MDP MP Ghafoor jailed as Supreme Court annuls parliamentary immunities

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has deplored the sudden jailing of its MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, despite promises of “leniency” from the government.

Ghafoor was sentenced in absentia to six months in prison for contempt of court, after failing to comply with police summons and evading authorities for almost a month by hiding in the parliament building.

Ghafoor contended that the court was deliberately scheduling hearings during critical votes and debates, violating the Parliamentary Privileges Act which requires MPs be allowed to be present during voting.

The Supreme Court on Thursday annulled several articles of the Privileges Act, declaring that this requirement was unconstitutional.

The Home Ministry then told local media that Ghafoor had been taken to Maafushi prison to serve his six month sentence, and would not be returned to Male for parliament sittings.

The Supreme Court in October stripped MDP-aligned MPs Ali Azim and Mohamed Nashiz of their seats, delivering the verdict in absentia in what the opposition labelled a “purge” of its majority. Azim was eventually arrested after the military stormed the parliament building and took him into custody.

The campaign of dismissals and imprisonment of opposition MPs reduces their lead in parliament ahead of critical votes on approval of President Yameen’s new cabinet ministers, as well as the passing of the government’s revised budget.

In a statement, the MDP condemned the jailing of its MP and spokesperson, noting that this came despite assurances from new Home Minister Umar Naseer that the government would treat the case with “leniency”.

“He was [initially] arrested in clear violation of the Parliamentary Privileges Act, which states that MPs cannot be arrested while a no-confidence motion against a government minister is pending,” the party stated.

“On Thursday the Maldives Supreme Court – an institution widely discredited as partisan in recent months – annulled the Parliamentary Privileges Act, in an apparent attempt to target MDP MPs such as Hamid,” it added.

MDP deputy chairperson Ali Shiyam observed that President Yameen, “who won the presidency in contested circumstances with 52% of the vote, said he would rule as a president for ‘all Maldivians’.”

“Sadly, within days of his presidency, the courts – which are de facto controlled by the executive – have started a witch-hunt against MDP MPs. This does not bode well for co-operation or compromise between the opposition and the ruling administration,” he said.


Revised inquiry commission will include two Nasheed representatives, Commonwealth judge, claims MDP

The Commonwealth has proposed a revised composition for the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) into the circumstances surrounding February’s controversial transfer of power, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has claimed.

The MDP claimed the revised composition would include a further two representatives chosen by ousted President Mohamed Nasheed, and a experienced foreign judge provided by the Commonwealth, in addition to the existing three members appointed by President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan.

MDP MP and Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor told media gathered on the steps of the Velanaage office building that following talks with Commonwealth Special Envoy Sir Donald McKinnon, the MDP expected the solution to be agreeable to all parties concerned.

“The people we are accusing of overthrowing the government in a coup d’état can’t be the same as the people investigating it,” Ghafoor said.

In its last statement in mid-April, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) challenged the independence of the commission as constituted by Dr Waheed, and gave the government a four week deadline to change it or face “further and stronger measures”.

Ghafoor noted that a delegation of three CMAG ministers who arrived shortly after February 7 described their investigation as inconclusive, and called for early elections.

“The government has said it will only hold early elections if it was proven to be a coup,” Ghafoor said. “We agreed, because we were ones who were desposed, so we were sure it was a coup.”

The announcement would “severely impact” the all party talks, Ghafoor noted, which the MDP has maintained are a “farce” after government-aligned parties challenged the legitimacy of the MDP’s appointed representatives.

“The [governing] coalition party representatives are not very united. They agree on their own legitimacy, but not on policy. They don’t have consistent positions,” he observed.

Ghafoor said under the proposed reconstitution of the commission, the deadline for the findings would be the end of June.

The proposed solution was “in the spirit of the CMAG [statements],” Ghafoor said. “I think today is a good day. If the investigation goes ahead as per the Commonwealth’s requirements, then we don’t see a problem. I’m confident we will soon be arresting Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim and Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz.”

The Commonwealth has not yet issued a formal statement on the proposal, however CMAG is expect to release one this week.

President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza said that government representatives in the talks would make a statement after they had concluded, as there was no final agreement yet to disclose to the media.

“The position of the government is that we have always been open to Commonwealth assistance,” he said.

The Press Trust of India (PTI) meanwhile reported President Mohamed Waheed as saying he was “terribly disappointed” with the Commonwealth, but was not in favour of leaving it.

“I don’t support the position that some people in Maldives have which is to withdraw from the Commonwealth. I don’t think that is the way to go. I think we need to be engaged,” Waheed told PTI.

Accusing the Commonwealth of “influencing” the national inquiry commission, Waheed suggested he was willing to accept the body’s terms.

“We have nothing to hide, I have nothing to hide. Therefore, we have agreed that we will agree on what is acceptable to Commonwealth and possibly an additional member on the panel,” PTI reported Waheed as saying.


Government says it will “solve” CNI concerns as the MDP braces for “crucial week”

The government has said it will resolve concerns about the impartiality of an investigation into February’s transfer of power, as a four week Commonwealth deadline to enact changes expires later this week.

President’s Office Spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza said the four week deadline to address concerns over the impartiality of the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) set by the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) last month would be “solved” without the country facing further action.

The now opposition Maldives Democratic Party (MDP), which is calling for early elections to be held in 2012 and a revised CNI with international participation, has meanwhile said that it faces a “crucial week” ahead of the Commonwealth deadline.

On April 16, CMAG said it would consider taking “stronger measures” against the Maldives government if the CNI, set up by President Mohamed Waheed to ascertain the details behind the controversial transfer of power on February 7, was not revised to make the body “credible” and “impartial” in four weeks.  The Maldives has already been suspended from participation in CMAG over concerns about the exact nature of the transfer of power.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed alleged following his resignation from office that he had been forced to step down under “duress” in a “coup d’etat” sponsored by opposition politicians, sections of the military and police and some influential local businessmen.

Strict deadline?

With Commonwealth representatives presently in Male’ to discuss revising the CNI with the government, Abbas Adil Riza claimed that the issues raised by the intergovernmental organisation would be “solved” by the time discussions were concluded.

“I don’t think [the four week deadline] was so strict. There won’t be a situation [with the Commonwealth] once the four week period is up,” he said.

When questioned over the nature of a potential resolution to CMAG’s concerns – such as appointing a foreign presence to the CNI – Abbas said the government was committed to resolving the issues raised by the organisation in recent months.

“We have always said that we welcome Commonwealth assistance on the CNI,” he added.

Since CMAG’s four week deadline to revise the CNI composition was issued, the government has said that it remains committed to remaining a member of the 54 member state intergovernmental organisation.

However, representatives of some political parties in President Waheed’s coalition government have questioned whether the country should remain in the Commonwealth, going as far as to submit bills to parliament to renounce the country’s membership.

Leader of the government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) and second largest party in the Maldives, Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, has publicly stated he would not support the motion to renounce the country’s Commonwealth membership.

“Crucial week”

CMAG’s calls for both early elections and a revised CNI, which have since been backed by the European Union, have been one of the key focuses of an ongoing series of protests by the MDP and its supporters over the last three weeks.

Yesterday, demonstrations said to have been attended by a few thousand MDP supporters were held in the capital Male’ and the island of Fuvahmulah. The party said the demonstrations were in support of the Commonwealth’s stance in resolving the political upheaval through elections in 2012 and an independent CNI.

Responding to the protests, which have been held every Friday for the last few weeks, Abbas said the demonstrations had gone “more or less peacefully”. However, he did express concerns from the government over certain groups of protesters who had been gathering noisily outside the country’s Supreme Court.

“This government will not allow demonstrators to hinder the work of the Supreme Court. This situation is ridiculous,” Abbas said.

Local media has reported that following yesterday’s protests, the Maldives Police Service had forwarded complaints to the Elections Commission about concerns from noise generated through loud speakers during the MDP demonstration.

A mosque in the capital, as well as the Supreme Court, have both reportedly submitted official complaints  about the level of noise generated.

MDP Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said that the complaints were not a concern for the party, which he claimed had been exercising its constitutional right to protest against a judiciary and government it did not believed has a legitimate mandate to serve the public.

Ghafoor claimed that despite alleged “sporadic incidence” of police violence against MDP protesters in recent weeks, protests were being conducted much more peacefully in the country.

“We have noticed police have backed off when it comes to using physical force of late. In some cases though, we still believe that police are not acting according to the correct procedures,” he said.

According to Ghafoor, people attending the protests remained “unhappy” about the role security forces played in bringing the present government to power without an “electoral mandate”. He claimed that unhappiness abut the role of certain police officers was reflected in protesters conducting marches past police and military barracks in the capital.

Ghafoor added that the MDP’s Friday protests – now in their third consecutive week of being held – would continue until calls by both CMAG and its own supporters for early elections during 2012 and an internationally backed independent CNI were met.

The MDP said it therefore anticipates a “crucial week” of protesting ahead. These protests are expected to begin on Monday May 14 over a cabinet decision to reclaim the Usfasgandu area of Male’.  The area was leased to the MDP by Male’ City Council (MCC) for use in their political activities.

Two days later, additional protests are expected to be held to coincide with the deadline for the government to have revised the CNI in accordance with CMAG’s calls.

“Anything can happen”

Ghafoor claimed that MDP supporters were presently on “tenterhooks” awaiting the week’s developments, adding that the party was optimistic about obtaining either early elections in 2012 or an independent CNI investigation.

“We are in a position right now where anything could happen at any time,” he said.

With the Commonwealth deadline to amend the CNI expiring on May 16, Ghafoor added that the simplest option for all Maldivian parties to resolve the present dispute would be for President Waheed to resign his presidency. He contended that such a move would then require Parliamentary Speaker Abdulla Shahid to call general elections within two months without the need for constitutional reform.

“Right now, [the MDP] see the simplest solution for the current situation would be for Waheed to stand down,” he said.

The government has said that the earliest date it could presently hold elections would be by July 2013 unless amendments were made to the constitution allowing for the incumbent government to be provided a whole five-year term.

Ghafoor said he had tried to forward the proposal for President Waheed to resign at all-party talks that briefly reconvened last week for several hours.

However, the talks once again ended in stalemate a few hours later over concerns about the legitimacy of the MDP following a vote of no-confidence that saw party President Dr Ibrahim Didi and Vice President Alhan Fahmy removed from their respective positions.

Dr Didi has since submitted an official complaint with the Elections Commission (EC) regarding his ouster by the party. The MDP former president claimed at the time that the MDP national Council’s vote was not performed in line with the party’s constitution presently registered with the EC.

For the week ahead, Ghafoor claimed that the MDP would be paying particular attention to the CNI and Commonwealth pressure for amendments to the Commission’s composition.

“For us, the key issues [with the CNI] are that representatives of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom such as Ismail Shafeeu, sit as chair of the Commission. His track record for independence is not good,” he claimed.

Should amendments be made to the CNI, such as appointing international representatives, Ghafoor said he was optimistic about the CNI’s potential findings for the MDP.

“We are confident [that the transfer of power] will be seen as a coup by a truly independent inquiry commission,” he said.


All-party talks resume with agreement on priority issues

The Indian-sponsored all-party roadmap talks that stalled last month appear to be gathering momentum again after parties agreed on a new set of priority issues.

After asking the parties involved to list the five issues that concerned them most, the convener, Ahmed Mujuthaba, compiled a list of three issues which would be focused on in future talks.

The primary concerns of all the parties combined were: firstly, the country’s economic troubles; secondly, the constitution and laws of the country; and, thirdly, the judiciary and crime.

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) were represented at the talks by Hamid Abdul Ghafoor, who said the meeting was “very successful.”

Jumhoree Party (JP) representative at the talks Abbas Adil Riza – also President Mohamed Waheed’s spokesperson – informed Minivan News that there had been an agreement that only the convener would comment to the media on the content of the talks.

Despite repeated attempts, Minivan News was unable to contact Mujuthaba.

“I think there is momentum,” said Ghafoor. “We should have done this from the start.”

This is in stark contrast to the reaction of the previous MDP representative in the last round of talks, former Home Minister Hassan Afeef, who branded the talks “ridiculous”, describing them as “a farce”.

The talks appeared to have stalemated at the conclusion of the last meeting on April 7 after the MDP continued to question the make-up of the talks. The party argued at that meeting that all registered parties in the country ought to be included in the discussions, criticising the decision to include certain government-aligned parties without an apparent democratic mandate.

Ghafoor explained that the main concern of the MDP was that the party would have been outnumbered eight to one, making voting on any decisions senseless, despite it representing the largest number of MPs and political membership. However, Ghafoor explained that the convener had yesterday made it clear the process of agreement would now be based on consensus rather than votes, meaning that this previous objection was “no longer relevant”.

Whilst the talks do not immediately address the calls for early elections, Ghafoor argued that other parties could not avoid the issue forever.

“We agreed to start talks with issues they are comfortable with,” he said, but argued that the discussion of early elections remained a key part of the talks envisioned in President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s road map.

“As long as the roadmap exists, the issue of early elections exists,” commented Ghafoor.

Observing progress

The talks are being observed by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) mediation expert Pierre-Yves Monette. After speaking with parties following the last round of talks, Monette was reported by Sun Online as stating that he had seen no serious obstructions to a successful resolution of political differences.

“The worst thing would be not to want to listen to others, to be incapable of listening to other points of view. I have experienced this in my job in many other countries – but I don’t find that here. There is clearly willingness to listen, and to talk. They know they disagree on major issues. They are ready to listen to the arguments of others and to enter a dialogue: this is the beginning of a possible solution,” Monette was reported as saying.

Ghafoor said he felt that Monette had played a “significant part” in making this round of talks a success. He did, however, note a tension amongst the smaller parties represented at the talks towards the observer, notably those with little or no formal representation in the Majlis or local government, including the Gaumee Ittihad (GI), Jumhoree Party (JP) and Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

He argued that even the presence of Monette at the talks prompted a xenophobic response from these groups. Of the list of concerns listed by the parties and collated by the convener, Ghafoor claimed that foreign interference was a point raised by many of those present.

The all party roadmap talks resumed yesterday following the return to the country of the convener of the talks Ahmed Mujuthaba.

A coalition of Maldivian NGOs working under the banner ‘Thinvana Adu’ (Third Way) called earlier this week for a renewal of efforts to enhance dialogue between political parties. “It is our belief that a crucial step towards resolving the political crisis in the country…is for all political parties to resume dialogue and commit to a politics of compromise.”

In a press release, the group gave a thinly veiled criticism of Mujthaba’s schedule, which has seen him absent from the country for long periods of time, further slowing the progress of the talks.

“The Party Talks convener must be able to devote adequate time to the matter,” read the statement.

The next meeting is scheduled on May 5, between 2:00pm and 6:00pm. Ghafoor claimed that the convener had wished to devote longer to the talks. He said that Mujuthaba’s desire for an intensive three-day session was blocked by the smaller parties.


Immigration Department reminds foreigners not to interfere in politics

Assistant Controller of the Immigration Department Ibrahim Ashraf has reiterated the strict penalties for foreign nationals who engage in political protests whilst in the Maldives.

Police have begun an investigation, in conjunction with the immigration department, into suggestions that foreigners were involved in the protest that accompanied the opening of the Majlis on March 19. Minivan News was unable to contact the police for a comment on this investigation at the time of press.

Ashraf revealed that one of the suspects had already departed the country of his own accord.

Whilst being unaware of any specific instances of foreign involvement in the protests mentioned, MDP spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor reaffirmed his party’s commitment to encompassing what he regards as global discontent into peaceful protests.

“We will be encouraging [foreign] participation. Out protests will go beyond borders. We are part of a global village and we have been violated. We will invite NGOs [to protest] and even tourists,” said Ghafoor.

“We want their voice with our cause. Peaceful protesters need to find a mechanism to lend their voice,” he continued.

Ashraf drew attention to the stipulations clearly detailed on the Immigration Department’s website which mentions the potential for immediate removal if foreigners are, “found participating in any unlawful activity or even the intention to participate or initiate an unlawful activity.” It also mentions penalties for those “suspected of disrupting the religious or political harmony.”

“Any foreigner on any sort of visa is not permitted to engage in political activity,” said Ashraf, “this is common for every country.”

Regarding the “strict” measures referred to in other media reports, the Assistant Controller said that this can involve permanent deportation or simply removal without deportation, depending on the gravity of the offence.

When asked to respond to these legal issues regarding the participation of foreigners in politics, Ghafoor responded “we might have to reconsider these restrictive laws.”

German national Patrick Crilly was taken into police custody earlier this month after photographing the police attempting to disperse a protest outside the Bank of Maldives (BML) using high-powered hoses.

He later explained that his detention was supposedly on the grounds of refusing to obey a police order, although he denies being given one. Crilly, a medical intern on a visa run from Sri Lanka, was detained for two and a half hours before being released without charge. The police denied that he had been officially arrested.

In 2006, an individual identifying himself as Michael Lord-Castle and four associates were deported from the Maldives for life after suspected involvement in political activity.

His controversial security-cum-fraud-investigation group, Global Protection Committee (GPC), was spotted on the streets of Male’ during the build up to the Maldivian Democratic Party’s planned assembly for constitutional change.

Lord-Castle originally signed a statement saying he had been invited by the MDP, a fact he later denied.


“You are my brother and I will always love you”: Dr Waheed’s brother resigns from UK post, calls for President to follow

President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s brother, the Deputy High Commissioner of the Maldives to the UK, has announced his resignation and called for his brother to follow suit.

“I have resigned from my post of Deputy High Commissioner as of now. I have resigned because I cannot serve a regime that has brought down the democratically elected government of my country in a coup d’état,” said Naushad Waheed Hassan to media assembled on the steps of the High Commission in London.

“Some of you may question why I have not resigned before. When the coup was unfolding in the early hours of February 7, my initial reaction was to resign immediately. However, as you all know, the leader of the current regime, Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan, is my own brother. So I decided to take time to make my own enquiries before I came to a conclusion. And it is with a heavy heart that I have to say that this is indeed an illegitimate government and I cannot be party to it.”

Minivan News spoke to Naushad this evening, seeking to confirm the report.

“This is not something I have discussed with my brother,” Naushad told Minivan News. “This is my own personal decision. I stood by him. But I after I saw the videos of the torturing, the police brutality, and saw what happened in the atolls, I decided it was not good for me to stay [in the government].”

Naushad said he did not know why his brother had taken the actions that he had.

“From our childhood days, I know he is a nice person. I still believe this. I don’t know why he is favouring Maumoon [Abdul Gayoom]. At this moment I don’t have the details. But I will find out why he took this step. He is someone who has been loved by people for so many years,” he said.

“And I say this to my brother – you are my brother and I will always love you. Do not rob our people of our right to choose our government. Do not be party to this police brutality that is ongoing in the country. Do not join with the people of the autocratic ruler (former) President Gayoom. Do the right thing – resign and hold fresh elections. Let the people of the Maldives decide.”

A staff member in the High Commission described Naushad as “quietly spoken and very friendly. His artwork was up in the commission until this morning so we should have seen it coming. I always noticed that he was happy to talk about his past incarceration [under Gayoom], but he never came across as too bitter.”

The staff member noted that the atmosphere in the High Commission had been a “little terse”, with “differences of opinion between staff that have stronger political, MDP affiliations than others, who see their role in a more purely diplomatic, apolitical sense.”

Maldives Ambassador to UN resigns live on Al Jazeera

Maldives Ambassador to the United Nations, Abdul Ghafoor Mohamed, has meanwhile resigned live on Al Jazeera, reading a statement in which he said he was unable to continue his duties due to “certain moral and ethical concerns I had that surrounded the departure of the former President [Nasheed].”

“I listened with much sadness and great pride to the resignation of [President Nasheed] and his decision to step down in the greater interest of the Maldives, bringing to a premature end the maiden term of the first democratically elected leader of the Maldives,” said Ghafoor, one of the Maldives top career diplomats who has also served as defacto non-resident Ambassador to the US.

“The Maldives had yet again shown the world it was able to handle peaceful transfers of power smoothly. I was proud of my President and my country. However the subsequent allegations by the former president – that he was forced to resign – have cast a shadow of doubt on events preceding his announcement,” he stated.

Ghafoor said he accepted Dr Waheed’s government as a legal and legitimate constitutional authority, but said he found himself “in a position that makes it difficult to execute my responsibilities without equivocation based on certain moral and ethical concerns I had that surrounded the departure of the former president.”

“I believe the new president should have the opportunity to have his views and policies served by representatives without reservations or equivocation,” Ghafoor said. “I have therefore conveyed my intention to step down from all my diplomatic postings so that the new president may be better served.”

Ghafoor said that Dr Waheed had accepted his resignation, and had agreed to stay on until a replacement arrived.

“He has also given me leave to speak my conscience in the meantime, and I thank him for that,” Ghafoor said.

Asked by Al Jazeera as to the nature of his “moral and ethical concerns”, Ghafoor reiterated that he had “no reservations about the legitimacy of the current administration.”

“But what has made my conscience troubled is the allegations made by the former President and subsequent events. One concern was the appointment of the current defense minister and police commissioner , who I believe were involved in the negotiations [surrounding Nasheed’s resignation]. This was a troubling event for me.”

Maldives High Commissioner to the UK resigns

Maldives High Commissioner to the UK Dr Farahanaz Faizal also announced her resignation earlier this week.

“They robbed the people of the vote and when I saw the brutality of the police last week, that was the final straw,” she said.

In a letter to the Foreign Minister, Dr Faizal resigned as High Commissioner of the Maldives to the UK and as Ambassador of the Maldives to France, Spain, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Palestine.

“I regret to let you know that I cannot serve in a government that has toppled the
democratically elected government of Maldives, in a coup d’etat,” she said.

Honorary Consul to the Maldives, David Hardingham, also announced his resignation.

Minivan News sought to contact both Dr Waheed but he had not responded at time of press. Dr Waheed’s acting spokesperson Musood Imad said the President would be holding a press conference on Thursday at 4:30pm.