Only one head of state to attend Maldives independence celebrations

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena is the only head of state to confirm attendance at the July 26 celebrations to mark the Maldives’ golden jubilee of independence from the British.

Speaking to the press today, foreign minister Dunya Maumoon said while President Sirisena had accepted President Abdulla Yameen’s invitation, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was unable to attend “because of certain events in his country.”

An invitation for India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi is still open, she said.

“President Yameen’s invitation to Prime Minister Modi is still open. He can come at his convenience and will be welcomed by the Maldivian government,” she said.

In March, Modi dropped the Maldives from a tour of his Indian Ocean neighbors. The cancellation came amidst daily anti-government protests and heightened political tension sparked by the arrest and prosecution of former President Mohamed Nasheed.

Opposition supporters expected President Yameen to pardon Nasheed by July 26, but instead the Prosecutor General has announced he will appeal the criminal court’s verdict.

Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in jail on terrorism charges relating to the arrest of a judge during his tenure. He is under house arrest at present.

Dunya dismissed today rumours that Nasheed had been invited to the official function.

Sirisena will be the second head of state to visit the Maldives since the current administration assumed office in November 2013. Chinese president Xi Jingping visited the Maldives last year.

Other foreign dignitaries who have confirmed their attendance include, the vice chairman of the China’s lawmaking Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, foreign ministers of Nepal and Palestine, deputy foreign ministers from Japan and Bangladesh, and other ministers from India, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

Many diplomats are also expected to attend.

The government is planning grand celebrations to mark Independence Day, including a parade by the army and school brass bands, reopening of public parks with water fountains, an official function at the Usfasgandu area with more than 100 foreign dignitaries, official games at the national stadium, and a football tournament in the atolls.

The home ministry plans to light up all of Malé in LED lights and is rushing to complete preparations. Government offices, the Supreme Court building, the parliament building and main streets have been decked in red, green and white lights. However, power shortages in Malé may spoil plans.

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Jailed ex-defense minister brought to Malé for medical treatment

Imprisoned former defence minister Mohamed Nazim was brought to the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) in Malé for a doctor’s appointment this morning.

Rumors swirled in Malé that the retired colonel’s 11 year jail-term may be commuted to house arrest, as part of ongoing negotiations between the opposition and the government.

However, Nazim’s brother Adam Azim told Minivan News that Nazim was taken back to the low-security ‘Asseyri’ jail in Himmafaushi after his consultation at 10:30 with an eye doctor.

Azim said his brother had numerous rashes and damaged skins as his cell was infested with mosquitos.

The family had submitted complaint forms to the Maldives Correctional Services (MCS), Azim said, and the jail has since been fogged.

Nazim was found guilty of weapons smuggling and sentenced to 11 years in prison in March. The former defence minister maintains he was framed by rogue police officers who planted a pistol and three bullets in his apartment during a midnight raid.

MCS media official Moosa Rameez told Minivan News that complaints submitted on behalf of inmates will only be sent to the head office if it was “a concerning issue.”

Earlier this month, Nazim’s family requested his transfer from jail to house arrest. Nazim had also appealed the 11-year sentence at the High Court, but the appeal was was stalled after the Supreme Court suddenly transferred two judges on the five-judge-panel to a newly created appellate branch in the south.

Nazim’s trial at the criminal court was widely criticised over apparent lack of due process and coincided with the terrorism trial of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed. The opposition leader was sentenced to 13 years in jail over the military detention of a judge during his tenure.

The pair’s imprisonment sparked a six-month long political crisis with daily protests.

With mounting diplomatic pressure, Nasheed was transferred to house arrest in late June. The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has since been engaged in talks with the government and has expressed hope that jailed politicians could be released ahead of July 26 when the Maldives marks 50 years of independence.

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Indian arrested on child abuse charges, MP seeks publication of sex offenders registry

An Indian teacher has been arrested on charges of child sexual abuse from the island of Gemanafushi in Gaaf Alif atoll.

The 40-year-old expatriate was arrested with a court warrant around 4:20pm yesterday, a police media official said. The suspect is accused of sexually abusing under-aged girls for a long period, the official added.

The police declined to reveal further information as the investigation is ongoing, but local media has identified the suspect as an English teacher at the Gemafanushi school.

He is accused of repeatedly abusing secondary grade students.

Almost one in seven children of secondary school age in the Maldives have been sexually abused at some time in their lives, according to an unpublished 2009 study on violence against minors.

The rate of sexual abuse for boys was at 11 percent while the figure for girls were almost twice as high at 20 percent.

The arrest follows police uncovering a child prostitution ring in Fuvahmulah last week. Some 15 suspects have been arrested so far on suspicion of drugging, blackmailing, and forcing a 14-year-old girl and 16-year-old girl into prostitution.

The police said two men aged 20 and 24 were taken into custody today. The 20-year-old has a criminal record for assault and theft.

The 15 suspects in custody include people from Fuvahmulah as well as other islands, the police said.

Meanwhile, opposition Jumhooree Party MP Abdulla Riyaz has asked the parliament’s government oversight committee to investigate the failure to publicise a mandatory national registry of child sex offenders.

The former police commissioner noted that article 57 of the 2009 Child Sexual Abuse (Special Provisions) Act requires information about offenders to be made publicly available by the state agency responsible for the protection of children.

“In this regard, for the safety and protection of other citizens from offenders, and to eliminate possibilities for repetition of such offences, complete information about the offenders should be published in an internet website providing easy access to the information, and a mechanism should be established to identify offenders by their national identification numbers via short message service,” the provision states.

The former police commissioner also asked the oversight committee to determine if the relevant authorities have been negligent in protecting the victims of the Fuvahmulah child prostitution ring.

In February 2014, seven men were arrested from the island of Thinadhoo in Gaaf Dhaalu atoll on suspicion of forcing a 16-year-old girl into child prostitution.

In the first official acknowledgement of child prostitution in the Maldives, then-Gender Minister Azima Shukoor revealed in May 2013 that children were “being used as sex workers, where the children are sent to places as a means to pleasure people and to gain an income from such a trade.”

In June 2013, multiple sources told Minivan News that child prostitution was prevalent in the country, ranging from male benefactors grooming children with ‘gifts’ to parents actively exploiting their children.

A study focusing on Laamu atoll conducted by Consultant Clinical Psychologist Maldives Institute for Psychological Services, Training & Research (MIPSTAR), Dr Aishath Ali Naaz, showed that child prostitution was so “common” among minors that it was considered a normal activity.

She identified a “gradual process” of minors being “groomed” by adults via the internet and/or social media, with children taken to known “spots” and introduced to those involved in the sex trade.

In other instances, the minors are pushed to provide nude photos, and then emotionally blackmailed with threats that the pictures will be posted on the web, and ultimately recruited into prostitution.

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Elderly man found in Malé lagoon “died of natural causes”

A 71-year-old man was found dead floating in the lagoon in Malé’s northern waterfront last night. The body was found around 12:30am near the official jetty in front of the Republic Square.

The police have identified the deceased as Mohamed Jaleel, from the Hemlock house in the Galolhu ward of the capital.

He was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital and is believed to have died of natural causes, the police said in a statement. There were no visible signs of injuries of the body, the police noted. The serious and organised crime department is investigating the case.

In April 2007, the discovery of a dead body in Malé’s southwest lagoon sparked protests amid allegations of continuing custodial abuse.

Hussain Solah, 27, was found dead five days after his arrest from Hithadhoo in the southernmost Addu atoll.

The police claimed he was released on April 13, but he did not contact family or friends, and was found dead in the harbour outside the detention centre on the morning of April 15.

But a seven-month investigation by the human rights watchdog found that there was “not enough evidence to say for certain that Solah was [ever] released from custody.”

A police corporal was charged with assaulting Solah based on the Human Rights Commission of Maldives’ investigation.

However, in November 2009, the criminal court found corporal Ahmed Shah not guilty on the grounds that the witness statements were not sufficient evidence for a conviction.

As Corporal Shah was in charge of the jail at the time, the court said witnesses were likely to be prejudiced against the senior officer.

In August 2012, the High Court upheld the lower court’s verdict.

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Comment: Did former Maldives leader receive a fair trial?

This comment piece by Toby Cadman was first published on Al-Jazeera. Republished with permission.

Cadman is an international lawyer and is currently advising the government of the Republic of Maldives on legal and constitutional reform. In particular, he is assisting the government in responding to the allegations made to the UN by former President Mohamed Nasheed concerning his conviction for an offence of terrorism.  

On March 13, the former president of the Republic of Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, was convicted of terrorism. He was sentenced to 13 years imprisonment for ordering the army to arrest and detain the Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdullah Mohamed. It was alleged that Abdullah was abducted by the army without any lawful order, held incommunicado for 72 hours, and then detained for a further 21 days in a military establishment.

There was national and international outcry at such an unprecedented attack on the judiciary, including statements from the United Nations terming the detention of the judge as arbitrary and in breach of international law.

It has been argued that Nasheed’s actions don’t qualify as terrorist acts. However, if similar actions had been conducted in the United Kingdom, the former president could have been charged with kidnapping and false imprisonment – an offence which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

Political turmoil

Regardless of whether or not he was at one point a head of state, all persons – irrespective of political office or other affiliation – should be brought to justice where there is credible evidence to demonstrate that a criminal offence has been committed.

Mohamed Nasheed was elected as president in 2008. While in office, political turmoil erupted. It is believed that he ordered the locking-up of the Supreme Court and ordered Judge Abdullah to be placed under arrest by the army.

Nasheed resigned live on national television, but less than 24 hours later, alleged that he had resigned under duress. An independent inquiry carried out by the Commonwealth, and observed by the UN, concluded that he had resigned voluntarily and that the transfer of power was lawful and constitutional. Therefore, his fall from power cannot be characterised as a coup.

During the former president’s trial, it was alleged that he had ordered the the abduction of a senior judge to prevent him from carrying out his judicial function.

In a BBC Hardtalk interview after his resignation, Nasheed stated in very clear terms that the judge had to be removed and that as president, in the absence of anyone else acting, he had to do it. The judge, in the former president’s words, was becoming a nuisance.

The targeting of the judiciary in such a way by the Executive cannot be accepted in any democracy and such an attack can only be construed as an attack on the constitution.

Allegations of flaws in trial  

It has been argued by the former president and his legal team that there were significant flaws during his terrorism trial and that, as a result, his detention is arbitrary and in breach of international law.

However, rather than appeal the verdict, his legal team filed a communication with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. The government has been given until July 11 to respond to the allegations and a decision is expected in September.

The former president is arguing that arrest was unlawful, his trial rushed, and the composition of the panel of judges lacked the requisite independence and impartiality. There have also been allegations that the conditions of his detention breach his human rights.

Ordinarily, many of these matters would be subject to legal challenge through the national courts. However, the former president has elected not to appeal. Contrary to statements issued to date, it is the government’s position that the former president has not been prevented from appealing – he has chosen not to do so.

It is clear that in a politically charged case such as this, the media reporting can take a sensationalist and selective approach. It is essential that what is reported is accurate and balanced as the stakes are extremely high.

Prevention of an appeal 

Much has been made of the fact that Maldivian legislation was amended so as to reduce the time period for the lodging of an appeal from 90 to 10 days, thus alleging that Nasheed has been prevented from appealing.

He has not. The Maldivian authorities have repeatedly maintained that the former president is still able to submit an application for appeal and that it will be for the courts to consider. It is also important to note that the deadline for submitting an appeal within 10 days relates to a notice of appeal, not the full appeal.

It has been further alleged that the former president has been prevented from appealing through the court’s wilfully withholding of documents which are necessary for filing an appeal notice. However, the court records will clearly demonstrate that the judgement of the court and the trial record was provided to the former president and his legal team.

He refused to sign the court record. Notwithstanding this refusal and the expiration of the 10-day deadline, there is a provision in the law for a defendant to submit a late appeal if the delay has been caused by the authorities. Furthermore, there is a provision in the law for the courts to accept a late appeal “in the interests of justice”.

The conditions the former president was purportedly being forced to endure have been called into question. Again, these accusations of unfair or unlawful treatment are wholly false.

Underlying risk  

He was held, up until his recent release on house arrest, away from the general population. However, he is not and has never been in solitary confinement, and was detained in a facility that would not only meet international standards of practise, but arguably far exceed any acceptable level.

As a former president, he is entitled to VIP treatment in custody, which he received up until his release under house arrest.

There is an underlying risk underlining this entire court process – the potential of a trial by media. As with all cases, there are two sides to any argument, but the government’s position has not been given any attention and the offence for which the former president was convicted has been unnecessarily trivialized.

There is a clear obligation on all, be it members of the media, or members of the international community, to acknowledge both positions in relation to any case, and not seek to favour one when the issue is yet to be fully considered and determined by the appropriate tribunal.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to editorial@minivannewsarchive.com

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Journalist’s family backs independent inquiry into disappearance

Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan’s family has supported the opposition’s call for an independent inquiry into his disappearance a year ago in a Malé suburb.

Speaking to the press outside the Hulhumalé ferry terminal in Malé, Rilwan’s sister Aishath Fazna also announced plans to hold a march on August 8 to mark one year after his disappearance.

Rilwan was last seen entering the ferry terminal in the early hours of August 8 last year. He is believed to have been abducted at knifepoint outside his apartment building in Hulhumalé.

The police prevented the family from speaking to the press today, stating that permission is required from the state-owned Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) to speak to the press on its premises.

An independent inquiry into Rilwan’s disappearance and the brutal murder of MP Afrasheem Ali was proposed by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) to pave the way for political reconciliation in ongoing talks with the government.

Rilwan’s family said the panel must be impartial and its composition must be decided on consultation with civil society groups. The inquiry must consider the circumstances surrounding his disappearance, including death threats to journalists and the rise of religious extremism in the Maldives, the family said.

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Announcing a march on August 8 amidst police obstruction, the family said: “Taking to the streets is the only recourse we have. The people who have abducted our bother remain on the streets. As long as the perpetrators are not brought to justice, we are not safe.”

The police in April said it had received a DNA analysis of samples taken from cars suspected to have been used in the abduction. Family members have criticised slow progress in the investigation.

In a press statement, Rilwan’s family provided an update of activities conducted in the past year. A 5,500 signature strong petition calling for a speedy investigation was submitted to Majlis last year, but is stalled at a parliamentary committee. The family said they met with commissioner of police Hussein Waheed on Tuesday and last met with home minister Umar Naseer and the police investigating team in May.

The Police Integrity Commission (PIC) was asked to investigate police negligence in October last year, but the oversight body has yet to produce a report.

The family has also submitted a petition with the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances in September last year.

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CSC to challenge ruling on sick leave allowance

The Civil Service Commission (CSC) has decided to challenge an Employment Tribunal ruling that established that the commission cannot deduct a civil servant’s service allowance for sick leave.

A CSC official told local media today that the commission will appeal the ruling at the High Court this week.

The tribunal last Wednesday ruled in favour of a senior project officer at the fisheries minister in a dispute with the commission. Naseef Mohamed had contended that the deduction of MVR66.76 from his service allowance in January when he called in sick for a day was arbitrary.

The tribunal ordered the commission to reimburse the deducted amount within 14 days.

The three members on the tribunal ruled unanimously that deducting the service allowance does not fit any of the circumstances specified in the Employment Act that allow deduction of salary or wage payments.

The commission reportedly began imposing pay cuts for sick days under new civil service regulations enacted in December.

All employees of the fisheries ministry have meanwhile signed a petition to permanent secretary Dr Abdulla Naseer seeking reimbursement of deductions from their service allowance.

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Criticism mounts against Supreme Court

The Supreme Court judgment, which bars the human rights watchdog from communicating with foreign organizations, appears to weaken its ability to engage with the UN human rights system and is “yet another example of the judiciary undermining human rights protection in the Maldives,” a UN rights chief has said.

The apex court on Tuesday declared a rights assessment submitted to the UN by the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) as unlawful, and issued a legally binding 11-point guideline.

The guideline requires the HRCM to communicate with foreign bodies through relevant government institutions, and warn against causing damage to the reputation of the Maldives.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein in a statement on Friday said it was “completely unacceptable” for the Supreme Court to impose restrictions on the commission’s engagement with international bodies.

“In this case, the Supreme Court appears to be yet again overreaching its mandate by playing a legislative role. Laws regulating the very important human rights monitoring and reporting work of civil society and independent institutions must be transparently adopted by legislative bodies following wide consultations and open debate, in line with international human rights and standards,” he said.

The guideline was issued under controversial suomoto regulations that allow the Supreme Court to prosecute and pass judgment.

The charges relate to an HRCM report to the UN’s Universal Periodic Review, in which the commission said the Supreme Court controlled and influenced the lower courts to the detriment of the Maldivian judiciary.

The UPR studies the human rights record of all 193 UN member states and is aimed at supporting and expanding the protection of human rights.

The Maldives underwent a second inspection in May. Nations across the world criticized the Maldives over the politicization of the judiciary and raised concern over the Supreme Court’s prosecution of HRCM.

Zeid reminded the government that it had committed to ensuring the HRCM’s independence after the UPR. The foreign ministry had also committed to ensure that the HRCM and other civil society groups would be able to participate in international mechanisms without reprisals.

Noting that three new commissioners are to be appointed for August and September, Zeid said: “The appointments must be made through a participatory, transparent and consultative selection process, with the extensive involvement of civil society.

“New commissioners must be selected on the basis of their proven commitment to human rights, integrity and independence, not their political loyalties.”

President Abdulla Yameen has nominated a former MP of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), the wife of a current PPM MP and a senior official at the gender ministry for the HRCM. The three are expected to gain parliamentary approval as the ruling coalition enjoys a comfortable majority in the parliament.

The International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), a Geneva-based advocacy group, has said the Supreme Court’s ruling is a clear breach of the Maldives’ membership of the UN human rights council.

The Maldives was first elected to the council in 2010 and re-elected for a second term in November 2013.

“For a member state of the UN Human Rights Council to retaliate against a national human rights institution for providing a report to the council is tantamount to contempt and is plainly incompatible with membership of that body,” ISHR Program Manager, Eleanor Openshaw.

The Asian Center for Human Rights has also called for Maldives to be suspended from the council over the imprisonment of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and other politicians.

Zeid, in his statement also said: “We have long been concerned about the deeply flawed role of the judiciary in the Maldives, including in the case against former president Nasheed.”

The UN Special Rapporteurs on independence of judges and lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, and on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst have described the Supreme Court verdict “an act of reprisal” and urged the court to reconsider its verdict.

In March last year, the Supreme Court had sacked the Elections Commission’s president and vice-president when they criticized a 16-point electoral guideline issued by the court after it annulled the first round of presidential elections in September 2013.

In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that the anti-corruption watchdog was not authorized to suspend government contracts even if they suspected major corruption.

The president of the Anti – Corruption Commission at the time said the ruling rendered the ACC powerless to stop corruption.

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Verdict in ‘airport protest’ delayed to August 6

The criminal court has postponed the sentencing of 15 opposition supporters accused of protesting at the main international airport to August 6.

A sentence was expected on June 14, but the court delayed the hearing after presiding judge Sujau Usman was promoted to the High Court last week.

If the sitting judge in a case leaves the court, the case is immediately referred to the Chief Judge, who then has to allocate another judge to oversee the case.

“We still don’t know if a new judge has been allocated to the case. Even then, the new judge cannot immediately issue the sentence. He has to hear the case again,” said lawyer Nazim Sattar.

Some 14 women and one man are being charged with disobedience to order, after they were arrested carrying posters of imprisoned ex-president Mohamed Nasheed at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport in March.

The 15 belong to the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

The Freedom of Assembly Act prohibits protests at airports and carries a MVR150 (US$10) fine, or six months in jail, house arrest or banishment.

Nazim contends the group’s actions do not constitute a protest.

“State witnesses include testimonies from the police officers who arrested the individuals. How can that be used to prove they were protesting?” Nazim questioned.

Malé City deputy mayor Shifa Mohamed and MDP women’s wing vice president Shaneez “Thanie” Saeed are among the defendants.

The criminal court had previously conditioned the group’s release from remand detention on avoiding protests. The High Court later said the court’s conditions are unconstitutional.

Shifa has previously accused the criminal court of misconduct and bias in the treatment of those arrested at protests, and said that the individuals are being punished for the same crime twice with the 60 day protest ban.

Judge Usman sat on the three-judge panel that sentenced ex-president Nasheed to 13 years in jail on terrorism charges. The trial was widely criticised for apparent lack of due process.

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