The Juvenile Court has acquitted a minor charged with terrorism in the wake of a violent confrontation in the island of Himandhoo in Alif Alif atoll between a breakaway religious group and security forces.
The confrontation occurred in 2007 after police and military were dispatched to the island to shut down a private mosque and arrest suspects in the Sultan Park bombing incident.
Juvenile Court Spokesperson Zaeema Nasheed confirmed that the case was concluded today.
“This morning the case was concluded that he was found innocent,” Zaeema said. “He had been charged with terrorism.”
More than 50 people were arrested in the aftermath of the clashes in Himandhoo after islanders donned red motorcycle helmets and armed themselves with batons and knives to defend the Dhar al Khuir mosque on 6 October 2007. Police and soldiers were searching for suspects in the Maldives’ first Islamic terror investigation following a bomb blast in Sultan Park that injured 12 tourists.
On 2010 February 9, senior members of the current administration met with 16 people arrested and sentenced for the Himandhoo protest to inform them that President Mohamed Nasheed had decided to commute their sentences under the Clemency Act.
The confrontation in Himandhoo left one policeman with a severed hand while four others were injured. An officer was also held hostage by the group, who surrendered to the army after a last warning to evacuate the mosque by force.
The Elections Commission (EC) has announced by-elections to replace vacant council seats in Alif Alif Himandhoo and Gnaviyani Fuvahmulah for November 19 and invited potential candidates to apply before October 16.
Councillors of the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), Hassan Saeed from Fuvahmulah and Abdulla Jameel from Himandhoo, lost their seats after the Supreme Court ruled last week on cases contesting their eligibility to compete in the February council elections.
The Supreme Court ruled that Hassan Saeed had a decreed debt that he was not paying back in accordance with a lower court verdict while Abdulla Jameel had been convicted of theft. Both were disqualified under article 12(c) of the Local Council Elections Act.
A high court appeal by three men sentenced to jail for the violent protest at Himandhoo has failed.
Ahmed Ramzee, Ahmed Ali and Adam Mohamed, all from Himandhoo, were originally sentenced for up to 10 years each for their involvement in the protest in October 2007.
The 200 police and army personnel who travelled to the island in search for evidence related to the Sultan Park bombing the previous month were confronted by the islanders, who donned red motorcycle helmets and armed themselves with batons and knives and denied the authorities entry to the Dhar-al-khuir mosque.
In the ensuing skirmish, a policeman was taken captive and another’s hand was severed. Shortly afterwards a video discovered on an Al Qaeda forum was found to contain footage taken inside the Dhar-al-khuir mosque moments before it was raided by police.
Senior High Court Judge Ali Hameed today ruled that the actions of the three men during the protest qualified as ‘terrorism’ under the law of Maldives, and said that the case was not open to appeal. Reading the verdict, Judge Hameed said their actions were “against the public order of the country and weakened the religious unity of the people.”
“The [verdict] of the criminal court cannot be overturned,” he said.
In the appeal, the men claimed their actions against the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) were in “self defence”. Adam Mohamed and Ahmed Ramzy also told the court in previous hearings that their confessions had been extracted under duress.
At the time, Minivan News reported that Mohamed’s account tallied with other reports of abuse to have emerged from the police-run Dhoonidhoo detention centre. On 19 March 2008, he told the court he had been taken out of his cell at night during the investigation, handcuffed with his hands behind his back, and beaten in the football ground area.
On 9 February senior members of the Maldivian government met with the 16 people arrested and sentenced for the Himandhoo protest, to inform them that President Mohamed Nasheed had made the decision to lessen their sentences under the forthcoming clemency bill.
“One criteria of the clemency laws is that [the defendant] must have exhausted all other avenues of appeal,” said the President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair. “They are more eligible [for clemency] as a result of going through the [appeals] process.”
Zuhair said the accusation that the government was ‘releasing terrorists’ was unfair.
“I believe people cannot comment on the actions of the government without knowing the details of the matter,” Zuhair said. “There are complex issues being considered, such as the trial that was conducted under the previous constitution. The president has made it known he will alleviate their sentences.”
“This government came into power saying democracy would extend to religious matters,” Zuhair added.
The Himandhoo School board of North Ari Atoll Himandhoo has decided the school song will no longer be sung during the school assembly as ”it would be more useful to give a speech by school heads and recite the meaning of Quran rather than singing the school song,” according to chairperson Abdulla Jameel.
Jameel said the decision was made after a meeting with Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and the school’s teachers.
He said the decision was not made on religious grounds, and claimed a news report by television station DhiTV was misleading the public by claiming otherwise.
”In our school we sing a song written especially for Himandhoo Madharusa, but there is doubt over whether our school’s name is Himandhoo Madharusa or Himandhoo school,” he explained.
”We asked the education ministry to clarify it, and then we came to know that it was called Himandhoo School.”
Councilor of Himandhoo Ali Naseer said the school song was no longer sung during the assembly because it contained verses saying the school name was Himandhoo Madharusa and the school colors was red, green and white.
”We discovered to know the school’s name was Himandhoo School and the logo was red,” Naseer said, “but we only have the audio recording of the school song we use to sing. We cannot cut out the verses which say Himandhoo Madharusa and says the colours are green, red and white.”
Jameel said the school might sing the song ‘Lhafathuga Ungenema’ (a song sung in every school of Maldives during assembly) instead, but for the time being had decided to give speeches on the meaning of Quran during the assembly.
Deputy Minister for Education Abdulla Nazeer said the ministry’s policy insisted schools must sing the school song during the assembly.
”As per our policy all schools must sing the school song,” Naseer said, warning that ”if any school goes against our policy we will take action against them.”
Jameel said that the school board had sent a letter to the education ministry and ”would decide what to do when they respond.”
Senior members of the Maldivian government yesterday met with 16 people arrested and sentenced for a violent protest against police at Himandhoo in North Ari Atoll in 2007, to discuss a reduction in their sentences under new clemency laws.
The inmates, currently imprisoned at Maafushi on sentences ranging from nine to 11 years, donned red motorcycle helmets and armed themselves with batons and knives to defend the Dhar al Khuir mosque on 6 October 2007. Police and soldiers were searching for suspects in the Maldives’ first Islamic terror investigation following a bomb blast in Sultan Park that injured 12 tourists.
The president’s Political Advisor Hassan Afeef, together with Special Envoy Ibrahim Hussain Zaki, Legal Affairs Secretary Hisaan Hussain and State Minister of Islamic Affairs Mohamed Saeed Ali Shaheem travelled to Maafushi jail to meet with the inmates to inform them that the president had made the decision to lessen their sentences.
Afeef said the government was unconvinced the group had received a fair trial under the former government, “and we don’t want anyone to undergo punishment for which they are not deserving.”
“The president wanted the inmates to know that people were going to criticise him over the decision, and for them to understand that their behaviour must be in line with the views of society when they are released,” Afeef said.
The conditions of their release had yet to be set, Afeef added. “That will come when the president gives the order,” he said, emphasising that “the government doesn’t take these decisions blindly. It studies the information and consults intelligence services, police and security forces.”
The president’s press secretary Mohamed Zuhair said the main reason leading to the stand off with police was not the terrorism investigation but the fact “they had started praying in their own mosque and their own homes”, an action not in line with the former government’s “single state Islam”.
“This government is against all froms of extremism religous or otherwise,” he said, claiming that the government’s “pluralist” approach and tolerance of other factions and preachers had led to better insight into the institutions operating in the Maldives.
“The president has always said that the way to avoid fundamentalism is more democracy,” Zuhair said, noting that “people join groups with good intentions.”
Earlier this week the government repatriated the remaining four of nine Maldivian nationals detained in Pakistan for alleged militant activities on the Pakistan border. The detainees were returned to their families as the Pakistan government placed no conditions on their release, although Foreign Minister Ahmed Shaheed announced yesterday the men would be kept under surveillance and their activities abroad investigated.
Zuhair also revealed that three other Maldivians, believed to have been part of the group, were killed while they were being transferred between facilities several weeks after their arrest following the Mumbai attacks in 2008.
“I believe they were being transferred from a facility when their convoy came under attack and the vehicle they were in hit a landmine,” Zuhair said.
“We had unconfirmed reports that they were the leaders of the Maldivian group, which may have been linked to the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) currently waging war in Kashmir.”
Zuhair emphasised that the nine men who had returned had not been charged and were “innocent until proven guilty.”
“The political culture in the Maldives has changed,” he said. “Whereas before if the government was suspicious about someone they would be arrested and questioned, now people are innocent until proven guilty.
“I believe the government is keeping a close watch on these people,” he added.
Police have apprehended an escaped convict from Maafushi jail, who escaped midway through last year.
Abdulla Ali Maniku from Bahaaruge Haa Alif Molhadhoo had been on the run since 17 June 2009.
The 37 year-old was originally arrested and charged for his part in the clashes between religious extremists and security forces on Alif Alif Himandhoo on 7 October 2007.
Police said Maniku also escaped from the jail early last year, when he was caught in Gaaf Dhaal Thinadhoo. While being transported back to Male’ he again gave the authorities the slip by jumping into the ocean near the island of Vaavu Felidhoo.
He was recaptured on 4 January on Kaafu Thilafushi, a heavily industrialised island seven kilometres west of Male’ known colloquially as ‘Garbage Island’.
In 2007, the government cracked down on religious extremism after a home-made bomb exploded in front of Sultan Park in Male’ on 1 October. The attack injured 12 tourists.
After the attack, police arrested ten suspects. A week later, more than 100 security personal searched the island of Himandhoo for people suspected to be linked with the attack.
The police and many of Himandhoo’s residents clashed violently, leaving many injured on both sides. More than 50 people were arrested and taken to Male’ for questioning.
Ali Maniku is currently being held by the Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation Services (DPRS).