Police decision to ostracise Raajje TV unconstitutional, rules civil court

The Civil Court has ruled that a decision by the Maldives Police Service to cease cooperating with opposition-aligned TV station Raajje TV was unconstitutional.

Police announced in July that they had stopped cooperating with the local broadcaster, alleging that the station was broadcasting false and slanderous content about the police which had undermined its credibility and public confidence. Raajje TV subsequently filed a suit in the civil court challenging the legality of the decision and requested the court to order police take back their decision.

Delivering the verdict, Civil Court Judge Mariyam Nihayath said the court was of the view that the police decision had been to completely suspend cooperation with the TV station, rather than just barring the channel from specific events and functions.

The judge added that the court believed such a decision was “extremely dangerous and significantly serious” and could result in “chaos and infringement of social harmony.”

Dismissing the police argument that it had the sole discretion to decide who to invite to press conferences and functions, the court stated that the action more resembled a deliberate attempt to limit the constitutional rights of freedom of expression, freedom of media and the right to information.

“Therefore, the court finds the decision by the Maldives Police Service to not to cooperate with Raajje TV a violation of the constitution of the Maldives and the Maldives Police Services Act, and orders the Maldives Police Service to provide protection for the employees and property of the station, and to not discriminate against the  TV station when providing information,” read the verdict.

Following the decision, police media official Superintendent Hassan Haneef told Minivan News that police would fully respect the court’s decision.

He further said that a police legal team would be reviewing the judgement and if the need arose, would appeal the decision in the High Court.

“We will come to a decision very soon. We will also be seeking advice from the attorney general and then seek a final decision on whether to appeal the case,” he said.

Meanwhile, Deputy CEO of Raajje TV Yamin Rasheed told the media that the judgement was a “huge achievement” for both the station and those working in the media.

“Raajje TV single-handedly stood up against the decision without support from any authority or organisation. We knew the police decision was wrong and that is why we filed the case. I believe this is a huge achievement for both Raajje TV and the media of the country,” he said.

Following the decision last year, police issued a statement claiming the channel had “deliberately and continuously broadcast false and baseless content with the intention to incite hatred [towards police].”

“Raajje TV’s broadcasting of false and baseless content about the police institution is seen to be carried out for the political benefit of certain parties and such actions neither fit with the norms of professional journalism or the principles followed by media outlets of other democratic countries,” read the statement.

The decision came just a day after Raajje TV broadcast CCTV footage of several police officers, whom the station alleged were “caught on video” while attempting to steal petrol from a motorbike parked in an alley in Male’.

Police later denied the allegations and condemned Raajje TV for spreading “false and untrue” information about them.

Superintendent of Police Abdulla Navaz in a press briefing at the time stated that the video footage was showing police carrying out their legal duty.

Raajje TV had twisted the details and information in their news report, Navaz alleged, claiming that police were confiscating a five litre container of petrol rather than stealing it.

Following the broadcast of the video, the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) sent a letter to the TV station accusing it of broadcasting the content without checking its authenticity and ordered it to apologise for its  actions.

However, speaking to Minivan News at the time, Yamin confirmed the incident took place and said the station would stand by its broadcast.

Raajje TV is one of the five private broadcasters in the country and is the only television station aligned with the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP). The TV station has come under substantial pressure and criticism from groups including the government and political parties aligned with it.  The station has also claimed to have faced outright sabotage.


Supreme Court criminalises offences within the exercise of freedom of assembly, expression

The Supreme Court decided in a 6-1 ruling last week that the police should investigate criminal offences carried out within the exercise of the rights to freedom of assembly and expression.

The ruling comes in a case filed by the Attorney General in September requesting the court to determine that public disturbances in the name of political protests were not within the scope of the rights guaranteed in the constitution.

These included protests outside private residences late at night, use of defamatory language and incitement to violence – “calling for people to be killed, hanged and attacked.”

The Supreme Court was asked to declare that such actions infringed upon the right to life, liberty and security of persons (article 21); the right to privacy and respect for private and family life (article 24); the right to protect reputation and good name (article 33); and special protection for children, young, elderly and disadvantaged people (article 35).

The apex court ruled that activities that violate “public safety, health, tranquillity and morality” could be considered criminal offences and falls within the purview of the security services.

The case was filed by the Attorney General following months of protests by the formerly ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and the dismantling in March of the party’s protest camp by security forces.

President’s Office Spokesman Masood Imad told Minivan News last month that the government fully supports the right to protest, but it needs to be done in such a manner that does not adversely affect the lives of others.

“A protest should be about changing something. A protest conducted in residential areas has nothing to do with parliament. Public protest and public nuisance are two very different things,” he contended.

The MDP meanwhile likened the move to Bahrain’s efforts to outlaw protesting.

“The MDP strongly condemns efforts to restrict freedom to assembly by the government. One of the most fundamental clauses in the new constitution is the right to protest and we are witnessing democratic gains fast slipping,” said MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor.

Dissenting opinion

In his dissenting opinion, Justice Ahmed Muthasim Adnan – the only Supreme Court Justice with a background in common law – concluded that establishing a judicial guideline for the exercise of rights and freedoms was not within the remit of the Supreme Court.

He contended that such principles “should be determined in a law passed by the People’s Majlis.”

Justice Adnan noted that the case was considered ‘ex parte’ or conducted for the benefit of one party.

He noted that according to article 16 of the constitution, the rights and freedoms enshrined in chapter two were “subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by a law enacted by the People’s Majlis in a manner that is not contrary to this Constitution. Any such law enacted by the People’s Majlis can limit the rights and freedoms to any extent only if demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”

It was therefore clear that rights and freedoms could only be restricted or narrowed through a law passed by parliament, Justice Adnan added.

The Attorney General’s request was not a matter to be decided by the Supreme Court, he concluded, as “these problems should be proposed to the People’s Majlis for a solution.”


Police crack down on ‘harassment’ of politicians

Police are taking stronger measures against people who harass politicians and such incidents are falling, according to President’s Office Abbas Adil Riza.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has meanwhile alleged that freedom of speech is being unfairly restricted by the crackdown.

Commenting on the arrest of an MDP activist known as Okay Zahir – who allegedly called the Islamic Affairs Minister a ‘baaghee’, or ‘traitor’ – Abbas said that Zahir stood accused of harassment.

Local media reported yesterday that Zahir’s period in detention had been extended by a further 10 days after his original arrest on August 7. Zahir is a former director of the Thilafushi Corporation (TCL).

Abbas alleged that the accused “verbally abused the Islamic Minister”, engaging in “indecent behaviour” towards Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Seed whom he claimed was in the company of his nine year-old son at the time of the incident.

Neither Sheikh Shaheem nor Police Spokesman Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef were responding to calls at time of press.

A source who had seen the arrest warrant claimed that Zahir was accused of approaching Shaheem’s son on a number of different occasions, inquiring as to the whereabouts of “baaghee Shaheem”.

The source stated that police obtained the warrant due to their belief that this alleged offence would be repeated.

MDP spokesman Hamed Abdul Ghafoor stated that the charges against Zahir seemed “very bizarre”, and expressed his concern that “the scope of freedom of speech is being severely constrained.”

“One could argue it is unconstitutional,” continued Ghafoor. “I don’t see how giving your opinion of the truth equals harassment”.

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Lawyer Hisaan Hussain used social networks to express her belief that calling someone a ‘baaghee’ is not a criminal offense.

Meaningful dialogue

Since his accession to the Presidency, Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s public appearances have often been accompanied by heckling crowds disputing the legitimacy of his government.

As well as calling for early presidential elections, the anti-government demonstrations have attempted to mock and ridicule leading government figures as part of a well-choreographed non-violent strategy.

The harassment of politicians has recently been central to the government’s negotiations with the opposition MDP.

During the last round of the UN-mediated roadmap talks in June, pro-government parties presented the MDP’s representatives with a list of 30 suggestions for resolving political tensions in the country which included calls to stop the harassment of political figures.

However, the list also included calls for the MDP to stop the use of “black magic” and “erotic tools”, leading the MDP to interpret a lack of sincerity on the part of the pro-government group.

More recently, President Waheed said that he would not engage in the all-party talks until the harassment of his officials stopped.

The MDP announced last week that it intended to suspend its program of anti-government demonstrations in order to “facilitate meaningful dialogue”.

This move was initially welcomed by the government, before protesters targeted Vice President Waheed Deen as he attended a ceremony in Hulhumale, causing Abbas to tell local media that the government’s participation in talks may have to be reconsidered.

Freedom within limits

During a speech given in June, President Waheed stated his belief that freedom of expression ought not to be permitted to the extent that it impinged on the rights of others.

“People misuse the right to freedom of expression and yell whatever words that come to mind at other people. You have seen and heard this, not just on TV or radio, but on the streets, in front of houses and schools. This is not how it should be,” Dr Waheed was reported as saying.

As well as being enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the right to freedom of expression is listed in the 2008 Maldivian Constitution as one of the fundamental rights and freedoms of its citizens.

The right to freedom of speech, however, has long been met with caveats and provisos which in effect limit the ability of individuals to unrestricted expression.

Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights espoused the right to freedom of expression whilst delineating restrictions it describes as “necessary in a democratic society”.

The list of exceptions includes constraints “for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others”.

Similarly, the right to freedom of speech is guaranteed by the first amendment to the US constitution but has been restricted by subsequent Supreme Court rulings which have included issues concerning incitement, false statements of fact, and obscenity.

During the speech, Waheed expressed his hope that the People’s Majlis would move to curb the actions of those who, he felt, were abusing this fundamental freedom.


Arson, rubber bullets, batons and pepper spray: MDP protests continue

Violence escalated during ousted Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) protests on Wednesday night in Malé, with the party alleging police used rubber bullets and pepper spray, beat protesters with batons, and used excessive force to disperse the party’s four-day long protests. Police have denied the allegations.

Meanwhile, police barricades and a car belonging to Minister of Human Rights and Gender Dhiyana Saeed, were set on fire in Malé while a police station was torched in Noonu Atoll Holhudhoo Island.

Police have said they believe the arson attacks were connected to MDP’s protests, but the party denies the allegations.

A Sun Online journalist was also hit on the head with a battery thrown by a protester and a Raajje TV cameraman alleged police assaulted him during MDP’s protests. The Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) has raised concern over both incidents.

The MDP has held regular marches calling for early elections, alleging President Mohamed Nasheed was ousted in a coup d’état on February 7.

Protests will not end until new President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s government is brought to an end, MDP has said, and has called on the public to display a yellow flag in their homes to show their support for the party and have urged islanders to come and join ongoing protests in Malé.

However, police have said they “no longer believe MDP’s protests to be peaceful” and said that the purpose of the protests seem to be “heckling police and obstructing police duty instead of demonstrating for early elections.”

In response, the MDP in a statement said police solicited gang members and government supporters to create unrest on Wednesday night in order to cast the party’s protests as violent.

Protesters remain gathered at the junction of Chaandhanee and Orchid streets at the time of press.

“Excessive Force”

The police used excessive force to disperse protests on Wednesday night, MDP has claimed in a statement. “Police in full riot gear have attacked unarmed protesters with batons and boots and pepper-sprayed protesters at close range. Furthermore, police are extremely verbally abusive towards journalists and protesters. Eye witnesses have said police used rubber bullets to disperse the protests last night resulting in severe injuries,” the party said.

Police allowed government supporters and gang members behind police lines to throw stones at protesters and set fire to police barricades in order to “create violence to disrupt protests,” the MDP alleges.

But police have denied allegations, claiming it was the protesters who threw pavement bricks, water bottles and batteries at the police.

“Five policemen were injured,” police Spokesperson Hassan Haneef said. “I would also like to note protesters had gathered a pile of bricks to throw at the police. They also set barricades on fire.”

When asked if the arson attacks were connected to MDP’s protests, Haneef said “we have suspicions as the MDP is constantly calling on the public to cause injury to the police.”

The police station on Holhudhoo Island was torched at 2:30 am, while Saeed’s car was torched at 4:00 am. All the furniture, three bicycles and motorcycles were damaged beyond repair in the police station while the car’s windshields, trunk and backseat were destroyed in the fire. A pavement brick and empty petrol can were found in the car, police said.

Reporters Attacked

Private television station Raajje TV’s cameraman Ahmed Shanoon suffered injury to his collarbone in a police attack, MDP claims.

MDP spokesperson Imthiyaz Fahmy also said he was “saddened and concerned” by the injury caused to Sun Online reporter Murshid Abdul Hakeem. A battery thrown during the protest hit Hakeem on the head.

Two journalists were briefly detained on Monday evening. Raajje TV journalist Asward Ibrahim Waheed said police rushed at and surrounded him as he attempted to obtain footage of police beating a protester.

Police then grabbed his neck, twisted his arm and threw him to the ground, Waheed said. Raajje TV has said police have targeted and assaulted the station’s journalists.

Further, DhiTV presenter Ahmed Ameeth was mobbed by protesters on Tuesday evening.

No journalists from Minivan News were injured covering the protest, despite a report published in local newspaper Haveeru. However a photographer from Minivan Daily – an unaffiliated publication – was reportedly hit by a police baton.

The Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) in a statement today has appealed to the security forces “to allow broadcast media to operate with independence.”

The Maldivian Journalists Association (MJA) did not comment on the Monday arrests, but released a statement on Tuesday calling on journalists to avoid confrontation with the police by adhering to their code of ethics. However, the MJA did condemn the mobbing of the DhiTV presenter in a statement on Wednesday.

Heckling Police

A police statement said protesters had constantly tried to break through police barricades into areas where protesting is banned and said protesters were extremely verbally abusive towards the police.

“Although protesters claim to be calling for an early election, the protest has changed into one to heckle police and obstruct police duty,” the statement said, adding that police did not have a legal say on the issue of elections.

It also raised concern over the allegations of police brutality and denial of rights to detainees and protesters and called on the public to file complaints with the relevant human rights mechanisms instead of “accusing police of unproven allegations.”

Nine people were arrested on Wednesday, the police said.

MDP claims over 80 people have been arrested during the four day protest and 40 continue to remain in police custody.

U.S. Ambassador Patricia Butenis on Wednesday said she was “alarmed” by recent reports of police violence and said intimidation of protesters and attacks on journalists “threaten Maldivians’ freedom of expression and right to information and only contributes to instability.”

Amnesty International has previously condemned police’s “use of excessive force” in dismantling MDP protests.


People are misusing right to freedom of expression: Waheed

In a speech today President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan said that freedom of expression ought not to be permitted to the extent that it impinges on the rights of others, reports Sun Online.

Speaking at a preschool earlier today, Dr Waheed used the example of the way other democratic countries used the right to freedom of expression, arguing that the Maldives will not be able to truly enjoy the benefits of democracy.

To this end he expressed his hope that the parliament would act to curb the actions of those who abuse this right by shouting whatever they feel like at others.

Since his accession to the Presidency, President Waheed’s public appearances have often been accompanied by heckling crowds who dispute the legitimacy of his government.

“People misuse the right to freedom of expression and yell whatever words that come to mind at other people. You have seen and heard this, not just on TV or radio, but on the streets, in front of houses and schools. This is not how it should be,” Dr Waheed is reported as saying.

During his visit to the UK last week, President Waheed told the press that getting balanced media coverage on the current situation in the Maldives was difficult.


Government must guarantee safety and rights of journalists: Reporters Without Borders

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has expressed strong concerns for media freedom in the Maldives’ following the release of strong evidence that police forces used firearm prohibited to their role to force open the station of Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) on February 7, 2012.

The station was overrun by security forces as violent clashes broke out across Male’, culminating in the resignation of then president Mohamed Nasheed “at gunpoint”, he has said. By early afternoon MNBC was re-branded as Television Maldives (TVM), its title under former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

MNBC’s former director general Adam Shareef described the situation to RSF.

Shareef said he had noticed that the situation on Male’ had become “serious”, and around 4:00am requested the Defense Minister to send more security to the station.

MNBC headquarters and some journalists were previously attacked during the opposition-led protests which began on January 16, 2012, when Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed was arrested by the military after attempting to block his own police summons. The government at the time backed their decision by citing the judge’s record of professional misconduct and blocking police operations, as well as holding suspects without evidence and releasing suspects with strong evidence against them, most notably an accused murderer who killed another person soon after his release.

Shareef said he was shocked when the Defense Minister “refused to send any security forces to MNBC. At that time I knew there as something wrong with the police and defense forces. We were in shock at the refusal, and we were waiting from the early morning until 7:30am. At 7:30 the security members had left their shift, so there was no security at MNBC.

“I was alone with my staff, and I ordered them to stay calm and cooperate with MNDF [Maldives National Defense Force],” he said.

Shareef explained that individuals aligned with the opposition came to the station in the late morning and requested that the station be signed over to their control. When he refused, Shareef was informed that Nasheed had stepped down and Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik had assumed control of the country.

“I said I hadn’t heard the news,” Shareef told RSF, pointing out that the confrontation took place before Nasheed had formally resigned at 1:00pm that day.

Shareef goes on to describe the violent take-over of the station, which left many of his staff in fear.

A video released yesterday corroborates Shareef’s account of the take-over. A police officer uses a gun to open the locked gates of the state broadcasting station, allowing dozens of police and military forces as well as civilians to rush the building where staff can be heard crying and shouting in fear.

Police in the Maldives are not issued firearms.

Noting that the Maldives ranks 73rd out of 179 countries in the 2011-2012 RSF press freedom index, “Reporters Without Borders hopes that the Commonwealth ministerial mission, which is to investigate the circumstances of last week’s change of government, will also shed light on the takeover of MNBC, the use of threats and violence against certain journalists and media, and the threats to which several journalists continue to be exposed.”

Members of Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) have today signed a petition requesting parliament to acknowledge last Tuesday’s events as a coup; to bring those involved to justice; and to hold elections as soon as possible.

Since the station takeover TVM has filled its airtime with Disney movies and cooking shows, streaming pre-recorded programs even during the police force’s violent crackdown on a peaceful MDP march on February 8.

In a February 13 statement, RSF warned that Maldives media is in a precarious position amidst the political turbulence.

“The international community must take full account of the danger to the media and to freedom of information in the Maldives,” reads the statement. “For the moment, media coverage of the incidents taking place in this Indian Ocean archipelago is limiting the violence against journalists.”

Foreign media groups including Al Jazeera, BBC, Reuters, AFP, India Express, the New York Times and Japan’s leading paper The Yomiuri Shimbun converged on Male’ on February 8, bringing the murky politics of the perceived island paradise into global focus.

“But, once the international community’s attention moves on, we fear that media personnel, especially those who are branded as ‘pro-Nasheed,’ could be exposed to reprisals by supporters of the new government or by the security forces, which may not be fully under the new government’s control,” RSF cautions.

It didn’t take long for Maldivians to wonder if they may be subject to similar rules of social behavior.

Following the crackdown in Male’, local media Raajje TV inaccurately reported that two MDP supporters had been killed. Islanders in six southern atolls responded with a firey attack on police stations, court houses and prosecutor general’s offices, leaving public facilities and legal records in ashes.

The next day, Male’-based media received reports opposition party supporters were leading police and military forces to the homes of MDP supporters, who were consequently beaten and arrested without charges.

In a previous article Minivan News investigated the claims. While the reported aggression appear to have calmed some citizens of Addu, Maldives’ southernmost atoll which reported the most severe damage, expressed concern that the quiet was temporary.

“We are not safe because we don’t know when again it will start,” said one man speaking to Minivan News outside Feydhoo’s smoldering court house.

Alif Fahumy Ahmed, whose brother-in-law was still detained in Gan’s burnt police station on February 11, was similarly watchful. “Things in Addu have calmed at the moment, but they may continue once HRCM and the reporters leave,” he said.


Criminal Court orders release of Dr Jameel, rules arrest unlawful

The Criminal Court ordered the immediate release of minority opposition Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) Deputy Leader Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed from police detention for a second time tonight, ruling that his arrest on charges of slandering the government was unlawful.

The former cabinet minister under both current and previous governments was first summoned for questioning Thursday night after the President’s Office requested an investigation into “slanderous” allegations that the government was working under the influence of “Jews and Christian priests” to weaken Islam in the Maldives.

Jameel was taken into custody on Sunday night after being repeatedly summoned for interrogation along with DQP council member ‘Sandhaanu’ Ahmed Didi.

Chief Judge of the Criminal Court, Abdulla Mohamed, ordered his immediate release after midnight and ruled that the arrest was unlawful. Police however summoned Jameel again last night and took him to Dhoonidhoo detention.

Dr JameelSpeaking to press outside the Justice Building following his release around 9.30pm tonight, Dr Jameel criticised police for arresting him for a second time for the same offence despite the court ruling that the arrest was unlawful.

Jameel said the court has vindicated DQP’s stance that the government could not silence the opposition “every time we stand up and speak in defense of the country’s sovereignty, independence, businesses and mostly importantly the country’s religion.”

The former Justice Minister explained that the court ruled that section 125 of the 1968 penal code was invalid in reference to articles 27 and 66 of the constitution.

Section 125 of the penal code states, “Where a person makes a fabricated statement or repeats a statement whose basis cannot be proven, he shall be punished with house detention for a period between one to six months or fined between Rf25 and Rf200.”

In an earlier statement, DQP noted that the provision was “one of the most frequently invoked clauses by the 30-year rule of President Gayoom to suppress press freedom and dissenting views,” arguing that the liberal constitution adopted in 2008 and decriminalisation of defamation in 2009 rendered the offence of slander or lying “invalid.”

While article 27 of the constitution guarantees freedom of expression “in a manner that is not contrary to any tenet of Islam,” article 66 states, “All existing statutes, regulations, decrees and notices inconsistent with the fundamental rights and freedoms provisions in this Chapter shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, become void on the commencement of this constitution.”

Jameel meanwhile strongly criticised police officers involved in his arrest for allegedly questioning him after he exercised the right to remain silent.

“In my view, what these few police officers have done is rob the Maldivian people of constitutional protections,” he said.

Meanwhile, roving protests by opposition supporters – sparked by the arrest of Jameel and the unprecedented move by the Maldives National Defence Force’s (MNDF) to take Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed into custody last night – continue in Male’.

As of press time, protesters were headed towards the residence of Home Minister Hassan Afeef.


Islamic Minister to investigate “Christian missionary” allegations against the State

Minister of Islamic Affairs Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari has consulted with President Mohamed Nasheed on allegations that the government has cooperated with Christian missionaries in an effort “to wipe out Islam”.

“The President is now considering the best way forward,” said Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair. “He will either form an independent commission to address the issue, or allow the Islamic Minister to consult with his colleagues. The Islamic Minister will advise the President in the matter.”

The consultation is in keeping with the government’s commitment to share decisions of religious matters with Islamic scholars.

Speaking to local media today, Dr Bari said “The President called very late yesterday and said he would request the Ministry to look into the allegations to understand the truth.” At the time, Bari had not received a formal letter stating the request but said he would cooperate with the request upon receiving such a document.

The Minister and officials at the Islamic Ministry could not be reached at time of press.

Over the past week, members of minority opposition Dhivehi Quamee Party (DQP) Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed and ‘Sandhaanu’ Ahmed Ibrahim Didi have accused the government of cooperating with “Christian missionaries” and “Jewish parties” against the state religion of Islam- Didi claimed the President was “a madman and a Christian”- and of spreading undue fear with the claim that the islands are sinking.

Both men have been repeatedly summoned for police interrogations, prompting protests outside police headquarters and the Presidential Palace.

Speaking today with Minivan News, Zuhair called the allegations “a big lie that has been repeated since 2003, when Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) began to work abroad.”

He added that the claims were also raised in the run-up to the 2008 presidential election, in which currently ruling MDP won the election over the 30-year administration of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

“At that time Dr Hassan Saeed had made these allegations and the government carried out a full-scale, professional investigation in the United Kingdom. The ‘Operation Druid’ found no substance to any of the allegations. There was no evidence of any contact with Christian missionaries or priests. So it is surprising that members of Saeed’s party are again repeating these allegations,” Zuhair observed.

Operation Druid

In 2007, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s government contracted UK security and private investigation firm Sion Resources for a surveillance operation dubbed ‘Operation Druid’. According to the former Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed, Gayoom “had concerns” about the origins of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), exiles from which had fled to Salisbury where they had been sheltered by Nasheed’s high school alumni, David Hardingham.

Hardingham, founder of the Friends of Maldives NGO, and Sarah Mahir had previously ambushed Gayoom in the UN building in Geneva in May 2005, accusing him of complicity in human rights abuses.

“I think Gayoom was quite shaken by that, and afterwards he was not as complacent over the security given to him by his hosts, be that by the UK or UN,” Dr Shaheed told Minivan News, in an interview in June 2011.

Subsequently, “The government may have wanted to see what was going on [in Salisbury],” Dr Shaheed said.

“What these operations did was try to see who was who. And a lot of the operations the government felt were against it came from Salisbury, and I think the government of the day felt justified in engaging a firm to look into what was going on,” he said. “They felt they needed to check on that, and what came out was a clean bill of health. Nothing untoward was happening, and these people were by and large bone-fide.”

Back in the Maldives, Gayoom’s government released a leaflet accusing Hardingham and Salisbury Cathedral of conspiring to blow up the Islamic Centre and build a church.

It was just a mischievous suggestion, a very mischievous suggestion,” Dr Shaheed acknowledged. “At the time everyone was accusing each other of being non-Muslim, and this accusation that the MDP was non-Muslim was getting very loud.

“There is this very, very deep reaction to anything un-Islamic in this country, and you can use Islam as a political tool quite easily. Therefore these allegations become political charges.”

Former Conservative Party MP for Salisbury, Robert Key, who had been instrumental in getting Nasheed an audience in British parliament, told Minivan News in February 2011 that Salisbury Cathedral had taken the accusation “at face value” .

“It was not true, and therefore we had to say ‘It is not true,'” he said. “The Dean of Salisbury Cathedral understood the issue, she took it at face value, and we sought security advice as necessary. But it was never a serious threat. It was a juvenile political ploy.”

For his part, Hardingham has dismissed the allegations that he is a Christian missionary as “absolute nonsense – I have never been a priest or anything associated with any church, and I challenge the people making the allegations to provide a shred of evidence to support their case.

“I was refused entry into the Maldives in April 2005. Government spokesperson at the time, Mohamed Hussein ‘Mundhu’ Shareef, told Associated Press that this was due to my involvement with an Islamic extremist group. So I have been accused of being an Islamic extremist and a Christian missionary – probably the fastest and most radical conversion in history.”

Government respects religion

Citing the Maldives’ commitment to be an Islamic state, Zuhair today pointed out that it was the government’s public responsibility to clarify that the allegations against it were baseless.

“Not only do these statements refer to the government, they also refer to our members and supporters and their respect for our religion”, he said, adding that the allegations involving Jewish parties came close to anti-Semitism – “and we don’t want to spread that image.”

In its efforts to staunch DQP’s “hate speech”, the government has drawn criticism from main opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) and Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) for “suppression of the constitutional right to free expression”.

Speaking previously at a press conference held in response to the allegations, which were broadcast on DhiTV news on January 8, Zuhair called “spreading baseless and demonstrably false claims” about the government a “criminal offence”, and the coverage of demonstrably false allegations of foreign religious influence a “violation of journalism ethics”–statements which drew prompt criticism from media associations and opposition parties.

“The government will not allow anybody to be influenced by the crime of incitement,” Zuhair clarified today, explaining that the opposition had put the media in a position of defending the general freedom of expression in order to promote their own agenda.

“It is very easy for any Maldivian or journalist to find out about the Druid operation or to see if we have been accepting payments from a Christian priest. Ask us. What is surprising is that this story has been going on for a week and yet none of the media have found out or reported what the grounds for the allegations are,” Zuhair said. “It’s part of journalistic integrity to at least get the five W’s right: who, what, where, when and why. Why are they being fooled?”

According to Zuhair, the findings of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and the court will be necessary to resolve the matter.

The matter continues to be investigated by the police, who have now summoned Didi and Jameel for four consecutive nights. Meanwhile, a protest supporting the freedom of expression has been scheduled for the Artificial Beach this evening.


Comment: Why are the Dhivehin suffering?

In a global world – where the struggle for power is a reality – how do we see the Maldivian situation from Europe?

The world has become a small place to live, indeed very small. Today’s communications can spread news very quickly and people are crying for freedom.

People are tired of being abused and mislead. People are also tired of not having a clear future for their children as uncertainty brings along misery and fear.

Fear, in its turn, brings along pain and a country, just like a sick person, needs to have its pain soothed or complaining, shouting and other similar reactions will take place.

We saw it in Tunisia with the Arab Spring – the Arab awakening – we saw it in Spain, where people went out to the streets to complain about the Government and the banking system, we saw it in Algeria, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait.

We will see it in Morocco and in Israel. In this sense, the Maldives, a peaceful country up to this moment, is no more no less the confirmation to the rule.

But what is creating pain among the Dhivehin? What is making people cry and become furious? Where is the Maldives going to go? Will we see a Dhivehin spring?

Up until not so long ago the Maldives was a place where freedom of ideas did not exist. For instance, writing in a news site like this was unthinkable, impossible, unless you wanted your bones ending up in jail and your body buried underwater up to your belly.

Today, Maldivians and foreigners can speak. It is possible to write and to some extent there is freedom of expression. So, what is creating pain today?

The Dhivehin did not forget the last years of politics in the country, did they? Was silence the price to pay for peace? If so we all have to know that repression is never a solution. Repression is like a cork glued to the floor of a swimming pool: it might stay there for sometime but one fine day it will pop up to the surface with such energy that someone will get hurt. Why should the Maldives be different?

The present government has installed the right to speak, but is that enough to modernise a country and foster its development, with a economy so dependent on tourism and fishing? Did people forget where are they coming from? Is it a good idea to give an airport to a foreign country? What are really the development policies to make the Maldives a respectable country within the region?

The airport is in Indian hands, what will be next, the port? To whom would the government give the port? China? Would the country be better with the previous government? No, certainly not. So, what is happening?

So many questions to be answered, so many subjects to be questioned.

This article is not about governments, honestly, but is about people of the Maldives having a better life and a future for its people and their children. Governments are all different but alike. In Europe, for instance, it doesn’t make any difference who will be there next time. We really don’t care. If they are efficient, their colours do not matter to us. If they are crap – and most of the European governments have corruption on their shoulders – they will be sacked through an election. It doesn’t matter how many times they change until the lesson is learned. These are the rules of the game.

Maldives is seen by some of us who have been in your country many times, like a youngster. You have the energy to cry, to get angry, but not enough power to manage your immediate future, although you are very bright people. Giving the country’s structures to others will not help.

So what is making the Dhivehin suffer? With my utmost respect for the Dhivehin people, why are you fed-up and shouting? You Maldivians, to answer that question! What is causing unrest today? Can you still not talk? Are you still afraid? What is missing? Remember the butterfly effect in chaos theory. Be aware of inflexible movements, religious or others, that are the right hand of the repression or you will not go down the path of development.

May the country of the 1190 islands and its people stay above turbulent waters for a long time.

Carlos Swartz is a journalist and teacher at Lisbon University, Portugal.

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