Three councilors suspended for boycott of independence day activities

Three councillors of the Alif Alif atoll council have been suspended over a resolution declaring the council will not participate in activities organised by the government to mark the golden jubilee of independence.

The Local Government Authority (LGA) on Sunday suspended councilmen Hassan Shiyan, Moomin Rasheed Ahmed and Ali Sameer for one month without pay.

All six members of the atoll council belong to the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

The resolution passed on April 30 by three of the six councillors, and signed by the council president, said they do not believe Maldivians are independent and free as long as the first democratically elected president Mohamed Nasheed and other politicians remain in jail.

“[A]n environment conducive to celebrating Independence Day does not exist in this country at the moment. It will be very difficult to gain the support of the public for independence day activities. This council has decided not to participate in any activities organised by the government, until it grants all the powers enshrined in the Decentralisation Act to local councils and stops harassment of dissidents,” the resolution read.

The three suspended councillors are out of the country.

The council’s vice-president Moosa Naeem told Minivan News the council office is not functioning because of the suspension of half of its members.

The council’s president Abdul Ghafoor Mohamed may also face suspension, he said.

Naeem said he was not present at the emergency meeting called over the resolution, but explained the decision: “We had decided we are not going to participate in the ‘Independent 50’ activities, because the situation in the country, political leaders being imprisoned and many are being brutalised. The decision passed with a majority of three members out of the four that attended.”

The LGA, headed by home minister Umar Naseer, has also penalised several councillors for participating in mass protests organised by the opposition.

A total of seven councillors were suspended for two months without pay for participating in the May 1 protest. Nearly 20,000 people took to the streets of Malé on May Day demanding the release of Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

The Thulhaadhoo island council has meanwhile defied orders from the LGA to withhold the monthly salary of a councillor suspended for attending the protest.

The council informed the LGA last week that the authority’s order was contrary to relevant laws and regulations. Unless a court of law rules otherwise, the Thulhaadhoo council said it would be following an “unconstitutional order” if it enforced the decision.

Earlier this month, MDP island and atoll councillors in Noonu atoll decided to chip in to pay the salary of suspended Holhudhoo councillor Hussain Habeeb.

The MDP said some 300 of its 450 island and atoll councillors had taken part in the May Day protest. A third mass protest is set for June 12.

MDP vice president Mohamed Shifaz condemned the LGA’s decision: “The LGA is only there to monitor the system. Suspending councilmen is not even on their mandate. An unelected body cannot suspend councillors elected by the people.”

He urged the parliament to take action against state bodies that overstep their mandate.

“This is Naseer’s political schemes, the problem here is the parliament controlled by the ruling party never takes action against committees that go out of their mandate,” he said.


Government appeals for cooperation with Independence Day celebrations

The government has appealed for public cooperation for planned events to celebrate the upcoming 50th Independence Day on July 26.

“The celebration of Independence Day should involve everyone. I call on every Maldivian to cooperate with the celebrations,” President’s Office Minister Abdulla Ameen said last week.

A special office was launched on Thursday (March 19) to oversee events planned by the government to mark the golden jubilee of independence.

“The Independence Day celebrations are supervised by the president. The celebrations are carried out with the president’s opinion and advice,” Ameen said at a ceremony after opening the office.

Scheduled events include sky diving, a swimming competition, a bicycle race and a water fountain laser show.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has meanwhile accused the government of using the celebrations as a cover to “rob civil liberty” and “empower gangs.”

“From every event we see the government-backed gangs getting more powerful. There is absolutely no freedom whatsoever for the opposition or its supporters. The government with their minority and the so-called peaceful youths are terrorising every other citizen,” MDP Vice President Mohamed Shifaz told Minivan News.

While the Maldives gained independence working alongside development partners and friendly nations, Shifaz contended that the Maldives was now isolated in the international area.

“We got independence by working together with the rest of the world. But 50 years later with President Yameen’s foreign policy Maldives has been isolated from the rest of the world now,” he said.


Artists protest exclusion of Nasheed paintings from Minivan50 exhibition

A group of local artists staged a protest at the national art gallery today over the exclusion of paintings depicting former President Mohamed Nasheed from an exhibition organised by the education ministry.

The exhibition, launched yesterday, featured artwork and handicraft by students from 32 schools as part of events planned by the government to mark the upcoming golden jubilee of the country’s independence.

“Nasheed is said to be the Mandela of the Indian Ocean and I personally have a lot of respect for him. That is why I chose to paint him,” 18-year-old Mohamed Raaif told Minivan News today.

The Maldives National University student explained that his painting was initially put up, but he later discovered that it had been removed.

Raif MDP painting
Mohamed Raaif

Raaif said a teacher told him that the organisers claimed his painting  was of “a terrorist” and could not be displayed.

The opposition leader was found guilty of terrorism on Friday night (March 13) and sentenced to 13 years in prison over the military’s detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.

Education ministry officials in charge of organising the exhibition could not be reached at the time of publication.

A second painting by a student featuring the former president was also removed.

However, artwork featuring other politicians with blurred faces were displayed at the exhibition.

Raaif said he spent three days working on the painting and had stayed up all night to complete it. He said he was hoping to raise funds for his mother’s backbone surgery as the family was currently facing financial constraints.

He added that he did not have any intention of politicising the painting. However, Raaif said he associated the theme of the exhibition – freedom or independence – with former President Nasheed.

“Not free yet”

Online news outlet CNM reported that the second banned painting of Nasheed was from a grade ten student at the Addu20482_941120079255989_6670794182747816048_n City Feydhoo School.

“That photo is of a terrorist. Photos of terrorists cannot be promoted,” organisers allegedly said, according to an anonymous source.

Meanwhile, a group of about 30 people, including several artists, staged a silent protest inside the art gallery today, mingling with members of the public and holding up prints of the banned Nasheed paintings.

The exhibition was open to the public with free entrance.

The protesters also carried placards calling for freedom of expression and assembly as guaranteed by the constitution and stuck posters on the gallery walls that read, “Not free yet!” and “Minimum 50 years in prison.”

“The function of freedom is to free someone else,” read one of the posters, quoting Chinese dissident and Nobel laureate, Ai Weiwei.

“The work of art was a scream for freedom. Minivan [independent] 50 has not reached us yet!” read one of the placards held up by a protester.

An artist at today’s protest, Kareen Adam, told Minivan News: “The state cannot dictate to us what we can paint, draw, write or think etc. They should have called this exhibition ‘freedom within boundaries’ instead.”

Others artists said the organisers were sending a negative message to youth by banning the paintings of Nasheed, stating that former President Nasheed was an ineradicable part of recent Maldivian history.

Around 4:30pm – half an hour after the exhibition opened for the day – protesters told Minivan News that police asked them to leave as organisers had said the art gallery was closing.

A group led by Youth Ministry Coordinator Ali ‘Steps Ayya’ Shahid meanwhile arrived and began tearing down the material pasted on the walls.

“We will not keep paintings of terrorists,” one of the men allegedly said.

Protesters said the men tore down the paintings and ripped up the posters as police officers watched impassively.

A police officer was also photographed ripping a poster.

Steps Ayya Art Gallery protest
Youth Ministry Coordinator Steps Ayya. Photo by: Munshid Mohamed


Police told the protesters that the men had clearance to enter the gallery as they had passes of government coordinators.

One of the protesters took a photograph of the men and was allegedly pushed away.

The men also pushed out the protesters from the gallery. Protesters who spoke to Minivan News asked not to be named as they feared becoming targeted and said they did not have confidence that police would provide protection.


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