Spike in violence against expatriate workers; two murdered, two stabbed

A 25-year old Bangladeshi national, Shaheen Mia, was stabbed to death in a Malé café in the early hours of the morning on Sunday (March 22), while a Bangladeshi national identified as Bilal was found dead in Alif Alif Atoll Thoddoo Island last night.

Speaking to Minivan News, President of Thoddoo Council Hassan Ibrahim said Bilal, estimated to be between 20 and 25 years of age, was found naked with a piece of cloth tied around his neck.

Bilal’s employer Hussein Hassan found the dead body at 9:55pm at Seenusanfaage where he had been living with three other expatriate workers. Police officers from Rasmadhoo Island arrived at 10:45pm.

“The police questioned the people living with him if there had been any disputes between the Bangladeshi and anyone. They said there had been none, as he had only come to the island very recently,” Ibrahim told Minivan News.

Bilal’s body was brought to Malé at 4:00am today.

Thoddoo Council’s Assistant Director Ali Adam said a suicide was “highly unlikely” as Bilal could not have strangled himself with a piece of cloth.

The Maldives Police Services said they have not yet determined the cause of death and have not made any arrests.

Local media have said there were injuries to Bilal’s face when his body was discovered.

Meanwhile, two expatriate workers were stabbed in Malé tonight. According to the Maldives Police Services, one worker was stabbed at 7:30pm, and another was stabbed at 7:40pm near Malé fish market.

A police media official said an Indian and a Bangladeshi were injured, and that both have been hospitalised. The circumstances of the attacks, including the nationality of attackers, are not yet clear, the police said.

Meanwhile, at approximately 4:00am on Sunday, masked men dragged Shaheen Mia out from his workplace, Lhiyanu Café, in Malé’s western harbour district, and stabbed him in the chest. The expatriate staff work and sleep in the café.

The stabbing occurred after repeated threats the previous day. According to local media, a violent confrontation had occurred between Lhiyanu Café staff and a group of young men in the early hours of Saturday morning when the expatriate workers refused to serve coffee free of charge. The group vandalised the café before they left.

The same group came to the café at 6:00pm on Saturday and allegedly threatened to burn the place down. Staff had reported all threats to the police.

According to the Bangladeshi High Commission, Shaheen’s father on receiving news of his son’s death suffered a heart attack and died. Shaheen’s mother has also been hospitalised.

Meanwhile, Home Minister Umar Naseer said the government is considering closing restaurants and cafés by 12am and closing shops by 10pm.

Over 25 expatriate workers gathered in protest near the Bangladesh High Commission on Sunday, but were sent away by the police.

Human rights group Transparency Maldives has called on the Maldives Police Services to expedite the investigation of Shaheen’s death, and urged the state to prioritise and promote rights of migrant workers.

“Migrant workers are one of the most vulnerable groups in the country today. They face huge difficulties in accessing justice and get very little support from the community at large in protecting their rights,” the NGO said.

There are over 50,000 expatriate workers in the Maldives, according to the 2014 national census.

Street violence is common amongst Malé City’s numerous gangs. There have been 11 murders since November 2013.


Eleven suspects detained over Male’ store attack as police continue gang hunt

Police have said 11 suspects have been taken into custody for alleged involvement in a stabbing attack at the ‘Home X’ store in the capital on May 19 that hospitalised one male victim – with authorities pledging to continue a crack down on gang activity.

In a statement released today, police claimed that the 11 individuals, all male suspects between 17 and 27 years of age, were detained on the 9th floor of the Aroodhaage building in Male’ as part of investigations into the store assault.

“Out of the 11 individuals brought in, there were two 19 year old males, one 27 year old male, one 20 year old male, one 21 year old male, four 18 year old males and two 17 year old males,” police stated following the operation.

Local media reported at the time that the victim of the attack had fled into an electronics store in Male’ in order to shelter from a group that proceeded to assault him using a “sharp object”.

The store attack was among a series of stabbings reported across the capital this month –  prompting police to form a special task force designed to try and combat gang violence.

The now-active task force consists of members from the Forensics Directorate, Intelligence and Covert Policing Command, Information and Communication Directorate, Central Operations Command and Technical Police from the Divisional Operations Command of the Maldives Police Service.

“Criminal at large”

Speaking to local media today, Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz said members of the taskforce were now searching for 50 “high-profile” suspects alleged to have had involvement with gang-related activities

“They are a threat to the society. We consider everyone, who had not been punished for a crime they had committed, as a criminal at large,” he was quoted by local newspaper Haveeru as saying.

Riyaz was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press regarding how the 50 suspects had been identified or if they belonged to specific groups.  The police media department was also not responding to calls at time of press.

Riya’s comments were made less than a week after he alleged politicians were most often responsible for encouraging gang-related activities in the capital island Male’.

The claims echoed the findings of a report into the country’s gang culture published last year by the Asia Foundation that found politicians and businessmen paid gangs to assault rivals, damage property, and in some cases have opponents killed.

Clear approach

Speaking to Minivan News earlier this month, former head of police intelligence Chief Superintendent Mohamed ‘MC’ Hameed claimed the stabbing incidents were “probably” retaliatory and inter-related based on media reports at the time.

Hameed also raised accused the country’s police service of presently lacking a clear approach in terms of reducing and dealing with violence crimes and criminals.

“Not being able to police Male’ – the most populated city in the country – due to the lack of an effective strategy and the disconnect between the key areas of criminal investigations, intelligence gathering, and front line policing is a big issue,” he added.

In addition to the lack of a “very effective policing approach” to combat violent crime, low level crimes had also not been addressed, according to Hameed.

“A lot of antisocial behavior goes unnoticed and unaddressed by the police, such as harassment and public nuisance. For example, girls of a very young age are harassed, even while walking with their families. Additionally, juveniles are seen under the influence of drugs and intoxicated in public,” he explained.

Hameed advocated that a strong, more integrated, holistic approach is needed that applies a broader strategy to effectively reduce crime.

“Increasing police officers physical presence, as well as effective targeting of high profile offenders and hotspots needs to be addressed,” he said.

“Collaboration between criminal investigations, intelligence gathering, and front line policing are three areas that have never worked that effectively,” he added at the time.


Police task force formed to combat gang activity

The Maldives Police Service has announced the formation of a special task force designed to try and combat gang activity across the country.

A police spokesperson confirmed today that the task force, which will aim to tackle activities “criminal or otherwise” carried out by suspected gangs, has been linked to several separate stabbing incidents that have occurred in the capital in recent days.

Working under the Specialist Crime Command, the task force has been devised to monitor gang activity, while also working to hasten prosecutions of guilty parties, according to police.

Combining members of the police Forensics Directorate, Intelligence and Covert Policing Command, Information and Communication Directorate, Central Operations Command, as well as technical staff from the Divisional Operations Command, police have said the task force was now active in areas where gangs were suspected of operating.


“Very bad” time for Maldivian youth: Parties talk crime, activism and opportunity

Ahead of an election contesting the first presidency for the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) youth arm later this month, standing candidates and opposition politicians claim the country is at a critical juncture to ensure its largest demographic is not denied a voice and role a within national development.

The MDP is trying to attract a sizable youth vote in the next election, and has mimicked the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) by establishing a Youth Wing to outline policies and opinion from the perspective of younger voters. Serving opposition party youth representatives claim that the country’s twenty-somethings are keen supporters of hard line measures to offset fears of gang culture and its perceived prominence among their peers.

Alongside the upcoming elections for MDP President scheduled for April 30, members will also be given a vote for selecting a candidate to represent young people in the party.

The candidates include Hussain Waheed, serving councilor for Medhu Henveiru Lufshan Shakeeb in Male’, and former Minivan News journalist now working in the President’s Office,  Aminath Shauna.

According to Shauna, statistics show that the largest age group in the Maldives is represented by 20 to 24 years of age, followed closely by citizens aged between 25 to 29 years. Despite this apparent numerical prominence, she believes that for over 30 years there have been a scarce number of programmes to prepare young people of working age to responsibly lead initiatives or to take part in higher education beyond a minority of people, setting back the role of young people in the Maldives democratic transition.

For MP Ahmed Malouf, who is responsible for the Youth Wing for the opposition DRP, the appointment comes at a “very bad” period of time for young Maldivians, particularly in relation to gang violence and crime.

The DRP MP told Minivan News that after having previously spent nine years in the Ministry of Youth, he believed that long-standing gang violence between young people in the country had further intensified of late, creating an environment that have made the streets of Male’ unsafe for both local people and foreigners at night.

Mahloof said that having spoken and met with a wide sway of young people from across Maldivian society, the issue of gang violence had arisen as a foremost challenge to his work as Youth Wing head for the DRP.

“We need to find a way to save young people and give them a way out of this [gang] lifestyle,” he said. “Often they become trapped and are unable to get out even if they want to.”

As part of his attempts to appeal to young voters, Mahlouf said he has pressed ahead with promoting tighter legislation. This legislation includes an amendment sent to parliament last month to alter the age by which young people were recognised by the law as an adult to 16, as opposed to the current age of 18.

The MP has claimed the amendments, which have attracted criticism from some human rights bodies, were designed to try and reduce youth crime by ensuring young people suspected of engaging in serious crimes would be treated as adults and face full responsibility for their actions.

”The purpose of changing the age is due to the significant increase in the involvement of minors in crimes sinister in nature, and they cannot be sentenced to the full extent as they are considered minors,” said Mahlouf after announcing his proposed amendments. ”Although they are considered as minors, they are sometimes very dangerous.”

In addition, Mahlouf said he has also forwarded amendments to the Act on the Prohibition of Gang Violence to the Majlis in an attempt to remove the right for suspects linked to police investigations into gang violence to remain silent and for release from custody, providing judges with the power to enforce such restrictions.

To try and finalise these aims, the DRP Youth Wing head claimed that he did not wish to politicise the need to address gang issues and was calling on Maldivians to pressurise all parliamentarians – regardless of party – to pass pending legislation relating to crime needed to curb what he believed was a worsening gang situation.

Mahlouf claimed that having consulted with young artists, including local musicians, he was aware there were also issues of a lack of alternative amenities and youth centres available for young people to engage in nationally.

“From what I have seen things are going backward here. Young people I have spoken to, including musicians in rock bands, say they are fed up,” he said. “Services aren’t being delivered and gang violence is at a very high level, we need to talk with them and find solutions.”

Although critical of the role that the Ministry of Human Resources, Youth and Sports was playing in trying to overcome these alleged concerns, Mahlouf conceded that government and parliament alone could not shoulder the responsibility to overcome gang problems, claiming parents and families also needed to take responsibility and a role.

From an MDP perspective, Shauna claimed that she believed the party, through activism and campaigning, had been a vital part of bringing young people into national politics through democratic reform over the last few years. However, she conceded that the sufficient challenges facing young people in the Maldives had meant it was now vital to address the difficulties beyond partisan political thinking.

“The time is now to act. We have to put pressure on the government. We have to put pressure on political parties, on the MDP, the National Council and everyone to help us develop a youth programme to make us better people and a part of the whole [national] development process,” she said. “We have to provide opportunities and make sure there are things besides going to work and drinking cups of coffee everyday. What I mean specifically is that we have to have entertainment opportunities as well as jobs.”

“Desperately needed”

Shauna claimed that rather than being seen as a token position within the party, the MDP Youth president was “desperately needed” to play a vital role in outlining policies for young voters that directly affect their future – something she believed was currently missing from the party.

“Over 50 percent of the MDP’s membership is under the age of 35, so we cannot move forward without their opinions, without their input and without really developing people of our age,” she said.

“The few people who make decisions are older and they are not the majority of the country. This is alright, but then again you have the middle management sector who are not very prepared to do what is needed right now,” Shauna added. “There is so much work to do in terms of nation building and state building to do. Yet the majority of the civil service are saying that they have just barely finished high school. This is the kind of environment that we are having to develop from. It is a hard thing to do and a lot of the time, younger people are only doing simple things, administrative things, like drafting letters, that is it.”

At present, Shauna claimed that even in politics, the involvement of young people was generally consigned to putting up posters and going out on the streets, while there remained an apparent lack of activism and representatives responsibly speaking out about the needs of their peers in relation to developing democracy and human rights.

“Very few young people have been trained or have been given the tools to achieve these things,” she said.”I think it’s imperative that we have a voice and a group that advocates for training, scholarships and entertainment opportunities. Unfortunately the only thing that is discussed about youth is the violence and the drugs and crime.”

Shauna’s fellow MDP Youth Wing candidates, Hussain Waheed and Lufshan Shakeeb, were contacted to outline their positions but had not responded to Minivan News at time of press.