Government and opposition send messages to mark Sri Lankan independence

Both the government and opposition have extended felicitations to the people of Sri Lanka on the occasion of the country’s 67th Independence Day.

President Abulla Yameen sent messages to the newly elected President Maithripala Sirisena, and his Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, extending good wishes from the people of the Maldives.

Meanwhile, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party released a statement noting that Maldivians have always followed development in Sri Lanka, saying that “progresses in foreign and political affairs [in Maldives] have always reflected developments in Sri Lanka.”

“The Maldivian Democratic Party joins our cousins in Sri Lanka in reflection that this Independence Day holds much significance, as it reflects a history of great sacrifices made by many Sri Lankans in the attainment of its freedom,” said party Spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor.

President Sirisena inflicted a surprising defeat on the ten-year incumbent Mahinda Rajapaksa in last month’s presidential polls.

Sri Lanka gained independence from British rule on February 4, 1948. The Maldives will itself celebrate 50 years since it gained total independence from the British Empire on July 26 this year.


PG withdraws failure to provide urine charges against former MP

The prosecutor general has withdrawn two charges of failure to provide urine against former Maldivian Democratic Party MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor.

Charges were being pressed in relation to an incident on the uninhabited island of Hondaidhoo in November 2012 as well as an MDP protest in July of the same year.

Hamid’s subsequent refusal to attend the Criminal Court – citing parliamentary privileges while seeking refuge in the grounds of the People’s Majlis – resulted in a six months sentence being issued in October 2013.

Shortly after leaving the Majlis, having been promised house arrest by President Abdulla Yameen, Hamid was taken to jail before the High Court overturned the Criminal Court’s original sentence.

Both Hamid and Jabir’s separate alcohol possession charges have since been cleared by the Criminal Court.

Hamid announced last month that he is seeking MVR4.2 million (US$270,967) in compensation for the “illegal” jail sentence.

Fellow MDP MP Abdulla Jabir was also arrested on Hondaidhoo, and was sentenced to a year in jail in February for refusal to provide urine before Yameen pardoned him in July.


MPs’ alcohol trial cancelled as Jabir remains in hospital

The Criminal Court has today cancelled an alcohol possession hearing against opposition MPs Abdulla Jabir and Hamid Abdul Ghafoor as Jabir remains in hospital for a second day over respiratory issues.

Jabir who is currently serving a one-year jail sentence for refusal to provide urine was hospitalized at Indhira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) on Tuesday morning, but his condition is not serious, the Maldives Correctional Services (MCC) told Minivan News today.

The two Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs were arrested from a private picnic island, Hondaidhoo, in November 2012 on suspicion of alcohol and drug use.

The Prosecutor General’s Office pressed separate charges of refusal to provide urine and alcohol possession against the two MPs. The MDP has said the charges are politically motivated.

Hamid received a police summons on Tuesday requesting him to attend the Criminal Court under a police escort. The hearing at 2:00 pm was cancelled due to Jabir’s inability to attend court.

While Hamid and Jabir faced refusal to provide urine charges separately, the Criminal Court is hearing alcohol possession charges against the two MPs in one case.

A new hearing has been scheduled for April 22. If found guilty, the two MPs may be jailed up to three years.

Speaking to Minivan News before the hearing, Hamid said he had not been told which charges he was to answer to today and expressed concern he may be summarily sentenced.

The Criminal Court in October 2013 sentenced Hamid in absentia to six months in jail for alleged failure to attend court in the refusal to provide urine trial.

The High Court overturned the sentence stating the lower court had scheduled hearings in contravention to the Parliamentary Privileges and Powers Act during People’s Majlis work hours.

Hamid’s refusal to provide urine charges are still pending.

Media Official at MCC Moosa Rameez said Jabir’s condition was stable and doctors were keeping him under observation.

Jabir’s wife Dhiyana Saeed told local media the MP had been born with respiratory defects and had undergone several surgeries in the UK and Singapore.

In a text to MDP parliamentary group members, Dhiyana said: “The pulmonologist who saw him says his previous surgeries or severe sleep apnoea has failed and needs to be admitted.”

Sleep apnoea is a type of sleep disorder characterized by pauses in breathing or instances of shallow or infrequent breathing during sleep.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed’s Special Envoy Ibrahim Hussein Zaki, Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair and his wife Mariyam Faiz, Zaki’s son Hamdhan Zaki and Alidhoo Resort’s General Manager Jadulla Jameel were also arrested along with the two MPs.

The PG has charged Zuhair and his wife with refusal to provide urine, whilst Hamdhan Zaki faces charges of cannabis trafficking. Jameel is charged with alcohol possession and cannabis possession.

The six arrested on Hondaidhoo have accused the police of torture and brutality during their arrest.


Jailed MP Jabir denied fair trial, says legal team

Read this article in Dhivehi

The trial and sentencing of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Abdulla Jabir “was in violation of several procedural and factual formalities accorded in the Constitution and statutes of the Maldives,” the MP’s legal representatives have stated.

The Kaashidhoo constituency MP was last week sentenced to twelve months imprisonment after being found guilty of failing to provide a urine sample when arrested as a suspect in a drug related case on November 16, 2012. He is currently in Maafushi jail.

“The number of procedural violations in the whole criminal justice process in regard to this case is highly concerning and we believe that Hon. Abdullah Jabir was denied the fundamental rights that constitutes a free and fair hearing guaranteed to him by Article 42 of the Constitution,” read a press release from Aequitas Legal Consultants.

Additionally, Hassan Latheef – a member of Jabir’s legal team – has told Minivan News today that the court has failed to provide mandatory documents summarising the case, necessary for a High Court appeal.

“At this moment, we’re concerned that he can’t appeal. We were unable to submit the report to the High Court, but today we have sent a letter saying that the court is still refusing,” said Latheef.

He noted that a previous High Court judgement stipulated that the appeals registration process could still proceed as soon as the case was filed – Latheef revealed that the case had been submitted yesterday.

When contacted for a response, Criminal Court officials were unwilling to provide further information on Jabir’s case.

Latheef’s legal firm suggested that Criminal Court Judge Muhuthaz Muhusin had failed to consider procedural issues raised by Jabir’s defence, thereby failing to observe the principles of natural justice.

The statement also suggested that the Jabir’s constitutional rights to adequate time and facilities for his defence – also guaranteed under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) – were not met.

Jabir’s legal representatives noted that the police’s mistreatment of the MP at the time of arrest had been confirmed by the Police Integrity Commission but had not been taken into account by the judge.

After investigating the case – which involved medical records showing injuries sustained by Jabir as well as a video of one officer kicking the MP in the head – the PIC said it could not forward the case to the Prosecutor General as the identity of the officer could not be determined.

During the trial, Jabir had claimed testimony given against him by arresting officers was inadmissible, alleging that the officers in question had been responsible for his mistreatment.

“Based on the serious factual and procedural violations in the trial and sentencing of MP Hon. Abdullah Jabir, who is not only an individual but a representative of five thousand Maldivians at the Parliament, it is regrettable that the Judicial process that we are to respect and obey has shown such a blatant disregard for the principles of justice and the rule of law,” concluded the statement.

A total of 10 people were taken into police custody on November 16, 2012, after police raided and searched Hondaidhoo with a court warrant. Officers alleged they found large amounts of suspected drugs and alcohol upon searching the island.

Jabir was set to re-contest his Kaashidhoo constituency seat in next month’s Majlis elections. Fellow MDP MP and MDP International Spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor – also detained and charged with failure to produce a urine test during the same incident -told Minivan News today that Jabir was currently being held in custody.

Asked whether Jabir’s sentence would affect his ability to stand, Hamid said that he believed the law made it clear that an MP could not be disqualified from the Majlis unless they were serving more than twelve months.

“The law is silent on whether he can campaign or not,” added Hamid.


Stabbed MP undergoes surgery in Sri Lanka

Maldivian Democratic Party MP Alhan Fahmy has been flown to Sri Lanka for surgery after being stabbed yesterday evening.

The Feydhoo constituency MP’s brother Azbaan, has told Minivan News Alhan’s condition is “very serious” – he had been in surgery for over three hours as of 4pm today (February 2).

“I think it is an organised political attack, because Alhan doesn’t have any other issues,” said Azbaan. “Somebody is politically unhappy with him, otherwise there is no other reason.”

He noted, however, that his brother had received no intelligence from police of an impending attack prior to yesterday’s incident.

Azbaan was with Alhan at the popular Breakwater cafe in the capital Malé when he was stabbed by his assailant at around 9pm. Police apprehended an 18 year old man at the scene, also finding a knife nearby.

Police have confirmed that a further two men have been arrested in relation to the stabbing. Two of the three now in custody have had their detention period extended to ten days, while the third will appear before judges later this evening.

MDP spokesman Imthiyaz ‘Inthi’ Fahmy described the attack as “very difficult to understand”, though he also suspects an organised attack.

“This is a planned one – I’m sure, I can tell that. The license plates of the motorbikes were changed before they came to the place to attack Alhan – that’s what I heard from sources,” said Inthi.

Inthi expressed dismay at the attack, noting that politicians needed to be free to work without fear, describing yesterday’s attack as a deliberate attempt to murder Alhan.

An official statement from the MDP’s parliamentary group today condemned the attack, expressing concern that “attackers are not hesitant to carry out such attacks in public”.

“This attack shows the loss of public order and justice. The MDP parliamentary group calls for a proper investigation and calls for the perpetrators to be brought to justice.”

Parliamentary group member Hamid Abdul Ghafoor described the continued intimidation of MPs as a “war that had gotten physical”.

Hamid suggested that the country’s recent moves toward democracy have made it more difficult to silence MPs:

“Before, you just disappeared. Now, they have to play outside of the law,” said Hamid, citing the murder of MP Dr Afrasheem Ali in 2012.

Cases involving Afrasheem, Hamid, and Alhan are currently being monitored by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, which organised an urgent visit to the Maldives late last year after expressing concerns over the intimidation of MPs.

Last August, Alhan was summoned by police in connection with the alleged blackmailing of Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed, using footage of the judge having sex with two foreign women said to be prostitutes.

The MP tweeted a screenshot of a text message he claimed had been sent to his mobile phone by Superintendent of Police Mohamed Riyaz. The text read: “Alhan, will make sure you are fully famed (sic) for blackmailing Justice Ali Hameed. You don’t know who we are.’’


Week in review: January 18 – 24

The biggest headline of the week was captured by Home Minister Umar Naseer after he ordered correctional authorities to make preparations for the implementation of the death penalty – currently under a sixty year moratorium.

Speaking with the media upon his return from Sri Lanka – President Abdulla Yameen said that the home minister’s decision had not been discussed with the cabinet.

During his state visit Yameen was reported to be considering access through Maldivian waters for passing Sri Lankan fishing vessels. He is also said to have revealed his decision to reject the proposed status of forces agreement (SOFA) with the United States.

Opinions on the president’s fisheries policy – as well as the policies of Malé city council – were expressed this week as Minivan News visited the capital’s famous fish market to talk about the state of the industry.

The government’s plans to expand the tourism industry were discussed this week as Minivan News interviewed cabinet minister Ahmed Adeeb, while the Home Ministry’s focus on the illegal drugs trade continued as police seized MVR300,000 worth of drugs – along with an endangered primate – from a house in Malé.

The president’s foreign policy also took shape – with a clear emphasis on economic self-sufficiency to facilitate independence and protect sovereignty.

Whilst bilateral ties between India and the Maldives were celebrated with the launch of the Dosti-Ekuverikan week, opposition spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor told Indian media that the country had “failed” Maldivian democracy during recent political turmoils.

Local elections

The week began with the local council elections, and finished with the final results of the 1,100 contests still not yet known. What was clear was that turnout was low on the day – a report from Transparency Maldives suggested the system was failing up to one third of voters who live and work away from their registered island of residence.

The Elections Commission (EC) introduced the public displaying of ID card photographs to help prevent voter fraud, though the decision quickly brought complaints from religious leaders regarding the exposure of women who have since started wearing the veil.

November’s second-placed presidential candidate Mohamed Nasheed subsequently suggested that the clear existence of voters without photographs in the presidential poll registry indicated “serious fraud in the presidential election”.

The Maldivian Democratic Party figurehead went on to suggest that victory for his party in March’s parliamentary elections would see impeachment proceedings initiated against President Yameen.

Minivan News’ series of MP interviews continued this week, with Rozaina Adam, Mohamed ‘Colonel’ Nasheed, and Ahmed Abdulla all taking their turns.

Despite his Progressive Party of Maldives expressing confidence that they would win the majority of council seats, Yameen noted that party members standing as independent candidates had cost seats.

Supreme Court

Never far from the headlines, the Supreme Court’s role in the recent presidential elections continued to make news. The EC suggested that the Police Integrity Commission had shied away from examining key evidence used to annul the first round for fear of casting doubt on the court’s verdict.

Criticism of the verdict broadcast on Raajje TV resulted in this week’s decision by the broadcasting commission to order an apology from the station. Villa TV was similarly ordered to offer apologies for comments said to have defamed MDP candidate Nasheed.

Former Attorney General Husnu Suood was suspended from all courts pending the police’s investigation into his alleged contempt of court during the annulment trial. Suood suggested the decision may be linked to his role in the investigation of Justice Ali Hameed’s role in a sex tape scandal.

The Judicial Services Commission – charged with investigating the Hameed case – revealed its new regulations which will involve the periodic review of judge’s performance.

Meanwhile, the deputy prosecutor general appealed to the Supreme Court after the Criminal Court failed to resume normal activities – having previously halted proceeding pending the confirmation of a new PG.


Elsewhere in the Maldives this week, the auditor general revealed that the Defence Ministry had illegally purchased nearly MVR7 million of goods during 2011. This week also saw the first case of unfair dismissal filed in relation to the nine senior military officers removed amid internal murmurings during the controversial presidential race.

Finally, the Maldives was selected for a US$6million concessionary loan from Abu Dhabi for assistance with clean energy projects.


India failed Maldives, MP Hamid tells Indian media

“Howsoever much India talks about democracy but it failed the people here,” opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor told India’s Zee News this week.

The comments came as the Indian and Maldivian governments prepared to celebrate bilateral ties with a week of cultural events.

The Dosti-Ekuverikan week also follows the recent state visit of President Abdulla Yameen to India.

Speaking at the inauguration of the week’s events on Monday (January 20), Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed praised the “long-standing historical bonds” between the two states.

“India can surely count on the sincere gratitude of our people for the ever-present, ever-reliable friendship, support and assistance,” added Jameel.

Upon President Yameen’s return from India earlier this month, one coalition member described the trip as “the most successful trip a Maldivian leader has ever made to India”, with the vice president suggesting that all recent tensions between the allies had been resolved.

Conversely, Hamid told Zee News that recent events in Maldivian politics are a “disgrace to Indian democracy”.

“People of Maldives do not think that India is that ‘great country’. We have been disappointed, we have been hounded,” the MDP’s international spokesperson told the Hindi news channel.

Hamid recently spent four weeks seeking refuge from arrest in the People’s Majlis. After spending time under house and a short period in jail, Hamid’s charge for failing to attend the court was quashed by the High Court.

“As a politician, especially as an MDP person, I get disappointed whenever I hear such sentences like ‘we are with the people of Maldives’; it just makes me sick. No one is with the people of Maldives because if they were with the people of Maldives, then they would have come to help us in this violent coup.”

“You know, we had no choice [but to accept the presidential election result]. The international community, Commonwealth endorsed the coup. It is similar to what the British did in India, we too have something called CONI reports (Commission of National Inquiry),” he continued.

Hamid repeated his party’s initial pledge to behave as a responsible opposition, although relations with the new administration have begun to appear strained. Attempts to pass revenue raising measures in the Majlis – necessary to finance a record budget – were stymied by MDP representatives last week.

More recently, following local council elections, former President Mohamed Nasheed expressed his intention to seek the new president’s impeachment.

Asked about India’s GMR company – ejected by the previous administration part-way into their US$500 million development of Malé’s international airport – Hamid suggested that GMR had not been backed by the Indian government.

During Yameen’s state visit, Indian PM Dr Manmohan Singh asked for the dispute with GMR – currently the subject of billion dollar arbitration proceedings – be resolved amicably.

The president’s trip included meetings with the Indian business leaders, with the coalition reporting the promise of one billion dollars through the State Bank of India. Yameen has also welcomed the return of GMR investment, though he has ruled out further involvement in the airport.


MP Hamid files complaint against Chief Justice

Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor has submitted a complaint against Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz Hussain at the judicial oversight body Judicial Services Commission (JSC) over the Supreme Court’s decision to annul articles of the Parliamentary Privileges Act.

In November, the Supreme Court struck down four clauses in the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act including Article 11 (a) which states that an MP cannot be summoned to court during Majlis work hours.

At the time, the Criminal Court had sentenced Hamid to six months in jail for failure to attend a separate trial on refusal to provide urine. Hamid had contended the hearings were scheduled during Majlis work hours, in violation of the Parliamentary Powers and Privileges Act  and as such he was not obliged to attend the hearings.

Hamid had been under house arrest but was jailed following the Supreme Court’s verdict. However, the High Court struck down the Criminal Court’s sentence and set Hamid free.

In his complaint, Hamid said the Supreme Court’s verdict had caused him injustice.

“When the Supreme Court released constitutional ruling number SC-C/2013/28 on November 12, 2013 regarding a number of parliamentary privileges, Chief Justice of the Maldives Supreme Court was aware that at the same time, I,  a member of Parliament, was under house arrest regarding a case on parliamentary privileges. At a time when there were public allegations that the Criminal Court had then acted towards me against parliamentary privileges, the Chief Justice failed to consider the injustices that may be done unto me by releasing the prior-mentioned ruling at such a time,” Hamid’s complaint stated.

A statement released by the MDP states that if the said act was done “deliberately and knowingly” by the Chief Justice, it was an injustice caused to Hamid. It then said that if, however, the Chief Justice was unaware of the facts when the Supreme Court released the ruling, it is then proof that he is “unfit for and incapable of fulfilling his mandate”.

Head Judge of the High Court Panel that overturned the Criminal Court’s sentence, Judge Yoosuf Hussain had said at the court hearing that the Parliamentary Privileges Act at the time of sentencing still had a clause stating that members of parliament cannot be summoned to court in a manner that will inconvenience their attendance to parliament meetings.

Judge Hussain said that due to this reason, Hamid’s failure to attend hearings cannot be judged as having been without a justified reason.

He further stated that the lower court had failed to follow due process to be observed in the instance that a court summons cannot be delivered to a person, and if their families refuse to accept the summons on their behalf.

The judge said that as a result of this failure, the High Court does not believe the lower court had grounds to act against MP Hamid in this instance.

JSC Member appointed from among the public Sheikh Shuaib Abdul Rahman stated that he is unaware of the complaint yet.

“After a complaint is submitted to the JSC, it will be looked into by the legal section. Once they complete the process, it will come to the commission members along with their legal opinion. So it will take some time before we see this complaint,” he explained.

Senior Legal and Complaints Officer Hassan Faheem Ibrahim said that the legal department has not received the complaint at the time of press.


Week in review: November 30 – December 7

The past week has seen the administration of President Adbulla Yameen make tentative steps towards resolution of the country’s dire economic situation.

The Government of China offered the Maldives US$8.2million in grant aid for development projects. Reports also emerged in Indian media of its government being on the verge of unfreezing a credit standby facility – initiated before the recent deterioration in bilateral ties.

The New Indian Express suggested that the official announcement would be made during Yameen’s visit to India, also announced in the past seven days.

Further aid flows for climate change adaptation projects were also forthcoming, with the European Union pledging an additional €4million to the €34million given since 2009.

Solid progress on the 2014 budget continued to elude the government this week, however, with the submission of details to parliament delayed for the fourth time as the finance minister awaited further specifics about the administration’s plans.

Specific designs for the long-awaited construction of a bridge linking Malé and Hulhumalé were requested by the government, although foreign investor confidence is unlikely to have been improved by the Maldives’ failure to appear on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index for the second consecutive year.

Meanwhile, confidence in the country’s tourism industry remained undiminished at the World Travel Awards in Qatar, where the Maldives collected the prize for ‘World’s Leading Island Destination’.

Politics, police, and protecting Islam

Despite prior promises of leniency from the government, Maldivian Democratic Party MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor was briefly imprisoned this week after the Supreme Court revoked a number of parliamentary privileges.

Hamid – who has cited parliamentary privileges to defend himself against contempt of court charges – spent just hours in Maafushi jail before the High Court overturned the Criminal Court’s six-month sentence.

Fellow MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy led the Parliamentary Privileges Committee in suggesting that the Supreme Court was compromising the independence of parliament.

Elsewhere in the Majlis, MPs from all sides of the political divide took to the floor of the house to support a constitutional amendment further safeguarding Islam’s position as the country’s sole religion.

The police this week recommended that the Prosecutor General’s office pursue charges against Raajje TV’s CEO and its head of news for a report criticising the Supreme Court. Police also detained an individual in relation to the arson attack that destroyed MDP-aligned Raajje TV in October.

Less progress was reported in the case of Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed’s sex-tape allegations, with police admitting they have been unable to identify the individual widely reputed to be Hameed. The police did, however, promise that more information from abroad may yet shed light upon the issue. Local media had suggested that police investigations had been thwarted by the Criminal Court’s failure to provide the required warrants.

Retired Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz was honoured this week by his former colleagues prior to his move into the political arena.  Home Minister Umar Naseer used the celebrations to order police to remove any material that might incite hatred against the force.

The fostering of dissent within its own ranks was the reason given for further dismissals within the military three senior officers were dismissed, whilst 34-year veteran Lieutenant Colonel Zubair Ahmed told Raajje TV that he had been forced to retire from the MNDF.

The Defence Ministry this week threatened action against any media outlets who criticised its disciplinary procedure, subsequently receiving censure itself from the Media Council.

Finally, preparations for the January 18 local council elections continued in the past seven days, with government-aligned parties – excluding the Adhaalath Party – deciding to divide seats up amongst themselves to maximise their prospects. The opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party hopes to arrest its declining fortunes going into future polls by rebranding its party color, logo and slogan.