Assaulted inmate flown to Sri Lanka for medical treatment

Officials from the Home Ministry have confirmed to local media that Ibrahim Azar – critically injured during a jail fight in Maafushi prison last month – has been sent to Sri Lanka for medical treatment.

According to a report on the incident shared by the Maldives Correctional Services (MCS) with parliament’s government oversight committee earlier this month, Azar had requested to be transferred from his cell more than an hour before the assault.

A person familiar with the matter told Minivan News that Azar was attacked by his cell mates after calling prison officers when a fight broke out between two of his cell mates on February 24.

“Azar was kept in A-B/Unit-3 of Maafushi Prison with two other inmates, and that day the two inmates had an issue and started fighting,’’ the source said.

“Azar called the prison officers and the prison officers talked to the two that were fighting and resolved the issue – but as soon as the prison officer left they started fighting again.’’

He added that Azar called the prison officers once more, though the fighting had stopped by the time officers arrived and so the guards left the cell again.

“It repeated three times, and after the fourth time prison officers were called Azar was attacked by his two cell mates,’’ the source said.

The source alleged that Azar’s cell mates attacked him using a razor blade. He received multiple wounds to his body, and his head was allegedly banged against the cell wall or the metal fence.

However, officials from the MCS had denied that any “sharp objects” were used in the assault when asked by MPs at the oversight committee meeting.

The source meanwhile said that the hospitalised inmate was “very skinny” and “very weak.”

“After the attack the prison officers had to wrap him inside a mat to carry him outside due to bleeding, his head was smashed,” he said.

“The inmates have to shake the metal fences to alert the prison officers if anything is happening otherwise they will pretend they did not hear,’’ he said.

“If one cell starts shaking the fences all the other cells will start shaking the metal fence.’’

MCS report

According to the one-page MCS report, on February 24, Prison Corporal Mohamed Mujthaba, the ranking duty officer at the time of the incident, was informed by guards of unrest in cell number 12 of unit three, wing one, at about 5:25pm.

Mujthaba questioned the prisoners and was asked by two of the three inmates in cell 12 – Ali Ashwan of Ma. Oasis Villa and Azar – to be transferred to a different cell.

“However, when [the inmates] were asked to explain the reason for wanting to change cells, they refused to do so until they were taken out of the cell,” the report revealed.

At about 6:00pm, the report stated, instructions were given to transfer the inmates, but the third inmate in cell 12 – Ahmed Liushan, also from Ma. Oasis Villa – obstructed prison guards who attempted to take the other inmates out of the cell.

At about 6:50pm, Mujthaba and Emergency Support Group officers made their way to the cell upon hearing a commotion from the unit, finding the “severely beaten” Azar inside.

Negligence in the prison was also reported to have led to violence in December 2010 after inmates attempted to inform prison officers of the illness of a cell-bound inmate.

After officers failed to respond to pleas from inmates, prisoners reportedly shook the bars to gain the attention of officers – who were subsequently alleged to have beaten the inmates causing the disturbance.

“Nobody cares for the inmates, only some politicians speak about it, but only for political purposes and not with the intention of correcting anything,” said a source close to the incident at the time.


“I am very sceptical of the burden we will have to carry”: PIC chair

Chair of the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) Shahinda Ismail has said she is “very sceptical of the burden” the institution will have to carry following the publication last week of the Commission of National Inquiry’s (CNI) findings.

The comments were made after Minister of Home Affairs Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed yesterday said that the PIC would be tasked with investigating breaches of police conduct outlined in the CNI’s findings.

Of primary concern to Shahinda was the CNI’s lack of clarity regarding the cases the PIC was to investigate, as well as loopholes within the Police Act which made it difficult to implement PIC recommendations.

“After the CNI, it’s quite confusing when they have so vaguely blanketed the actions of the police. It would have been clearer to name specific incidents or policemen,” she said

Shahinda has questioned the ability of the PIC to follow through with this mandate after having had almost no contact with, or instruction from, the now-disbanded CNI.

“I was surprised at the dismantling of the CNI. There surely must be further questions from many people,” she said.

“After the Human Rights Commission (HRCM) completed their investigations, they sent a letter to us [to guide our work]. We would like something similar from the CNI,” she said.

Shahinda revealed that, throughout both versions of the CNI, the PIC had only had one meeting and received one letter from the commission.

The meeting involved mainly introductions and talk of future co-operation, whilst the letter from the CNI to the PIC asked only when its investigations into the events of February would be completed, she explained.

Referring to the CNI’s recommendations that the PIC, amongst other institutions, needed to be strengthened, Shahinda responded:

“My question would be – while I don’t claim the PIC is perfect – what information are they working with? Throughout their investigations, they showed no interest. There was no inquiry about specific incidents. To my knowledge, no one was summoned.”

Shahinda explained that the PIC was already investigating a number of incidents relating to February 7 and 8, making the lack of contact doubly confusing.

“They knew we were already investigating specific incidents – that’s what we do,” she said.

Shahinda also outlined what she saw as the weaknesses within the police act that, in certain cases, had allowed the Home Minister the option of ignoring PIC recommendations.

Article 44 of the Police Act states that any parties handed recommendations by the PIC can choose not to act on them if they inform the commission of the decision in writing.

“He is not really bound by the act,” said Shahinda, before alleging that this clause had already resulted in the Home Minister ignoring recommendations forwarded to him.

The PIC chair gave the example of a case involving police officer Ali Ahmed, whom she said had been adjudged unfit to continue to serve by the commission.  Shahinda claimed the case had been forwarded to the Home Minister.

“I know for a fact he is still a policeman and was promoted after this incident” she said.

“It is really upsetting – a huge concern – for me that the police leadership is showing a trend where unlawful officers are acting with impunity. This can only lead to further violence,” added Shahinda.

Dr Jameel was not responding to calls at the time of press.

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has recently expressed his belief that around 300 members of the security services were “undermining the public interest of the entire country”.

Following the findings of the CNI’s report, which concluded that Nasheed was not removed from power in a coup, he called for legal action to be taken against implicated officers.

Nasheed’s representative on the commission Ahmed ‘Gahaa’ Saeed resigned the day before the report was published, citing – amongst other things – withheld evidence and non-examination of crucial witnesses.

The report’s findings have been welcomed by the United States, India, and the United Nations as well as the Commonwealth, although the MDP has said it will lobby for the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) to reconsider.


Free media too much for Maldives to digest: Maldives Media Council

Following the attacks on media property during Monday’s unrest, Maldives Media Council (MMC) President Mohamed Nazeef has expressed doubt over whether a free media can flourish in the Maldives at the present time.

“We see that although we talk of democracy and freedom of media and expression, I don’t think society is ready to digest a free media,” said Nazeef.

After protests against the reconvening of the People’s Majlis turned violent, Villa Television (VTV) bore the brunt of the angry demonstrations. Projectiles aimed at the studio included bricks – and in one instance, a bicycle – while the Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) personnel manned the building’s entrance.

The anger of Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters towards VTV has been building since the events of February 7 when staff of the then-state broadcaster Maldives National Broadcast Corporation (MNBC) were ordered to patch through the VTV broadcast.

VTV is owned by Jumhoree Party (JP) Leader and MP Gasim Ibrahim, also a member of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC). Gasim’s chain of Villa Island resorts have been placed on a recent travel advisory of UK-based pro-democracy organisation Friends of Maldives (FOM).

“These are places linked to individuals or groups who we suspect to be involved in the subversion of democracy and in human rights abuses in the Maldives,” reads the advisory.

In a video aired on Raajje Television earlier this month, Gasim was seen celebrating inside police headquarters upon hearing of former President Mohamed Nasheed’s decision to resign.

MDP spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor alleged at the time that the video proved “Gasim’s blatant complicity in the coup d’état.”

The nation watched VTV on state television before the feed was cut off and came back on, re-branded as Television Maldives (TVM), the name of the state broadcaster during Gayoom’s regime.

The MDP have since alleged that the national broadcaster is “being blatantly used as propaganda outlet of the coup regime, while the ongoing peaceful political activities of the MDP are being sidelined with little regard to the MBC’s mandate and the nation’s laws under which the MBC is functional.”

When asked if the MNDF had been stationed outside the television studios in anticipation of an attack, Colonel Abdul Raheem responded, “We didn’t get any intelligence that there would be attacks. It was not only VTV [that was guarded], we had persons around all key locations.”

The camera of a photographer from the Haveeru paper was also destroyed by protesters during Monday’s unrest, although Editor Moosa Latheef said he did not believe this instance was politically motivated.

Latheef reported no increase in aggression towards his reporters during the recent political strife.

In January, journalists working for the then state broadcaster MNBC were badly beaten during a protest outside the corporation’s headquarters. Preceding these attacks MNBC reporters received death threats, an MNBC official reported at the time.

Free Media?

MMC President Mohamed Nazeef lamented the politicisation of media outlets and the animosity that this produced from sections of the public: “It is a very sad situation.”

The MMC consists of fifteen members elected to preserve, promote and maintain the freedom of the press.

“The media is owned by political and business leaders. Do journalists have freedom to report what they like?” asked Nazeef. “It doesn’t happen.”

Nazeef blamed a lack of financial independence for a dearth of balanced content. “Media organisations are not financially viable. They are dependent on the owners.”

Government subsidies have been used before to try and tackle this issue, but Nazeef argued that this method was not without its problems: “It goes into the pockets of the owners.”

Whilst deploring the violence that was directed at VTV on Monday, Nazeef was not surprised.

“It shouldn’t happen, but you see the media provoking it. [Media] know [they] are taking sides… Media should balance their content.”

Aiman Rasheed of Transparency Maldives was of a similar opinion: “The media situation is clear – different media are aligned behind different people… [We] see conflict extended to the media.”

Transparency Maldives conducted a study last year into the performance and potential bias of six media organisations of which VTV was included (as was Minivan News). The amount of coverage devoted to its owner’s JP was noted as “significantly high” and largely positive.

Meanwhile, the Maldives dropped 21 places on Reporters Without Borders’ press freedom index between 2010 and 2011. The organisation also expressed its concern over the takeover of MNBC on February 7.

Fathimath Ibrahim Didi of the NGO Maldives Democracy Network agreed that a free media was a crucial concept but added, “What we want to stress is that, at the same time, it is very essential for the media to be responsible.”

“Most of the media stations in Maldives are owned by businessmen in who are somehow affiliated with a political party. Hence there is a very high probability for the media to be biased towards one side while reporting.”

Private station DhiTV is financed by ‘Champa’ Mohamed Moosa, a local businessman and political benefactor of the former opposition, while the recently opened Raajje TV belongs to Akram Kamaaluddin, state minister at Nasheed’s administration.

Among the most popular local news websites, newspaper Haveeru is owned by Dr Mohamed Zahir Hussain, who filled various cabinet posts under Gayoom’s administration and has now been appointed as chancellor of the Maldives National University by Dr Waheed, replacing his former party member Dr Mustafa Luthfy.

Sun Online belongs to Meedhoo MP and resort tycoon Sun Travel Ahmed Shiyam.

Minivan News was itself often been accused of MDP bias due its inception as a party news source. Following the change of power in 2008, all funding from politically-affiliated sources was removed. Since then the site has relied on income generated through banner advertising and has passed to a succession of foreign editors who have attempted to establish it as a credible and objective source of news in the Maldives.

Despite the ownership of media, Fathmath thinks reporters can play a crucial role in maintaining neutrality.

“Reporters themselves should also maintain neutrality at all times. We as citizens would like to see non-contradictory information or interpretation regarding one incident from all the media outlets of the Maldives,” Fathimath concluded.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that DhiTV was owned by Hassan ‘Champa’ Afeef. DhiTV is financed by Mohamed ‘Champa’ Moosa. Minivan News regrets any confusion caused.


Adhaalath Party will terminate coalition agreement if Israeli airline allowed to operate in Maldives

The Adhaalath Party has said the party has decided to terminate the coalition agreement with the ruling Maldiivan Democratic Parrty (MDP) should the government permit an Israeli airline to operate in the Maldives.

Transport Minister Adil Saleem told Minivan News last Thursday that relevant authorities were currently processing a license for Sun d’Or International Airlines, a subsidiary of Israeli national carrier El Al, with a view to it operating flights to the Maldives.

Saleem claimed such a move would create opportunities for both Israeli tourists to visit the country as well as facilitate pilgrimages for Maldivians to mosques around Jerusalem and other parts of the country.

However the Adhaalath Party, which has significant influence in the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and is led by State Islamic Minister Sheikh Hussein Rasheed, issued a statement claiming that the majority of Islamic countries had not permitted the Israeli national carrier to operate.

“There are only two Islamic countries that have permitted El Al Airlines to operate: Egypt and Jordan,” the party said in a statement. “The other Islamic countries that allowed El Al Airlines to operate in their countries have withdrawn their permission. And it is to be noted that this Sun d’Or Airlines which is to commence operation in the Maldives is not an airline that any Islamic country so far permitted to operate.”

The party claimed there “were reasons” why out of the 50 Islamic countries, 48 had declined permission for El Al to operate.

“It is because Israel is the biggest enemy of the whole Muslim community, a country that has stolen the holy lands of Muslims, a country that is committing violence against the people of Palestine and as Israeli flights are targets of terrorist organisations, it raises security concerns,” the party said.

The Adhaalath Party added that it “regretted” that the current government had restored diplomatic relations with Israel, “ignoring the feelings of the citizens.”

The Adhaalath Party’s President Sheikh Hussein Rasheed told Minivan News that the decision was an official decision made by the party and that he had no further comment on the matter.

Adil Saleem acknowledged to Minivan News last week that “some Maldivians see Israel as controversial over the issue of Palestine. Yet Palestine accepts Israel as a state, benchmarking the point that I don’t see why we should not allow these flights.”

He also said that the license process for the operation of Sun d’Or was almost completed and that flights were expected to commence operating in Maldives in October this year.

President of religious NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf, Ahmed Bin Mohamed Ibrahim, meanwhile added that the organisation strongly opposed any move that would strengthens the relationship between Israel and the Maldives.

“It will cause more harm than benefit,’’ said Abdulla. “Damage was caused after diplomatic ties with Israel were restored.”

Abdulla said the education system of the Maldives “was ruined” as co-education was also introduced after ties were restored.

“All these issues were raised at the same time as the government restored diplomatic relations with Israel. Later came these doctors who first attempted to work in the Maldives without permission from the authorities,” he said. “They have already committed violence against Muslims in different areas of the world, so why should we expect any better?”

Visiting Israeli eye surgeons from the ‘Eyes from Zion’ NGO were in November met with protests and the burning of the Israeli flag in Male’s Republic Square. The Islamic Foundation NGO contested at the time that Israeli surgeons “have become notorious for illegally harvesting organs from non-Jews around the world.”

Opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Afrashim Ali claimed that Israelis and other foreign elements that “should not be allowed to enter a 100 percent Muslim country”, and would gain a foothold in the Maldives as a result of handing over management of the Male’ International Airport to Indian infrastructure giant GMR.

“[The airport deal with GMR] will open a big doorway for the people of Israel, who are brutalising Palestinians without any justification, to come to the Maldives and take over,” Afrashim said during the protests.

The debate over allowing Sun d’Or to operate in the Maldives could be moot after the airline’s license was revoked on April 1 by the Israel Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). El Al flights had reportedly been operating charter flights under different airline names – despite using the same aircraft and crew – in an effort to circumvent backlash from ultra-orthodox Israeli groups over its operating flights on the Sabbath and religious holidays. The airline has since stated that it would continue to not run flights on Sabbath days despite the loss of revenue, while Sun d’Or remains a charter brand under the national carrier.

“Sun d’Or operates as a designated carrier to European destinations, and carries out flights for El Al on the Saturdays and holidays. This enabled El Al to keep its 30-year plus status-quo with religious and haredi (ultra-orthodox) passengers by not flying on the Sabbath,” reported business magazine Globes.


Education Ministry denies informing Arabiyya School board to mix genders

Deputy Education Minister Dr Abdulla Nazeer has denied his department ordered the management of Arabiyya School to mix classes of male and female students in grade eight in an attempt to solve capacity issues at the site.

Daily newspaper Haveeru has reported that the Principal of Arabiyya School, Sheikh Mohamed Rasheed ibrahim Rasheed, had claimed that management at the site had been informed by the Education Ministry to mix females and males in grades eight and nine to try and solve the capacity issue.

”After the capacity issue of Arabiyya School came to light, outrage was sparked among parents, who then came out to protest,” said Dr Abdull Nazeer. ”Therefore, the ministry looked in to the matter and examined the registry of the school. We found out that there were classes conducted with only 14, 13 or 12 students.”

Dr Nazeer said that the ministry then advised the school management that if these classes were merged, the issue would be solved ”as the standard capacity for a classroom is 32 students.”

”If the school management wishes, they could still continue the classes with fewer students,” Dr Nazeer said. ”We never forced or ordered the school management to do so.” He added that most of the classes in Arabiyya School already had female and male pupils studying together.

However, Haveeru quoted Arabiyya’s principal as saying that he was not comfortable with allowing female and male students to receive mixed education in grade eight and nine due to religious and social concerns.

Sheikh Rasheed added that his concerns were shared by parents of the school’s students.

According to Haveeru, the decision to merge classes would allow 64 students to enrol in grade one of Arabiyya School. Sheikh Rasheed was not available for comment at the time of going to press when contacted by Minivan News.