More mules arrested in latest drug bust

Police have taken two Maldivians into custody at Male’ airport after receiving information from India that the pair were carrying drugs.

Twenty-five year-old Nishana Rasheed of M. Lansimoog and a 17-year-old girl travelling with her were detained by customs officers after arriving in Male’ from Trivandrum in India.

Searching their bags, officers discovered 1.3 kilograms of hash oil in polythene bags wrapped up inside bed sheets. A further search of the women found over 100 grams of heroin concealed on their

The total street value of the drugs would have been more than Rf400,000 (US$31,000), estimated Sergeant Shiyam from the Maldives Police Service.

“We would consider anything more than a kilogram to be a large bust,” Shiyam said.

The use of drug mules to get contraband into the country is a growing trend, according to the Maldivian Customs Service.

Last month four Maldivians also travelling back from Trivandrum were detained after over a kilogram of hash oil was found in cardboard boxes in their luggage.

Nishana Rasheed
Nishana Rasheed, suspected drug mule

The two men and two women claimed the boxes were given to them to bring to Male’ by another Maldivian in Trivandrum.

In April an elderly couple were detained after customs discovered them carrying a casserole dish containing more than a kilogram of heroin. They had also travelled from Trivandrum.

The prosecutor general has since charged Hussain Mohamed Manik of H. Rehi for his involvement in the crime.

President Mohamed Nasheed revealed in May that the identities of the country’s top six drug kingpins were known to the government, but said arrests could not be made before the parliamentary elections in case they were thought to be politically motivated.

Police meanwhile has appealed to travellers to inspect the contents of packages given to them by other people before travelling, as they would “have to bear full responsibility for anything in their luggage or possession.”


Return of an exile

After 28 years of self-imposed exile, Moomina Haleem returned to the Maldives on November 15.

“I had not seen this Male’. It was absolutely amazing; when I left it was green and the only thing I could see was treetops. Now it looks like little Manhattan,” says Moomina, now 70 years old.

Harassed to the point of being forced to leave the country, one imagines the experience would have left Moomina bitter. But Moomina is the epitome of happiness, sitting in her home, surrounded by two visiting friends. She offers me nougat and Maldivian sweets, laughingly telling me this is what they do all day now.

She has the sweetest smile and looks like everyone’s favourite aunt. Black and white photos are framed on the walls behind her.

Her return to the Maldives started with a phone call. She describes it as her happiest moment in 28 years “when Mohamed Nasheed called me just after he won the election and told me, ‘you can come home now.’”

Her excitement was such that it took her three tries just to get home. The first time she lay awake the entire night and was sick, “so instead of airport I went to the hospital. The doctors found nothing wrong with me, I think it was extreme happiness playing havoc.”

Two days later she woke on departure day to realize she had lost her voice. Finally she arrived on November 15, 2008.

She says despite the invitation to to attend President Mohamed Nasheed’s inauguration, she insisted she would come back after he was sworn in.

“This time I was very happy to be able to participate in the festivities for the one year mark,” she says.

Keeping in touch

Moomina kept herself updated with what was happening in the Maldives through newspapers her husband bought her regularly, “although I am not sure everything I read was correct.”

‘Disappointment’ is the foremost emotion she feels about the years she lived in exile.

“I couldn’t help my countrymen, even when I was young and capable of doing so much for the people,” she laments.

She wasn’t completely ‘useless’ for her compatriots, as she puts it, acting as translator and accompanying Maldivians who travelled to Sri Llanka for medical treatment.

“Back then it was crucial help as most didn’t speak English. Now the youngsters are fluent in it,” she says.

A trained nurse by profession, it helped that she was familiar with the health sector, but she says “even then I could only help those I saw.”

She recalls a time she accompanied a couple to the doctor. When they saw her five days later after being cured, they tried to give her money for her help.

“I told them that I had been educated by Maldivian government when the country was very poor, and it was my duty to help and there was no way I would accept money from a Maldivian for that.”

Moomina laments that despite the state bestowing on her the gift of education, circumstances did not enable her to contribute back to the country to the extent she wanted to.

Leaving and travelling

Two years after Gayoom’s government came to power in late 1978, Moomina went to Sri Lanka for the treatment of her younger sister.

“I never imagined I would not come back then,” she says. Calls followed in quick succession, including from her mother who asked her not to return.

“By then there was practically no one in my family who hadn’t been detained on one pretext or another,” Moomina says.

Her husband, who suffered from epilepsy, had to take medicine every night and she recalls how every evening police would show up the moment he went to sleep to take him to the station where they would keep him awake until morning.

Moomina had to make the painful decision to not return for her two sons, then aged six years and two months.

“I had no money, I didn’t know what the future held, or how could I take them with me,” she says. It would be four years before she would see her children again.

Before making the decision to become an exile Moomina had been dragged to court and detained for questioning on numerous occasions. Once, the judge sentenced her to banishment, “although they never enforced the sentence. I never imagined I would ever be taken to court,” she says. She says being repeatedly dragged to court was one of her most difficult experiences.

She was frequently accused of inciting hatred among citizens towards the government, an offense under a particular article in the constitution “that was written in such a way that you could interpret it any way you wanted. It’s not in the constitution now.”

But her stay in Colombo was short lived. After three months she was summoned to the dreaded CID quarters in Colombo.

“People had fallen from that building, and been tortured, and I dared not go there,” she recalls. Instead she consulted her husband’s friend, who used a contact to ask the CID to come round and interview her at his place.

“Two CID officers arrived and said I had been placed under surveillance since my arrival on the request of Maldivian government,” she says.

While they said they had found nothing to indicate she was part of a revolution against the government, they couldn’t allow her to stay in Sri Lanka “owing to the close ties between the two countries.”

They also told her that the head of the revolution was her relative Ahmed Naseem (now state minister for foreign affairs).

“I was under that misconception for 15 years until I met Ilyas Ibrahim (brother-in-law of former president Gayoom) in London.”

Ilyas was undergoing self-imposed exile in London after he was sentenced in absentia to 15 years’ banishment for treason during Gayoom’s third term in power. The court claimed he had tried to overthrow the government using sorcery.

He was frank enough to tell Moomina that they had cooked up the story about Naseem, she alleges, adding this dumbfounded her “especially since Naseem had spent considerable time in jail for that.”

She claims he also told her that the government had been rigging elections ever since they came to power. She laughingly says she should have had a recorder then.

“I used to say this: when my husband gets banished it is to Baa Atoll Dhonfanu, when Ilyas gets banished it is to London.”

Back and forth

Moomina asked the Sri Lankan CID for 24 hours to leave the country, and chose UK as her destination as it was at the time the only country aside from Italy that would accept Maldivians without visas.

She bought a ticket with her remaining money, leaving her with five dollars. In London she lodged at a friend’s sister’s place.

As a member of Royal College of Nursing, she contacted them and was advised to apply for political asylum. The home affairs secretary told her she would be given permission to work the next day if she applied.

“I told them I couldn’t, because if the news travelled back to Maldives I was scared of what they would do to my family.”

After completing a refresher course offered by the college she applied for a job in Kuwait. She had barely started working as the director of nursing in a hospital when the first Iran-Iraq war broke out.

“I looked at the maps and I thought about this little country sandwiched between two giants, and what would happen to it [during the war].”

So she travelled back to London again, only returning to work in Kuwait five months later when she was sure it was safe. She says there were moments she was almost penniless but fear for her family’s safety kept preventing her from applying for political asylum.

She tells cute anecdotes. One night, she says, when she was left with only five pounds, she prayed before going to sleep that night and woke up to a phone call from the State Bank of India informing her there was 1,000 pounds waiting for her from her husband. When she asked him why he sent the money at that exact moment, two and a half years later “he told me he woke up and thought she must need money now.”

Several years after working in Kuwait she met the ambassador to Sri Lanka, and during their conversation she realized the Maldivian government’s objective was simply to ensure she didn’t return to Maldives. So she went back to Colombo where she was reunited with her children.

“My mom moved to Colombo with the children, as even their life was becoming more difficult.”

Contribution to the country

After her studies, Moomina started working in November 1963 as the matron of the hospital, when the country was still a sultanate.

“It was barely a hospital then, it was called the doctoruge (doctor’s house).” During her early career she even designed and commissioned a bed to help women give birth.

A few days into her job, the person in charge of the hospital complained that soap expenses had been skyrocketing ever since she arrived. Her explanation is fascinating especially at a time when we take such things for granted: “There were two untrained staff who applied dressings to patients, and one doubled as the undertaker.”

Noticing they didn’t wash their hands in between attending to different patients, Moomina trained them to do it. “Once they started hand washing, the expenses complaint came up.” She ended up taking soap from her house to the hospital.

The problem of patient privacy arose next, especially for those who needed to use bedpans.

“Without screens, I dared not do it,” she says. The solution involved buying three pieces of clothing to make up screens, “and that took care of my entire month’s salary.” As all this was new, there was no budget allocated for such things.

Expenses were such a problem that when she heard over the radio that Ibrahim Nasir had been assigned the head of the hospital, her first words were: “Better than him getting the salary would be giving the money to me to buy medicine for the poor.”

She was pleasantly surprised to be summoned and told that Nasir was donating his salary to the hospital.

Then there was a fund called Ranabadeyri kileygefanu fund, and she was assigned the task of spending its monthly stipend of Rf 1,000. “Back then for 100 rufiyya we could buy medicine for 10 people so it was a lot,” she says.

But the funds came with strings attached. “100 rufiyya was given at a time, once I spent that money on buying medicine for the poor I had to show records, with the patient’s signature, then I would be given the next 100.”

Her diligence was duly noted, and Nasir appointed her health minister in 1976 when he became president.

“I wrote the syllabus, included information on common illnesses, their causes and prevention methods as well as good, nutritional stuff to eat. But my biggest achievement was training health workers and sending one to each island – before that there was only one health worker per atoll,” she says, proud of her contribution even though she only held the portfolio for a short time before Nasir’s government was dissolved in 1978.

Moomina was also quite the trendsetter, and was one of the first women to ride a bicycle in the Maldives. “I was quite the sight”, she laughs, recalling she had to ride a man’s bicycle with her sari which was the uniform back then. Seeing her plight, Nasir introduced bicycles for women which made riding around easier.

Maldives now

Moomina can’t give a reason for Gayoom’s harassment of her.

“Back then a woman couldn’t even be president, so how could I have been a threat?” she wonders, admitting she would have quickly stood for election had the constitution allowed it.

The greatest change in the country, she believes, is the freedom to say what one wants.

“Sitting here I can say anything and I know I will not be detained by police. One year of this new government and no political prisoners – it’s simply amazing.”

The concept of MPs debating in parliament fascinates her, “as they can say what they want.”

“Though some do take it a bit extreme. Sometimes they seem to oppose just because it’s something that is not from their own party.”

She remains happy that at least they do vote together for things that benefit the people.

Moomina had been a parliament member during Nasir’s government, and was the only women for six years. “Before that there had been nominated women parliamentarians like my mother and two others during the first president Mohamed Ameen’s time, but I was the first one to be elected.”

She attributes her attitude to her mother, who frequented the market long before any women shopped there.

As for religious talks, she says she “quite likes” those of State Minister for Islamic Affairs, Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed.

“The things he says and the way he says it – it makes one want to listen more,” she says, but adds she would have a problem if she was forced to wear a veil “because the hair on my head never caused me any problem during all my travels.”

Moomina says she is ready to serve this government any way she can, “Though now I will no longer be able to do day-to-day affairs, as I am at the age of retirement and no longer live here.”

Living in the Maldives cost less in Nasir’s time considering the lower income of the country compared to Maumoon’s 30 years, she recalls.

“Then the average annual income was US$15,000-$20,000 thousand, but education and medicine were free, he introduced English medium studies and brought in foreign teachers – a lot was done.”

The current government’s work so far is “commendable”, she says, but adds “people expect things too fast. The government doesn’t have the money to deliver everything yet.” She hopes that once the government gets its financial situation under control, “they should not misuse it, and deliver on their pledges.”

She harbors no ill will towards Gayoom. “Bitterness ends up destroying oneself. As I got older I have decided I will not say hurtful things even to him,” she says.

Her only complaint is the amount of money Gayoom receives as an ex-president: “By this country’s standard that is too much.”

Dividing her time between Sri Lanka, London and Maldives, she says she will not stay here permanently because her husband is now used to living elsewhere.

“But it’s such a joy to be able to come back home to Maldives whenever I want, and to be able to say anything without fear.”


Bill on banning sale of alcohol “unconstitutional”

A bill to ban the sale of alcohol in inhabited islands and airports was contrary to the principles of Islam, MPs argued today.

The bill was unconstitutional as it indirectly authorised the use of alcohol in places not specified in the draft legislation, MPs said.

Article 10(b) of the constitution states, “No law contrary to any tenet of Islam shall be enacted in the Maldives.”

Presenting the legislation yesterday, Fares-Maathoda MP Ibrahim Muttalib said he proposed it because the government had revised the regulations to allow the sale of alcohol in tourist hotels in inhabited islands.

“We are not trying to stop the guests who visit the country from drinking alcohol. What we want to do is ban the sale of alcohol in inhabited islands, places that Maldivians frequent and especially airports and airport restaurants and picnic islands,” he said.

Muttalib said he hoped the law would revoke liquor permits given to expatriates and as well as those of yachts and safari vessels.

Under the bill, the sale of alcohol in inhabited islands, airports and uninhabited islands leased for purposes other than tourism will be prohibited.

If passed, those in violation of the law will be either sentenced to one to three years in jail or fined between Rf12,000 (US$944) and Rf36,000 (US$2,800).

During the debate, MPs said if alcohol was to be banned it should be done wholesale along with interest from banks and pork in the resorts.

Feydhoo MP Alhan Fahmy of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), who has been suspended for voting against the party line, said banning alcohol in some places and authorising it in other was against Islamic sharia.

Alcohol has been sold in tourist resorts for the past 30 years, he said, and there was consensus that the industry was “the chicken that lays golden eggs”.

“My question is if some people drink alcohol, should we as Muslims be affected by it?” he said. “Or is alcohol being available for sale somewhere a reason for us Maldivians as Muslims to buy and consume it?”

Instead of laws banning its sale, he continued, legislation was needed to regulate the sale of alcohol to ensure that it was not sold to Maldivians or make it an offence.

Vilufushi MP Riyaz Rasheed of the Dhivehi Qaumee Party argued the law would be tantamount to allowing adultery in the bedroom and banning it in the sitting room.

Fuahmulah South MP Mohamed Rafeeq Hassan of the DRP said the bill had significant flaws and needed amendments.

Thulhaadhoo MP Nazim Rashad, an independent, said Islamic sharia was higher than the constitution and parliament should not pass a bill to authorise the sale of anything banned in Islam.

Thulusdhoo MP Rozaina Adam of the DRP said the flaws in the bill could be corrected in committee and were not a good enough reason to vote against it.

Hulhu-Henveiru MP “Reeko” Moosa Manik, parliamentary group leader of the MDP, said the bill was politically motivated and was intended to publicly accuse the government of authorising the sale of alcohol.

The government has revised regulations to revoke liquor permits in favour of authorising tourist hotels to sell alcohol to foreigners under strict supervision.

The revised regulations published by the economic development ministry were withdrawn following public pressure.

Under the regulations, tourist hotels in inhabited islands with 100 beds would be authorised to sell alcohol to foreigners.

But, the hotel bar should not be visible from outside or employ Maldivians.

Further, an inventory of the alcohol in storage and daily sales must be maintained and made available to police on their request, while CCTV cameras must be mounted at the storage room at hotel.

Alcohol could not be kept at mini-bars in the hotel rooms and expatriate employees at the bar would be subject to police clearance.


Serial paedophile sentenced to six years

Convicted paedophile Hussain Fazeel has been sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for 39 counts of child sexual abuse, the highest sentence for such a crime in the Maldives and a landmark decision for the country.

Fazeel was initially arrested in February for smuggling alcohol in Male, but when police searched his home they discovered a hard drive containing a large quantity of images and videos of Fazeel having sex with young boys, some as young as 10. In other videos, the boys were made to had sex with each other.

Inspector Ismail Athif of Maldives Police Service said at the time that many of the boys appeared to have aged in the material, suggesting the abuse had been occurring for some time.

He also noted that the material was of a sufficient resolution to be used for commercial purposes, and that it was possible Fazeel was part of a larger ring.
Assistant Public Prosecutor Mahmoud Saleem said that while Fazeel had committed the crimes before the recent Child Sexual Abuse (Special Provisions) Act was ratified this month, which carries penalties of up to 25 years, six years was the highest sentence recorded for the crime.

In particular, “the statements made by the victims carried great weight,” he said.
Police sergeant Ahmed Shiyam said Fazeel’s sentencing was only the beginning “and there will be more of the same”, adding that two other child sex offenders currently being investigated by police had been linked to some of the same boys abused by Fazeel.

“When we investigated Fazeel we found some boys involved in both cases,” Shiyam said.
As for the sentence given today, “I don’t know why it was only six years, it should have been more than that.”

Mohamed Shihab from Child Abuse Watch Maldives said while the sentence was not administered under the harsher laws only recent enacted, as a first step it promised “a very positive future.”

“We have not seen anything like this ever before; I’ve already called the prosecutor general to thank him for this very important first step,” Shihab said. “We can look at it very happily that justice has finally been done for the children.”