Legal wrangling begins over MDP camp seizure

The seizure and dismantling of the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) camp in the south-east coast of the capital by security forces has sparked debates over the legality of their actions.

The camp, often referred to as “Justice Square” at Lonuziyaaraiy Kolhu had served as the base for MDP protests since the resignation of former President Mohamed Nasheed in February.

During a press conference at Iskandar Koshi last night, Police Superintendant (SP)Ahmed Mohamed noted that the “operation [at the camp] was executed with regard to complaints received that major illegal activities were taking place”.

Following the raid, police displayed a case of beer cans and a barrel of home brewed alcohol – reportedly seized from the camp – to local media.

The SP also cited constitutional obligations which include the maintenance of law and order in the face of criminal activities as a reason for the dismantling of the camp.

“The violence in Male’ was also linked to the protesters who started the demonstrations from the Lonuziyaaraai area,” Mohamed alleged.

MDP’s response

Meanwhile, the MDP has denied all allegations about the camp and filed a civil suit against the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) and the Maldives Police Service (MPS) arguing that the security forces had acted unconstitutionally on a number of counts when dismantling the party’s camp.

In the first hearing of the case last night, the Attorney General’s (AG) Office justified the raid.  She argued that the raid was executed without a court order, on the grounds of suspected criminal activity in the camp, according to the head of the MDP’s legal team, Hissan Hussian, in an interview with Minivan News today.

According to the AG’s office, the suspected illegal activities negate any need for a court ordered warrant.

Hisan explained that the MDP’s defence calls on Article 19 of the constitution, amongst others.  These articles provide freedom from restraint in any activities unless the activities’ restraint is expressly authorized by law.

Should the veracity of the police’s suspicions be supported, they could provide the legal cover necessary to nullify this aspect of the MDP’s argument.

Additionally, the apparent discovery of alcohol at the camp yesterday may jeopardise the MDP’s defense under Article 19 which does not guarantee protection of any activities prohibited under Shari’ah.

The finding of alcohol has been questioned by the MDP, which has argued that a media blackout immediately following the military occupation gave time for such evidence to be planted.

Hissan claimed that basic rights to private property had been infringed due to the actions of security forces.

MDP spokesman Hamid Abdul Ghafoor meanwhile has complained that property belonging to the party members were seized during the raid and “nothing has been returned”.

“They [police] have even eaten the food [at the camp].” Ghafoor alleged.

Police however have stated that all property owned will be returned to the rightful owners and that officers “had not inflicted any damage to any item confiscated from the area.”

The other “reasonable limits” to which the constitution’s basic freedoms are subject to will no doubt form a major part of the next hearing which is scheduled for Wednesday at 4pm.

Ownership debate

Should the MDP’s constitutional arguments prevail, it is likely that they will still have to overcome the issues of jurisdiction regarding the camp area.

Attorney General Azima Shukoor was reported as having told local media yesterday that the area around the tsunami monument belonged to the Maldives National Defence Force, invalidating any deals made between the MDP and the Maldives City Council (MCC).

This argument has been used before by the Defense Ministry who have argued that 3,800 square metres of the south-eastern corner of Male’ were granted to the MNDF in 1997 owing to its strategic significance. State Minister Muizz Adnan confirmed to Haveeru on March 14 that this was the case.

This claim is disputed by Hissan who felt this agreement was superseded by the 2010 Decentralisation Act, under which the land was transferred to the MCC. The land was then leased to the MDP, with the lease running until the end of July.

This view has been corroborated by Mayor of Male City, Ali Manik, who also told Haveeru that the council had not been informed of the security forces’ intentions.

The Attorney General’s Office explained during the court hearing on Monday night that the reason a court order was not required was because the space was a public one.  Attorney General Shukoor referred Minivan News to the police for further comment on the issue.

Hassan Latheef of the MDP’s legal team doubts that this argument is “watertight”.

“Ninety-five percent of Male’ belongs to the state, so this is a questionable policy. There should be a warrant. One should not go into private property,” said Latheef.

Controversy over the area’s use has been building for some time. The decision to extend the MDP’s use of the area until the end of July was contested, with Council member Ibrahim Shujau in particular feeling that it was unfair that one group monopolise a public space for such a length of time.

Local media recently alleged that the MCC had denied a medical emergency helicopter from using the area’s helipad.

Similarly, there have been reports of complaints being made regarding the noise created by the camp and the disturbances caused to local residents.


MDP accuses state media of “blatant propaganda” in letter to Maldives Broadcasting Commission

The MDP intends to lodge a complaint against the current practices of the Maldives Broadcasting Corporation’s (MBC) state media outlets, Television Maldives (TVM), and the radio station, Voice of Maldives (VOM).

In a letter, the MDP accused the MBC of violating the agreements mandated by the Public Broadcasting Services (PBS) Act of August 2010 by producing biased content and not giving adequate exposure to all political groups.

TVM and VOM were, the MDP argued, “being blatantly used as propaganda outlets 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.”

“State media airwaves are being clogged incessantly with interviews, views, opinions, and press conferences detailing the regime’s vision by regime loyalist political parties,” MDP alleged.

“On March 6, MDP’s request to buy airtime to broadcast a crucial press conference by Maldives’ first democratically elected President Mohamed Nasheed was met with silence.”

The MDP also accused the group of allowing politicians from the Dhivehi Quamee Party (DQP) and Jumhooree Party (JP) unfettered access to TVM studios and editing booths in contravention of its independent credentials.

JP MP Abbas Adil Riza, named in the letter as one of the MPs seen at TVM, strongly denied the accusation. He was unaware of the complaint and said he did not wish to see the letter. Also named in the letter are the JP’s Ali Hashim and the DQP’s Adbulla Ameen.

The letter reads “MBC is legally bound and mandated to ensure impartiality and independence in its role as a public service provider”.

“According to Article 2 (c) of the Maldives Broadcasting Act the MBC must facilitate nationwide, equitable, and acceptable transmission and broadcasting. According to Article 3 of the Broadcasting Act the MBC is an independent commission of the State.”

The timing of this complaint appears to be related to the Corporation’s failure to respond to MDP requests for media coverage of a speech by former President Mohamed Nasheed on March 6. Copies of the letter were sent to the MBC as well as to the independent media watchdog the Media Council of the Maldives (MMC) on March 7.

The MMC’s duties as prescribed in the Maldives Media Council Bill, is to preserve media freedom and promote ethical practices, as well as to investigate any complaints filed.

Minivan News itself experienced difficulty when trying to contact the MBC for comment on the issues raised by the MDP.

After a group of police, military and opposition supporters stormed the state broadcaster on February 7, shortly after an assault on the military base in Republic Square, President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s government rebranded MNBC as TVM – the broadcaster’s title under former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s administration.

MNBC was established by Nasheed to run the state media, removing its employees from the jurisdiction of the Civil Service Commission (CSC). In 2010 the then-opposition majority parliament created MBC and demanded the transfer of MNBC’s assets to the new body, which the Nasheed’s government refused to do, alleging political partiality on behalf of the MBC board. Days after the events of February 7, TVM was handed to MBC by the new government.

After this takeover, Chairman of MBC Ibrahim Umar Manik expressed his commitment to run the state media with “impartiality” and within legal bounds.

“As stated in the law, we will operate the two stations as a public broadcaster by bringing independent news, information and programs,” Manik claimed.

Maldives Media Council

President of the Maldives Media Council Mohamed Nazeef said he was not yet aware of the MDP complaint although he stated that he would “be very interested” if it were to come to his attention.

His desk is the first place such complaints go to when received, at which point it is standard practice for the Council to attempt a resolution before the official investigative procedures are initiated.

A member of the Council’s Secretariat said no official complaints had been received in recent weeks although there had been a slight increase in the number of people making informal complaints in person.

Discussing the current condition of public media in the country, Nazeef said that he had “noticed an improvement” in the weeks since the Nasheed administration ended.

“[Public Broadcasters] can’t do the same thing as before. They have to give equal time to all political parties,” Nazeef said.

He said he believed that there was little difference between the Gayoom and the Nasheed eras, in terms of media impartiality.

“Television Maldives was same before [under Nasheed] as it had been for thirty years under Gayoom, apart from 2007 and 2008, when it was a little more lenient,” he said.

The most pressing concerns, in the opinion of the Council President, are the lack of social programming and need for better education in the sector. A typical area mentioned as being in need of improvement was investigative journalism.

“This is where the media fails in the past twenty years,” Nazeef continued, “most people are trained for private broadcasting.”

Nazeef recently discussed these issues with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) which advocates a robust media as the key to sustaining democracy.