Individuals named in MDN commissioned investigation file complaints

Individuals named as possible suspects in a Maldives Democracy Network (MDN) commissioned report into the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan have filed complaints with the Maldives Police Services.

“[I]ndividuals whose personal information was mentioned in a report by MDN have raised their concerns and some have filed cases with the police alleging that their personal safety & security is at risk and they are receiving threats,” police media officials told Minivan News today.

Ismail Abdul Raheem, accused in the report of having followed Rilwan in February this year and alleged to have attacked blogger Hilath Rasheed in December 2011, filed a complaint with the police yesterday, reported local media.

The investigation was conducted on behalf of MDN by UK-based private security firm Athena Intelligence and Security. The report concluded that the disappearance is likely to have been an abduction, involving local gangs.

Members of the MDN as well as friends and colleagues of Rilwan working with the #Findmoyameehaa campaign have also received threats in the 24 hours since the release of the report.

Gang members identified in the report circulated photos of MDN’s Shahindha Ismail and Rilwan’s family’s lawyer Mushfiq Mohamed on Facebook and asked for more details stating “These two need to be disappeared.” Meanwhile, Twitter accounts of Rilwan’s family members and friends are being circulated online.

The report confirmed evidence of possible “hostile surveillance” at the terminal conducted by two known affiliates of the Malé based Kuda Henveiru gang, naming one as Ahmed Shiran Saeed.

Rilwan was last seen on the 1am ferry travelling to Hulhumalé on August 8. Neighbours reported seeing a man being forced into a car outside Rilwan’s apartment at around 2am.

Citing a series of gang attacks against perceived secularists in June, the report said gang activity in Rilwan’s abduction to be a “strong possibility”.

The report noted increased radical activity among members of three main gangs in Malé – Bosnia, Kuda Henveiru, and Buru – and claimed gang members have participated in attacks against individuals they deem “un-Islamic”.

The report called on the police to further investigate the activities of extremist groups, gangs, and politicians in Rilwan’s disappearance.

The Maldives Police Service has yet to suggest any possible theories or lines of inquiry being followed, last week noting that no “concrete evidence” could be found between Rilwan and the  reported abduction outside his apartment shortly after his last sighting.


Maldives Democracy Network to release findings of investigation into Rilwan’s disappearance

Human rights advocacy group Maldives Democracy Network (MDN) is to release the findings of an investigation into missing Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan tomorrow.

Rilwan – missing for 44 days – is believed to have been abducted from outside his apartment at knifepoint and pushed into a red car at approximately 2am on August 8.

“We are very concerned about Ahmed Rilwan’s disappearance on August 8, 2014. Hence, we decided to look into Rilwan’s disappearance and have commissioned a foreign expert to conduct an independent investigation,” MDN said in a statement today.

MDN will release the findings of the report during a press conference at 2:30pm tomorrow.

The Maldives Police Services have been criticised by numerous groups during the course of their investigation for the lack of progress and poor communication with those close to the case.

On September 16, the police said they had found “no concrete evidence” to link Rilwan’s disappearance with the abduction outside his apartment in Hulhumalé.

Eyewitnesses told Minivan News they had reported the incident to the police and that officers had recovered a knife from the scene. The passports of four individuals have been held in relation to the case.

Hundreds of people marched on Malé streets last Friday evening (September 19) calling on the Maldives Police Services to answer questions regarding Rilwan’s abduction.

Members of the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM), civil society organisations, journalists, and opposition Maldivian Democratic Party members joined the ‘Suvaalu March’ (Question March). The march across the capital was led by Rilwan’s family, friends, and colleagues.

Demonstrators carried boards addressing the police and asking ‘What happened to Rilwan?’ ‘Where is the red car?’, ‘Where is the knife?’, ‘Why are you diverting the investigation from Hulhumalé?’, and ‘Who are you afraid of?’

The march ended with a prayer at Artificial Beach.

Minivan News Deputy Editor Zaheena Rasheed said the police must answer questions regarding Rilwan’s disappearance or disappearances may become the norm in the Maldives.

Rilwan’s brother Moosa Rilwan noted an increase in violent crime in the Maldives with 31 people killed since 2007.

“Pepetrators have been brought to justice only in a handful of cases. Police failure to conduct a thorough investigation has led to increase in knifings. We must hold the police accountable in Rilwan’s case and we must find him,” he said.

“We are extremely concerned over the slow progress in investigation and call on the authorities to take this case seriously.”

In response, Commissioner of Police Hussein Waheed said he would not release any information that may impede police investigations regardless of demonstrations.

Speaking at the Haa Dhaal Hanimaadhoo Island police station today, Waheed said that revealing information midway through the investigation may affect society and harm certain people.

However, Moosa Rilwan said police should be able to tell the family by now what line of investigation they are pursuing.

“I believe they must have enough information to tell us if he was abducted, disappeared, or has gone into hiding,” he said.

Rilwan’s family met with the HRCM and Police Integrity Commission last week to share concerns over the police’s handling of the investigation, requesting the two commissions pressure the police for a thorough and speedy investigation.

Several international organisations, including Office of the Human Rights Commissioner, Reporters Without Borders, and the Committee to Protect Journalists, have called on the Maldives’ authorities to expedite investigations.


Family of Rilwan submit petition with 5000 signatures to People’s Majlis

The family of missing journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla have submitted a petition calling for the Majlis’s national security committee to find answers to questions regarding his disappearance 27 days ago.

“We have submitted the petition with over 5000 signatures and we hope we will get the support from the members of all parties in our quest to find our brother,”

Today’s petition asked the national security committee to request relevant authorities to give answers to questions which “arose due to the negligence of the Maldives Police Services in searching for Rilwan.”

Additionally, the Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) has today written an open letter (Dhivehi) to the Commissioner of Police Hussain Waheed, expressing its own concerns about the investigation and requesting a public response.

MDN’s letter noted that the police service “has a responsibility to reveal information regarding the case in a manner which will bring satisfaction to the concerned public, to a level where you do not lose the trust that the public holds in you.”

The Human Rights Commission has already released a statement noting that it had yet to be updated on the authorities’ attempts to locate the missing journalist, having made a request for information more than two weeks ago.

MDN’s letter requested information on the following points:

– Whether the reported confiscation of a vehicle and orders for a number of arrests are related to witness reports of a man being forced into a car outside Rilwan’s home just minutes after his last confirmed sighting.

– The apparent failure of police to follow the norms of procedure in foreign countries which includes making public photos of the victim and providing a contact for the public to call with information regarding the person

– Potential cooperation between police and friends and family of Rilwan who have continued activities to raise awareness of the disappearance, including communication regarding activities that could hinder investigations.

The unresolved questions in the family’s petition also included whether standard procedures were being followed and whether links with a reported abduction had been properly explored.

“These are also matters on which state institutions have so far conducted no work in order to reach the truth,” read the petition submitted this morning.

Prior to the petition, Rilwan’s family had presented MPs with a letter last week requesting their help in the search.

“Hear our plea. Please. I’m calling on all leaders. We are going to all leaders in the Maldives. We are telling them please calm our hearts. For Allah’s sake, please tell us what has happened to our son,” Rilwan’s mother, Aminath Easa, pleaded with authorities.

In response to a letter from Easa earlier this week, the campaign to find Rilwan continued yesterday as hundreds of people affected by violent crime gathered at Malé City Hall to call for justice.


Maldivians not allowed to express or assemble freely: Maldivian Democracy Network

The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) and the Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) jointly reiterated their call on the government of Maldives to make substantial changes to the laws on assembly and association at a press conference held yesterday (August 17).

“The people of Maldives are not allowed to express or assemble freely, which is a fundamental right they are taking away from them,” argued Shahinda Ismail, Executive Director of MDN.

Changes need to be made in order to meet the country’s constitutional guarantees of fundamental rights and legal obligations under international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Maldives is party, read a press release from FORUM-ASIA.

One of the main issues raised at the press conference was the freedom of association law. According to this law, protests cannot take place near schools, mosques, or hospitals, Shahinda told Minivan News.

Malé – the capital of the Maldives – is home to approximately 150,000 residents in 6 square kilometers of land, making it among the most densely populated capitals of the world. Therefore, facilities like schools and mosques are abundant.

“When you really look at Malé, there’s a mosque on every block,” Shahinda argued, “there is hardly any space left for people to demonstrate.”

“The restrictions on protesting must be made in consideration with the geography of the landscape,” she added.

Restriction not regulation

Another point highlighted at the conference was the wide range of powers given to police in controlling demonstrations.

“The problem we see is it doesn’t provide for police to protect demonstrators. It doesn’t regulate the right, it curbs the right [to demonstrate],” Shahinda stated.

“There must be a provision where police engage with demonstrators and try to bring order before deciding to disperse,” she added.

Furthermore, Shahinda the highlighted vague phrases in the legislation, which she fears are open to numerous interpretations.

“The word ‘reasonable’ used many times. It’s very subjective and we don’t feel it’s appropriate to use in the law.”

Another line could be interpreted as restricting right to assembly solely to police, added Shahinda.

“It’s just one line, a sub-section off a sub-section,” she notes, “but it can be interpreted in a number of ways.”

The right to freedom of assembly doesn’t not stand alone, it has to come with freedom expression and association,” Shahinda warned.

Shahinda went on to connect the issues raised to the recent disappearance and feared abduction of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla.

“The problems that people face in freedom of expression – Rilwan is at the height of it,” said Shahinda.

“We opened the press conference raising concern and calling on authorities to speed up the investigation, and we ended on the same note.”

Systemic Failures: Transparency Maldives

Earlier this month, a press release from local NGO Transparency Maldives (TM) revealed they are currently working to reform the Associations Act in order to create a more enabling environment for civil society.

“Governance, transparency and functioning of CBO’s [community based organisations] will improve if the systemic issues in the regulatory framework are addressed,” TM announced.

Christopher Roberts, TM’s consultant on freedom of association, released a set of comments and recommendations discussing the international best practices of freedom of association legislation and to share his experience of freedom of association in transitional democracies.

The report addresses several legal issues with the 2003 Associations Act of the Maldives.

“The definition of associations provided by article 39(a) of the act is circular and inadequate,” states Christopher Roberts, legal expert on freedom of association.

“The law should instead adopt the definition used at the international level,” argued Roberts.


Civil society joins criticism of Supreme Court’s actions against EC

Read this article in Dhivehi

Civil society groups in the Maldives have added their voices to the growing concern over the Supreme Court’s actions against the Elections Commission (EC).

“The Maldivian Democracy Network and the Maldives NGO Federation are gravely concerned by the recent proceedings initiated by the Supreme Court of the Maldives against the members of the Elections Commission of the Maldives,” read a joint press release today.

After using newly introduced procedures to both initiate and oversee contempt of court charges against the EC, the court has subsequently deemed privileged Majlis testimony to be admissible in the case.

Today’s statement closely follows that of the EU’s Sri Lanka delegation which yesterday called upon the government to ensure the commission’s independence ahead of the March 22 Majlis elections.

Recalling the recent controversies surrounding the 2013 presidential election, the NGO statement argued these events had come at a “great cost to the state and the people”.

“We strongly urge all parties to ensure that the upcoming parliamentary elections are efficient, independent and fair. Any hindrance by any party to this process would be undemocratic and unfair for the people of the Maldives.”

The court’s decision to bring the charges of contempt of court refer to criticism of the decision to annul last September’s presidential election first round. The annulment was followed by further cancelled and delayed polls after much wrangling over the court’s new election guidelines.

The EC has also been accused of disobeying a Supreme Court order by dissolving eight political parties earlier this month.

The NGO statement has today referred to the 16 point guidelines as “onerous” and “controversial”.

Supreme Court must earn respect, say NGOs

Describing the current court case as “unjust”, runner-up in the presidential poll Mohamed Nasheed has said that his Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) will not compete next month’s vote should the four EC members be removed.

Following today’s second EC advisory committee meeting in preparations for the March vote, MDP Spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said that the commission owed MVR12 million in pending bills after delays at the Finance Ministry.

Hamid reported, however, that the EC was confident the elections would proceed as scheduled.

The civil society statement noted that the decision to use testimony protected under the constitution had overstepped the court’s boundaries as the ultimate interpreter of the constitution.

Claiming establishing justice to be a tenet of Islam, Supreme Court Judge Ahmed Abdulla Didi has said the EC’s testimony at the independent commissions oversight committee obstructed justice and could be used in a court.

The court has said that no party has the authority to question or criticise its decisions as per Article 145 (c) of the constitution.

“The Elections Commission has been established in very clear terms by the Constitution of the Maldives as an independent institution with its oversight assigned to the people through their representatives in the People’s Majlis,” read today’s NGO press release.

“Writing this criteria in the Constitution cannot bring independence to an institution if it cannot be practiced and fully respected. Similarly, respect for an institution is not inherent to being a part of the Constitution. The Supreme Court must, as every other institution, earn the respect of the people.”


Court’s argument for annulling election “materially baseless”: Maldives Democracy Network

The International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and the Maldives Democracy Network (MDN) have issued a joint statement expressing concern over the Supreme Court’s 4:3 decision to annul the first round of the 2013 presidential election.

“The unjustifiable delay and judicially forceful suspension of the second round of the election, due on 28 September, indicates an encroachment of the judiciary over the powers of the Elections Commission, an independent constitutional body answerable to the Parliament of the Maldives,” read the statement.

The statement described the court’s verdict as being founded on “materially baseless arguments”, after the first round was “applauded as a success by the international community.”

“Maldivian authorities must swiftly bring the electoral process to an end, in a free and fair manner”, said FIDH President Karim Lahidji.

The 4:3 verdict hinged on a confidential police report supposedly claiming that 5,600 votes were ineligible due to errors such as address mismatches. The report has not been made public and was not shown to the Election Commission’s defence lawyers.

The court issued the verdict 13 days after it heard the concluding statements, issuing an injunction halting the election and missing the constitutionally-mandated deadline for the run-off.

International reaction

European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton said the EU had noted the verdict, and expressed continued faith in the EC.

“The international community recognised the outcome of the first round on September 7 as inclusive and credible. Under these circumstances, I urge that elections planned for October [19] take place in full compliance with national and international standards and that the Maldives democratic institutions are safeguarded and the will of the people respected,” Ashton stated.

“I urge that elections… take place in full compliance with national and international standards and that the Maldives democratic institutions are safeguarded and the will of the people respected. The EU restates its confidence in the ability of the Election Commission to ensure this [and] remains ready to support a democratically-elected government in confronting the major challenges that the country is facing.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon also “noted” the Supreme Court’s decision, in  a statement reiterating calls for a “peaceful, inclusive and credible process” for the re-scheduled vote.

“The first round of the presidential election was widely recognised as a success by international and domestic election observers,” the UN statement read, adding that Ki-moon “acknowledges the continuing efforts by the Elections Commission of the Maldives.”

“The election had been seen as an important step in the country’s democratic transition,” the UN stated, referring to the “contested circumstances” of 2012’s change of government.

UN Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco last week briefed the UN Security Council on the situation in the Maldives.

Local concern

MDN is the first local NGO to comment upon the verdict, expressing alarm at the conduct of the country’s highest court as well as the escalating tensions in the country.

“We call upon the Supreme Court and the judiciary to uphold the supremacy of the Constitution and the democratic will of Maldivian people, at all times,” said Shahindha Ismail, Executive Director of MDN.

“The elections must absolutely take place as soon as possible, given the arbitrary and unconstitutional deadline set by the Supreme Court, which ruled yesterday that the current government would remain in place should the elections not be held by early November,” she added.

Global criticism accompanied the Supreme Court’s initial decision to to delay polls on September 23, including statements of concern from the UN, Commonwealth, and the EU.

Local NGO Transparency Maldives (TM) – also the group behind the single largest observer mission conducted during the first round – expressed doubts over the integrity of the Supreme Court in late August, urging it to “maintain its actions in such a fashion that the court does not allow further diminishing of its integrity and to be transparent in its functioning and sharing of information to strengthen the public trust towards the institution.”

The Home Ministry this month announced that it would be investigating TM for its challenging of the Supreme Court, prompting the NGO’s international affiliate – Transparency International – to express its concern “grave concern” over potential intimidation of the Maldivian chapter.


Maldivian Democracy Network observing former President Nasheed’s trial

Local NGO Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) is observing the trial of former President Mohamed Nasheed on charges of illegally detaining Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed.

MDN said in a press release on Sunday that it was “conducting the observations of the trials in partnership with a representative of the Bar Human Rights Committee (BHRC) of the Bar Association of England and Wales in the United Kingdom.”

On conclusion of the trial, MDN said it plans to produce a report based on the observations.


Parliament Watch aims to increase citizen involvement in the legislative process: MDN

Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) has beta-launched its ‘Majlis Watch’ website, although the site remained password protected at time of press.

MDN Executive Director Fathimath Ibrahim Didi told Minivan News today that the project and its website are meant to provide a platform allowing citizens to more conveniently get involved in the legislative process. The website will also provide updates about the events at parliament on a more timely manner than the annual reports currently being released by the NGO.

“Through the website, you can access draft bills which the parliament is working on. This will give citizens a chance to submit comments and concerns. In future, we will highlight bills we are working on each week, so as to increase efficiency,” Didi said.

MDN has also released its Parliament Watch report, an analysis of the work of the parliament for the year from March 2011.

Representation and attendance

The political parties holding seats in the parliament in this period were Maldives Democratic Party (MDP), Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), Jumhooree Party (JP), People’s Alliance (PA), Qaumee Party (QP) and Adhaalath Party (AP). DRP had split up into two factions, one of which was later registered as the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM). However, although the party held a number of seats, PPM was not officially recognised in the parliament.

According the report, by 31 December 2011, MDP had 34 representatives in the parliament, while DRP and PPM each had 15 members, JP and PA had 2 members, QP and AP had 1 member each, and there were 7 independent members.

In 2011, the 17th People’s Majlis held a total of 91 meetings. While the report states that 67 members showed at least 81 percent attendance, it further points out that only four members of parliament attended all meetings. They were MDP MPs Imthiyaz Fahmy, Mohamed Rasheed, Ibrahim Rasheed and Abdul Ghafoor Moosa.

Independent MP Ismail Abdul Hameed attended 55 out of the 91 meetings. He had a corruption case against him in the courts, and his right to attend the meetings were a contentious issue during that year’s parliamentary meetings.

The least number of meetings were attended by DRP MP Mohamed Ramiz, who attended 47 out of the 91 meetings, and Independent MP Ahmed Shiyam who was present at only 45 meetings.

The report further speaks of the number of times parliamentary meetings were disrupted for various reasons. It states that there are 193 instances where meetings were stopped due to lack of quorum and 26 instances where meetings were adjourned until the members named by the speaker were escorted out of the parliament hall. A total of 13 members had been asked to leave the parliament meeting hall, the most common being PPM MP Ahmed Mahloof.

Parliament remains suspended by Speaker Abdulla Shahid due to his concerns over political turmoil several months ago, however committees are meeting.

Legislative work

A total of 17 bills were passed in 2011, half the amount of bills passed in 2010.

Similar to the previous two years, the maximum number of bills that were passed in 2011 were in the area of Constitutional and Administration. The two other areas that were given priority are Religious and Social bills and Economic and Financial bills.

What needs to change?

MDN calls on members to not discriminate between members of their own party and those of the opposition when working with the constituents they represent.

It further notes that many MPs have expressed concerns that they are expected to spend on constituents from their own salaries. MDN states that this practice would prove detrimental to democratic norms. The NGO calls upon MPs to refrain from giving out hand-outs, and to instead work on strengthening the necessary social security frameworks.

MDN also calls on the parliament to increase accessibility to meetings, bills, motions, etc to the general public. It also notes the importance of members considering national interest ahead of political gains.

The electorate itself is asked to ensure that they cast an informed vote when electing members to represent them in parliament.