Friends and family of missing journalist seek to submit a petition to parliament

Friends and family of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan are petitioning the Majlis, posing a series of questions which the family believes “arose due to the negligence of the Maldives Police Services in searching for Rilwan.”

“These are also matters on which state institutions have so far conducted no work in order to reach the truth,” read the questions to be submitted to the national security committee.

The petition calls on all relevant authorities to provide answers for the following questions, urging thorough investigation into the following issues:

  • What is the standard operating procedure for police once a report, such as the abduction that took place on August 8 in Hulhumalé, is lodged? Did police follow these procedures following the said incident?
  • To what extent have police explored the possibility of a connection between the abduction reported on August 8 and the report of Rilwan being missing on August 13?
  • What work has been conducted to date in the search for Rilwan? What are the current concerns and thoughts of the police regarding the condition and situation Rilwan might be in at present?
  • While friends and family who are working together to search for Rilwan have received multiple threats via SMS and other mediums, to what extent have the police provided them with assistance and protection? Additionally, to what extent have police explored the possibility of a connection between those issuing such threats and the disappearance of Rilwan?

Organisers of the petition are currently holding a variety of events through which they aim to collect the 3000 signatures required before it can be submitted to parliament.

Last weekend (August 29 and 30) friends and family held an event at the Artifiical Beach where signatories of the petition were given free t-shirts printed with the message ‘Today Rilwan has been forcefully disappeared. Will it be me tomorrow?’

Additionally, the group provided a screen projection in the same area on Saturday night displaying video clips of messages from Rilwan’s family and friends.

According to Yameen Rasheed – long time friend of Rilwan who is among the volunteers at the event – the group has already gathered over 1500 signatures, while today (August 31)) volunteers are covering different areas of Malé in order to seek more signatures.

“Friends and family have made tremendous efforts to seek the public’s support in finding Rilwan. This is sadly in contrast with the continued silence from the state,” Yameen stated.

State response

On Thursday, August 28, Commissioner of Police Hussain Waheed was summoned to parliament’s national security committee.

While the meeting was held behind closed doors, police released a press statement on the same day, revealing some details of the investigation as it has proceeded to date.

According to the statement, police have questioned 198 persons and taken statements from 80, including neighbours of Rilwan in Hulhumalé. It also stated that 293 hours of CCTV footage from over 30 locations are being reviewed and analysed.

Police also claim to have searched all public and industrial areas of the island, as well as an additional 50 places for which they had obtained warrants.

The island of Farukolhufushi – formerly Club Faru resort – near Hulhumalé, vessels moored at Hulhumalé harbour, and a number of other local islands have also been searched, the statement continued.

Police also claim that in relation to the reports of an abduction in Hulhumalé on August 8, officers were doing forensic tests on samples taken from three different cars.

The statement did not say whether any concrete information was gathered from these interviews and other investigative measures.

Meanwhile, Minister of Defence Mohamed Nazim speaking at a DhiTV event held on Saturday (August 31) that the government is doing all necessary to find Rilwan, saying “there is hope that we will find him”.

Minister of Youth and Sports Mohamed Maleeh Jamaal has also tweeted a similar message, stating “Government has mobilised all necessary resources to find #Rilwan. The search should continue #findmoyameehaa”.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has also met with friends and family of Rilwan on Saturday, pledging assistance to the cause.

In a press conference held on Sunday, newly-elected MDP Vice President Mohamed Shifaz stated that the party will work from within the parliament and all other possible avenues to assist the search for the missing journalist.


Youth leaders critical as government assures youth issues are being addressed

With additional reporting by Mariyath Mohamed

Youth wing leaders from across the political spectrum have criticised the government’s youth policy as cabinet members argue that the government has “hit the ground running” in its attempts to tackle youth issues.

Youth wing leaders from both government-aligned and opposition party have suggested policy has been formulated without youth participation.

“The government’s youth policy is not very clear, in fact it comes across as being rather shady,” said Jumhooree Party Youth Wing leader Moosa Anwar.

The comments come in response to the Youth Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal’s assurances that the government – elected on a platform of youth and economic policies – would soon fulfill all its prior pledges.

“With an influx of five times of the budget of previous years, the government of his excellency President [Abdulla] Yameen came with a promise to address the youth-related concerns that have been sadly been neglected in the recent past,” said the minister.

Speaking at this week’s ‘Regional Consultative Meeting to Finalise the SAARC Youth Charter and Action Plan’, Maleeh said that the government had already drafted a youth bill to ensure that rights of young Maldivians are protected.

The charter aims to promote the potential of young people with “their full participation” explains the charter, with the aim of influencing regional youth policies in the areas of environment, gender equality, education, employment, and health.

The SAARC nations are expected to sign the charter during the eighteenth SAARC summit scheduled to be held in November 2014 at Nepal.

A national health strategy for the youth has been drafted with assistance of UNFPA, he explained, assuring the strategy to address issues such as prevalent drug abuse would be endorsed very soon.

Speaking at the same ceremony, Minister of Foreign Affairs Dunya Maumoon said the youth’s meaningful participation in the development process should be ensured.

“We must eradicate violence and abuse of young people, especially girls and other marginalised groups. We must not let youth be deprived from an education or access to decent work. We must invest in the health and well-being of the youth,” said Dunya.

Youth response

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s recently elected Youth Wing President Mohamed Azmeel responded by saying that the government has neglected to include opposition-aligned youth in developing policies.

“We have not been consulted over this youth charter or even on national youth related policies or programmes,” Azmeel said, noting that with over 26,000 registered members the MDP Youth Wing is the biggest youth organisation the country.

A recent democracy survey by Transparency Maldives revealed the MDP to have the largest number of under-35 year-olds of any political party. The most recent census (2006) data revealed under-25s to represent over 50 percent of the country’s population, with a new survey to be taken later this year.

Azmeel also expressed a lack of faith over the government’s capability to fulfill it’s pledges to youth.

“So far they have failed in providing any positive sign of fulfilling those pledges. For instance we still don’t know how they are planning to create the promised 94,000 new jobs. So from what we are seeing now, I don’t have any hope they would do any of that,” said Azmeel.

Pro-government Adhaalath Party’s Youth Wing leader Ali Rasheed also said his party had been left out of the government’s youth-related programmes, while Jumhooree Party Youth Wing leader Moosa Anwar argued that the government’s policy has been created without youth participation.

“The government does not appear to be doing much to increase actual youth participation,” he continued.

Anwar revealed that he was currently attending a youth-related conference in Sri Lanka, to which the government had sent Youth Ministry employees as ‘youth delegates’.

He suggested that said, instead of being empowered, the youth were being used as a “street force” by all political parties.

“They keep the youth quiet by naming us ‘leaders of tomorrow’ and holding obscure workshops in the guise of empowering us. However, there has so far been no practical application of youth empowerment.”

“It will not do just to talk about a youth city and to promote that idea on social media. If the government is sincere about working to empower youth, they must allow us to have a say at the decision making or policy levels,” he said, suggesting a youth parliament as a possible way of achieving this.

President Yameen’s own Progressive Party of Maldives have no youth leadership after its last Youth Wing President Ibrahim Nazim resigned during the 2013 presidential elections saying he was unable to reach Yameen to discuss youth involvement in the presidential campaign.

The youth minister was not responding to calls at the time of publication.


Maldives Olympic Committee to increase women’s participation in sports

The Maldives Olympic Committee (MOC) has decided to step up women’s participation in international sports by introducing guidelines to encourage sports associations to support female athletes and officials.

The MOC has informed all national sports associations that, while funds will be released based on their performance and training, the committee will now give priority to women.

The committee will set a target of 33 percent of games contingents to be women,  alongside a requirement that half of sports officials be female.

“We have noticed that when when women officials participate in international games, they are very involved in it afterwards. But there are very few officials currently, we want to encourage them,” said Secretary General of the committee Ahmed Marzooq.

At least one official for women’s individual sports and either the Chef De Mission or the Deputy Chef De Mission must also be a woman.

“Very few women’s sports have the opportunity to represent Maldives at international level. We want to give them equal opportunities,” said Marzook.

For the upcoming Asia Games – to be held in Incheon, South Korea from September 19 til October 4, 2014 – the committee will spend MVR1.89million on teams, based on this new policy.

With nearly two hundred members, the Asia Games contingent will be the biggest that has ever represented the Maldives at an international sports event.

The Commonwealth Games 2014 – to be held in Glasgow from July 23 to August 3 – will also be funded under these policies. While there, the Maldives committee is also planning for its athletes to join the Glasgow Muslim community in marking a women’s sports.

“In awarding a training scholarship we ensure there are at least two women for each sport, we want equal opportunities in the area as well,” Marzook added.

“We want people to know that even after retiring as an athlete, there are opportunities for women in coaching, as managers, referees, doctors.”

International women’s sports in Maldives

As a traditionally moderate Muslim nation, women’s participation in sports haven’t been restricted by law, or widely discouraged in the Maldives.

The 2012 Olympics marked the first time that countries like Brunei, Qatar and, Saudi Arabia sent female athletes, while other Muslim majority countries have tended to keep women’s participation to a minimal level.

Starting with just 2.2 percent in 1900, nearly 45 percent of athletes at the 2012 Olympic games were women. Since then, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has also set goals such as a 20 percent female representation criteria for the executive boards of National Olympic Committees.

By 1992 there was a demand for the IOC to take more strict action against countries that banned female athletes from their teams after 34 of 169 competing countries had no female participants.

Barcelona was the Maldives’ second Olympic Games, marking the beginning of Maldivian women’s participation in the games. In the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, the Maldives’ flag bearer was a teenage girl, Aminath Rouya Hussain.

According to the MOC, between 2010 and 2012 the Maldives participated in eleven international games, with a 42 percent female participation rate.

The current Minister of Youth & Sports Mohamed Maleeh Jamal said the government considers providing equal opportunities for women in sports to be a priority.

“We will focus on women’s sports in establishing a number of sports arenas around the country. We will include Bashi (a local sport played mainly by women) courts in these places and we will include aerobics centers too. Jogging tracks will also be created for women,” he said.

Opportunities for women athletes

In 2010 a women’s basketball team represented the Maldives for the first time internationally, the very next year bringing home a silver medal from the 3-on-3 basketball event at the South Asian Beach Games.

Shizna Rasheed – a member of that historic team – feels that there is a great future for women’s basketball in Maldives.

“It was a great achievement for Maldives, especially considering we didn’t get to practice much.”

Still in her twenties, Shizna started playing basket ball thirteen years ago is now volunteering as a member of the recently established women’s committee within the MOC. She was also the women’s basketball team’s assistant coach at the 2010 Asia Games.

Shizna said that, with the right opportunities, there is a future for women’s basketball in the Maldives and that there are also plans to introduce women’s handball at a national level.

“With increasing funds more opportunities are opening now. There should be equal opportunities for women, and I think these new measures [introduced by the committee] are very encouraging. It will provide more opportunities for women athletes,” she said.

Aishath Nazima, a volleyball player with twenty years of experience, expressed similar sentiments about the measures:

“As it is, only a few women’s sports have that opportunity [to participate in international sports], it is worse for team sports. So most teams don’t practice through out the year. But this can change things. If there are games to look forward to, associations and players too will get more serious. A lot of players even quit due to lack of opportunities.”