Politicians behind death threats to Gasim, claims JP

The Jumhooree Party (JP) has alleged that politicians are behind death threats sent to the party’s leader Gasim Ibrahim.

“We will take your life if you keep talking in the media,” and “We will wipe you and your family from Malé,” read the threats sent via text message to the business tycoon last week.

“The death threats are being issued to Honourable Gasim Ibrahim by those displeased or threatened by his efforts in the People’s Majlis, the media, and various other arenas for the benefit and wellbeing of the Maldivian people, in a planned attempt to intimidate him and push him back politically with politicians behind these threats,” the JP contended in a press statement yesterday (August 17).

The party expressed concern with the persistent threats and noted that Article 29 of the Constitution guarantees the “freedom to acquire and impart knowledge, information and learning.”

“And we note that these threatening messages are being sent at a time when the government and the ruling party have been directly targeting Honourable Gasim Ibrahim’s businesses, carrying out actions to hinder them and taking measures that are not being taken against other [businesses],” the press release stated.

Last week, the government terminated an agreement with Gasim’s Villa Air to manage and develop the Kaadehdhoo regional airport.

The Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture meanwhile decided not to renew the lease of Laamu Baresdhoo, an uninhabited island leased to Gasim’s Villa company for agriculture.

Moreover, the fisheries ministry gave a 30-day notice to reclaim a plot of land in Gaaf Dhaal Hoadehdhoo leased to Gasim’s Horizons Fisheries.

President Abdulla Yameen has, however, denied “impeding” Gasim’s businesses, insisting that the decisions were made due to breach of contract.

In a letter to Commissioner of Police Hussain Waheed informing the authorities of the threats, Gasim reportedly revealed that the owners of the numbers from which the messages were sent has denied sending any texts.

Gasim suggested that the text messages could have been sent through the internet using a phone number duplicating software.

The business tycoon appealed for police to investigate the threats with “utmost seriousness.”

Following similar threats sent in June, Gasim objected to lack of security provided to MPs despite the death threats he received, noting that he has arranged for private bodyguards.

Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) Spokesperson Major Hussain Ali told Minivan News today that “discussions” were currently taking place between the MNDF and the parliament secretariat regarding security arrangements for MPs.

Asked if MPs would have bodyguards from MNDF, the spokesperson suggested seeking the information from the People’s Majlis secretariat.

A media official at the secretariat, however, was unaware either of the present security arrangements or whether MPs had MNDF bodyguards.

Intimidation

Earlier this month, death threats were sent via text message from an unlisted number to six opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs.

While one message threatened to kill MPs who “behave inappropriately,” the second stated that it would not be “a sin to kill those who challenge the word of Allah and call for religious freedom.”

“Afrasheem Ali was an example before your eyes,” it read, referring to the murdered moderate scholar and Progressive Party of Maldives MP.

Police confirmed at the time that the threats were being investigated but declined to reveal further details.

Parliament Secretary General Ahmed Mohamed told local media that MNDF were formally asked to provide security for MPs after a number of lawmakers made requests following the swearing-in of the 18th parliament.

MNDF had not responded as of August 3, he said. In July, Defence Minister Colonel (Retired) Mohamed Nazim assured that security would be provided to MPs and that recommendations for security provisions in the parliamentary rules – currently under review – had been shared with the speaker.

Article 105(b) of the Constitution states, “The security services of the state shall ensure the protection and safety of all members of the People’s Majlis.”

Meanwhile, a number of journalists have also received death threats in recent weeks, warning them against reporting on gang violence in the wake of a spate of stabbings in the capital.

An IT expert with experience in the telecommunications field explained to Minivan News at the time that it would be difficult to identify the culprit if the text messages were sent through an online mass text message service.

“Unless it came from a local IP address it would be almost impossible to trace it back. If they used anonymous proxy servers to send the texts it could be traced back to the SMS gateway, but no further,” he said.

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Fear, intimidation aimed at stalling development, says Nasheed

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has expressed concern over a regression in democratic gains, and claimed government’s attempts at intimidation and fear is intended to stall development.

Speaking at an August 12 commemoration of the tenth anniversary of Maldives’ first mass pro-democracy protests, Nasheed said August 12, 13 of 2004 was a “day Maldivians stood up against torture and called for what is rightfully theirs.”

“On that day, Maldivians gathered to realise their hopes. That day, Maldivians called for what they continue to call for today. Housing, education, healthcare, income generation, a dignified life,” he said.

In what would later be referred to as ‘Black Friday’, security forces teargassed and brutalised protestors and cut off all mediums of communication including messaging services and internet. President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom announced a state of emergency and suspended the constitution. Hundreds of protesters were detained for months.

The Maldives is once again seeing a return to its authoritarian past with the recent increase in death threats against opposition politicians, Nasheed said.

“Inciting fear is aimed at stalling development,” he said, alleging the death threats was a government attempt to stop the opposition from criticising and uncovering the truth behind its “cloud castle” policies.

“Torture in jails, killing Evan Naseem, or putting me in stocks is not aimed at torturing Galholhu Kenereege Mohamed Nasheed, or killing Evan Naseem, but to incite fear among the public. To let it be known criticising the powers that be is dangerous,” he said.

Criticising the dissolution of the ruling progressive coalition and President Abdulla Yameen’s flagship special economic zone (SEZ) bill, Nasheed said Yameen’s Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) had backtracked on campaign pledges after assuming power.

The PPM at the time had portrayed Maldives as a holy land, pledged to end foreign interference and uphold sovereignty. But the SEZs, Nasheed suggested, will allow foreign companies to plunder Maldivian resources without any oversight.

“In the special economic zones, there will be no duty, no immigration, no customs, no Maldivian laws,” he said.

Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party in a statement on Tuesday also said: “on the tenth anniversary of August 12, 13, we note, with great concern, we have slid back to the conditions of pre-2008.”

It listed Nasheed’s controversial ouster in 2012, police brutality of February 7 and 8 in 2012, the Supreme Court and police interference in the 2013 presidential polls, increased incidences of arbitrary arrest, government’s violations of freedom of expression and association, filing trumped up charges and murder attempts against opposition supporters and threats to freedom of the press as signs of regression.

Nasheed in his speech also criticised attempts at limiting the powers of councils, and what he claimed was the return of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s narrative that the Maldives is a resource poor nation.

The mantra allows the government to slow down development, at the pace of one harbour a year and harbors for the 196 inhabited islands in 196 years, he said.

The MDP has exposed the narrative as a falsehood as it increased government revenue, without a dramatic increase in national gross domestic product, by establishing a modern tax system, Nasheed said

He went on to claim the protesters gathered at the Republic Square in August 2004 could have overthrown Gayoom and replaced him with Gayoom’s brother in law Ilyas Ibrahim.

Ibrahim contested against Gayoom in 1993 for the People’s Majlis vote for the presidential candidacy, but narrowly failed and was subsequently jailed and banished for a number of years.

Nasheed also claimed senior military officers had told him Gayoom could be ousted in 2007 through a military coup d’état, but the MDP resisted.

“We do not want to overthrow the government through a coup. We want a system that facilitates development,” he said.

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Police present MDP MP Jabir to Criminal Court for alcohol raid trial

Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Abdulla Jabir was presented to the Criminal Court by police today, after being kept in custody since Tuesday (September 10) ahead of his trial for alleged possession of alcohol and cannabis.

Jabir and fellow MDP MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor are among several senior party figures charged with drug and alcohol offences, after being arrested on on Hondaidhoo Island in November whilst allegedly under the influence of illegal substances.

While Jabir at the time of his arrest was a member of the Jumhoree Party (JP) – he later defected to the opposition – the MDP has maintained that his arrest was politically motivated to coincide with a no confidence motion at the time against senior government figures.

The MDP has alleged that the treatment of its MPs, including, Jabir was noticeably different to those of other parties currently aligned to the present government, accusing prosecutors of persecuting its members and supporters.

The trial began earlier this month, with Ghafoor being the only MP in attendance to hear charges against him concerning the case.

A total of 10 people taken into police custody on November 16 after officers obtain a warrant to search the island of Hondaidhoo.

Today’s hearing

Criminal Court Spokesperson Ahmed Mohamed Manik said state prosecutors during the hearing read out a list of charges against Jabir. The MDP MP will be given a chance to respond to these charges against him at the next hearing, Manik added.

Police Spokesperson Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef confirmed to Minivan News that Jabir had been held in police custody ahead of the hearing, under an order previously issued by the Criminal Court. Police did not provide any further details on where the MP had been detained.

Jabir earlier this week had his passport held by immigration officials when trying to leave the country, after previously failing to attend the opening hearing of the trial into the charges against him.

Explaining the absence, MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy ‘Inthi’ told Minivan News he understood Jabir had not received a summons from the Criminal Court to attend the trial, but would have attended if having done so.

“He has been away from Male’ campaigning [for the presidential election held on September 7] and had not therefore received a summons,” he said, accusing the country’s courts of purposefully scheduling hearings against MDP MPs to try and stymie the party’s election campaign.

Fahmy additionally claimed that the Criminal Court had failed to follow its own procedures, and that a summons had to be re-sent if not received by the individual in question.

By comparison, he alleged that Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP and Deputy Speak of Parliament Ahmed Nazim had failed to respond to 12 summons without arrest in relation to his trial for fraud – charges which he was later acquitted of. That case is now the subject of an ongoing High Court appeal.

Fahmy said although the MDP had not been requested to provide a lawyer for Jabir, the party would be ready to provide assistance to him in what it continues to allege is a “politically motivated” arrest.

Fahmy also alleged that the judiciary was seeking to fast track cases against MDP members to hinder the party and its campaigning ahead of a run-off vote scheduled for September 28.

He himself is currently facing a charge of “disobeying orders” over allegedly contemptuous remarks he made against the judiciary during a television show.

Fahmy argued that Jabir, along with Hamid Abdul Ghafoor and the son of the former President Nasheed’s Special Envoy, Mohamed Hamdhoon Zaki, were on a “private island” when they arrested by police officers, who he alleged beat and then arrested them.

“This all happened at the time of a no confidence motion against Minister of Defence Mohamed Nazim and is a clear attempt at intimidation,” claimed Fahmy.

He said that the arrest was against Majlis regulations that say an MP could not be arrested at the time of a no confidence vote.

The no confidence vote had been scheduled for April 8, but was postponed after MDP MPs objected to a decision to not hold the vote in secret despite a parliamentary decision approving a secret ballot.

Previous MP liquor cases

Police last year forwarded a case for prosecution against MP Ahmed ‘Sun Travel’ Shiyam, after a bottle of alcohol was allegedly found in his luggage in March 2012 upon his return to the Maldives after an overseas trip.

The bottle was allegedly discovered when his luggage was screened.

Shiyam is the head of the Maldives Development Alliance (MDA), a new party allied with the Progressive Party of the Maldives and its bid for the presidency on September 28.

Newspaper Haveeru reported on September 3 this year that the case was sent back to police by the Prosecutor General’s Office in August 2012 to clarify further information.

Police have yet to send the case to the PG office over a year later.

The penalty for alcohol possession in the penal code is either a fine of between MVR1,000 to MVR3,000 or imprisonment, banishment or house arrest between one to three years.

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Require a system to take witness testimonies quicker: Police Commissioner

Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz has said authorities require a mechanism to take witness testimonies before they can be intimidated or influenced.

Local media reported that Riyaz expressed “concern” over the way all suspects in the murder case of Ali  Shifan had been acquitted.

The Police Commission claimed that many witnesses were too afraid to testify in high profile cases, adding that there needs to be mechanism to process witness statements quicker.

“Such things happen. This is something we must accept. In other countries there are various mechanisms in place to ensure witness protection.

“We already have such a law. There is a witness protection Act. We have been informed that a draft of such an Act is already at the Parliament. I hope it becomes a law soon,” Riyaz was quoted as saying in local media.

According to Riyaz witnesses change their statements in court because their influenced financially and through intimidation.

Last week, the Criminal Court ruled that all six suspects arrested in connection with the stabbing murder of Ali Shifan are innocent and ordered their release.

The judge ruled that there was not enough evidence to convict, reported local media, despite the DNA of the victim being found under the fingernail of one of the suspects.

The judge said that although the state had produced five witnesses to the court, their statements to police were contradictory.

The judge cited a Supreme Court ruling stating that when dealing with murder cases, a suspect could only be convicted if there was enough evidence to believe he was guilty beyond any doubt, and said the state was not able to convince the court that they were guilty.

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Maldives no longer “tolerable” for foreign doctors, expatriate medical officer claims

Expatriate medical professionals working in the Maldives regularly face intimidation, fraud and “substandard” treatment from patients, health authorities, local staff and the country’s courts, a foreign medical officer working in the country has revealed.

The expatriate medical professional, who has worked in several posts across the country since 2009, revealed that along with widespread reneging on contracts and failing to deal with intimidation of expatriate medical staff, health officials had, in certain cases, not even checked whether foreign doctors were registered to practice medicine.

“Earlier there was a system of asking doctors for the registration of their basic medical degree (graduation degree) in their own country so as to register them in Maldives,” he told Minivan News. “This law was so compromised over the last two years that in one atoll alone, four unregistered doctors are to my knowledge still practising their absent skills here. Frankly speaking, they can kill anybody just by their lack of knowledge, but some get caught on occasion.”

Medical authorities have claimed they were aware of a number of concerns regarding doctor registration, a situation currently being reviewed in conjunction with the Maldives Medical Council. However, the Ministry of Health and Family denied that a fall in the number of doctors coming from India to practice in the Maldives was related to alleged treatment by authorities and patients on islands – instead noting improved pay rates currently offered in their home country.

However, raising concerns over a “deterioration” in the quality of healthcare being provided in some atolls during the last two years, the expatriate medical officer – who asked not to be identified – also detailed a number of issues over the treatment of foreign workers in the country.

According to the whistle-blower, there were growing concerns among skilled expatriates working in medicine and education in the Maldives that was losing the country its reputation as a “tolerable working place”.

Fewer doctors from India were coming to the Maldives year-on-year, the source observed, in part to what he called “public intolerance” of an imported non-Muslim work force.

“The overall behaviour of the Maldives Ministry of Health and Family and government has been negative. [There is also] an lack of availability of US dollars and the Bank of Maldives (BML) has banned issuing international ATM cards to expatriates,” he said. “Meanwhile, there has been an increase in the exchange rate of the US dollar, but no increase in the salary structure in Maldivian rufiya (MVR), meaning salaries are less than before. There are also instances in which the lawlessness of this country has led to the lack of punishment of Maldivian nationals even for heinous crimes like rape if the victim is an expatriate.”

“Violence”

Taking the example of Gaafu Alif (GA) Atoll, where the medical professional has had experience of working, he alleged “constant fear” and intimidation were regularly experienced by foreign healthcare professionals.

“Increasing instances of violence against expatriates is being reported from everywhere in Maldives,” he said.

On the island of GA Villingili, the medical professional claimed that one paediatrician from Pakistan working on the island was physically assaulted after failing to provide a referral letter demanded by some of his patients.

“I myself was on duty, so we had to make the legal documents for him. Afterwards nothing happened and [the doctor] left after just two days without the intention of continuing their contract. [The doctor] is still working in the Maldives, but somewhere else now,” he said.

“[Another doctor] from Uzebikstan also left GA Atoll because some local teenagers beat her two children. The matter became worse when she and her husband reacted with anger towards these boys. People were singing ‘We will kill you…’ on the roads whenever they came out. Ultimately [the doctor] requested for a transfer and is now working in Faafu Nilandhoo Atoll.”

The medical officer added that from his own experiences, skilled expatriate workers across the Maldives faced intimidation and sexual harassment on the islands, with cases such as expatriate teachers having to defend themselves in their own homes.

“I myself have heard some patients calling me or my colleagues their servants and threatening to do what he/she tells to, or else,” he said. “Interestingly, local staff never help in these situation a because they think we they will not be affected much because we don’t know Dhivehi. The situation becomes much more painful as many of us understand the language quite well. These are just glimpses only. And only of [GA] Atoll. Imagine what will happen if we collect together all the things which have gone wrong across the Maldives.”

The medical professional claimed there were also concerns about how authorities were treating doctors in the country, particularly in regards to contractual obligations such as agreements on wages and accommodation.

According to the source, a number of doctors had shared concerns about amendments made to their contractual agreements without their consent or knowledge once they arrive in the country – both in terms of salary and housing.

“When a doctor lands in Male’, only then [do authorities] reveal to him or her that actually this offer letter is an old one and now the salary structure is a little different. It is always like that. So many times they have done it that now people know about it unofficially and openly and make fun of it,” he claimed.

“Authorities write in their offer letter about free residence while working here. It is mentioned in this form of providing free residence or as much rufiya through a housing allowance, plus their people will help you find a place. They don’t, of course,” he said.

The medical officer claimed that he was personally provided with a housing allowance of MVR 3,000 ruifiya (US$195), assistance in finding accommodation had not been given.

However even upon finding accommodation, a former expatriate paediatrician from South Asia, who was living and working in GA atoll, was alleged to have been evicted from a property on one island by its owners with less than 24 hours notice after they found a tenant willing to pay better rent for the accommodation. The doctor left the island he was assigned after a month and a half due to being unable to find accommodation.

The medical officer added that authorities were ultimately failing to support skilled expatriate workers in favour of local staff who often had no medical or management training.

“It is an everyday story in this hospital and everywhere else in Maldives. Even at Indira Gandhi Memorial Hosptial (IGMH) [in Male’],” he claimed. “Far lower qualified local staff are working with a salary on par with far better qualified expatriate staff, and doing nothing on duty. It frustrates expatriates every single minute. It is not justifiable but local administration support it.”

The expatriate healthcare worker pointed to his own experiences in an atoll hospital, where he claimed trained nurses were having to clean the nappies of elderly patients due to the refusal of local sanitation staff – known as sweepers – to do so.

“This work is for local sweepers, but they often refuse to do it, forcing the staff nurses through equally arrogant management to perform the actions,” he claimed. “They don’t understand that a staff nurse, who has to administer injections and medicines to patients, will get their dress soiled by the excrement if they clean the stool of these patients, and in turn some patient only is going to receive it in returb as a hospital born infection.”

Healthcare provision

Beyond the treatment of expatriate health professionals, the medical officer highlighted a number of concerns about the operations of the nation’s hospitals, such as the impact of the launch earlier this year of the Aasandha universal health scheme.

The medical officer claimed that Aasandha had in fact led to a growing trend of pharmacies bringing in low cost “garbage” medicine to the country, on the grounds that the Aasandha budget was insufficient to acquire medicines from what the medical officer called “standard companies”.

“This in turn is is playing with the health of people by bringing introducing antibiotic resistance or uncompensated chronic diseases due to irregular and uncontrolled dosing of drugs,” he said.

“With the pricing of drugs, we write the number of tablets to be 12. The pharmacy gives seven or eight. Patients don’t know about these things. And as a result they come back to us with partial recovery and antibiotic resistance.”

The medical officer said that in order to try and overcome the limitation, doctors were having to recommend larger prescriptions to ensure a sufficient number of tablets were provided by the pharmacy, before asking patients to return to them to amend the amount they should be taking.

“This way the patient gets the needed amount of medicine, the dosing of which I correct myself after calling him/her back to me with the medicines. This practice is risky but at least I succeeded in managing my patients successfully,” he said.

According to the medical officer another key problem with Aasandha was the lack of public understanding concerning the scheme and entitlements of the public.

“They become very angry when we tell them that this or that medical condition is not covered by Aasandha. A lot of times they force the management to force us to fabricate a medical condition just to get Aasandha approval,” he revealed.

Soon after the scheme had been launched in January this year, Health Minister Dr Ahmed Jamsheed – then Chief Operating Officer at Male’s ADK hospital – said limited information on Aasandha’s financial structure had led the public to exaggerate their medical needs. He urged for a greater sense of public responsibility to prevent overwhelming the country’s health service.

However, calls to limit Aassandha have so far proved divisive in parliament and the present coalition government. Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, head of the government-aligned Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), has previously been an outspoken critic of limiting the provision of universal healthcare at private premises.

The medical officer added that national healthcare provision had also been affected by the launch during the previous government of seven provincial health corporations designed to try and decentralise health care and budgets.

According to the expatriate medical officer, the establishment of the corporations was seen as an attempt by the former government to ensure the work of the Health Ministry was being controlled by government rather than opposition supporters already working within healthcare.

“Splitting the [work] of the Health Ministry into corporations was not a bad idea although it was more motivated by ability to acquire financial control rather than anything else,” he claimed. “The local governance had one thing positive; we could at least address our problems with our employers easily. They were accessible. Although they seldom made any difference, at least there was no frustration that I could not even talk to the authorities. Nowadays, no one can talk to the Mnistry of Health people as most of the time either they simply don’t pick the phone or you cannot connect to them.”

The medical officer said a growing sense of frustration and the shared of experiences of expatriates and healthcare professionals from across the South Asia region had seen the Maldives’ reputation as place to practice medicine tarnished in recent years.

“All these stories do reach [places like] India and I don’t feel that people will tolerate this much more. That’s why there is a constant decline in the number of people coming from somewhere like India to work here in whatever form,” he observed.

Indian High Commission concerned

Earlier this year, Indian High Commissioner Dynaneshwar Mulay raised concerns over the treatment of expatriates from across the South Asia region – particularly by the country’s police and judiciary.

Mulay claimed that alongside concerns about the treatment of some Indian expatriates in relation to the law, there were significant issues relating to “basic human rights” that needed to be addressed concerning immigrant workers from countries including Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.

Addressing the claims, Zaufishaan Abdulla Kamaludeen, Director of Human Resources for the Health Services Corporations, which is currently run under the Ministry of Health, said that while expatriate doctors had traditionally been sourced from India, it had become increasingly difficult to bring them to the Maldives.

Kamaludeen stressed that this change appeared mainly to be a result of more competitive rates of pay for medical staff in India compared to the Maldives

“There have been spikes in the salary packages being offered to doctors from India. This is maybe a reason why since about March 2012, when I joined the Health Ministry, we have been having difficulty getting Indian doctors to work here,” she claimed. “We have been getting many applications from doctors from Pakistan,” she added, stressing that medical personnel were also being sourced from countries like Myanmar to cover demand in the country.

Kamaludeen added that it was traditionally difficult to place expatriate doctors on islands in the country’s outer atolls, a situation he claimed was complicated by the tendency of healthcare professionals to network about their experiences.

However, she denied that the difficulties and complaints recevied staff were a result of intimidation or the attitudes of local staff and patients to foreign workers. Kamaludeen claimed that requests for transfers for most often related to “personal issues”.

“Mainly we get requests for transfer from islands relating to personal problems. These vary on a number of issues such as the availability of vegetarian food,” she claimed. “We also get requests from doctors wishing to work close with other doctors, so they don’t feel isolated on arrival.”

Kamaludeen added that another challenge with placing doctors had come from the set up of certain health corporations to pay skilled medical staff more than if they worked in another region.

“Doctors at times would demand to work for the corporations offering the highest pay,” she said. “Right now, a board has been established to try and harmonise salaries for staff working in different atolls.”

Addressing allegations that there had been issues with the registration of some expatriate medical staff to practice in the Maldives, Kamaludeen said that the ministry had been made aware of instances of doctors working with improper registration.

However, she said that in such cases the Maldives Medical Council had been immediately informed and a review was presently taking place on the issue.

Kamaudeen claimed the issue appeared to have arisen over a lack of awareness of the type of licensing required to practice n the Maldives.

“We have understood this to the result of a lack of information being provided from recruitment groups and agencies,” she said.

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