Masked men enter Maradhoo home, assault family

Masked men forcibly entered a home in the Maradhoo ward of Addu City around 7:30am this morning and assaulted a father and son, reports local media.

The 47-year-old man and his 17-year-old son were taken to the Hithadhoo regional hospital for treatment of injuries.

The masked men also damaged property and electronic equipment at the ‘Aanika’ residence. According to online news outlet CNM, a two-year-old girl was also injured in the attack and sustained a head wound.

The incident follows the arrest of a 23-year-old from Maradhoo yesterday on suspicion of attacking a 34-year-old with a machete the previous night (November 21).

Police said he was arrested with a court order from his home in Maradhoo.

The suspect in custody has a criminal record for drug abuse, violent assault, theft, and assaulting a police officer on duty, police said.

While sources from Maradhoo suggested to local media that this morning’s incident was related to Friday night’s stabbing, police have not confirmed any connection.

Following a spate of stabbings this year, the government has proposed the strengthening of  laws prohibiting the carrying of sharp weapons, including restricting the constitutional rights to remain silent and retain legal counsel.


Gang assault with machete in Billabong high school

An 18-year-old man has been arrested after entering Billabong International High School with a machete during a gang assault.

Billabong Executive Director Ahmed Adhly Rasheed explained that a gang attack outside the school caused one individual to run into the school while the gates were open as pupils left for the day.

Police confirmed they were informed of a disturbance near Billabong school at 3:08pm, with another man was taken to hospital for treatment to head injuries received during the attack.

A third man arrested at the scene was later released after it was found he had not been involved in the incident.

Eye witnesses told Haveeru that a group of three men entered the school, one of them with  a machete.

“Two of the men were captured by members of the public while the man with the machete was able to escape from the area,” said the eye witness.

As the timing of the gang violence coincided with the end of the school session, many students saw the attack up close.

The staff member explained that poor security has been a concern of the staff for a long period of time, noting that the neighbourhood was notorious for gangs and that anyone was free to walk into the school at any time.

The employee recalled an incident last year where a girl on her way to the school was injured after an assault by local gangs. The empty plot of land in front of the school is reported to be a regular meeting spot for gangsters.

Executive Director Rasheed, however, stated that the school has a strict security policy, with the gate closed and guarded throughout school hours.

“We have done what we can do to protect our children and staff from such incidences within our boundaries,” said Rasheed, who praised the school’s security measures for stopping the intruders.

“We have even reported the case of street violence each time in writing when a gang violence has occurred near the school even if it has nothing to do with the school.”

Gang violence has become one of the most prominent issues in the Maldives, with a 2012 study by the Asia foundation counting 20 to 30 gangs in the capital, each with 40 to 500 members.

Four recorded deaths have occurred as a result of gang violence so far in 2014, with one of them a case of mistaken identity.

Speaking in September, Home Minister Umar Naseer noted that he had identified around 50 gang leaders, and said that 13 of the 30 gangs in Malé could be considered “dangerous” criminal organisations.

Naseer linked the criminal activity strongly to gangs, saying “We cannot find a solution to the problem of stabbing and murders on the street without stopping drugs.”

*Article updated 24/11/14 to include responses from Billabong International High School


Foreign ministry, US embassy, international organisations condemn attack on Minivan News

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the US embassy in Colombo, and international press freedom organisations have issued statements condemning the attack on the Minivan News office.

A machete knife was buried in the door of the Minivan News building on Thursday afternoon (September 25) after a known gangster removed the CCTV security camera outside the premises.

Expressing “deep concern” with the increasing intimidation and threats faced by journalists, Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon “noted that the government remains strongly committed to create an environment that gives protection to media personnel to exercise their duties freely and responsibly.”

“Media freedom and freedom expression are fundamental human rights guaranteed under the Constitution of the Maldives and the human rights instruments that the Maldives is party to,” read the foreign ministry statement.

“At the ongoing Human Rights Council Session in Geneva the Maldives co-sponsored the resolution calling for the safety of journalist.”

The US embassy also expressed concern “about the recent attacks on media and political offices in Malé as well as continuing threats to media personnel.”

“Peaceful freedom of expression is a fundamental democratic right, and we strongly condemn these acts. The embassy notes the prompt Maldivian Police Service action to launch an investigation, urges the authorities to bring to justice the perpetrators, and calls for an end to all intimidation and violence,” the US embassy stated.

Press freedom

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) meanwhile noted that the attack came after an investigative report – commissioned by the Maldivian Democracy Network – on the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan was made public.

“The fact that [Thursday’s] attack on Minivan came three days after the report’s publication is not seen as a coincidence,” RSF stated.

Citing the abduction of several young men in June by a vigilante group in a push to identify online activists advocating secularism or professing atheism, the investigation report found gang activity in Rilwan’s abduction to be a strong possibility.

“Reporters Without Borders condemns this latest attack and calls on the authorities to provide Minivan’s journalists with protection, especially as this is not the first time the website and its staff have been targeted,” the statement read.

Rilwan remains missing after 50 days and is believed to have been abducted.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) also called on the government to conduct a thorough investigation and expressed concern with declining safety for journalists in the Maldives.

“This attack is clearly intended to intimidate an independent news organisation for its editorial line,” said IFJ Asia Pacific Deputy Director Jane Worthington.

“It’s a lame and condemnable attempt that the Maldives government should investigate thoroughly to ensure the perpetrators are punished as soon as possible.”

The IFJs local affiliate, Maldives Journalist Association (MJA), also put out a press release condemning the attack.

“Minivan News is an established and active news organisation, and this attack is a clear attempt to threaten and intimidate journalists in the Maldives. MJA calls upon the authorities to investigate this incident with utmost urgency,” MJA said.

The MJA noted that institutions and mechanisms were in place to investigate complaints regarding the media, noting that “differences [of opinion] with regard to content published by news organisations do not warrant vandalism and intimidation.”

“While establishing an environment where journalists could work freely is a responsibility for all, we call on the relevant authorities of the state to do everything necessary to ensure [press freedom],” the MJA said.

After rising to 51st in 2009, the Maldives dropped to 108th place to pre-2008 levels in the RSF Press Freedom Index for 2014, marking a decline in press freedom for the third consecutive year.

In February 2013, opposition-aligned private broadcaster Raajje TV reporter Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed was nearly beaten to death, while the station’s offices and equipment were destroyed in an arson attack in October.

In June 2012, two men slashed the throat of freelance journalist and blogger Ismail Hilath Rasheed with a box cutter.


American documentary on new Muslim communities reaches Maldives

Independent American documentary New Muslim Cool was screened at the American Center on Male’ last week. The film follows the efforts of former Latino-American drug dealer Hamza Pérez, now a Muslim convert, to integrate into a Muslim community on the tough north side of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Co-producer Hana Siddiqi, who attended this week’s screenings, said the film addressed one of many versions of Islam in America.

“We were looking at how the youth are creating a new American Muslim culture for themselves, and how arts and music is a big part of that,” she said.

Considering its impact in the Maldives, Siddiqi identified the film as a conversation starter in more traditional or orthodox Muslim communities.

“I think people have a general lack of understanding of Muslims in America because there just isn’t much in the media,” she said. “What you do see is quite negative and political, so I think just the fact that Muslim communities are seeing a film from America that has a Muslim as the main subject is enough to spark their interest. And it just opens up their minds I think to see some people who practice like this.”

New Muslim Cool was produced and directed by Jennifer Maytorena Taylor. Released in 2009, the film has been shown on public television in the United States, at festivals across Europe, Russia, Angola and now the Maldives.

Siddiqi said audience reception has been “quite good” worldwide, and noted that most audiences are curious about the different types of Muslims in America. “I let them know that this is just one story of one individual, and there are so many different types with different backgrounds and experiences and they follow different interpretations of Islam as well,” she said.

Hamza Pérez associates his conversion to Islam with his success in drug rehabilitation.

To contribute to his community, Hamza spoke to social groups and prison inmates about overcoming the drug-dealing culture and discovering faith. He also produced rap albums with his brother under the band name ‘Mujahideen Team’, or M-Team.

In an interview, the Pérez brothers denied the violent connotations of ‘jihad’, a word often translated as ‘holy war’ and associated with ‘mujahideen’. But their promotion of their music walks a fine line between suggestion and interpretation.

In one scene, Hamza distributes copies of his music to Pittsburgh gang members while inquiring after gang activity in the area. When he is told that most are Mexican and few get along, he tells them that Latinos never turn the other cheek but that the city gangs should work together to protect one another.

During a M-Team concert, Hamza takes the stage with a flaming machete in hand. When asked about the weapon’s role in Hamza’s message, Siddiqi said it served several purposes.

“We made a point to have a conversation with [Hamza and is brother] about illustrating that the machete is part of their Latino ethnic history and culture, and that it symbolises the struggles they have faced. When people ask, we make sure we let them now what it really symbolizes.”

The machete is also an attention-grabber.

“A little bit of it is just entertainment to them, they think it’s fun, that’s part of being a stage performer and they always make that point as well,” Siddiqi said.

Partway through production process, the FBI raided Hamza’s mosque during Friday prayers. Siddiqi said that although the raid was disturbing and questions went unanswered, it gave the story direction.

“This is one of many FBI raids to many mosques where there were children present and while they were in the middle of their Friday services, which is something that would never happen at a church or a synagogue. So it’s one of those things that people just need to see is going on in our community.”

Siddiqi said reactions to the film in the Maldives had been positive, but admitted that its relevance was unclear. The US Embassy representative, who was preoccupied with her iPad, waved away questions regarding the agenda.

“I think the work with drug rehabilitation in the Maldives is a factor,” Siddiqi observed. “The film could be a good place to start a dialogue in the community, because the film shows how Islam fueled Hamza’s own rehabilitation. The emotion and energy connected to his conversion basically was his rehabilitation.”

Recently, Dr. William Silcock spoke to Maldivian journalists about the value of public involvement in contemporary news. Siddiqi said journalism was critical for developing and developed communities alike.

“Journalists have one of the biggest responsibilities for getting information to the people. And if that’s not happening in a society then there’s a lack of awareness, and I feel a lack of growth as well.”

New Muslim Cool was awarded the Feature Film Freedom Award at the 5th Annual Al Jazeera International Documentary Film Festival in Doha, Qatar. It was also an official selection Lincoln Center Independents Night, co-sponsored by Human Rights Watch Film Festival.

Correction: Previously this article inaccurately stated that Hamza Pérez had been convicted of rape. It should have stated that a man involved in the FBI raid on Hamza’s mosque held a police record involving accusations of rape. The inaccurate information has been removed from this article and Minivan News apologises for the error.