Government to begin talks with the Jumhooree Party

President Abdulla Yameen has pledged today to begin talks with the opposition Jumhooree Party (JP) whose senior officials appear to be in self-imposed exile.

JP leader and tourism tycoon Gasim Ibrahim has been in Bangkok since late April, ostensibly to repair a boat. Local media report the criminal court has issued an arrest warrant for Gasim on a charge of financing a historic anti-government protest on May 1.

The JP’s deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim and council member Sobah Rasheed are accused of inciting violence at the May Day protest, and have been charged with terrorism. If convicted, they face between 10 and 15 years in jail.

Both Ameen and Sobah are out of the country. In a video message, Sobah said he is seeking political asylum.

Speaking to the press today, President Yameen said: “God willing we will sit down with Jumhooree Party for talks. We’ve been waiting for Ameen Ibrahim to return to the Maldives and join the talks, but we will go forward even without him.”

Talks will begin within the next two days, he said.

The JP was not responding to calls at the time of going to press.

The president called for separate talks with the JP, the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and the religious conservative Adhaalath Party.

The overture came after months of continuous protests over the jailing of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed on terrorism charges and a US$90.4 million claim on Gasim’s Villa Group

The JP immediately agreed to sit down with the government without conditions. In addition to Ameen, the party has proposed MPs Ilham Ahmed, Abdulla Riyaz, and Hussain Mohamed to represent it at the talks.

President Yameen has ruled out negotiations over Nasheed’s release. His agenda focuses on political reconciliation, strengthening the judiciary and political party participation in socio-economic development.

The MDP has proposed Nasheed, chairperson Ali Waheed and MP Ibrahim Mohamed Solih as representatives. The Adhaalath Party proposed its president Sheikh Imran Abdulla, who is currently in police custody. He is also charged with terrorism over the May Day protest.

The government has rejected Nasheed and Imran as representatives.

“Adhaalath Party and MDP have not shown me a way of proceeding with this. They have stated they will not talk with the government without certain people. I don’t believe that a party which considers the interest of the whole party or the interest of the public would put forward a person in detention or serving a sentence to discussions with the government,” the president said today.

The government “is obliged to continue applying the law indiscriminately to all,” Yameen said and added: “It will be hard for the people to accept it if we take different actions against different people in different situations.”

The president said he will listen to what the opposition has to say and meet their demands if “it does not compromise the law.”

The government had previously rejected the opposition’s calls for talks because their terms were unacceptable, he continued.

“The political parties had asked me to negotiate with them before. But I rejected them because I could not accept the terms they set. But in my own time, within my reasons, I am looking forward to talk with the parties. It is for the benefit of the people, to establish a peaceful environment for all.”

The government had decided to call for talks in the interest of the public and because the international community “believes there are many issues that needs discussions and need to be solved,” he said.

“Now is the time to build the country. We have lost five years. That’s the truth. This is the chance to start projects to develop all areas of the country. This is the time to provide the youth with employment. My appeal to the people of Maldives is to grab this chance,” he said.

“I want the support of everybody. If I did something wrong I will come before the media and apologise to the people and will try to go forward again.”

President Yameen said corruption and injustice in the Maldives resulted from the discriminate enforcement of the law.

“Critics of my government claim there is corruption within the government. It is not a problem at all. I will not make an exception to anyone in my government. If anyone is involved [in corruption] or if anyone is convicted of a crime, he has to face the law,” he said.


JP council member released

The opposition Jumhoree Party’s (JP) council member Sobah Rasheed has been released from police custody today.

Sobah was arrested on May 3 on a charge of encouraging violence at the historic antigovernment protest on May Day. He was arrested from an opposition protest under a court warrant.

The opposition is calling for the release of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

The JP’s deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim, the Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla and the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) chairperson Ali Waheed were also arrested on the same charges.

All have now been released from custody, but will face charges.

Sobah and Imran spent 26 days in police custody. Waheed spent 24 and Ameen spent 14 days.


Three arrested from opposition protest

Three men were arrested from an opposition protest on Wednesday night when they reportedly refused police orders to step out of the street and on to the pavement.

Opposition MP Rozaina Adam told Minivan News that police officers pushed some hundred protesters on to the pavements at the main junction of Chaandhanee and Fareedhee Magu. Three protesters were arrested for disobedience to order.

“They are cracking down on our right to assembly and free speech.  This is how rights are taken away in dictatorships, step by step,” she said.

The allied opposition parties, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), the Adhaalath Party and the Jumhoree Party (JP), are protesting over the imprisonment of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and the ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim, and the takeover of JP Leader Gasim Ibrahim’s businesses.

A police spokesperson said the protesters had been told to stay on the pavements to avoid blocking traffic. Protesters were very cooperative, he said.

The official declined to comment on the opposition’s claims of narrowing rights. “But we never do anything against the law.”

The three men who were arrested remain in police custody.

Since a 20,000-strong march on May 1, the police have banned the use of four-wheeled vehicles in protests. In April, police banned the use of sound systems beyond 11pm and protesting beyond 12am.

MP Rozaina said the protest had ended at 11pm when the police ordered sound systems to be shut off.

MDP Vice President Mohamed Shifaz said the police had prevented supporters from holding a demonstration on Monday as well.

The opposition had protested peacefully every day from February 10 to May 1.

Violent clashes broke out on May Day when protesters attempted to enter the city’s restricted Republic Square. Some 193 people and the three leaders of the allied opposition parties were arrested. Protests have slowed since then to just three or two days a week.

The opposition has opened a campaign hall for its nightly activities and have announced a third mass protest on June 12.

In a speech this morning, President Abdulla Yameen welcomed “non-stop protests” but said the government will not tolerate attacks on police officers.

“To politicians, I say, we will not allow you to violate police officers, torch property and disrupt the peace. Political activities should be carried out, but it should stay within the limits,” he said.

Two police officers were beaten on May Day. Some 14 people were arrested. At least three of the suspects have told lawyers police severely beat them and threatened to kill them.

The president also condemned calls for a tourism boycott.

“People who call for boycotting tourism in political turmoil are enemies of the country,” he said.

Photo: social media


Talks should involve all parties, suggests British High Commissioner

All political parties including the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) must sit down together for the talks between the government and the opposition, the newly-appointed British High Commissioner to the Maldives James Dauris has suggested.

President Abdulla Yameen has called for separate talks with the three allied opposition parties – the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), the Jumhooree Party and the Adhaalath Party – to resolve the ongoing political crisis.

“We think it’s important that talks involving all parties should take place. It seems to me to be logical that talks should take place involving all the parties together, both the party in government and parties in opposition,” Dauris said in an interview with Minivan News during a two-day visit to the Maldives.

“Because what the government is talking about is a discussion between parties to talk about how inter-party relations will work. So it certainly strikes me as an observer that there is much to be said for getting all the parties to sit down together.”

In his first visit to the Maldives since his appointment as high commissioner, Dauris presented his credentials to President Yameen on Monday and met leaders of the three opposition parties.

Dauris said he shared the UK’s concerns over “the strength of democracy in the Maldives” with the president and spoke about the imprisonment of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

“President Nasheed is a special interest because he is a former president of your country. The number of countries in the world with former heads of state in prison is small,” he said.

Nasheed’s case is “emblematic,” he said, but the “wider concern” is over the judiciary.

A judiciary that is “visibly and credibly independent” is essential for democracy to flourish, he continued.

Nasheed’s conviction on terrorism charges in March after a 19-day trial drew widespread international criticism over apparent lack of due process and politicisation of the judiciary.

The government yesterday rejected Nasheed as the MDP’s representative for the talks as the opposition leader is serving a 13-year jail term.

The JP has meanwhile accepted the invitation for talks, but the religious conservative Adhaalath Party proposed its detained president, Sheikh Imran Abdulla, among the party’s representatives.

Imran was arrested in the wake of a mass anti-government demonstration on May 1 and remains in police custody.

The May Day demonstration was the second mass protest staged by the opposition calling for the release of former President Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

However, the government has ruled out negotiations for the release of the pair – whose arrest in February triggered the political crisis – insisting the president does not have the constitutional authority to release convicts before the appeal process is exhausted.

The opposition ‘Maldivians against tyranny’ alliance has called for a third mass protest on June 12.

“Shared interests”

Dauris said the Maldives and the UK has “shared interests” in the areas of climate change, Islamic radicalism, and drug abuse.

The Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), which the Maldives currently chairs, should be “ambitious in helping use its influence” at the upcoming climate summit in Paris, he said.

Small island states could play a role to ensure that the international community reaches a “good and ambitious international commitment to work to reduce carbon emissions.”

“Islamic extremism is another shared concern we have. Like the Maldives, we have people in Britain going off to join IS in Syria, often going through Turkey,” he continued.

“We worry for them, for the grief it causes their families, and we worry for the damage it does in their communities, and the potential threat these people could represent when they return home.”

He observed that the Maldives has “a relatively high number” of jihadis in Syria and Iraq. In January, the police said more than 50 Maldivians are in Syria, but the opposition says the figure could be as high as 200.

Dauris was previously the British high commissioner to Peru.


May Day protest pickup driver faces terrorism charges

The prosecutor general’s (PG) office has filed terrorism charges against the driver of a pickup that broke through police lines during the mass anti-government protest on May 1.

The pickup used at the protest drove through barricades and the line of Specialist Operations (SO) police officers at high speed and was stopped near the Islamic centre.

The police said at the time that the driver was instructed and paid by protest organisers to break through the police lines.

The police have also forwarded cases to the PG office against main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) chairperson Ali Waheed, Adhaalath Party president Imran Abdulla, Jumhooree Party (JP) deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim, and JP senior member Sobah Rasheed.

The PG office media official told Minivan News today that it has not determined whether to press charges against the opposition leaders.

The leaders of the allied parties are accused of inciting violence in their speeches during the demonstration, which police contend led to protesters assaulting police officers, damaging property, and disrupting public order and safety.

With the exception of Imran, the others had exercised the right to remain silent during the police interrogation. The three were arrested in the wake of the May Day protest, while Sobah Rasheed was arrested from a street protest on May 3.

Imran, Ali Waheed remain in police custody after the criminal court extended their remand detention for a second time on Saturday.

Ameen was released by the High Court last week after the appellate court overturned the criminal court’s 15-day remand detention order.

The High Court, however, upheld the lower court’s order to hold Imran and Ali Waheed in custody. The pair has appealed the High Court’s ruling at the Supreme Court.

Nearly 200 protesters were arrested in a police crackdown on the May Day demonstration after protesters attempted to enter Malé’s restricted Republic Square at dusk.

The police have since banned the use of four-wheeled vehicles during street protests.

According to local media, the PG office has not pressed charges against the driver’s wife and another protester on the pickup. The case against the driver was reportedly filed at the criminal court on Tuesday.

Of the 193 protesters arrested on May 1, the PG office had previously said that cases of 98 protesters have been sent to the committee reviewing first time offenders.

“That means we will press charges against only about 30 people. That includes repeated offenders and the people suspected of attacking police officers at the protest,” PG Muhthaz Muhsin told the press on Sunday.

The pickup driver is the only protester facing terrorism charges, which carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison. The other protester face charges of disobedience to order and obstruction of police duty.

Scores of protesters and some police officers were injured during violent clashes on the night of May 1. Video footage shows protesters tripping and kicking an SO officer and one man hitting the policeman over the head with his baton.

Some 14 people have since been arrested on suspicion of assaulting the officer, who was flown to Sri Lanka for medical treatment.

On Tuesday, police appealed for public assistance in locating three more suspects: Abdulla Mufeed, Ahmed Miudhaan Hameed and Ahmed Unais.

The MDP has accused police of torturing and threatening to kill three suspects arrested for assaulting the police officer.

Other May Day detainees have also alleged that police beat them after their arrest from the protest, but police have denied the allegations and advised lawyers and families to file complaints at independent oversight bodies.


Opposition alliance opens meeting hall in Malé

The opposition alliance says its new haruge (meeting hall) opened in Malé last night will give renewed impetus to the ‘Maldivians against tyranny’ campaign.

Addressing opposition supporters gathered for the opening, Jumhooree Party (JP) deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim said the opposition resume its activities with more passion and resolve with the meeting hall.

The “song and melody” of the opposition alliance has not changed, Ameen said, and the parties were united through a common purpose.

Ameen said forthcoming talks between the government and opposition could be fruitful if President Abdulla Yameen’s invitation for dialogue is sincere.

The opposition parties will accept the invitation in the interest of peace and for the sake of detained opposition leaders and supporters, he said.

While the three opposition parties will respond separately to the official invitations, Ameen said the “agenda” and stance of the allied parties are the same.

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

President’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali, however, ruled out negotiations over the imprisonment of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

The pair’s arrest in February and subsequent imprisonment triggered the ongoing political crisis. The opposition alliance has staged mass demonstrations on February 27 and May 1 calling for their release.

Some 30 protesters arrested from the May Day anti-government demonstration meanwhile cut ribbons at last night’s opening ceremony. The meeting hall is located in front of the artificial beach stage.

A donation box has also been placed at the meeting hall to raise funds for the opposition cause.

The wives of detained main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) chairperson Ali Waheed and Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla also attended last night’s rally.

The opposition leaders were arrested in the wake of the May Day protest and accused of inciting violence against the government.

Ameen said the pair were being held in solitary confinement in small cells at the Dhoonidhoo detention centre. Ali Waheed was suffering back pains because his concrete bunk was too small for his size, Ameen said.

The former transport minister called on the president to cease the government’s alleged efforts to foster “a culture of brutality,” warning that President Yameen could be remembered as the “most brutal ruler” in the country’s history.

MDP vice president Mohamed Shifaz said the opposition alliance will continue its activities until imprisoned politicians are released.

Adhaalath Party council member Shidhatha Shareef questioned the sincerity of President Yameen’s call for talks as he had not accepted the opposition’s repeated appeals during the past three months.

“President Yameen is not part of the delegation he assigned after calls for talks. We are calling for talks to resolve the serious political turmoil in the country. If the president of the Maldives does not have the capability to do it, I don’t believe he has the capability to be the president,” she said.

The president’s office sent official invitations to the three opposition parties yesterday. So far, only the JP has officially accepted the invitation and assigned representatives for the talks.


Jumhooree Party accepts president’s invitation for talks

The opposition Jumhooree Party (JP) has officially accepted the president’s invitation for dialogue without conditions and assigned a four-member team to represent the party.

The JP said in a statement today that it hopes “political, social, and economic problems facing the Maldives” can be resolved through discussions.

President Abdulla Yameen had sent official invitation letters to the three allied parties today and appointed two ministerial teams to represent the government.

The JP promptly informed the president’s office that its representatives are deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim, MPs Ilham Ahmed, Abdulla Riyaz, and Hussain Mohamed.

However, at a press conference of the opposition ‘Maldivians against tyranny’ alliance this afternoon, Ameen questioned the sincerity of the president’s offer and called on the government to release detained opposition leaders and supporters.

Ameen said the continuing detention of main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) chairperson Ali Waheed, Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla and JP senior member Sobah Rasheed is “unjust”.

“If the calls for dialogue is sincere, the government’s unjust brutality should stop. Unless it is stopped, what is there to talk about?” he said.

The opposition parties on Thursday had welcomed President Yameen’s call for talks, but had demanded the release of leaders arrested from the May Day anti-government demonstration.

Adhaalath Party spokesperson Ali Zahir told Minivan News today that the party will make a decision after internal discussions.

Ameen meanwhile noted that the opposition has repeatedly urged the government to hold talks to resolve the political crisis triggered by the arrest and imprisonment of former President Mohamed Nasheed and former defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

While the government insists that the demands to release Nasheed and Nazim are unlawful and beyond the president’s constitutional powers, Ameen said calls for releasing detainees within legal bounds were not unconstitutional.

Asked if the alliance expected a positive outcome from the talks, Ameen said the opposition has not lost hope, but would learn whether the government is sincere when the talks commence.

Meanwhile, the criminal court yesterday extended the remand detention of Imran and Ali Waheed by 10 days and seven days, respectively. The pair were arrested with court warrants in the wake of the May Day protest and accused of inciting violence.

Ameen was also arrested along with Imran and Ali Waheed, but the High Court last week overturned the criminal court’s order to hold him in remand detention for 15 days. All three were members of the alliance’s steering committee and had been on the front line of the May Day protest march.

Ameen said the prolonged detention of the opposition leaders and protesters arrested from the demonstration is “unacceptable” as police have interrogated the detainees and concluded investigations.

Imran, Waheed, and Sobah are kept in small cells apart from the rest of the prison population on Dhoonidhoo, Ameen said, adding that their punishment was similar to criminals serving 25-year jail sentences.

The opposition leaders have met the police upon request, shared information, and do not have criminal records, he added, questioning how they were found to pose a danger to society.

Malé mayor Mohamed Shihab said the MDP believes the detained leaders are “political prisoners”.


Opposition alliance to discuss president’s offer for talks

The opposition ‘Maldivians against tyranny’ alliance will discuss President Abdulla Yameen’s invitation to hold talks for the “stability and benefit of Maldivian citizens” at a meeting tomorrow.

“There will be a steering committee meeting of the opposition coalition tomorrow. We will decide then,” main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) vice president Mohamed Shifaz told Minivan News today.

Shifaz had previously said the MDP will accept the president’s invitation only if imprisoned ex-President Mohamed Nasheed and MDP chairperson Ali Waheed could represent the party.

The Adhaalath Party (AP) also demanded the release of the party’s leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla as a condition for participating in the talks.

However, Jumhooree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim welcomed the president’s appeal for dialogue.

The AP leader, MDP chairperson, and JP deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim were arrested in the wake of a mass anti-government demonstration on May 1 along with nearly 200 protesters. They were accused of inciting violence against the government.

Last week, the tax authority froze the bank accounts of several companies owned by Gasim, while the criminal court reportedly issued an arrest warrant for the JP leader the following day. The business tycoon is accused of funding the May Day rally.

The opposition alliance meanwhile continued its activities with a rally on Thursday night and a protest march in Malé on Friday. The allied opposition parties have been protesting since February, calling for the release of former President Nasheed and former defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

President Yameen had initially rejected the opposition’s calls for dialogue to resolve the political crisis, insisting that he cannot interfere with the judiciary and urging the pair to appeal their sentences.

President’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali told Minivan News last week that the government’s stance has not changed and that discussions can only be held on “lawful demands.”

Asked if the president’s office was ruling out negotiations on Nasheed and Nazim’s release, Muaz said the government has not set an agenda or a representative for negotiations, but reiterated that talks can only proceed on “demands the president can meet.”

Speaking at Thursday night’s rally following his release from police custody earlier in the day, Ameen Ibrahim said President Yameen is “miscalculating” by imprisoning opposition leaders and protesters.

The president believed the opposition’s mass gatherings on February 27 and May 1 have failed, but the alliance’s resolve has not weakened and will eventually “emerge victorious”, he said.

Both Ali Waheed and Imran urged supporters to remain steadfast and continue protests against tyranny and injustice, Ameen said.

Ameen said the three opposition parties will jointly propose rules or conditions for talks with the government, but did not reveal any details.

The opposition alliance has also accused the government of illegally imposing restrictions on the constitutional right to freedom of assembly after the police announced that the opposition must obtain prior permission before holding a protest.

Since the May Day demonstration, the police have cracked down on opposition street protests by briefly detaining key figures.

On Thursday, the police banned the use of four-wheeled vehicles in the opposition’s protests without prior permission. The step was necessary after a lorry drove through police lines at high speed during the May Day protest, police have said.

The opposition frequently uses lorries and pickups at protests to hold speaker systems, and for public announcements during the day.

Following the ban on vehicles, the opposition alliance used a handcart to carry the sound system during Friday’s protest march. Senior members of the allied parties took turns dragging the cart across the capital.



Opposition leaders welcome president’s call for talks

The three opposition parties have welcomed President Abdulla Yameen’s call for talks, but some have called for the release of imprisoned leaders ahead of negotiations.

Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim in a tweet said his party is ready to commence talks with the government, while Adhaalath Party spokesperson Ali Zahir said the religious conservative party will always heed calls for negotiations called for in good faith.

Welcoming the president’s call, the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) vice president Mohamed Shifaz insisted the party’s imprisoned leadership – ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and party chairperson Ali Waheed – must be able to sit at the table.

“We are ready to talk with President Yameen. These are discussions with President Yameen. Our leadership will participate on our behalf,” he said.

The Adhaalath Party has also said its detained leader, Sheikh Imran Abdulla, will represent the party in any official talks.

The religious conservative party called on the government to “create an atmosphere conducive to dialogue” by releasing Imran and other protesters arrested from the May Day anti-government demonstration.

President Yameen’s appeal comes amidst growing international pressure to release ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence Minister Mohamed Nazim.

The JP, the Adhaalath Party and the MDP formed a coalition in March and continued daily protests over what they called the government’s attempt to silence the opposition.

The Maldivians against tyranny coalition have previously called for negotiations and demanded the government release Nasheed and Nazim. However, president Yameen maintains the pair were tried through independent courts, and says he cannot meet the opposition’s demands.

The president’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali told Minivan News that the government’s stance has not changed, and the president can only negotiate over lawful demands.

Nasheed and Nazim must appeal their respective convictions on terrorism and weapons smuggling, he said.

Meanwhile, MDP parliamentary group leader Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Mohamed Solih told local newspaper Avas that the opposition coalition’s steering committee will discuss the president’s offer before making a comment.

The opposition held a 20,000-strong march in Malé on May Day after labelling President Yameen’s overtures at talks “insincere.” The president had appointed tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb as his representative for talks, but the opposition says they will only sit with the president himself.

They’ve also accused Adeeb of corruption and illicit connections with gangs, a claim the tourism minister has denied.

Nearly 200 people were arrested at the May Day protest and hundreds were injured in a police crackdown. Police used tear gas, stun grenades, pepper spray and baton charges to disperse protesters when they attempted to enter Malé’s restricted Republic Square.

MDP’s chairperson Ali Waheed, Sheikh Imran and JP deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim were arrested and remanded for 15 days.

The high court released Ameen today, but upheld the remand detention of Waheed and Imran.

Meanwhile, the criminal court has reportedly issued an arrest warrant for Gasim over the police’s claim he had funded the May Day protests. The JP leader is in Thailand at present.