Calls grow for President Yameen to intervene, resolve political crisis

Following imprisoned former President Mohamed Nasheed’s decision not to seek an appeal, the Maldivian Democracy Network has called on President Abdulla Yameen to intervene and resolve Maldives’ deepening political crisis.

Nasheed, convicted of terrorism and sentenced to 13 years in jail, said he desired a political solution, claiming the judiciary is under executive control and could not assure a fair appeal process.

Hence, “the only state power with the capacity to act equitably on the matter is the President,” MDN said in a statement today.

“We believe President Yameen must take immediate action in light of the manner in which the criminal proceedings were held, with a view to bring an end to the continued civil unrest in the country,” the human rights advocacy group said.

Hundreds have been arrested in opposition protests and police have threatened a crackdown claiming protesters were disrupting local businesses and inciting violence against the police.

Meanwhile, the Elections Commission has fined Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and its ally Adhaalath Party (AP) with MVR 47,000 and MVR 33,000, respectively.

The MDP and former ruling coalition partner Jumhooree Party (JP) first began daily protests on February 10, against President Yameen’s alleged constitutional breaches. Former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim and Nasheed were subsequently arrested and brought swiftly to trial over weapons smuggling and terrorism, respectively.

Over 10,000 protesters took to the streets on February 27 calling for President Yameen’s resignation.

The government meanwhile ordered JP Leader Gasim Ibrahim’s Villa Group to pay US$100 million in unpaid rents and fines by March 30 on properties leased for resort development.

On March 17, AP withdrew support for Yameen’s administration and joined the MDP in an alliance against brutality. Opposition protests are now entering a seventh consecutive week.

Nasheed was sentenced on March 13 and Nazim was sentenced to 11 years in jail on March 26.

Explaining Nasheed’s decision not to seek an appeal, lawyer Hisaan Hussein on March 26 said: “As a former President, he is certain the judiciary is not independent, that President Yameen has full control over the judiciary. He is certain he will not gain a fair appeal.”

The Criminal Court’s decision to deny Nasheed legal representation, refusal to call defence witnesses, and refusal to provide adequate time to prepare defence demonstrates the former president would not be assured a fair appeal at the High Court, lawyers said.

High Court judges are “under pressure,” Hisaan said, noting the judiciary had not yet decided which judges were to be relocated to the regional courts in the north and south.

According to a December 2014 amendment to the Judicature Act, pushed through by the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), the nine-judge High Court bench is to be divided into three branches. Only the central branch in Malé could hear matters relating to the interpretation of laws or elections. The regional branches are to only hear appeals.

Hisaan said Nasheed believed the allocation of judges depended on the outcome of his appeal.

“There will be no justice in any of the appeal processes,” she said.

MDP Chairperson Ali Waheed on Thursday called on Yameen to show leadership as head of state and pardon Nasheed.

“I call on you, President Abdulla Yameen to use your presidential powers and pardon the opposition leader, pardon him and end this political turmoil,” he said.

Article 29(c) of the Clemency Act states that the President has the discretion, on his own initiative, to commute a sentence of a person convicted on a criminal offence, with regards to their age, health, their status or circumstances or based on a humanitarian perspective.

The President’s Office spokesperson, the Attorney General and the PPM parliamentary group leader were not responding to calls.

President Yameen has previously said the government could neither interfere nor influence the decisions of the judiciary.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers Gabriela Knaul said the trial made a “mockery” of the Maldives Constitution and said: “The speed of proceedings combined with the lack of fairness in the procedures lead me to believe the outcome of the trial may have been pre-determined.”

Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said the trial was “hasty and apparently unfair” and urged Nasheed be given adequate time to prepare and present his defence during the appeal process.

Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon has since invited the United Nations Secretary General, the Commonwealth, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and the EU to send experts to observe Nasheed’s appeal process.


Police regulations do not adequately protect constitutional rights, says MDN report

Current policing regulations do not adequately address and protect the rights guaranteed to all citizens by the Constitution, says the Maldivian Democratic Network (MDN).

After reviewing the relevant laws, MDN’s ‘Review of the legal framework of Maldives Police Service’ found “worrying signs of an erosion of the democratic policing framework enshrined in the Constitution”.

“The police are being vested with greater powers and discretion without the prerequisite checks,” read the report released yesterday. “Alarmingly, these dangerous trends are being written into law.”

Speaking at the launch ceremony yesterday, Deyvika Prasad from the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) did note that, even though there are problems with the Maldives’ police regulations, it was good to have such procedures in place.

Prasad said that the Maldives was the first in the South Asian region to come up with a policing strategic action plan, and that the 2008 Maldives Police Act is the only national police legislation in the region which is not a colonial-era Police Act.

The review’s stated intention is to “identify legal gaps” within the current legal framework to ensure compatibility with both the Constitution and international standards.

It noted that as the police regulation came only three months after the ratification of the new constitution in 2008, “there was a lack of practice or practical experience among the law enforcement agencies relating to implementation of these procedural rights and the boundaries of such rights”.

Among the issues described in the report, the procedures in the police regulation regarding the powers to arrest and detain without a court warrant were called “highly problematic” and in contradiction to Articles 46 and 49 of the Constitution.

The NGO recommended that regulations be reviewed and rewritten in order to “ensure safeguards in the constitution are maintained”, and to review the provisions relating to arrests and detention in light of the Supreme Court’s decisions and relevant interpretations provided by the judiciary.

MDN Executive Director and former President of the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) Shahinda Ismail said the report had been compiled after consultations with various stakeholders including the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives, Transparency Maldives, and the UNDP.

The Maldives Police Services and the Police Integrity Commission had been invited to participate in the consultations but the MPS did not respond to the invitations while the PIC declined to take part.

Police earlier this year labelled a report published by MDN into the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan “politically motivated” and “irresponsible”.

The review was produced as part of the police reform project by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) conducted in South Asia. Former Prosecutor General (PG) Ahmed Muizzu’s law firm Muizzu and Co LLP acted as the local consultation for the review.

Related to this story

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NGOs suggest government’s failure to engage is damaging civil society

MDN investigation implicates radicalised gangs in Rilwan’s disappearance


Police negligent in investigating Rilwan’s disappearance, says Maldivian Democracy Network

Human Rights NGO Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) has accused the Maldives Police Services of negligence in investigating the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan.

In a statement issued today, MDN condemned the police’s failure to inform the public of progress in investigations and failure to confirm whether an abduction reported on the night Rilwan went missing is connected to his disappearance.

“It has been 77 days since journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla was abducted. The Maldivian Democracy Network believes the Maldives Police Services has been negligent in conducting a timely investigation aimed at finding Rilwan and saving his life,” the NGO said.

Rilwan was last sighted at 12:55am on August 8 at the Hulhumalé ferry terminal in Malé. Eyewitnesses have since said they saw a man being forced into a car at knifepoint infront of Rilwan’s apartment building around the time he would have reached home.

The abduction was reported to the police and a forensics team confiscated a knife that was dropped on the ground.

Rilwan has not been seen or heard from since.

MDN also slammed Home Minister Umar Naseer and Commissioner of Police Hussein Waheed for suggesting the NGO’s investigative report implicating radicalised gangs in Rilwan’s disappearance was responsible for police’s failure to finding Rilwan.

“Each day and every moment that passes without knowledge of Rilwan’s whereabouts could endanger his life further and deteriorate public’s trust in the police to ensure public safety,” said the NGO.

Inconsistency and negligence

MDN urged the police to clarify the connection between the reported abduction and Rilwan’s disappearance, stating “This organisation believes the Maldives Police Services is obligated to share the progress of investigations into criminal activity that have led to public outcry.”

Police statements on August 28 and September 4, and the police’s announcement that it was collecting forensic samples from three cars suggested they believed the abduction may be connected to Rilwan’s disappearance, MDN noted.

However, on September 16, the police said it had no concrete evidence to suggest the two incidents were related.

Police have yet to offer an explanation of this statement, and have not revealed who was forced into the car, MDN said. Moreover, the police have failed to reveal whether they are investigating the abduction as an unrelated and separate case.

Despite public outcry over the case and repeated requests for information on the investigation, the police have not shared any details with Rilwan’s family or the public, the statement noted.


The investigation – conducted by Glasgow based Athena Intelligence and Security – discounted theories of voluntary disappearance and suicide, and confirmed “hostile surveillance” of Rilwan at the ferry terminal by members of Malé based Kuda Henveiru gang.

Commissioner of Police Hussein Waheed has accused the media and MDN for “obstructing” police investigations, claiming they had revealed leads.

Meanwhile, Naseer said the report had forced the police to change investigation technique and speed up the arrest of four individuals, leading to their early release.

“It has an extreme negative effect on an investigation when people who are not aware of the details of an investigation release reports and offer speculations based purely on hearsay with the intent of gaining some political advantage,” he said.

MDN today hit back at Waheed and Naseer’s claims stating, “instead of investigating allegations against [gang members] named in the report and clearing their names, the police attacked the report and attempted to cover up the criminal offenses outlined in the report.”

The media has previously publicised the names and photos of gang members identified in the report in relation to other criminal activity, the statement noted.

However, the police expressed no concern and “shamefully defended the gang members in the name of protecting human rights,” it said.

MDN also condemned the government’s claim that the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party was behind the report, stating “we condemn efforts to politicize this organisation’s work.”

The statement urged the police to refrain from “such undignified actions.”

Naseer has for the first time acknowledged gang involvement in Rilwan’s disappearance, on October 19 stating: “We already knew that there is a gang connection to Rilwan’s case. However, in a modern investigation, one doesn’t immediately arrest suspects. We leave them free and follow them and gather information.”

One man named in the report, Ahmed Muaz vandalised Minivan News’ security camera on September 25 shortly before two others buried a machete in the building’s door.

A Minivan News journalist received death threats shortly thereafter, which read, “You will be killed or disappeared next. Watch out.”

While police arrested a 32-year-old suspect Thursday night on charges of stealing the security camera – clearly identifiable on the CCTV footage – the Criminal Court released the suspect with conditions the following day.


Police arrest fourth suspect in connection with disappearance of Minivan News journalist

Police arrested a fourth suspect yesterday in connection with the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan.

A 25-year-old was taken into custody with an arrest warrant, police revealed, after which the Criminal Court granted an extension of remand detention for five days.

Police said “special efforts” are underway to investigate Rilwan’s disappearance and locate the missing journalist, declining to reveal any further details.

Rilwan has been missing for 53 days and is believed to have been abducted at knife point outside his apartment building in Hulhumalé around 2:00am on August 8.

On Sunday, police arrested three suspects – two 22-year-old men and one 24-year-old man – on suspicion of involvement in Rilwan’s disappearance. The Criminal Court extended the detention of the 22-year-old pair for five days and the 24-year-old man for seven days

The Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) welcomed the arrests as “progress in the police investigation” and offered its support.

“The Criminal Court’s extension of their detention signifies progress in the investigation,” said MDN.

Police also told local media yesterday that the arrests represented progress in the investigation and that police were working on “reaching a good result”.

However, the police have yet to offer possible theories or lines of inquiry being followed in the investigation, noting on September 15 that no “conclusive evidence” has been found between Rilwan’s disappearance and a reported abduction outside his apartment building.

MDN meanwhile released an investigation report last week implicating radicalised gangs in Rilwan’s suspected abduction.

The investigation report by Glasgow-based Athena Security confirmed evidence of possible “hostile surveillance” of Rilwan at the Hulhumalé ferry terminal in Malé conducted by two known affiliates of Malé-based Kuda Henveiru gang. One of the suspects is identified as Ahmed Shiran Saeed.

Minivan News understands Shiran is currently in police custody for unrelated charges.

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 report said gang activity in Rilwan’s abduction was a “strong possibility”.

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

Rilwan had “regularly received clear threats to his life” for his outspoken criticism of religious extremists, the report said.

One man named in the report, vandalised Minivan News’ security camera on Thursday (September 25) shortly before two others buried a machete in the building’s door.

A Minivan News journalist received death threats shortly thereafter, which read, “You will be killed or disappeared next. Watch out.”

While police arrested a 32-year-old suspect Thursday night on charges of stealing the security camera – clearly identifiable on the CCTV footagethe Criminal Court released the suspect with conditions the following day.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) office was meanwhile set on fire in the early hours of the morning on Friday (September 26), and the door of former MDP MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor’s residence was set ablaze.

The arson attacks followed vandalism of the main opposition party’s office for two consecutive nights and numerous death threats sent from unlisted numbers to MDP MPs, the party’s senior members, and dozens of journalists.

“This is a war between the laadheenee [secular or irreligious] MDP mob and religious people. We advise the media not to come in the middle of this. We won’t hesitate to kill you,” read the threat to journalists.


MDN to seek court order compelling JSC to reconsider Judge Hameed decision

The Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) is considering seeking a court order to compel the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) to reconsider its decision to clear Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed Mohamed of misconduct over his alleged appearance in three sex tapes.

Citing lack of evidence and the police’s failure to identify the individual in the sex tapes, the judicial watchdog decided last week that disciplinary action could not be taken against Justice Hameed.

In a press release today, MDN expressed “surprise” at the JSC investigating the case as a criminal offence as the commission’s constitutional mandate was investigating complaints involving ethical misconduct.

MDN noted that the evidentiary requirements or standards applied for establishing guilt in a criminal case differed from cases of alleged ethical misconduct.

The JSC’s “confusion” on this legal principle “offers room for the public to question the competence of the commission,” the MDN stated, calling on the oversight body to reconsider the case.

In a press statement explaining its decision, the JSC had noted that the police had closed investigations until new evidence emerged and that the sex tapes had been collected during an investigation into an attempt to blackmail a judge.

Moreover, the tape may constitute an act of espionage as it appears to have been filmed by an unauthorised body and it is against the constitution to obtain evidence by unlawful means, the commission noted.

The JSC – chaired by Supreme Court Justice Adam Mohamed Abdulla – also referred to a contentious Supreme Court’s ruling on former Civil Service Commission (CSC) Chair Mohamed Fahmy Hassan, which stated that disciplinary action could only be taken with sufficient evidence.

Local media has since reported that the decision to clear Justice Hameed was reached unanimously by six members on the 10-member commission after Shuaib Abdul Rahman – public representative on the JSC – walked out.

The six members were Justice Adam Mohamed Abdulla, Speaker of Parliament Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed, Criminal Court Judge Abdulla Didi, High Court Judge Abdulla Hameed, president’s member Mohamed Faisal and lawyers’ representative Ahmed Rasheed.

The two remaining members – CSC Chair Dr Mohamed Latheef and Attorney General Mohamed Anil – were reportedly on holiday.

“Permanent stain”

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) also put out a statement yesterday (June 29) condemning the JSC decision, characterising it as a “permanent stain” symbolising “serious wrongdoing”.

With the JSC decision, the statement added, Maldivian citizens expecting judicial reform have “lost all hope” along with any confidence in the judiciary.

The JSC decision has set a precedent suggesting that engaging in sexual relations with prostitutes, which is then made public in a sex tape, “is not a problem at all,” the opposition party stated.

“Therefore, we note with serious concern that this country’s judiciary would henceforth be shaped by those standards.”

The MDP statement also referred to a JSC subcommittee recommending suspending Ali Hameed, which the party stated was wilfully disregarded by the commission, as well as documents of a corruption case against the apex court judge being destroyed in a coffee spill.

The JSC had strayed from the standards established for investigating ethical misconduct, stalled the investigation for over a year, and “sacrificed the independence of the judiciary and the constitution” for the sake of protecting Justice Hameed, the statement continued.

The Maldivian judiciary should learn that disgraced judges accused of corruption and blackmail should be suspended pending the outcome of a swift investigation, the party stated.

The presence of a disgraced judge on the Supreme Court – who most citizens believe has lost his integrity – threatens the independence of the apex court, adversely affects decisions of lower courts, and robs Maldivian citizens of their constitutionally guaranteed right to a free and fair trial, concluded the party.


EU urges government to retain moratorium on death penalty

The European Union (EU) has called on the government to retain the unofficial moratorium on implementing the death penalty following the enactment of new regulations to enforce capital punishment.

In a statement on Thursday (April 29), EU High Representative Catherine Ashton expressed deep concern with the adoption of the procedural regulations, which would “break the de facto moratorium which has been in place since 1953 when the last execution took place.”

The High Representative holds a strong and principled position against the death penalty. The abolition of the death penalty is one of the key objectives of the European Union’s human rights policy worldwide. It is essential for the protection of human dignity, as well as for the progressive development of human rights,” the statement read.

The death penalty is cruel and inhumane, and has not been shown in any way to act as a deterrent to crime.”

The High Representative urged the Maldivian government to retain the longstanding moratorium, “including in cases that involve juvenile offenders, and to work towards abolishing the practice altogether.”

The EU’s concerns were echoed in a statement last week by the the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which called for the abolition of the death penalty.

“We urge the Government to retain its moratorium on the use of the death penalty in all circumstances, particularly in cases that involve juvenile offenders and to work towards abolishing the practice altogether,” said Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the OHCHR.

“We equally encourage the Government to repeal the new regulations and other provisions that provide for the death penalty,” she added.


The OHCHR noted that that the new regulation “provides for the use of the death penalty for the offence of intentional murder, including when committed by individuals under the age of 18.”

While the age of criminal responsibility in the Maldives is 10, the statement noted that children as young as seven could be held responsible for hadd offences, while minors convicted of homicide could be executed once they turn 18 according to the new regulation.

Hadd offences include theft, fornication, adultery, consumption of alcohol, and apostasy.

The new regulation means that children as young as seven can now be sentenced to death,” the OHCHR observed, adding that “similar provisions in the recently ratified Penal Code, allowing for the application of the death penalty for crimes committed when below the age of 18, are also deeply regrettable.”

“Under international law, those who are charged and convicted for offences they have committed under 18 years of age should not be sentenced to death or life imprisonment without possibility of release,” the statement continued.

“International human rights treaties, particularly the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Maldives has ratified, impose an absolute ban on the death sentence against persons below the age of 18 at the time when the offence was committed.”

Local NGO Maldivian Democracy Network has also condemned the government’s decision to reintroduce the death penalty, contending that the “highly politicised and corrupt” judiciary was unfit to pass death sentences.


“Highly politicised and corrupt” judiciary unfit to decide life and death: Maldivian Democracy Network

The Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) has condemned the Maldivian government’s decision to implement the death penalty in a press release issued on Wednesday.

The MDN expressed “great concern” over the move to break a sixty-year de facto moratorium on the death penalty in the country. New regulations allow for children as young as seven to be sentenced to death.

“Given the state of the Maldivian judiciary, which is also perceived to be highly politicised and corrupt, it is most concerning that as grave a matter as life and death of humans is to be decided by it,” the MDN stated.

Adopted on April 27, the new regulation provides for the use of the death penalty for the offence of intentional murder, including when committed by individuals under the age of 18. The age of criminal responsibility in the Maldives is ten, but for hadd offences, children as young as seven can be held responsible. Hadd offences include theft, fornication, adultery, consumption of alcohol, and apostasy.

The MDN’s statement closely follows a statement by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in which the organization called for the practice to be abolished.

“We urge the Government to retain its moratorium on the use of the death penalty in all circumstances, particularly in cases that involve juvenile offenders and to work towards abolishing the practice altogether,” said Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the OHCHR.

“We equally encourage the Government to repeal the new regulations and other provisions that provide for the death penalty,” she told reporters.

A step backwards

The regulation on the implementation of the death penalty and the penal code pushes the Maldives backwards in an age when several countries in the world, including Muslim nations, are moving away from it, the MDN said.

The lack of legislation on evidence, witness protection and criminal procedures lead to a systematic failure to do justice and as a result innocent lives may be lost, the organization noted.

“The Maldivian criminal justice system lacks crucial legislation on evidence, witness protection and criminal procedures, leading to structural gaps and systematic failures to do justice as independent observers have noted in the past.

“A catastrophic result of this may be the loss of an innocent life, which is neither replaceable nor correctable.”

The MDN also highlights the possibility for minors to be sentenced to death as a major concern, and violation of the minor’s rights.

“We are also deeply concerned the regulation violates the rights of the child. Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a death penalty may not be imposed for a crime committed by a person under 18 regardless of his/her age at the time of the trial or sentencing or of the execution of the sanction.

“In addition to this, research shows that capital punishment does not deter murder any greater than the threat and application of lesser punishments. Maldivian Democracy Network implores the government to reconsider the decision to implement the death penalty in the Maldives, and make meaningful efforts towards prevention of crime and the protection of human life,” the statement concluded.


Government and civil society highlight work needed to safeguard human rights

State institutions have both celebrated the current progress in the protection of human rights in the Maldives, as well as expressing concern about certain violations and restrictions in the field.

A series have statements accompanied the 63rd International Human Rights Day – December 10.

With this year’s Human Rights Day aligning with the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM)’s 10th Anniversary, the independent commission held an event on Tuesday night, attended by several cabinet ministers, alongside political and civil society actors.

“It is crucial to overcome obstacles in the protection of rights guaranteed to Maldivians through the constitution and the international treaties, and for all institutions to work justly and equitably to reach this goal,” said HRCM President Mariyam Azra at the event.

Furthermore, in a statement released on Tuesday, the HRCM president stated that while the commission is pleased that human rights has become a topic openly and often discussed over the past decade, there still remains much work that needs to be done in the country to adequately protect human rights.

“What leads to the violation of rights is the lack of respect for rights. The abuse of rights committed by those in high positions oftentimes as a show of power most often affects the most vulnerable persons who are already in need of special protection. That is to say, people who are sidelined by society itself,” the statement read.

While there are state institutions mandated to protect citizens from harm and to bring perpetrators to justice, Azra commented, “as it is humans working in these institutions, a culture of treating others in a manner you would wish yourselves to be treated needs to be better established”.

She also noted that, when intervening in the case of a 15 year old rape victim being charged with fornication and sentenced to 100 lashes by flogging, the commission realised the importance of interventions even at the court proceedings stage.

“When after we intervened, the High Court overruled the Juvenile Court’s sentence on the child, we realised the importance of intervention even at the stages of court hearings. Therefore, we have now planned to conduct further work in the field after seeking cooperation from the judiciary,” she revealed.

“President Yameen has an unwavering commitment to establish a consolidated democracy”

Meanwhile, Minister of Foreign Affairs Dunya Maumoon stated that the Maldives has given “greater impetus and focus to strengthening our systems and institutions to better safeguard human rights and fundamental liberties” since former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom began the introduction of democratic governance in the country in 2004.

While acknowledging that much work needs to be done to safeguard human rights in the country, Dunya stated, “I am pleased to reiterate the unwavering commitment of His Excellency President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom to continue the country’s journey, with greater vigour and determination, to its destination of a consolidated democracy.

She asserted that the government will focus on completing its human rights treaty reporting obligations and reducing the gaps that exist within the framework, among other related work.

She further spoke on the Maldives’ role in the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), emphasising among other points that the country had “always pledged to defend the Constitution, to strengthen our judiciary and independent institutions and to uphold the rule of law”.

“We have not minced our words in our calls to protect the rights of all Muslims around the world. We have stood up against Islamaphobia and risen to build the fallen bridges of tolerance and respect,” the statement read.

The minister pledged to continue the work through the country’s membership in the UNHRC and at the local level.

State must take initiative to provide justice to those who suffered HR violations: MDN

Local Human Rights NGO Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) commended the current stability in the country, maintaining that it is the result of having an elected government in place after a politically turbulent period.

Thanking the Elections Commission for its work to defend the right to vote and the losing candidate Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s Mohamed Nasheed and his supporters for their ready acceptance of electoral defeat, the NGO called on security forces and the general public to ensure that the stability in the country is maintained as a peaceful one by refraining from committing acts of violence or injustice against any persons.

“This organisation believes that it is a responsibility of the government to take the initiative to ensure justice for all those who have suffered different manners of abuse and HR violations in these past days,” the statement read.

“It is crucial that state institutions act in accordance with the recommendations put forth by the Commission of National Inquiry,the HRCM and the Police Integrity Commission after concluding investigations into the events of February 7 and 8, 2012. This will be the most important and initial step towards establishing justice,” it continued.

“It is also important to learn of the injustices against separate persons being committed by the judicial, political and social sectors currently, and to ascertain that they proceed in a just manner. We call on the government and concerned state authorities to ensure this.”


Q&A: Elections Commission Chairperson Fuwad Thowfeek

The Maldives’ Elections Commission (EC) is preparing for the presidential election’s second round run-off amidst the Jumhooree coalition’s refusal to accept its first round defeat, triggering a barrage of judicial, political, media and civil society actions against the commission.

The Jumhooree Party (JP) – in conjunction with the Attorney General (AG) and the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) – has led a Supreme Court case to annul the election, whilst the party’s High Court case against the commission was conducted in tandem. In response to the JP’s vote fraud claims the police barricaded the EC secretariat and searched its garbage, while multiple protests and threats have targeted  the commission and its members and local media has broadcast unsubstantiated information about the commission and electoral process.

The EC has emphatically dismissed allegations of vote rigging as “baseless and unfounded”, highlighting its transparency and extensive preparations – conducted with international support – to ensure a free and fair polling process. International election observers have unanimously commended the first round of polling, calling for losing parties to accept defeat and allow the second round to proceed as scheduled.

With the September 28 run-off less than a week away, Minivan News discusses some of the challenges faced by the commission with Fuwad Thowfeek, Chairperson of the country’s first independent Elections Commission (EC).

Supreme Court case

Leah R Malone: Considering the politicised nature of the Supreme Court – as highlighted by the UN Special Rapporteur for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul – is there a risk the Supreme Court’s order to hand over the EC’s only original copy of the voter list could lead to it being tampered with? Specifically, given the lack of material evidence or witnesses presented against the EC thus far, is there a potential opportunity for names to be added to the original voter list to substantiate the JP’s claims?

Fuwad Thowfeek: Thursday (September 19) the Supreme Court ordered the Elections Commission provide the original voter list, so we’ve been making color copies. EC members sat down and discussed [the situation], the constitution and presidential election laws, as well as met with our legal team. Since it’s a Supreme Court case they can order anything be given, so it’s best to follow that order [and provide the list].

However our legal team advised us to take very accurate color copies of each page before sending the originals. We are keeping the duplicates and in case any changes are made [to the originals] we will very easily be able to recognise them. It is the best solution we have at the moment.

As of about 3:45pm or 4:00pm Friday (September 20) we sent 120 lists to the Supreme Court. 200 will be sent Saturday and the day after the remaining lists. We are sending the original documents as the copies are being made.

LRM: If the Supreme Court rules to annul the presidential election’s first round, what will the Elections Commission do?

FT: That’s a big question because according to the constitution and even elections law there is nothing said [about whether the Supreme Court can take that action]. We have to ask the Supreme Court to give a timetable or something [for the presidential election]. Other than that there’s nothing we can do.

We won’t be able to fulfill the time requirement set forth in the constitution [if the run-off isn’t held on schedule]. 120 days before the end of the current president’s term a presidential election must be held. If there is no election then the [democratic] constitution, presidential and general election law will not be satisfied.

The strangest, funniest thing is that they are still not able to identify a single person who has voted fraudulently. For example, they have not been able to show anyone who is younger than 18 has voted, but they have been claiming many underage people fraudulently voted. If there are many [that voted fraudulently] they should be able to verify and show at least one person. They are also claiming that dead people voted, and when they submitted the list of seven names to the High Court, the court gave us the list to check. So we reviewed the voter registry and voter list, found phone numbers on record for four people and when we spoke with them, the individuals verified they were indeed alive and had voted. We are sure we will be able to find the remaining three people.

The other thing is if a dead person voted, someone should be able to show that this is the person who voted under the deceased’s name. Also, the JP is claiming 50,000 fraudulent votes have been added. The strangest thing is none of these ballots have been identified. No ballot boxes were found to have more votes cast than voters registered. Only one ballot box – located on a resort island – was found to have exactly 100 percent voter turnout. The average voter turnout was 88.44 percent nationwide.

LRM: Has Attorney General Azima Shukoor been in contact with the Elections Commission?

FT: That was another surprise to us actually. She has not been in contact with us and then suddenly appeared in the Supreme Court case. The funniest thing is the AG is supposed to support government institutions, but in this case the AG is speaking against the EC. She is supporting JP without evidence or witnesses, just saying there were errors in the voters list, but is not able to cite what those specific errors are because she has not seen [or requested to see] the list.

When I heard the AG was going to participate in the Supreme Court case, I thought it would be on behalf of the EC and she would tell the court [the vote rigging allegations are] simply not possible and the court cannot give any room to cancel the first round and re-hold it. [However,] when the AG came out and spoke against the EC – just like any political party supporter of JP – we released a press statement stating that the commission regrets this action by the AG. Both the AG and the JP have not provided any evidence or witnesses to support their allegations.

The government has spent over MVR 30 million (US $1,949,310) on the first round, there is no budget remaining [to hold both rounds again]. If it’s difficult for the government to provide the additional budget for the second round, there will be so many difficulties if the [results are annulled and] voting rounds are held again.

[Prior to the Supreme Court case] we hadn’t had much contact with the office of the AG or the AG. Last year after the change of government, in March or April, the EC met with the AG and spoke about changes that were required in the election laws, but nothing has materialised so far. She told us at the time that there were so many laws requiring revision.

Before the end of the last Supreme Court session, the Chief Justice ordered the EC to submit the original copy of the voters’ list. They are probably going to check the list to see whether people below the age of 18 voted. If they want to check for that, it’s fine. We are 100 percent sure they will not find anyone below 18 who voted.

Accessing the voter list

LRM: Following the High Court order for the EC to allow JP access to the voter list – under the guidelines determined by the commission – what were the exact protocol guidelines the EC enacted during the JP representative’s visit? What other political party representatives were present?

FT: Tuesday (September 17) the High Court ordered the EC to show the voter list to political parties. We have only one original [copy of the voters list] and had to make arrangements to follow the High Court’s order to show JP [the list], so we made the arrangements for Thursday (September 19).

This was because the EC needed time to prepare, seek advice from our legal team, and to hold a discussion meeting with our members. At the same time, arrangements for other candidates to see the voter list were also made. We invited all four political parties to send representatives to see the original voter list.

The viewing started at 10:00am. A team from JP came and GIP, but no PPM – even in court they said they did not want to see the voter list. An MDP representative came, but he said he did not want to see it.

We asked the other two – representatives from JP and GIP – what they wanted to see. Then again they wanted more people [from their parties] to come and for the EC to make copies [of the list for them]. But we couldn’t make that arrangement because we have to be very careful with our only copy [of the list], so our own official would show it to one representative at a time. There were arguments from the political party representatives [about these guidelines].

[However,] the lawyer, Dr Hassan Saeed [JP presidential candidate Gasim Ibrahim’s running mate and head of JP’s legal team] said that now he does not need to look at the voter list anymore because he would prefer for the EC to hand it over to the Supreme Court.

(JP’s Legal Advisor Mohamed Haleem told Minivan News last week that the party would seek an additional High Court order for unrestricted access to the voter list).

LRM: With the ‘leaked’ police intelligence report – which the AG is citing in the Supreme Court – alleging there were “some opportunities for fraud” and “illegal voting”, the AG arguing for the Supreme Court to order the police to investigate the EC, and the police barricading and searching the EC’s garbage, do you think the police are politicised and acting against the EC?

FT: I don’t think anything will happen. I heard the AG demanded the PG issue an order to the police to investigate some of these allegations, but so far the commission has not been contacted by the police or the PG. But we don’t know anything about this. The AG should have met and spoke with the EC before making such a decision and then advising another institution [to take action].

LRM: What has been the outcome of the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC)’s investigation into Villa TV (VTV) broadcasting programmes to incite hatred and create an uprising against the EC? Have any substantive actions been taken by MBC against VTV?

FT: We don’t know about the [outcome of the] MBC investigation. They said they will be taking actions against those broadcasting untruthful content. We know that VTV has stopped broadcasting the ‘Olhuvaalee Vote Ge Namugai’ (‘fraud in the name of the vote’) programme. But for a very long time they have been showing ‘Fasmanzaru’ (‘five horizons’), where various JP political party members or supporters just talk against the EC or against the election’s first round. Although what they have to say has no substance.

Saturday or Sunday we have to send a complaint letter to MBC. Again I have called MBC’s President Mohamed Shahyb and by phone have spoken to him about ‘Fasmanzaru’ [and the unsubstantiated claims its spreading].

LRM: How will the EC provide more timely information to media during the second round run-off to avoid the confusion created by inaccurate local media reports of polling station figures during the first round?

FT: We have not yet decided. I think we need more frequent refreshing of figures and will try to have more frequent reports from the EC on the 28th. If everything does not go well it may be difficult… we may not be able to go to the Dharubaaruge [convention centre in Male’]. We will try to have better updates through the internet, but will be focusing on communicating directly with the media.

Threats and protests

LRM: The ‘National Movement’ has announced they will raise their voices in protest if the Supreme Court doesn’t rule against the EC. They are calling for the EC to be reformed – with yourself, the Vice Chair Ahmed Fayaz, and commission member Ali Mohamed Manik resigning. Have previous JP protests and planned National Movement protests caused any problems for the EC? Why are they targeting the three of you?

FT: Even JP supporters – except the 20 or 30 people shouting on the streets – have accepted the first round results and are not causing any problems.

Thursday night around 10:30pm 20 or 30 protesters came near the EC Secretariat, shouted for 30 minutes and left. They were demanding my resignation and saying ‘thief of votes’ and that type of thing, they wanted the [first round] results cancelled and a fresh election to be held. Sometimes they ask for myself and the Vice Chair to resign, sometimes different EC members, and sometimes the entire commission.

These are a few unsatisfied people paid by somebody – who has the money – but they know they’re not shouting for any solid thing. They get on a loudspeaker [and protest] after somebody asks or pays them – they are doing it for that reason alone, not based on anything reasonable. If it was a public thing then I’d be more concerned. But this is just a few people and most are not educated. They don’t know what’s going on [with the election] or how the voting process works.

There are five members of the EC and all decisions are made by the five members. [However,] the Vice Chair Fayaz, member Manik, and I are the three members interacting the most with the public, on TV etc  – that’s why they are going against us.

LRM: What kind of threats have been made against EC members and/or staff?

FT: Some of us are getting threats from unknown people. I have received SMS messages saying ‘be careful when you come out on the street, you’ll be stabbed in the stomach’. We [commission members] have security provided by the police and we move around with them.

My wife has been scared. Two times people went near our home shouting [and protesting], but the police protected our home and stopped the people from coming too near.

LRM: Do you think the MPS can provide adequate security for EC members?

FT: Yes, the MPS is fully capable. I’m sure nobody can harm me. They have to look at a distance but can’t touch me. Of that I’m fully confident, I’m not scared. I’m confidant know what I’m doing is right and I have the support of the people and the whole international community – observers and monitors. They’ve seen the electoral process [during the first round], which they have commended, praised, and complemented. I’m very happy and am moving ahead with my duties. My work cannot be stopped by a few people. I have full confidence in myself and am moving ahead.

LRM: The JP, some of their supporters, and the National Movement have claimed the EC, its members and staff are biased toward MDP – will you clarify for the public whether there is any truth in this accusation?

FT: There’s no truth to that, it’s some kind of story that some of the opponents wanted to spread. This commission, all its members and staff, do not belong to any political party or align with any political party.

We have staff who are married to people from different political parties – PPM, MDP, DRP, etc – and police officers. Staff members’ spouses may belong to a political party, but that is their own interest and has nothing to do with the duties of our staff. I have full confidence in our staff, they are very faithful to their duties and this commission and would not do anything unjust. I’m confident in my staff and that none are aligned with the MDP.

If they [a particular politician or political party] don’t get the result they want from a particular institution, they tend to claim that institution is opposition-aligned. The MDP got the best result [Nasheed secured 45.45 percent of the vote], so this time the EC is accused of being MDP aligned. If Yameen won then the EC would be accused of being PPM aligned.

In another instance, right after the change of government [in February 2012] some said the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) was PPM aligned, because most of the decisions made were more likely to the advantage of PPM. That’s just the kind of talk that happens.

Run-off preparations

LRM: What kind of support are local and international partners providing the EC for the second round? Is anything additional needed prior to the run-off scheduled for the 28th?

FT: We are getting a lot of support from international and local partners. The Commonwealth has expressed their satisfaction with the EC’s professionalism and their continued support for the commission. They will be sending another observer team for the run-off. The EU sent different observer teams – from various countries – on the 7th and will most likely send more for the 28th. Observers from Japan, Thailand, India, UK, US, and a Pakistani Elections Commissioner were present during the first round and expressed their interest in observing the second round. They will most likely send more teams for the run-off. I think they will come before the 28th to see the place, visit other islands, and see how ready we are for the second round.

Transparency Maldives sent the observers nationwide and their report praised the electoral process. The HRCM also observed the first round and praised us on our work and confirmed everything during the election went well. The Maldivian Democracy Network also expressed their support and commended the work the EC has done.

LRM: How have EC members, staff, and their families been impacted by the controversy the commission has faced since the first round? How has this impacted run-off election preparations?

FT: Right now there is very heavy work we have left to do before the 28th. We are so busy we are working 24 hours a day and the EC staff works in shifts, half are sent home to sleep when the other half report in.

For example, in addition to the 470 ballot boxes necessary for the first round, the second round will require an additional box be placed in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and two more on tourist resorts that have applied to keep ballot boxes this round.

Everyone of us has to spend so much time in the office. We go early in the morning and stay until late at night, even on weekends, while our families are alone at home. Our families suffer, but they fully support us so we can fulfill our national duty.

It’s a very difficult job but I’m lucky to have the confidence of the people and [political party] leaders – even Gasim’s close people, President Waheed and President Nasheed know me well, and the honorable Yameen and Gayoom know and trust me. Even those who speak against me only speak for political gain or just to control their supporters.

I know what I’m doing is right and everything will be fine for elections to take place the 28th. We are fully ready for the second round. If we are able to hold on until the 28th then we will know the next president of the country.

LRM: Given the barrage of judicial, political, media and civil society actions against the EC, is the electoral environment still conducive to holding a free and fair presidential election on September 28?

FT: I think on the 28th of September the second round will go ahead as we have planned and have been working toward. There has been very little or no change [in the electoral environment] that would require we make any changes to our own program. Compared to last week, this week things have very much improved. I’m very confident things will calm down.

I’ve spoken to different people [representing political parties] and the most interesting thing is even those against us in the Supreme Court, they know there was nothing wrong with the election. Gasim’s employees, senior political party members, are trying to just give him a perspective that they did so much to cover up their failure to get Gasim the required number of votes [to proceed to the run-off]. They know the cases submitted in the High Court and Supreme Court are not going to give them any recount. Nothing will come out in their favour. They just want to go as far as they can go.

A lot of energy has been wasted by everyone – their people, our people, the Supreme Court.

I’m very hopeful the country will be ready for the run-off. We cannot keep this second round [from happening on schedule]. Particularly for the benefit of the country, to maintain the peace and harmony of our home [nation], we have to hold the second round.

If we fail, we will likely face more and more problems as the time passes. It will be in the interest of the government, all political parties, and all thoughtful citizens of the country to hold the run-off. Anybody trying to obstruct the election is unpatriotic.