Police uncover four child abuse rings

Police have uncovered four child abuse rings across the country involving at least 33 male minors between the ages of 14 and 18.

Chief Superintendent Mohamed Riyaz said the cases involved homosexual adult men preying on minors, and that it was likely that more children could be involved.

Only one arrest has been made so far.

The boys were lured through interactions on social media and the internet, said the head of the north wing of the divisional operations command.

“In some of these cases, we have noted that the children were used to bring their friends into this,” he said.

Appealing for parents to be more vigilant of their children’s online activities, Riyaz said “special measures” are needed from parents, schools and the community at large to combat child sexual abuse.

In most cases, Riyaz said individuals with a history of sexual offences befriends children on the internet.

Almost one in seven children of secondary school age in the Maldives have been sexually abused at some time in their lives, according to an unpublished 2009 study on violence against minors.

The rates of sexual abuse for boys was at 11 percent while the figure for girls were almost twice as high at 20 percent.

Police could not reveal further details including which islands the cases were reported from as the investigation was ongoing, Riyaz said.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Zenysha Shaheed Zaki, executive director of Advocating the Rights of Children (ARC), said the child protection NGO has launched a ‘Surf [email protected]’ campaign in February targeting internet safety for children.

“Our hope is that children can be taught to safely use the internet in an age appropriate manner,” she said.

In some cases, Zenysha said parents stop their children from using the internet, which she says is not a “realistic” solution.

Children should instead be taught to use the internet safely and be warned of the dangers, she suggested.

ARC is in the process of developing content for awareness material for social media, television and radio clips, and workshops for parents and teachers, she added. The sessions are expected to begin in June.

Telecommunications service provider Dhiraagu and cable TV service provider Medianet have sponsored the campaign for a one-year period.

Meanwhile, in a high-profile case in November 2009, a 38-year-old pedophile was sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for 39 counts of child sexual abuse.

Hussain Fazeel was initially arrested for smuggling alcohol, but police discovered a hard drive containing a large quantity of images and videos of Fazeel having sex with underaged boys, some as young as 10. In other videos, the boys were made to had sex with each other.

Fazeel was charged before ratification of the Child Sexual Abuse (Special Provisions) Act, which carries penalties of up to 25 years.

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Dhiraagu internet service “restored” after successful repair test

Dhiraagu has said that internet services affected by a damaged section of submarine cable off the Sri Lankan Coast have been “restored” after testing on repairs proved successful today.

The cable was damaged on the evening of Wednesday April 18 forcing the company to provide a “degraded” service to national internet customers for several days as it sought out “diversity routes” to reduce the impact to its operations.

The repair work, which was carried out jointly by Dhiraagu and Sri Lankan Telecom (SLT), commenced last week after a specially equipped repair vessel called the Asean Explorer made its way to Sri Lanka from India.

Company spokesperson Imjad Jaleel told Minivan News that testing on the repaired cable had been under way today to ensure that the company could provide a “normal service” to its clients.  By this evening, Dhiraagu announced the tests had been successful and that its broadband capacity had been restored.

According to Dhiraagu, the damaged section of cable, situated 26 miles off the Sri Lankan coast and 40 metres below the water had been damaged by the anchor of a ship.  The damage was found to have occurred in an area of Sri Lankan waters where vessels were not permitted to anchor, the company had previously announced.

Whilst repairs were being undertaken, the company said it had been working to improve the quality of internet services and international calls affected by the cable damage through alternative avenues like the use of satellites.

Last week, chief national telecoms rival Wataniya announced it was also assisting in the provision of data capacity from its own cable as part of a national agreement to cover any disruptions to the Maldives communication network.  Dhiraagu said it has been paying Wataniya for the data capacity allowance.

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Repair work commences on Dhiraagu submarine cable

Dhiraagu has reportedly commenced work this afternoon on repairing a damaged section of submarine cable off the Sri Lankan coast responsible for disrupting the company’s internet services in the Maldives over the last week.

Local media has reported that repair work on the cable began at around 2pm this afternoon in a collaboration between Dhiraagu technicians and engineers from Sri Lankan Telecom (SLT).

Commencement of the repair work has been dependent on the arrival of a specially equipped ship called the Asean Explorer, which completed its journey from India to Sri Lanka yesterday.  It is not known yet how long repairs may take, though Dhraagu claims it has continued to work on strengthening services and capacity for its internet clients.

Earlier this week, a spokesperson for the company said it did not wish to speculate on the possible cause of the damage to the submarine cable that connects Dhiraagu’s Maldivian broadband network to the wider world.

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Dhiraagu reveals cable repair vessel to arrive April 25, discusses compensation

Dhiraagu has said it does not wish to speculate on a date for the completion of repairs to a damaged section of submarine cable that has severely impacted its internet services over the last week.

The local telecoms group said that until repair work commences on April 25, the company would not be able address the scale and cause of the damage to a section of cable based 26 kilometres from the Sri Lankan coast.  However, a spokesperson stressed to Minivan News that the cause of damage to the cable was being seen as an “accident” at present.

Company Chief Executive Ismail Rasheed today told local media that Dhiraagu would be providing compensation for customers affected by the disruption to its internet services as it works to increase capacity.

Dhiraagu has been looking for so called “diversity routes” since the damage occurred to the cable last Wednesday (April 18), forcing it to provide a “degraded” service to its internet customers,  whilst prioritising e-mail and browsing services.

Dhiraagu added that as part of a national agreement, telecoms rival Wataniya would be assisting in providing data capacity from its own unaffected submarine cable.  The company has said that is is also working to strengthen its satellite operations for international phone services.

Asean Explorer

Company spokesperson Imjad Jaleel has told Minivan News that the Asean Explorer vessel equipped to enact repairs on submarine cables was still expected to leave India on Tuesday before arriving in Sri Lanka the next day.

According to the company, the damage has been located to a section of cable situated 40 metres below the Sri Lankan waters. The cable itself connects Sri Lanka directly to the island of Huhlumale’. From Hulhumale’, this signal is then carried across the country’s scattered atolls.

Spokesperson Imjad stressed that the company would not yet be speculating on a date for full services to resume until it could offer more detailed information to its customers.

The damage sustained to its cable was still being considered an “accident”, possibly resulting from an errant anchor, he added.

The company claimed that preliminary testing had shown that the damage was not believed to have resulted from earth quakes or other geological occurrences, leaving anchoring ships as the most probable cause.

According to Imjad, the cable itself is situated in one of two areas in Sri Lankan waters specifically set aside for the country to house its underwater communications cables. In these areas, the anchoring of ships is not permitted, he added.

“We believe that there could have been an accident with an anchor perhaps accidentally being dropped in these waters, but we will only be able to asses fully on April 25,” Imjad claimed.

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Dhiraagu expects submarine cable repairs to begin Wednesday

Repair work to a damaged submarine cable that has affected internet services provided by local telecoms group Dhiraagu is expected to begin on Wednesday, local media has reported.

Dhiraagu has been having to provide a “degraded” internet service since Wednesday evening after a section of submarine cable located 26km off the coast of Sri Lanka was damaged. The cable is used by the group to provide internet service to the Maldives.

Despite initial estimates that the problem would be resolved in three to four days, the company now expects repairs to begin once a specially equipped repair vessel arrives in Sri Lanka. The ship is expected to arrive Tuesday, according to local newspaper Haveeru.

The company has said that in the meantime it is continuing its work on supplying “diversity routes” that will allow it to try and prioritise offering web browsing and e-mail services to customers.

Wataniya, Dhiraagu’s main competitor in the national telecommunications market, has said in a press release that it will aim to assist in providing data capacity through its own unaffected submarine cable network.

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Dhiraagu warns of “degraded” internet service over submarine cable damage

Dhiraagu has said its internet customers could face “degraded service” for the next few days as work is undertaken to repair a damaged submarine cable between the Maldives and Sri Lanka.

Dhiraagu spokesperson Imjad Jaleel said that “diversity routes” were
now being used by the company to ensure that locally hosted web
services could be accessed today, as it aims to prioritise the
provision of web browsing and e-mail services to customers.

“There should be no problems for locally hosted sites right now,”
Jaleel claimed. “We are looking to make use of diversity routes that
will allow us to prioritise important services such as e-mail and
browsing services for our customers even on sites based
internationally.”

Degraded services started occurring on Wednesday evening.  Some business
organisations have expressed concerns that interrupted services were
already having a detrimental impact on local businesses such as those in the
tourism sector that rely on online bookings.

Dhiraagu is one of the country’s largest internet service providers,
dominating the internet and telecommunications sector. Dhiraagu’s main
competitor Wataniya has said it does not currently have any issues with the
provision of its internet services.

Submarine cable

According to Dhiraagu, the problem with its internet service has arisen due
to damage sustained on a section of international submarine cable
located 26 kilometres off the coast of Sri Lanka. The cable is used by
the company to provide broadband services to the country.

Jaleel said the damaged area of cable had been located and a
regionally-based specialised vessel called the Asean Explorer was now
on its way to the affected area to conduct repairs. The vessel is
expected to arrive in the next 24 to 48 hours.

“This has impacted our customers’ access to the internet, it is
estimated that normal services will return in three to four days,”
Jaleel said. “The cable is located 40 metres below the water and this
is the first time that damage like this has taken place on our
network.

Jaleel said the company would not know the exact cause of the damage
to the cable until the Asian Explorer vessel began repairs. However,
he said the damage may been caused by a vessel anchoring in shallow
waters.

“We would like to assure customers that we are presently seeking out
diversity routes and that everyone should be able to access locally
hosted web sites,” he said. “The Asian Explorer vessel that is on its
way now is designed specially to deal with repairs like this.”

Speaking to Minivan News today, the Maldives National Chamber of
Commerce and Industry (MNCCI) Vice President Ismail Asif claimed that
it had received several concerns regarding the impact of internet
connectivity issues on local business.

Asif claimed that the chamber had not received information from Dhiraagu as
yet on the issues affecting local internet service, adding that the
organisaton has itself been experiencing problems with its e-mail.

“We are still awaiting information right now from our members on the
scale of the impact, but almost everything we do relies on e-mails,
even letters we receive are scanned rather than faxed these days,” he
said. “Therefore, we expect there to be a huge impact on businesses.”

In terms of specific vulnerabilities to internet connections, the
MNCCI said that many of the country’s tourism related companies
significantly based their operations online.

“We cannot give the number of websites that are down right now
obviously as the internet situation is hindering our own work,” he
said.

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“Don’t give in to fanatical minority”, Reporters Without Borders urges government

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) have issued a statement urging the government “not to give in to the fanatical minority” and to do “all it can to ensure the media are free to tackle any subjects they choose.”

The statement came in response to the Islamic Ministry’s ordering of the Communications Authority of the Maldives (CAM) to block the website of controversial blogger, Ismail Khilath “Hilath” Rasheed, on the grounds that it contained anti-Islamic material.

“The increase in acts of religious intolerance is a threat to the Maldives’ young democracy”, RSF said its statement, requesting the “immediate reopening of [Hilath’s] blog.”

RSF noted that there were harsh penalties for blasphemy under Maldivian law following new regulations enforcing the 1994 Religious Unity Act, which bans the media from circulating any material that “humiliates Allah, his prophets, the Koran, the Sunnah or the Islamic faith”.

Incidents involving media workers are rare in the Maldives, RSF observed, “but that is only because most of them prefer to censor themselves and stay away from subjects relating to Islam, unlike Ismail Khilath Rasheed.”

“According to Rasheed, the Islamic Affairs Ministry had his blog in its sights because he is a Sufi Muslim, not a Sunni like most Maldivians, and has always been highly critical of religious fundamentalism.”

RSF compiles the annual Press Freedom Index. The Maldives is currently ranked 52nd out of 178 countries.

President Mohamed Nasheed’s Press Secretary, Mohamed Zuhair, acknowledged that the decision would affect the Maldives’ reputation for press freedom.

“The government has a responsibility to protect the tenets of Islam,” Zuhair said, but urged Hilath to appeal the decision: “I believe there should be more dialogue and discussion before action is taken.”

“Blocking a website containing undesirable material is not an option for the Maldivian government. The Internet is larger than 1-2 Maldivian bloggers. Should we shut out all content deemed undesirable by Islamic scholars, and is it even technically possible with filtering?”

Zuhair noted that the Maldives had benefited from having one the highest rates of Internet penetration in the region.

According to Facebook statistics, one third of the Maldives population have accounts on the social network, the vast majority of them aged between 18-35.

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Internet expands opportunities for Maldivian artists

Opportunities for Maldivian artists have been expanded by the Maldivian Artists Directory, an internet platform for artists to share, showcase and market their talents and interests. The directory was developed by the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture with the support of the United Nations Development Project (UNDP) Male office and the National Centre for the Arts (NCA).

Artists who meet directory criteria may register on-line with a resume and contact information. Criteria vary by artistic category, and may include publication to an internet forum and community involvement. Artistic categories are performing, music, literary, visual and traditional.

“We believe the Directory will also provide opportunities for artists to better market themselves and their products as well as seek interested audiences and those wishing to commission artworks or invest in arts projects,” the ministry said in a press release.

The ministry intends for the directory to “help in defining a distinct Maldivian identity as manifest in the arts practices and traditions of the Maldives, both old and contemporary,” while making these cultural aspects more accessible to tourists.

The Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture recently joined International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies (IFACC), a network connection arts councils and ministries worldwide.

In June this year, the Arts Development Fund was set up by the Ministry of Finance and Treasury. Criteria to award funding and other support was also set up, and the ministry will be helping local artists organize fund raisers.

Plans for an arts council are underway, however the ministry has delayed submitting the act stipulating these plans to Parliament “because of the present climate which we foresee as more conducive later in the year.”

The ministry has asked President Mohamed Nasheed to appoint a council with the minister’s advice. Of the appointments, however, those for theatre and drama, film making, literature, visual arts, music and crafts will be appointed independently.

Applications for the directory are available on-line.

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Comment: Ghettoes of the mind

They say the wealth of volumes it contains

Outnumbers the stars or the grains

Of sand in the desert. The man

Who tried to read them all would lose

His mind and the use of his reckless eyes.

… said Caliph Omar, describing the Great Library of Alexandria before commanding his soldiers to destroy it, in Jorge Luis Borges poem ‘Alexandria, AD 641’

Over a thousand years later, modern man finds himself, much like the legend of the book-burning Caliph, face to face with all the world’s knowledge – the manuscripts and parchment now replaced by signal bits flowing through the electronic veins of the World Wide Web into which the globe has become intricately interwoven.

The volume of information generated every 48 hours now exceeds the sum of all the words uttered by mankind since the beginning of time until the 21st century, according to Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google – an Internet behemoth consumed by the idea of indexing “all the world’s knowledge”, having taken up the challenge of painstakingly scanning every book ever printed, capturing every image, collecting every video, and recording every musical note.

If informed debate is the catalyst that strengthens democracy, and communication the antidote to war, then the Internet has provided an inexhaustible source of illumination, and an unprecedented platform for billions of people to engage with each other.

And yet, a curious thing has happened. The avalanche of papers, viewpoints, analyses and thoughts has left in its wake a society that appears to be increasingly unreceptive to fresh ideas.

Reality distortion field

The discerning Caliph’s observation that “The man who tried to read them all would lose his mind” is especially true of the Internet.

Recently, Google rolled out a feature by which a person’s search results would return content recommended by friends and family who are likely to share his opinions. Unknown to the user, his search results are already being tailored based on a number of other factors, including his reading habits, location and previous search terms.

Perceptive users of social networks like Facebook would notice algorithms carefully designed to weed out content posted by non-like-minded ‘friends’ from appearing on their activity feeds – resulting in their ‘Wall’ being plastered with views they largely agree with.

In other words, the web is increasingly becoming a deceptive mirror, telling one exactly what he wants to hear.

This collateral censorship due to skewed results tends to create a bubble around users, steeping them in a confirmation bias that results in highly polarized views, which is evident from volatile, emotionally charged comments on the Internet, often over trivial matters.

As with real life, polarised extremities can rarely engage in healthy, democratic debate.

It is easy to observe the balkanisation of the web simply by identifying the cartels of blogs and personal websites. Liberal bloggers link to one another. Islamist websites feed off each other’s content. Christian blogs share gossip in their own closed loops. Creationist networks cite each other as sources. Atheist campaigners pat each other on the back. Environmentalists. Conservatives. Anarchists. Nationalists.

Not only are people becoming increasingly isolated in self imposed online ghettoes, but the gated communities are becoming mutually hostile and blindly dogmatic than ever before.

The scepticism of climate change deniers towards easily verifiable statistics demonstrates this phenomenon, as does the fanatic’s contempt towards established science.

The Internet has made it incredibly easy to find out and learn about other peoples and cultures, other religions and perspectives, other views and opinions. And yet, the Internet is also where racists, bigots and supremacists have found refuge.

Despite thousands of scholarly articles, research papers, scientific publications and public archives available freely online, the Internet is also a place where conspiracy theorists continue to thrive, carefully avoiding the zones of enlightenment.

In other words, users intimidated by the bewildering expansiveness of available information can become ensconced in a comfortable, personally tailored reality that the Internet is happy to provide.

Thought Control Protocol

Cult leaders, dictators and fanatics are known to confiscate and burn books by dissidents and ‘heretics’, in order to ensure their followers’ unwavering adherence to ideology.

The combined knowledge of antiquity went up in flames in Alexandria, and plunged civilization into darkness and wasted centuries. While the modern-day Caliphs cannot quite burn down the intangible web – they have figured out that it can be regulated or, even better, replaced.

The People’s Republic of China effectively hides one-fifths of humanity behind their Great Firewall, blacking out entire concepts, ideas, and incidents from history.

The famous satellite photograph of the Korean Peninsula taken at night, that shows an isolated North Korea plunged in darkness, in stark contrast to the brightly lit South illuminated from coast to coast, also accurately illustrates the North Korean regime’s absolute black out of information from its citizens, cloaking them in a terrible darkness.

In the aftermath of the ‘Twitter revolutions” across the Middle East, Iran is reportedly pressing ahead with plans to move its entire online population to a “private, regulated Internet” within two years, cutting them off from the rest of the world.

As with political mullahs elsewhere, the Iranian clergy deny they have any political motives (perish the thought!) Instead, they have put forward the honourable, time-tested justifications of “protecting Islamic values” and “preventing corruption of the youth from evil, Western influence”.

Myanmar and Cuba also have private nation-wide networks, designed similarly with noble intentions of preventing their innocent citizens from eating from the forbidden tree of knowledge.

The unrestricted, untamed power that the Internet bestows into the hands of ordinary people has made it the bane of theocracies and other dictatorships seeking rigid control.

The collapse of a brutal, 30 year old dictatorship in two weeks bears testament to its immense capabilities – and the reason why politicians are increasingly clamping down the Internet, including in the West.

Even young democracies like the Maldives have shown symptoms of this malady, with the present government banning several websites deemed to be critical of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and the political party that controls it.

The desire to control and censor information in the Internet age is the surest sign of authoritarianism, and should rightfully alarm proponents of democracy.

Even when the censorship is self-imposed and cultivated by a desire to live in a tailored reality, then also, democracy is equally threatened.

Democracy thrives on free flow of information. To achieve this, it is not sufficient to just bring down authoritarian regimes, but one also must break down mental barriers that form the walls of the Internet ghettoes and reach out to the other side.

For democracy to survive, one must boldly confront views that are often unpleasant, patiently hear out ideas that are uncomfortable, and acknowledge voices that disagree with oneself – because, as it turns out, it is exceedingly easy to be wilfully ignorant, despite having the world’s knowledge at your fingertips.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]

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