Former home minister questions government’s sincerity regarding death penalty

Former Home Minister Hassan Afeef has questioned the government’s intention to carry out the death sentence under recently introduced regulations.

“I think they are just playing to the minds of the people because they say they want to protect the religion and protect the country as one of their campaign pledges,” he said.

Afeef – home minister between 2010 and 2012 – also questioned the ability of the current tainted judiciary to provide the certainty required for implementation of the death penalty under Islamic law.

“The judiciary might pass the sentence, there may be a verdict, but I don’t think the current regime will carry it out,” said Afeef.

“They know how politically influenced the judiciary is as the present government are the people who politically influence these judicial decisions – so they know why they make these decisions.”

Afeef’s comments follow further international headlines regarding the new regulations.

The AFP has described the recent murder conviction of a minor to be a “test case” for the new law, although the home minister had previously said that the rules will be applied retroactively to all pending death sentences.

In a statement released yesterday, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) joined the growing international criticism accusing the Maldives government of being out-of-step with its international commitments.

“The decision to reinstate the death penalty in the Maldives, in particular against minors, is an outrage and gravely at odds with the growing international momentum towards abolition,” said FIDH President Karim Lahidji.

Lack of capacity

Speaking with Minivan News today, Afeef said the government’s attempts to carry out death sentences in accordance with Islamic Shariah were not possible with the criminal justice system as it is.

Afeef argued that those found guilty of such crimes beyond any doubt should be punished according to Islamic law, but questioned the capacity of the police and the judiciary to provide this certainty.

“According to Islam, when you pass the death penalty it has to be proven beyond doubt that the person has committed that crime and, according to the present situation – the present judiciary and the autocratic regime – we may find a situation where the person sentenced may not be the actual culprit,” he said.

The impartiality of the police and the judiciary has continued to be questioned this month, with the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party describing failures investigate the multiple charges against Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed as “awe-inspiring”.

The statement said the failure of the police and the Judicial Services Commission to conclude investigations or to prosecute Judge Hameed were a clear indication of the status of the Maldives’ criminal justice system.

“Such a judge sitting on the supreme court bench is not recognised by any judicial or legal system in the world. And surely it is the general public who are facing injustice because of this,” said the party.

Hameed – who stands accused of appearing in a sex-tape as well as corruption – adjudicated on both the annulment the first round of last year’s presidential elections as well as the dismissal of the elections commissioner prior to parliamentary elections in March.

Both incidents were denounced by the international community, which has consistently called for judicial reform. Current Attorney General Mohamed Anil has pledged review and reform of the courts as part of the government’s legislative agenda.

Dheen and Qawm

Home Minister Umar Naseer’s January announcement that the government was making preparations to end the country’s 60-year moratorium on the death penalty culminated in the publication of new procedural regulations last month.

Following the gazetting of the new guidelines, Naseer said the chances of killing an innocent person after completing all the procedures in the regulation were “far-fetched” and “almost impossible”.

The regulation – which only allows implementation of death penalty when the sentence is delivered by the Supreme Court – will establish a death penalty committee to assure all procedures have been adhered to.

Mediation between the Islamic Ministry and the victim’s family is also mandated, with family members who are ‘warith’ (heirs in Shariah law) given an opportunity to pardon the convict with or without receiving blood money.

After having previously been opposed to the practice, President Abdulla Yameen announced a “change of heart” just weeks after winning his party’s presidential primary race last year.

Suggesting that “murder has to be punished with murder” in order to “save society”, Yameen embarked on a campaign of ‘dheen and qawm’ – religion and country – winning a drawn-out election in the second round last November.


Civil Court issues injunction against Male City Council’s public referendum on the reopening of Fantasy Bakery

The Civil Court has issued an injunction to halt a public referendum planned by the Male’ City Council concerning the reopening of Fantasy Bakery, which was closed by health inspectors in October 2011 for selling expired food products.

The court’s injunction said if Male’ City Council held a public referendum that was not stipulated in any laws or regulations, it will hurt the business as well as making the public lose confidence in any verdict the court may deliver in Fantasy’s countersuit.

The Bakers Fantasy Private Limited had requested the court issue the injunction to halt the referendum, the Civil Court said.

The Civil Court’s injunction was delivered by Judge Abdulla Adheeb and a copy of the injunction was sent to Male’ City Council, Bakers Fantasy Private Limited and the Maldives Food and Drug Authority.

Male’ City Council was sued by Bakers Fantasy Private Limited following a decision of the council to withhold the license of the company to sell food products.

The company has claimed that they have paid the Rf 6500 (US$420) fine imposed on the company and have corrected issues noted by the council.

When Minivan News contacted Bakers Fantasy, the receptionist said no one was present who could speak with the media and would not provided a contact for management.

Last year when the issue came to light, police conducted an operation to close down the bakery and remove expired items from the store.

Police involvement came after the store disregarded orders from Community Health Services which had the legal authority to close food outlets.

The police at the that time went to the administrative office with a search warrant, but the staff refused to open the door stating that they did not have the authority to do so, according to police. Police called senior management, but they did not answer calls. Police waited outside for two hours before Fantasy management came to open the doors.

The Fantasy store was popular among locals as well as foreigners living in Male’, and was widely patronised.

Bakers Fantasy was closed by Male’ City Council on October 28. The council subsequently inspected three storehouses and Aioli Restaurant, which is also owned by Fantasy Pvt Ltd.

Male’ City Council’s head of health section Hassan ‘Jambu’ Afeef told local media at the timethat  expired products were found in two of three storehouses, and that storehouses were not properly lit. All expired products were destroyed, he said.


“Government cannot be hijacked by taking over army headquarters”: MDP protest enters day five

The government of the Maldives can no longer be “hijacked” by taking over the army headquarters and arresting or assassinating the incumbent ruler as in centuries past, deposed President Mohamed Nasheed said on Sunday night.

Addressing supporters on the third night of the ongoing Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) ‘Journey to Justice’ protest, Nasheed explained that “the days when this country was ruled by the might of the forearm has been relegated to the past.”

“What we are seeing today is that the Maldivian people will not idly sit by and watch the flame of freedom flicker out,” he said.

He added that taking control of the army headquarters to assume executive power was “an outdated and antiquated way of thinking” in the 21st century.

“The secret or essence behind this is that the government of this country is not the property of the ruler,” he continued. “The government of this country belongs to its people. It can only be stolen from the people after arresting all of them or when there are no longer any people left in this country.”

A Maldivian government could no longer rule over the populace without their consent and respect, he added.

“The days when the Maldivian people could be beaten into submission with electric batons, pepper spray or sticks are long past,” he asserted, adding that “most Maldivians value freedom and despise brutality.”

Nasheed expressed concern with the continued arrest and detention of elected councillors and MDP supporters across the country.

In contrast to fiery speeches by MDP MPs threatening to march the crowd to “reclaim what was stolen,” Nasheed insisted that violent confrontations or the use of force would not be necessary.

He went on to congratulate the protesters for “showing an example to the world” of a peaceful demonstration.

“Shedding a single drop of blood from any Maldivian” would be unacceptable, he added, advising protesters to act “with wisdom and patience.”

Nasheed also urged speakers who take the stage to not abuse the right to free expression by using indecent or “obscene language” or resorting to personal attacks.

Day four

On the following night, former TV presenter Miqdad Adam hosted a panel discussion with former ministers Hassan Latheef and Hassan Afeef along with lawyer Ahmed Abdulla Afeef focusing on the legal issues surrounding the transfer of power.

Hassan Afeef,  former home minister, explained that the coup started with “rebelling or mutinying officers” refusing to obey orders from the former Commissioner of Police and his deputies on the night of February 6.

Shortly before beginning their protest at the Republic Square in the early hours of February 7, a rogue group of riot police attacked the MDP Haruge (headquarters), assaulted former State Minister for Home Affairs, Mohamed ‘Monaza’ Naeem and ransacked the place.

According to eyewitnesses, a police officer hit an elderly man on the head with a chair. Haruge was attacked for a second time after a group of soldiers and police assisted by gang members took over the state broadcaster.

Afeef added that a number of army officers also refused to obey orders from either the Commander-in-Chief or Chief of Defence Forces Brigadier General Moosa Ali Jaleel.

If police officers believed they were given an unlawful order, Afeef continued, they should complain through the proper channels.

Afeef noted that current Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz, Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim and State Minister for Home Affairs Mohamed Fayaz ‘FA’ had “no legal status” to enter army barracks, negotiate on behalf of the mutinying police or relay demands to President Nasheed.

Local media reported on the morning of February 7, between 10am and 11am, ex-Colonel Nazim addressing the crowd and informing them that President Nasheed had been told to “immediately and unconditionally resign” before 1.30pm.

Afeef claimed that Nazim told President Nasheed that “his life could be in danger” if he refused to comply with demands from mutinying police and army officers.

Former Youth Minister Hassan Latheef referred to opposition politicians meeting then-Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed at 1:00am at his official residence following a night of roving protests.  He added that Dr Waheed evaded questions from cabinet members the next day.

Lawyer Ahmed Abdulla Afeef meanwhile criticised Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz for administering the oath of office on February 7 without looking into whether President Nasheed resigned under duress or not.

Ahmed also noted that the resignation letter was snatched by “the three men with no legal status” who entered the President’s Office with a number of army officers and took the letter to parliament.

Calling for an independent inquiry, Ahmed argued that compromising President Nasheed’s volition or discretion at any point of the process would render the resignation unlawful.

The former ministers also contended that opposition parties resorted to a violent takeover because they were convinced MDP would have won the 2013 presidential election based on delivery of campaign pledges, such as free universal healthcare, housing programmes and a nationwide transport network.


Democracy growing, but gender equality a key issue: UNDP

The UNDP International Day of Democracy was celebrated today under the theme “Youth Inclusion and Democracy” at the Nasandhura Palace Hotel. Representatives from the government, UNDP, and the Human Rights Commission spoke on democratic progress in the Maldives.

Youth in civil society were widely recognised as a key factor for democratic growth in the Maldives.

UN Advisor on Social Cohesion and Governance, Ferdinand von Habsburg-Lothringen, delivered the opening speech.

“Civil society in the Maldives is impressive. It is an important avenue for young people to engage with their community and to hold leaders accountable,” he said.

Habsburg-Lothringen noted that “democracy is still a new concept in the Maldives, and will take many years to mature,” and encouraged the Maldivian government to enact “crucial” laws, such as the penal code.

Gender equality remains one of the biggest issues in the Maldives, said Habsburg-Lothringen. He noted that only 5 of the 77 MPs are female.

“Gender equality is an area in which the Maldives is lagging behind most countries in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs),” he said. “Democracy is dependent on not just 50 percent of the people. With only half of the eligible work force participating, growth will not flourish in the Maldives.”

Home Minister Hassan Afeef called this year’s theme “relevant to the country – a majority of our population are young people.”

The ceremony featured a presentation of the report, “Comprehensive Study on Maldivian Civil Society” by FJS Consulting.

Managing Director Fareeha Shareef summarised the report’s findings on CSOs in the Maldives. Among the issues addressed was the disorganised categorisation of CSOs.

“The government is trying to provide aid but the structure of how to do it is not specified,” said Shareef. “Some sports clubs and organisations didn’t even engage in sports activities,” she said.

Shareef also commented on the CSO sector’s unique work force. According to the report, only 0.7 percent of employees are paid, and the average employee is age 25 with an education ranging between grades 6 and 10. There are 1100 CSOs registered in the Maldives.

Funding is also a struggle. The report found that donors were the least common source of funding, and many CSOs organise events to generate income. One example was a CSO that went fishing to generate program funding. The report notes that these events only cover about 30 percent of the total program cost.

The report recognises that the Maldives has the resources to support a strong civil society, but recommends bringing in older employees to provide guidance. “Imagine the potential of the sector if the resources were channeled in an effective manner,” said Shareef.

Chief Guest speaker Mariyam Azra Ahmed, Chair of the Human Rights Commission, said “a vibrant civil sector and independent media, among others” were essential for growth. She also advised a stronger dialogue between citizens and the government. “Lifestyles incorporating compromise, cooperation, and consensus building should be a consistent, recurring feature in  a democratic society,” she said.

The event included a performance by musician Yes-e and singer Grey, for whom the performance was her debut. “I was a bit nervous, and the audience wasn’t very lively, but it was a good event,” she said.

Following a tea break, a vigorous student debate was widely attended by members of civil society, UNDP, and the government. Gesticulating throughout the debate, the students of Aminiya and Dharumavatha schools demonstrated passion and ambition for democracy in the Maldives.


Prisons burdened with small crimes and poor management, report finds

The Maldivian prison population could be reduced by up to two-thirds if the government would “de-criminalise the offence of drug usage and propose mandatory rehabilitation”, according a report by the government and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). The reform could reduce the number of youth incarcerated for minor offences, the report suggested.

The report also found that “the existing legislative framework and the current penal system does not support the human rights guaranteed under the Constitution, nor is it compatible with best practices outlined in the UN Standard Minimum Rules on Treatment of Prisoners.”

The “Prison Assessment and Proposed Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Offenders Report“, published on September 5, was conducted by Dr Aishath Ali Naaz and UNDP program specialist Naaz Aminath. The report surveyed 60 percent of the prison population as of February 2011 to assess current prison conditions and make recommendations.

It is the first report of this scope to be done in the Maldives.

Aminath said the report took five months to prepare. “It involved very consistent record-taking and visits to prisons. About part way through we realized that we needed a legal framework to make a more comprehensive report, so we met with MPs across the board to understand the strengths and weaknesses.” The team had met with government officials throughout the project.

Aminath said timing the release of the report was difficult after the release of prisoners from Maafushi prison in July.

Key issues identified in the report were a lack of legislative framework to support rehabilitation and reintegration programs; widespread accusations of corruption and inappropriate political influence among institutions; poor prison design; and inadequate budgeting and human resources.

The report’s first recommendation for reform was to “de-criminalise the offense of drug usage” and require rehabilitation, according to the offender’s criminal record.

A second recommendation to “establish a restorative justice program to minimize offenders being incarcerated for minor offences” would regulate the currently heavy flow of Maldivian youth into the prison system.

Of prisoners in the Maldives, the majority are males under 30 years of age who are educated below O-levels. At the time of the report, 66 percent of inmates polled were in jail for drug use or possession.

“There are small time drug users of 23 years of age who are being being sentenced for 70 years in prison,” said Aminath. “When you visit other countries, the jails are divided between minimum and maximum security according to the sentence. You know that criminals in maximum security areas are really hard-core. You also find that drug trafficking is a serious offense in most countries, and traffickers do the most time in jail. But here, traffickers get 25 years while small-time users get 60 to 80 years. These are not hard-core criminals, but they’re put away for almost their entire lives.”

Aminath noted that in the past, drug users who test positive for drugs were given two charges: one for using drugs, and another for testing positive. At present, only individuals in possession of a prohibited drug are prosecuted.”

“I’m not condoning drugs,” said Aminath, “but I think we need to help.”

The report criticised Maldivian prisons for being understaffed and poorly managed.

“The problem in the Maldives is that there aren’t proper prisons,” said Aminath. “It’s hard to even say what the capacity of these facilities is.”

After the fires in 2009, Maafushi prison in March and October 2009, Aminath said that basic living equipment like mattresses were not replaced. Maafushi and Male prisons do not have kitchens, and “there is no structure to support the prisoners who are there,” she said.

Asseyri prison was originally designed as a juvenile rehabilitation center. But Aminath noted that it remained empty until this past year, and since then has been filled with inmates of all ages. She said individuals she asked regarding it’s changed purpose were uniformed.

Inmates surveyed said medical services were inadequate. An investigation found that Maafushi prison compensated by sending an average of ten people to Male each day for medical purposes–an excursion which opens opportunities for smuggling good into prison.

Inmates also complained about a lack of structure in prison life. The report lists claims of torture, inhumane treatment, drug availability and false messages of hope from politicians as examples.

Prison regulations also make it difficult for inmates to develop their own structure. Aside from the Qur’an, inmates are not allowed to have any reading material. Only Asseyri and Maafushi prisons have ‘libraries’–rooms with a few books located outside the gated complex. “It’s risky to go there because it’s not within a protected area, and there simply aren’t enough staff to organise daily library trips,” said Aminath. “Plus, there isn’t much to read there. Really, I wouldn’t even call it a library.”

Naaz and Aminath asked prisoners to describe the types of rehab programs they felt were needed. Most recommended religious education (86.4 percent), counseling therapies (76.1 percent) and life skills (75.1 percent).

Among the report’s recommendations for reform is the development of a Mental Health act. It also encourages Parliament to pass legislation that was proposed 3 years ago, including a criminal procedure code, a penal code, an evidence act, and a parole bill.

Another suggestion is to establish a prison industry to train prisoners in vocational skills, a program that would directly support rehabilitation and reintegration programs.

Aminath said the research team is in conversation with the State Minister, and the Home Minister supports the recommendations.

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Home Minister Hassan Afeef said, “the Government is committed to improving the rehabilitation system, given
how large a problem drugs are for our community.”

But change won’t happen overnight, Aminath cautioned. She said all institutions “need to strengthen the legal framework and get more involved with the community to make these changes. This applies to all institutions across the board here.”

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that the UNDP team had “‘met with government officials across the board to understand the strengths and weaknesses.'” It should have stated that the UNDP team had “met with MPs across the board to understand the strengths and weaknesses and advocate passing legislative framework bills.” The UNDP team had been in correspondence with government officials from the beginning of the project.

The previous version of the story also stated that, “Aminath noted that drug users who test positive for drugs are given two charges: one for using drugs, and another for testing positive.” It should have stated that “Aminath noted that in the past, drug users who test positive for drugs were given two charges: one for using drugs, and another for testing positive. At present, only individuals in possession of a prohibited drug are prosecuted.”

The previous version also stated that “Asseyri prison was originally designed as a juvenile detention center.” It should have stated that “Asseyri prison was originally designed as a juvenile rehabilitation center. Also, individuals who Aminath asked about its current use as a standard detention center were uninformed. Minivan News apologises for any confusion.”


Adhaalath Party condemns ”false allegations” made by government officials to Indian magazine

The Adhaalath Party, led by State Islamic Minister Sheikh Hussein Rasheed, has hit back at unnamed government officials who described Sheikh Illyas and Sheikh Fareed as “hate preachers” in an interview with India’s magazine ‘The Week’‘.

The party claimed that senior officials of the current government, including former Foreign Minister Dr Ahmed Shaheed and Home Minister Hassan Afeef, made false allegations against a number of the country’s religious leaders, including the vice leader of the Adhaalath Party’s religious council, Sheikh Ilyas Hussein.

Afeef is not acknowledged as a source in the current version of the  article, and Shaheed’s comments to The Week concern the potential involvement of Maldivians in the attacks of Mumbai by Pakistani terrorist group Laskar-el-Taiba (LeT).

In the article Ahmed Muneer, Deputy Commissioner of the Maldives Police, acknowledges that “our radical preachers are enjoying street credibility and radicalisation is visible at the street level. It’s a problem for us, but things would aggravate if the radicals get integrated into Maldivian politics.”

The Adhaalath party claimed that during the interview, “Dr Shaheed said that scholars were delivering lectures with the intention of earning money, and that only a few people attended religious protests because they wanted to go to heaven.”

The Adhaalath Party contends that is is moderate rather than extremist. It is in coalition with the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), and fills most of the ranks of the Islamic Ministry.

”As a result of this [article], religious scholars in the Maldives will face many obstacles locally, and it will also affect Maldivian families living in India,” said the Adhaalath Party.

”Sheikh Ilyas is one of the best scholars in the Maldives of recent ages, and many citizens enjoy attending his sermons.”

In retaliation, the Adhaalath Party accused the government of establishing and spreading extremism in the Maldives, and misleading the West in its desperation for money.

”Due to irresponsible comments by senior officials of the government, tourism in the country will also be affected,” warned the Adhaalath Party, accusing the President of “fabricating” earlier statements concerning scholarly freedom in the Maldives.

‘The Week magazine article reports that the LeT has been eyeing the Maldives since early 2000, when its headhunters travelled to Male’. India’s Intelligence Bureau estimated that there were more than 3,000 LeT facilitators and instigators in the Maldives, it reported.

In the article, Mohamed Hameed, head of the internal intelligence department of the Maldivian police, claimed that several hundred Maldivian youth had left the island nation “and their families have never heard from them since.”

”Hameed said ‘recruitment is taking place all the while.’ Radicals like Yoosuf Izadhy — a militant jihadi who is said to have ties with al Qaeda, according to leaked diplomatic cables prepared by then US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice—are roaming free. Izadhy was planning to create a terrorist base in the Maldives with support from a Waziristan-based group. He and Hasnain Hameedh had operational aspirations,” the magazine reported.

“The spread of an extremist belief system is fueled by hate preachers like Sheikh Fareed and Sheikh Ilyas. Both are [under surveillance],” the magazine reported a “Maldivian intelligence official” as saying.

Speaking of the 2007 Sultan Park bombing in Male’, in which 12 tourists were injured, Dr Shaheed told The Week that “the ringmaster [prime accused] of the Sultan Park bombing was allowed to leave the country. The incident wasn’t fully investigated. The ringmaster was a young boy. We need to find out who was behind the ringmaster. I think there are unanswered questions.”


New cabinet ‘when government reaches understanding with opposition’: Afeef

A new cabinet will be proposed when the government reaches an agreement or understanding with the opposition parties in the Majlis, said the President’s political advisor Hassan Afeef at the daily President’s office news conference, reports Miadhu.

Afeef described the departing cabinet as ‘dynamic, brilliant and hard-working’, and said the government wants any new cabinet members to be endorsed by the opposition dominated Majlis.

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President vetoes special needs legislation

President Mohamed Nasheed has vetoed the bill on protecting the rights of and providing financial assistance to people with special needs following an appeal from NGOs and advice from the attorney general that it would conflict with UN conventions.

Article 91(a) of the constitution states the president shall either assent to a bill within 15 days or return it for reconsideration.

The bill was passed on 21 December and would have automatically become law if the president did not ratify it today.

Mohamed Zuhair, president’s office press secretary, said the legislation was returned as the president believed it could lead to “social, economical and legal problems” if it was enacted.

Zuhair said Attorney General Husnu Suood advised the president that many provisions in the bill conflicted with international standards and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which the Maldives has acceded to.

Suood told the president that the bill would create obstacles for persons with special needs making decisions on their own and participating in society.

Zuhair added the ministry of health and family informed the president that social and economic difficulties could arise if the provisions in the legislation were implemented.

Moreover, the Human Rights Commission of Maldives as well as NGOs Care Society, Handicap International and Association for Disabilities and Development had urged the president to ask parliament to ensure that the law would protect the rights of people with special needs as required by the UN convention.


"Don't ratify the bill!"
"Don't ratify the bill!"

Care Society, the Maldivian Deaf Association and the Association for Disabilities and Development were joined by parents of persons with special needs at a gathering outside the president’s office this morning.

The NGOs and parents held up placards urging the president not to ratify the bill.

Speaking to Minivan News, Sidaatha Shareef from Care Society said the NGOs wanted a law to protect the rights of the special needs.

“But we had to gather today after working through a lot of different stages. When the bill was at parliament, we met parliament members and met members of the social affairs committee separately and made recommendations in writing and gave them a presentation,” she said.

The bill was passed without considering any of the recommendations, she continued, and the NGOs met with the president’s office, the HRCM and the health ministry to raise their concerns.

“But, since we have not got an adequate response, we are here today to see what decision is made,” she said, adding if the president ratified the bill it would be a “big failure”.

Among the main concerns with the bill was lack of health rehabilitation. “That is one difficulty that the parents here endure every day. It is a basic right that they should be getting,” she said.

She added the language of some provisions the “spirit of the bill” would “segregate” people with special needs or provide assistance as “charity”.

The NGOs wanted the bill to be “more inclusive, rights-based and in line with the UNCPWD”.

Shortly after Sidaatha went into the president’s office and was told to wait until the end of lunch hour, Hassan Afeef, political advisor to the president, came out and addressed the group.

Asked how the president would make his decision, Afeef said, “The president is considering doing it in line with your thinking.”