

Former President Nasheed found guilty of terrorism, sentenced to 13 years in prison

Nasheed trial “not free or fair,” says Maldivian Democracy Network

“This is not a court of law. This is injustice,” Nasheed tells the Criminal Court

Likes(0)Dislikes(0)

MPs urged to stay in at night as MNDF offers personal security

Members of the People’s Majlis have been asked to avoid going outside at night, as the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) enhances personal security from today onwards.

Described as “a step in ensuring the safety of all members of the parliament”, MPs were informed that additional personal security would be made available to any member who requested it.

“The MNDF also requests you to pay special attention to your safety and protection if you absolutely need to go outside tonight,” continued the message from the Majlis Secretariat yesterday (October 19).

MNDF spokesman Hussain Ali has confirmed that the decision was made after discussions between the Majlis and the Ministry of Defence, though he declined to comment on the specific reasons for the timing of the increased protection.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has today suggested that the move indicates the “loss of domestic security and extreme levels of fear”.

“It also shows the extent to which senior officials of the government responsible for ensuring public safety and security have lost control of terrorist activities,” read a party press release this evening.

The move follows a growing number of threats made against MPs in recent months, with the Inter Parliamentary Union having described the government’s reaction as a test of its democratic credentials.

A series of attacks against the MDP’s premises and upon the homes of some of its members in late September followed months of death threats, described as too numerous to mention by the party’s spokesman.

Attacks on elected officials have become more common in recent years, most notably the brutal murder of Progressive Party of Maldives MP Dr Afrasheem Ali in October 2012.

Earlier this year, MDP MP Alhan Fahmy was nearly paralysed after being stabbed in the back in a busy restaurant in the capital Malé.

A delegation from the IPU visited the Maldives late last year, requesting an urgent assessment of the political situation following repeated allegations of threats and intimidation against Majlis members.

“The frequent intimidation, harassment and attack of MPs as they go about their work have been deeply worrying,” read an IPU press release after the delegation’s visit last November.

After meeting with the IPU earlier this month, union member and MDP MP Eva Abdulla raised concerns over the personal safety of MPs and journalists in the Maldives.

“[Eva] spoke about the lack of thorough investigations of these cases, perpetrators not facing trial, the failure of law enforcement in the face of atrocities committed out in the open, the failure of the People’s Majlis to look into the cases, and the creation of a culture of intimidation in the Maldives,” explained an MDP press release after the meeting.

Eva – who has been in personal receipt of threats against both herself and her family members – also received a threat suggesting the MDP’s next gathering would be targetted by suicide bombers.

A subsequent rally held in Addu City was disrupted by youths with wooden planks and rocks before the party’s headquarters in Hithadhoo were attacked by arsonists.

Likes(0)Dislikes(0)

Parties reach agreement for committee to resume review of SEZ bill

Political parties in parliament have reached an agreement for the economic affairs committee to resume its review of the governments flagship special economic zone (SEZ) legislation after the Jumhooree Party (JP) and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) boycotted proceedings last week.

At a meeting held last night to resolve the impasse, JP Leader Gasim Ibrahim reportedly assured cooperation for continuing the review process, explaining that he had walked out in protest of the committee chair refusing to incorporate recommendations from state institutions.

The business tycoon said he boycotted Wednesday’s (August 13) meeting after his suggestions to address “one or two issues” in the bill were ignored.

Representing the main opposition party, MDP MP Mohamed Aslam insisted that the party’s concerns should also be addressed.

If not, Aslam said, the party would “take to the streets” in protest. On Thursday (August 14), the MDP announced protests against passing the bill in its current form, warning of “dangerous” consequences.

After walking out of Wednesday’s meeting, Gasim had also warned last week that an SEZ law would facilitate massive corruption, threaten independence, and authorise a board formed by the president “to sell off the entire country in the name of economic zones.”

Further meetings of the committee – where the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and ally Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) have a voting majority – had been cancelled following the boycott.

At last night’s meeting, PPM MP Ahmed Ameeth proposed holding a meeting today to approve a timetable to conduct the review process. While MDP MPs voted against it, the proposal was passed with the JP MPs’ support.

Subsequently, at the meeting this morning, the committee passed a motion proposed by Ameeth to give authority to the committee’s chair – PPM MP Abdulla Khaleel – to hold meetings every day of the week except Friday to fast-track review of bills.

The motion was passed with five votes in favour. While JP MPs Gasim Ibrahim and Abdulla Riyaz voted against the motion, MDP MPs on the committee did not attend today’s meeting.

Khaleel has previously declared his intention to complete the review process and send the bill to the Majlis floor for a vote before the end of August. Parliament breaks for a one-month recess at the end of the month.

Parliamentary oversight

The MDP has meanwhile been holding nightly rallies at its haruge (meeting hall) in Malé to protest “openly selling off the country” through SEZs.

Speaking at a rally Thursday night, MP Eva Abdulla objected to the absence of parliamentary oversight in the draft legislation, noting that a 17-member investment board appointed by the president would have the authority to create SEZs.

While the president’s nominees to independent institutions required parliamentary approval, Eva noted that parliament would not have a similar confirmation role for endorsing members to the board.

As investors would not have to pay import duties or taxes for a 10-year period, Eva contended that the public would not benefit from the SEZs.

Investors would also be able to bring in foreign workers under relaxed regulations while companies with foreign shareholders would be able to purchase land without paying privatisation fees or sales tax.

In other countries, Eva said, such incentives were offered to investors in exchange for creating job opportunities for locals.

At a rally in Addu City on Friday night (August 15), MDP MP Rozaina Adam urged the public to consider why President Abdulla Yameen did not wish for parliament to exercise any oversight despite the PPM’s comfortable majority in the People’s Majlis.

The MP For Addu Meedhoo suggested that the president did not want his own party’s MPs to be aware of the “illegal activities” and “massive corruption” that would take place in the SEZs.

Responding to the criticism from the opposition, President Yameen told reporters prior to departing for China Thursday night that leasing islands or plots of land was the prerogative of the president or the executive.

“Parliament could make rules. That’s why we’re making a law. But after the rules are set, it is not the parliament that would designate the economic zones. Parliament is not concerned with governance,” he argued.

Parliament could amend the draft legislation to address shortcomings, Yameen added, suggesting that the president having authority to create SEZs was no cause for concern.

On the tax incentives, Yameen contended that resorts were also developed with similar tax exemptions.

“Even now, everything brought in for a new resort under development is exempt from [import] duties,” he said.

“So they have enjoyed the benefit of special economic zones without a law through the tourism law. What we’re trying to do now is to give that benefit through the special economic zone.”

Likes(0)Dislikes(0)

15 journalists receive death threats over gang reporting

Fifteen journalists received murder threats via text message on Sunday warning them against reporting on gangs in the wake of street violence which has seen at least one death and nine injured.

“[We] will kill you if you keep writing inappropriate articles about gangs in the media,” the message from an unlisted number said.

Journalists from Haveeru, Raajje TV, Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), VTV, Sun Online, and Vaguthu received the death threat.

Maldives Journalists Association (MJA) president and a long time journalist Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir said the threats have been brought to the attention of the Maldives Police Service (MPS).

“It is still unclear who are behind these texts, or how they are sending it. Regardless, we don’t take this as a simple matter. We have requested the police to look in to this,” he said.

A police spokesperson condemned the threats and said the case is under investigation.

An IT expert with experience in the telecommunications field told Minivan News it would be difficult to identify the culprit if the text messages were sent through an online mass text message service.

“Unless it came from a local IP address it would be almost impossible to trace it back. If they used anonymous proxy servers to send the texts it could be traced back to the SMS gateway, but no further,” he said

Serious threats

Haveeru journalist and recipient of Maldives’ journalist of the year Fazeena Ahmed said journalists have received similar threats in the past, specifically during the Supreme Court’s delay of presidential polls in 2013.

“I don’t think think this should be taken lightly. Especially considering that parliamentarians have received similar threats and that there is a lot of violence going on these days, I would say this is very serious,” she said.

Two more Haveeru journalists received the same text message.

Rajje TV journalist Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed, who nearly died from a fatal beating in February 2013, was among four Raajje TV reporters who received the text message.

“I still haven’t got justice for the life threatening attack against me, and here is a threat once again. I take this very seriously. It has been brought to the attention of the police, I hope they will investigate and provide necessary protection,” he said.

Meanwhile, private broadcaster DhiTV reported receiving threats via phone calls following a report on gangs on Friday.

“Last Friday after we aired a report on gang violence, our office received two threatening phone calls. This happens whenever media cover gang related news,” CEO and Chief Editor of the channel Midhath Adam told Minivan News today.

Diversion

Raajje TV reporter Ahmed Fairooz believes the threat may be a ‘political ploy’ possibly to divert attention.

“One reason I believe this is because I don’t cover crime at all, I work at the political desk. So there is no reason gangs should worry about me. And the fact that MP Eva Abdulla received a similar message with political references also shows that,” he said.

MP Eva Abdulla received threatening text messages today after she questioned the Minister of Home Affairs Umar Naseer in the Majlis. The texts were sent under Naseer’s name and number, and accused her of making false allegations against the minister

“National police are also with me. Through a single order from me to Special Op[erations] boys you tiny MP can be shredded into pieces,” read one message sent to the Galolhu North MP.

Fairooz said he had received threats in the past from political activists and more recently following a report on Maldivian militants fighting in Syria.

Vaguthu journalist Maahil Mohamed also said these threats are likely to be sent for some other purpose than by actual gang members intending to attack journalists. But regardless of the reason behind it, Maahil said it would not keep him from covering such news.

History of threats

threat analysis report from the Maldives Broadcasting Commission in May revealed that thirty percent of broadcast journalists are reluctant to report gang activity.

The report found a staggering 84 percent of journalists surveyed reported being threatened at least once, while five percent reported being threatened on a daily basis. The report also identified gangs, politicians, and religious extremists as threats to media freedom, and claimed approximately 43 percent of journalists do not  report threats to authorities.

In addition to threats, Raajje TV offices were destroyed in an arson attack in October. The station has accused the police of negligence in preventing the torching of their headquarters and the attack on journalist Asward.

DhiTV’s Midhath also noted that coverage of the Armenian drug traffickers the Artur bothers was followed by threats. The brothers were alleged portrayed in some outlets as having connections to Minister of Tourism Ahmed Adeeb.

In 2010, staff members of DhiTV and Haveeru were attacked following the coverage of the release of a convicted gang leader in 2010. A Haveeru employee was stabbed with a knife in the incident.

On Saturday, six MP s from the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), including three female MPs received murder threats via text message.

The first text stating MPs will be killed if they “behave inappropriately.” The second one said, “It is not a sin to kill those who challenge Allah’s words and call for freedom of religion. Afrasheem Ali was an example.”

Former MP and moderate Islamic Scholar Dr Afrasheem Ali was brutally murdered at his own home in October 2012, while MPAlhan Fahmy was unable to walk for months following a stabbing in February.

Likes(0)Dislikes(0)

Dismissed Brigadier General Nilam files case with Human Rights Commission

Former Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) Brigadier General Ahmed Nilam has filed a case with the Human Rights Commission (HRCM) relating to his suspension and eventual dismissal from service.

A ten-month suspension followed statements made by Nilam to the Majlis government oversight committee in January last year during which he claimed the February 2012 change of government had “all the characteristics of a coup”.

Nilam told Minivan News today that his case – submitted after unsuccessful attempt to take the issue through the courts – was important for both the MNDF and for democracy.

“I strongly believe that if I stay quiet, the upholding of democracy will not be there and subordinate soldiers will continue to get unfair punishments” the 26-year veteran explained.

He maintains that his career was ended in relation to his comments to the oversight committee – constitutionally protected under parliamentary privilege – which were later publicised by committee MPs.

Saying at the time of of Nilam’s dismissal in November that he had been relieved of duty for “violating MNDF duties and disciplinary norms, repeating acts that should not be seen from an MNDF officer, revealing secret information against military regulations, diminishing the honor of the MNDF, and sowing discord in the military”, the MNDF had no further comment to make on the matter today.

Nilam – formerly head of military intelligence – explained that around a dozen other soldiers were dismissed immediately after the February transfer of power, suggesting all of these cases breached the rights enshrined in the 2008 constitution.

“I love democracy – I want this country to be a democratic Islamic country and we are evading from it during the last two years,” he said.

Depending on the outcome of the commission’s report, Nilam pledged to take his case to the the relevant international bodies.

After effects

The fallout from the chaotic events of February 2012 continue more that two years on, with former President Mohamed Nasheed claiming earlier this week that the events had set a precedent that would have lasting effects.

“The legitimate means of changing regimes has been demonstrated in 2012. The Supreme Court has demonstrated how to interpret the constitution. With that legitimacy, both ourselves and those in power, we should not rule out the possibility that another group may overthrow the government,” he told Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters in Malé.

MDP MP Eva Abdulla has also called this week for Attorney General Mohamed Anil to appear before the Majlis in order to explain how his government is addressing the recommendations of the Commonwealth-backed national inquiry.

While dismissing the claims of mutiny among security forces and duress in Nasheed’s resignation, the CoNI report did recommend reform of the judiciary and security services, as well as prosecution of those security personnel found guilty of acts of brutality.

The CoNI was subsequently criticised by legal experts as being “selective”, “flawed”, and having exceeded its mandate, prompting a further parliamentary probe into the presidential transition.

Following its own investigations into the events of leading to Nasheed’s resignation, and the brutal police crackdown on his supporters the following day, the HRCM last December accused institutions of failing to implement the majority of its recommendations.

HRCM Vice President Ahmed Tholal told Minivan News today that the commission was due to release a further report into the extent to which stakeholders have complied with its advice in the coming weeks.

The commission was unable to discuss ongoing cases such as General Nilam’s, he explained.

Likes(0)Dislikes(0)

Home minister violates Anti-Torture Act

Minister of Home Affairs Umar Naseer has failed to publicise a document as specified in the recently passed Anti-torture Act, thereby violating the articles of the landmark legislation.

The actwhich came into force on March 22 this year – states that within 15 days of coming into force (6 April), the minister must publish a complete list of places where people are detained in state custody.

“The deadline for the home minister to make public all places of detention designated as such has passed, and it is disheartening to know that the first violation under this act has been by the state,” Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) member Jeehan Mahmoud has said.

The ministry has confirmed that it was not published by the deadline, with one official explaining that this was mainly due to issues with obtaining information from other institutions with such centres under their authority.

The official said that the ministry is attempting to publish the list by Sunday (April 13).

Within seven days of publishing the list, the ministry was also required to submit a report to the HRCM with the locations of all detention facilities and details of persons held in those places.

The ministry has assured that the compilation of this report is also currently in progress.

The act gives the HRCM overall responsibility for the implementation of the new law, empowering the commission to prevent all crimes underlined in the act by taking direct action.

Jeehan has said the commission is monitoring the deadlines and will take action against any and all schedules that are disrespected by the state.

According to the commission, a written reminder was sent to ministry as soon as the law came into force and another reminder sent yesterday. The issue will soon be discussed in the commission which will then decide on next course of action.

Criminal charges

Commenting on the issue MP Eva Abdulla, who introduced the bill to the People’s Majlis, said it was “not surprising that a government controlled by the Gayoom family would be hesitant, even reticent to implement anti-torture legislation.”

Eva said that the bill has to be implemented on schedule to address the return of torture to prisons.

“We are very concerned about reports of ill-treatment and physical abuse in the prisons again. The legislation needs to be implemented on schedule to address this and to address the feelings of past victims. Implementation needs to be flawless,” said the recently re-elected MP.

The HRCM noted last month that incidents of torture in detention are now on the rise. Minister Umar, who himself served in the National Security Service (police and military service under President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom) has previously been accused of torture himself – an allegation he has always denied.

Under Article 23 (g)- 2 of the Anti-Torture Act, establishing, running or maintaining a place of detention other than those publicly announced is considered a crime.

Article 23 (g)- 3 states that failure to publish the mandatory report to HRCM is also a crime. The penalty for both is 1 – 3 years
imprisonment. Criminal offenses underlined in the act are to be investigated and forwarded to the Prosecutor General’s Office for prosecution.

The HRCM did not comment on the possibility of criminal charges against the home minister, stating that the commission will address the matter as mandated by the act.

Umar Naseer was unavailable for comment as he is currently abroad.

Likes(0)Dislikes(0)

Q&A: MP Eva Abdulla – Galolhu Uthuru constituency

In a series of interviews to lead into the the 2014 parliamentary elections – scheduled for March 22nd – Minivan News will be conducting interviews with incumbent MPs.

All 77 sitting members have been contacted, from across the political spectrum, to be asked a standardised set of questions with additional topicals. The interviews will be published as and when they are received.

As part of the series, Minivan News interviewed MP Eva Abdulla.

Eva Abdulla is a parliamentarian from the Maldivian Democratic Party in the 17th Parliament, representing the Galolhu Uthuru constituency. She is among the only 5 female MPs out of a total of 77 MPs currently in parliament.

Mariyath Mohamed: What made you enter the political arena and how?

Eva Abdulla: The first political activity that I participated in was President [Mohamed] Nasheed’s Malé campaign [for a parliament seat representing Malé district]. I was in Malé between studying for my degree and masters in university. This was the most active political campaign that had occurred in Malé after I grew up. At the time we would be involved in preparing fliers, printing t-shirts, entering data into spreadsheets and such activities.

Even from the early 90s, we would engage in secret political activity at home, like printing t-shirts to mark the International Human Rights Day, which we could only ever wear at home. We had the chance to naturally participate in political activity from home. I got engaged in political activity as soon as I grew up and had the space to do so.

If the question is ‘why’, then I have to say that I always knew it was not right how during Maumoon’s time [the 30 year administration of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom] people would get jailed for speaking out or writing material which criticised the government. Even before Maumoon’s time, when I was really young, I heard of how even during Nasir’s time [Gayoom’s predecessor Ibrahim Nasir], people had been locked up for criticising the government. So from then, I believed this is not right. That people should not be penalised for writing or criticising rulers and the government.

Back when I was young, Nasheed would be continuously jailed and released. We would always visit whichever uncle or other relative of ours is imprisoned in jail or the hospital when they are brought for treatment. So this was something that impacted my views, something I closely experienced.

MM: Based on your attendance and work in this ending term, how would you judge your performance as an MP?

EA: To be honest, there were good days and bad days. Personally, I think I can safely say I give it my all. Looking at my attendance, as you know, I only took leave on two days within the five years for any personal reason. Even on the day of my son’s circumcision, I attended Majlis. It’s not quantitatively that I would look at this. If at all, I get frustrated when the results come out.

First of all, although MDP was in the executive, we were a minority party in parliament. And so, passing anything became such a big struggle. For example, the income tax bill. In our view, with the tax regime that we introduced, the income tax bill is extremely critical, something that needs to be implemented regardless of how small a percentage we take. And yet, it still remains pending in parliament, despite being in committee for four years already.

Then there is the selection of people to various boards. It is not the most suitable people we have selected to be on these boards due to the political struggles involved. The Supreme Court bench is the best example I can give. On the day that nominations were made for this bench, I walked out of my own parliamentary group meeting crying. Things have gone to this extent. But the thing is, to bring results, we have to work within a group, and with external parties as well. So there are days where I get extremely frustrated.

However, I personally don’t judge performance based on whether I spoke well, or I attended well, but rather with consideration of the results we manage to obtain. The 17th parliament is the most prolific parliament in our history when we tally our work, having passed the maximum number of bills. This is the parliament that had the most public engagement.

This is the parliament that was constantly criticised by the public, and rightly so. And yet, if we are to compare it with past parliaments, it is only now that people have the opportunity to see how parliament performs, with the beginning of sessions being publicly broadcast on TV channels.

MM: What are the main committees you were acting on?

EA: The Economic Committee, and all the tax committees and the Budget Committee – which I sat on in relation to my seat on the Economic Committee. I had my heart set on the Budget Committee from the time I first joined parliament. This is because, for me, the budget needs to be well-compiled in order to dictate policy or responsibly run an executive.

MM: What particular bills did you focus on most passionately? You are seen as a parliamentarian who is often outspoken about gender rights issues.

EA: Yes, gender issues are important. But while this may sound dry, tax related bills and decentralisation laws are, in my heart, equally important.

The thing with gender related issues is that there is only a handful of people who are willing to stand up for them. You would have heard some of the statements that some parliamentarians have made about such issues. So for such bills to succeed, us handful of female parliamentarians need to put up a very strong fight.

If it is things like tax or decentralisation, all of MDP is willing to back it. But when it comes to gender issues, I feel a personal responsibility to make sure it is done right.

The anti-torture bill – because of my personal experiences within my family, things we have seen and heard of happening in the country, and especially the case of Evan Naseem, I have since then wanted to establish an anti-torture bill in the Maldives. I have done this as soon as I got into parliament. That wasn’t sponsored by MDP, but my own privately submitted bill. That is what I most passionately worked on.

MM: What would you say are the biggest achievements within your term; in terms of what you feel you have accomplished for your constituency and the country as a whole?

EA: First of all, laws are not made with a focus on the constituency, or the political party. It is made with the nation in mind. When an MDP government was formed in 2008, and the parliamentary elections came across in 2009, we set out with a legislative agenda. This included decentralisation, forming a tax regime, forming legislation to ascertain social security for all citizens, health insurance…these are groundbreaking things that occurred in the Maldives. These are things that reached implementation due to MDP coming to government, forming policies and passing laws to implement these policies, and I am very proud of those.

For example, responding to something Riyaz Rasheed said in parliament in 2011, I said that he is criticising us for the introduction of a tax regime, but that I am sure that whichever government comes to power, they will not eradicate the tax regime, but will bring some changes to it. Take a look now, isn’t that what has happened? Today, we wouldn’t be able to get even an income like we are getting now if not for that tax regime we introduced.

MM: What would you say is the biggest mistake or worst step you have taken in your political career? Why?

EA: There have been times when I did not stand up to the level I ought to have for certain matters within the party. I am not speaking of things which personally impacted me alone. But a couple of things about which, two or three years later, I wish I had done more.

MM: Are you taking the optional committee allowance of an additional MVR 20,000? Why or why not?

EA: I’m not. Because it is ridiculous.

Even when it was first submitted to parliament – and the public was not yet aware of its details – I was among the first to say no to it. I voted against it from day one. Also, it was something that was brought in very much on the sly, including it among many other points in a huge document about the public finance law. Many parliamentarians who do not take the allowance unknowingly voted for it due to this reason.

Of course I won’t take it. For one thing, people did not know I would receive this when they elected me. I don’t want any perks that people did not know I would receive when they voted me in.

MM: What is your view about parliamentarians and other public servants declaring their financial assets publicly for the electorate to be able to refer to?

EA: While it is invasive, I personally don’t mind. There are many members elected to parliament about whom the electorate needs to know what they are involved in. There are few parliamentarians, who, like me, are not involved in some private business. If we are to look at the financial declaration [as it is submitted to the parliament secretariat now], there is no difference between me and Gasim [MP, Leader of Jumhooree Party and Chairman of Villa Enterprises Gasim Ibrahim]. But everyone knows this cannot be true. So yes, make it public.

MM: What are your thoughts on party switching – do you think it undermines the party system?

EA: I think it is something that some people do because the party system in the Maldives is still very young. I’d like to think that it simply won’t happen in the next parliament.

I have to say the multi-party system is well accepted, as everyone besides 14 out of 77 parliamentarians were elected through a political party. Now when the five year term is coming to end, only about two out of those 14 independent parliamentarians still remain without signing to a party. So, the majority of people running for parliament are aware that it is through a party that you can best get your message across.

I would never switch parties. If I am elected through a particular party, I would personally see it as a betrayal to the electorate if I switch to another party. I strongly believe that I should remain for the five years as I was when I was initially elected. Once the five year terms ends, a person can bring whatever changes they like, but the electorate should get what they voted for.

MM: What improvements do you feel the 18th Parliament will need to make to improve as an institution?

EA: Firstly, something that the public rarely sees, the work conducted in parliamentary committees. This needs to be done in a far more responsible and professional manner. I personally see the work done in committees as being more important that even the work done on the floor.

We also need the required staff. In parliaments in other countries, they provide members with staff who have the required expertise. This is still not done here, and members are expected to have a knowledge about everything.

A lot of it also depends on who people vote in. People who can stay on topic and who can stick to the issue at hand without resorting to personal attacks need to be elected. We need to move beyond petty political agendas.

MM: Are you re-contesting in the next elections? Why? What do you hope to accomplish should you be elected for a new term?

EA: Yes, I am re-contesting. First, we are an opposition party now and we have the opportunity to show how an opposition party works responsibly. As you saw, when MDP was in power, the opposition’s focus was on toppling the government. Their intention was not to defeat the government in the next elections, but to topple them from the streets and that, in the end, is what they did.

Instead of this, when we work as an opposition – and god willing I am re-elected – we will bear in mind that despite not being in the government, there is a legislative agenda that we must push for. MDP had a manifesto when we contested in the presidential elections. This manifesto includes in it what we feel to be the best that the country deserves. While I am not saying that we will try to have the incumbent government work to implement our manifesto, I believe we have a responsibility to push forward and try to have the government deliver to the people the best that the people deserve.

This includes some legislative changes. One example is that we need to clean up this judiciary. As an opposition, that has to be our priority. The five year changes in government is almost meaningless in a place where justice cannot be served. There’s a lot the parliament needs to do make the judiciary, and independent commissions, more accountable.

MM: While there is little public criticism about the work you do in parliament, there is often allegations in public that you have reached your political position through familial connections. That although you are elected, this is due to the influence of certain figures within your family. What is your reaction to this allegation?

EA: I don’t think I can get away from it, it is what it is. President Nasheed is the most iconic figure currently in this country, the most popular individual here. That he is my family, a relative, I cannot get away from. But just because he is a relative does not mean I will stop what I am doing, either.

If you take a look at my campaign, he doesn’t even step into Galolhu. It’s something that the whole of Galolhu even complains about, but he has his reasons because he is so personally connected to them.

There are many reasons why a person gets elected, but there are even more reasons why someone will get re-elected. Let’s then see if I get re-elected.

If there is little criticism about my work, that is good. If the criticism is about my blood relatives, there is nothing I can do.

Likes(0)Dislikes(0)