Government rejects ex-president as MDP representative in talks

The government has rejected ex-president Mohamed Nasheed as a representative for talks with the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

In a tweet today, president’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali said the government had rejected Nasheed’s name because he is serving a jail sentence.

Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in jail in March on terrorism charges relating to the detention of a judge during his tenure.

Foreign governments and international bodies including the UN have criticised the trial for apparent lack of due process, while the European Union parliament has called for the ex-president’s immediate release.

Nasheed’s arrest and jailing triggered daily protests and a historic anti-government protest on May 1. Nearly 20,000 people took to the streets and some 193 people were arrested.

The government subsequently called for separate talks with the three allied opposition parties – the MDP, the Jumhooree Party and the Adhaalath Party.

The MDP’s national council yesterday proposed Nasheed, chairperson Ali Waheed and parliamentary group leader MP Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Mohamed Solih to represent the party in talks with the government.

MDP vice-president Mohamed Shifaz said the party will hold a meeting to decide on a response to the president’s office’s statement.

“But I personally believed that we should be able to determine who should represent us. Not the government,” Shifaz said.

“When they say he is serving a jail term, we need to look at the circumstances in which he was sentenced. The Maldivian public and the world do not accept the trial and its verdict. Nasheed is a former president, and a man loved by a large majority of the public. Maldivians do not see him as a convict.”

In late April, the pro-government majority voted through amendments to the Prison and Parole Act that prohibited inmates from holding high-level posts in political parties. The revised law effectively stripped Nasheed of the MDP presidency.

Some ruling party MPs have also threatened to cut financial payouts to Nasheed by amending the law on privileges and immunities of former presidents to exclude individuals serving a jail sentence.

Speaking to Minivan News, Muaz said the government will proceed with the talks as soon as representatives are decided.

“If there is no legal, medical, physical or administrative obstructions regarding the representatives proposed by the three parties, we will proceed with the talks,” he said in a tweet today.

President Abdulla Yameen’s proposed agenda for talks focuses on three aspects: political reconciliation, strengthening the judiciary and legal system and political party participation in economic and social development

The government has ruled out negotiations over the release Nasheed and former defence minister Mohamed Nazim, insisting the president does not have the constitutional authority to release convicts before the appeal process is exhausted.

The opposition has previously questioned the government’s sincerity, pointing out that several opposition leaders had been arrested from the May 1 protest.

While the Jumhooree Party (JP) has accepted the invitation for talks, the religious conservative Adhaalath Party proposed its detained president, Sheikh Imran Abdulla, among the party’s representatives.

Imran was arrested on May 1 and remains in police custody.

The JP’s representative for talks, deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim was also arrested, but released by the High Court. The police are appealing the court’s ruling at the Supreme Court, a move the opposition says is aimed at barring Ameen from representing the JP.

During the national council debate yesterday, MP Eva Abdulla stressed the importance of talks involving all political parties, including the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

“MDP is the first party that called to solve the political crisis. So we are happy the government took the initiative to hold talks and we accept it. But we want to hold the discussions together, not separately as the government has suggested,” she said.

“We are not going to discussions to talk only about what the government wants. The discussions will include what the government wants, but also what we want. The agenda of the talks also should be set at the discussions.”

The opposition coalition has called for a third mass protest on June 12.


Government dismisses ‘slanderous’ allegation of plot to assassinate Nasheed

The government has dismissed allegations of a plot by senior officials to assassinate imprisoned ex-president Mohamed Nasheed as “slanderous.”

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) said today that credible sources have informed the main opposition party and Nasheed’s family that a senior government official has recently obtained powerful anaesthetics drugs to use against the opposition leader.

“If bringing in medicine for treatment to a prison where president Nasheed is being kept is considered as intended to harm an inmate, that is a big joke,” president’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali told Minivan News today.

The allegation is baseless and “slanderous,” he added. Muaz suggested the MDP should file cases with the relevant authorities.

Nasheed is serving a 13-year jail sentence relating to the military’s detention of a judge during his administration.

Following his transfer from police custody to a low security jail on Tuesday, Nasheed’s lawyers expressed concern with the police’s failure to inform the former president’s legal team or his family.

Former first lady Laila Ali appealed to president Abdulla Yameen for assurances of Nasheed’s safety last month, saying she had received information from credible sources of a likely attempt on his life.

Home minister Umar Naseer has previously said the government “guarantees the safety, welfare and protection of former president Mohamed Nasheed while in custody.”

Commissioner of prisons Mohamed Husham told Minivan News that a special team is in charge of ensuring Nasheed’s security, including a specially trained officer.

“If we receive information of such a threat we take action for the inmate’s safety. But some people may try to take advantage if details of such procedures are shared with the public,” he said.

The MDP claimed a senior government official obtained anaesthesia medicine, including chloroform, from an official in the health sector some days ago.

An official from the health ministry, who wished to remain anonymous, told Minivan News that anaesthetic drugs were controlled substances and special permits were required before the medicine is released.

The drugs are mainly used by specialist doctors to induce loss of consciousness for surgeries and records are kept of the inventory, the official said.

Meanwhile, responding to Muaz’s remarks, MDP spokesperson Imthiyaz Fahmy said Nasheed’s trial is considered “a worldwide joke”.

The government broke all domestic and international rules in unfairly sentencing Nasheed, he contended, adding that the information came from a reliable source.

“We cannot believe such rule breakers will not do this. When it comes to such matters we do not know what they may or may not do,” he said.

“This country is run through state-sponsored terrorism. Impunity and lawlessness prevail. This is the kind of government ruling us today. So as long as this government is in power anything is possible.”

Imthiyaz said international best practice requires the state to inform an inmate’s lawyer or family before transfer to a different prison.

The MDP also called on the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, relevant authorities, friendly nations, and international organisations to take steps to ensure the safety of the former president.

Human rights commissioner Ahmed Tholal told Minivan News that members of the commission have visited the ‘Asseyri’ jail in Himmafushi for an inspection.

The members checked Nasheed’s cell and ensured that he was being treated in accordance with prison regulations.

While the members noted some problems, Tholal said the situation overall was “not bad.”

“We do take threats against people who are under state custody seriously and we are going to do everything we can with regard to such threats,” he said.


150 goats to be sacrificed in public ceremony

One hundred and fifty goats will be sacrificed in a public ceremony in Male’ this evening in a government-organised celebration of 50 years of independence.

However, the former Islamic minister and some other scholars have spoken out against the event, labelling it irreligious.

The ceremony is the first time the government is involved in goat sacrifice events, which have become increasingly popular in recent years. It comes ahead of Independence Day on July 26.

Locals in Male’ have been receiving calls from the campaign office of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) urging them to attend.

The goats will be slaughtered as alms to the attendees after Ishaa prayers and a special prayer of thanks. The event will begin at 6:45 pm at Maafannu stadium in the capital.

Ibrahim Muaz Ali, a member of the event’s organising committee, told a press conference yesterday: “We would like to invite all citizens to this prayer and also suggest bringing children of praying age to this event.”

Muaz said events will be held for schoolchildren to sing religious songs in honour of the occasion, while a special song will be dedicated to the event of alms and prayer. The imam will be Dr. Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed, the minister of Islamic affairs.

Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari, former Islamic minister and now a member of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, criticised the sacrifice.

“Even though we don’t know who keeps calling people to attend a prayer which includes alms, be cautious to not to attend such irreligious activities,” he said.

Sheikh Imran Abdulla, president of the conservative religious Adhaalath party, tweeted: “Slaughtering goats. Is it religious or political?”

Muaz rejected the criticism, saying: “This is not irreligious as some may define it. I have not heard of any scholar officially saying so either, but defining it this way is very disappointing.”

No government money will be used for the event, said Muaz, as it is being run in collaboration with businesses and religious groups.

Ablution facilities will be available from the stadium, but Muaz advised people to come fully prepared to avoid the long queues.

An Islamic NGO began the trend of slaughtering imported goats for Eid al-Fitr in 2010, but this is the first time the government has taken on the project. The animals are not indigenous to Maldives.

The goat slaughter is one of a series of events to celebrate the anniversary of the Maldives becoming independent from Britain in 1965. It had previously been a British protectorate since 1887.

Some 2,000 people including the vice president and criminal court chief judge swam from Villingili to Male’ last week in celebration of independence.


Four applicants for auditor general’s job

President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz has told local media that applications from four individuals have been received for post of auditor general.

While the application deadline ended on Monday, Muaz stated that the applications are currently being processed. He declined from providing any information regarding the applicants other than saying that none were females.

On October 29, the parliament approved an amendment proposed by ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Ahmed Thoriq to the Audit Act enabling the president to reappoint the auditor general, four years before the end of the incumbent Auditor General Niyaz Ibrahim’s seven year term.

The recent amendment stipulates that the president must submit a nomination for the post to the parliament 30 days from the ratification of the act.

The amendment was passed despite the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) members’ argument that it should not have been put to a vote as it allows the discharging of the incumbent without following the constitutional provisions for impeachment.

The amendment came into effect on the same day that the Auditor General signed a damning report into an alleged US$6 milllion corruption scandal involving PPM Deputy Leader and Minister of Tourism Ahmed Adeeb – a report Adeeb claimed was politically motivated.

Earlier in November, Niyaz Ibrahim told local media that he will not be reapplying for the post, and that instead he intends to challenge the constitutionality of the amendment in court.


Maldivian asylum seekers assured of prosecution upon return, says President’s Office

Maldivians seeking asylum abroad on grounds of religion or sexuality can be assured of prosecution should they return, says the President’s Office.

“The threat from the state they speak of is in actuality our law and regulations. That will not change,” President’s Office Spokesman Ibrahim Muaz explained.

Muaz’s comments come in response to a story in the New Zealand media that a homosexual Maldivian asylum seeker has become an prize-winning drag queen in Wellington.

Abraham Naim told the Dominion Post that he had been granted asylum in 2013 after facing persecution in the Maldives.

The article quotes New Zealand’s Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment as stating that Naim was “at risk of serious harm from state agents” and that “there is a real chance of persecution if he returned to the Maldives”.

Naim also told the news website that he has been prey to numerous online threats and hate mail. “My entire existence is controversial,” he said.

Asked to comment on the matter today, Mushrif Musaid (Supervisor) at Ministry of Islamic Affairs Jannath Saeed stated that acts of homosexuality are clearly anti-Islamic and against the country’s laws, and thereby subject to legal action.

“Such acts of homosexuality are haraam in Islam. However, this ministry has not so far received any complaints from anyone claiming to be a persecuted homosexual,” said Jannath.

“We will need to check if the ministry has issued any threats or statements against a homosexual. The fact remains that such an act is without doubt against Islam,” he commented.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs Media Official Zaaid Ahmed stated that he would comment on the matter on a future date after consulting with the relevant officials in the ministry.

Speaking on the issue of Maldivian asylum seekers last month, President Abdulla Yameen referred to the act of leaving the Maldives as “treason”, though he suggested those who returned would be welcomed.

“If they want to leave the shelter of Maldives, we say, you are welcome, go somewhere else. But if they want to come back to the Maldives, we will again say, welcome back to the Maldives,” said the president.

“Too much to lose”

Spokesman Muaz told Minivan News today that instances of Maldivian youth committing criminal acts under the protection of foreign states had been seen before.

“No one can get away with committing such acts for as long as they are using a Maldivian identity card or passport,” he added.

In his interview with the Dominion Post, Naim – who performs under the name Medulla Oblongata – explained that he had been disowned by his father.

“I’m definitely in a better place now,” he told the paper.

Speaking with other Maldivians currently living abroad for reasons related to their sexuality, Minivan News was told that most preferred to refrain from publicly revealing their sexuality as there was “too much to lose”.

Some said it would be difficult to get employment, while others spoke of being ostracised from society, fearing the repercussion their families might face.

“I prefer to stay quiet about it in my country of origin and instead live elsewhere where I can live comfortably with my sexuality. I’d lose everything from my family connections to friends if I come out,” said 23-year-old Ahmed Matheen*.

Moosa Farih* suggested that the situation for gay Maldivians had deteriorated in recent times.

“Until now, Maldivian LGBT have been largely left alone, but I feel that the focus has gradually been shifting onto us lately, and this is because there is increasing number of people who are trying hard to create the platform for our voices to be heard.”

“I am glad that Naim is out there spearheading this change. In Islam, there is no compulsion in religion, but that is never practiced. If the government and the people of Maldives wanted LGBT to be out of their system, asylum seekers shouldn’t be threatened with extradition and prosecution,” said Farih.

One 28-year-old Maldivian man, still living in n the capital Malé said that only a few “trusted persons” were aware of his sexuality.

“I could easily seek asylum elsewhere, but the point is, my life does not revolve around my sexuality,” he said.

“Yes, I am homosexual. But that is just an unavoidable fact like the colour of my eyes or my skin tone.

I’d rather keep it secret and live here and achieve my dreams of working to make this country a better, more progressive place,” he said, on account of anonymity.

*Names changed on request