Eight men charged with VTV vandalism sentenced for seven years

The Criminal Court has sentenced eight men charged with the vandalism of private TV station Villa TV (VTV) to seven years imprisonment.

The court ruled that the witnesses produced by the state told the court they saw the eight men throw stones at VTV security personnel and Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) officials outside the building and that the testimony was enough to find the accused guilty of the crime.

The judge also said the court was produced with video footage and pictures of the events that day.

The Prosecutor General (PG) had pressed charges against Ismail Hammaadh of Maduvvari in Raa Atoll, Ahmed Hameeed and Hussein Hameed of Alifushi in Raa Atoll, Ahmed Naeem of Henveiru Ladhumaageaage, Hussein Shifau Jameel of Maafannu Nooruzeyru, Aanim Hassan of Ferishoo in North Ali Atoll, Ahmed Muheen of Galolhu Haalam and Mohamed Hameed for vandalising VTV.

The attack on the television station occurred during protests against the re-opening of the People’s Majlis on March 19. The building, as well as the soldiers guarding its entrance on Sosun Magu, came under attack as police tear gas forced the protesters south, past the building from the police barricades nearer to the Majlis building.

President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik delivered his opening address to parliament amid widespread anti-government demonstrations, after the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) took to the street to prevent him from giving the speech. Violent clashes between police and protesters sparked major unrest in the capital Male’.

Villa TV is owned by resort tycoon, Jumhoree Party (JP) leader and MP Gasim ‘Buruma’ Ibrahim, who is in a coalition with Dr Waheed’s government. Gasim is also a member of the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), the body charged with oversight of the judiciary.


Religion extensively used for political control in the Maldives: Himal magazine

Islamic radicalism, which played a key role in the ouster of the government of Mohammed Nasheed, continues to grow in the Maldives several months after his ‘resignation’, writes Yameen Rasheed for Himal Southasian magazine.

“While Nasheed has repeatedly warned of the danger of growing religious intolerance, political polarisation around the issue has also meant that for the first time space has opened up that allows protests and criticism of religious extremists.

Religion has historically been extensively used for political control in the Maldives. While the active targeting of political opponents as apostates might be relatively modern, the Maldives has had a xenophobic view of ‘foreign religions’ for much longer. This state of fear has been carefully preserved and cultivated instead of being eradicated by modern dictators like former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who found it a useful political tool.

As anti-Gayoom sentiments spread, religious radicalism gained acceptance as a legitimate avenue of dissent. Towards the end of the democratic uprising in the late 2000’s, as the restrictions on media and freedom of speech were gradually lifted, Salafi radio stations mushroomed and bookstores began to sell fiery, jihadi titles publicly. A casual stroll down the capital today reveals an overwhelming majority of women wearing burqas – a dramatic transformation that took less than a decade.

Unlike in the Gayoom era when Islamic fundamentalism was harshly suppressed to project an air of stability and peace, perhaps with the tourism industry in mind, Nasheed’s administration publicly acknowledged the problem of widespread religious fundamentalism. Consequently, his government made the calculated move to align itself closely with India and the West, while controversially renewing ties with Israel – a move that sparked an outcry from the religious right.

Nasheed often defended the traditionally liberal, moderate and Sufism-influenced Maldivian belief system, and appealed to the public to reject imported practices such as female genital mutilation and keeping concubines. He also publicly threw his weight behind cultural activities such as music and dance which had long been under attack from the ultra-conservative religious right.

Perhaps as a result, the events leading up to the dramatic toppling of the first democratically elected government in February 2012 had a distinctly religious nature. The first major protests against the MDP government launched in early 2010 were against the government’s alleged plans to permit the sale of alcohol to foreigners in an upmarket hotel in the capital. Following the success of that protest, all the subsequent protests against the MDP government took on a religious tone, labelling the MDP as a promoter of ‘irreligiousness’.

In October 2011, during the 18th SAARC summit in Addu city, opposition parties organised strong protests with radical religious overtones. When monuments such as the statue of a lion gifted by Sri Lanka were declared ‘idols of worship’ and vandalised, the vandals were hailed as ‘national heroes’ by the parties which are now represented in Waheed’s cabinet. These parties also condemned Navanetham Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, when she spoke against medieval practices such as public flogging, which are still prevalent in the Maldives. Protesters on the street raised placards demanding that Pillay be flogged.

The series of religious protests culminated in a massive rally on 23 December 2011, when a coalition of opposition parties came under one umbrella to label the government ‘un-Islamic’.

The December rally exposed a dangerous strategy employed by the then-opposition coalition – a disturbing willingness to steer the rhetoric to the far, militant right. The official website for the protest even put up a demand for people who ‘went against Islam’ to be killed. The article was soon taken down, citing ‘technical errors’, but not before it was reported in the local media.

Although the 7 February police and military mutiny that eventually led to the fall of the Nasheed-led government was sparked off by clashes between pro- and anti-government groups, it ended up emitting strong religious tones by the next day. Videos from that fateful day show uniformed military and police personnel marching down the streets to loud chants of ‘Allahu Akbar!’, as they proceeded to attack the MDP party campus.

Ironically, by giving voice to an Islamic party, Nasheed allowed the Adhaalath Party to run programs preaching the conservative form of Islam to targeted sections of the society, including prison inmates, police and military personnel. When Nasheed announced his ‘resignation’, top police officials, along with the alleged coup leaders, chanted religious slogans loudly in celebration.

Meanwhile, vandals had broken into the national museum and smashed ancient coral statues of the Buddha and other priceless artefacts from the Buddhist period of Maldivian history.

Stanford-educated President Waheed personally holds modern, secular, liberal views much like Nasheed. However, unlike Nasheed, he simply does not have enough political clout to stand up to the religious right. Indeed, in late-February in an effort to cement his support base among the Islamists, Waheed gave a fiery speech, invoking jihadi phrases and calling upon the ‘mujahideen’ to protect the national identity. Recently the Ministry of Islamic Affairs requested Waheed to allow the military and police to grow beards. Given that his fledgling National Unity Party has no elected members in either the Parliament or the local council, it remains to be seen how Waheed will respond to pressure from ultra-orthodox sections in his government.”

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Two men and a minor arrested in connection with murder of 65 year-old man

Police have arrested three persons in connection with the recent murder of 65 year-old Hassan Abu Bakuru, of Maafaru in Noonu Atoll.

Police have not disclosed the names of the three arrested, but have said the suspects were aged 26, 27 and 17.

The 17 year-old boy was arrested on Friday afternoon at about 2:02pm with an arrest warrant, police said.

Police also said they were taking the case very seriously and that the investigation had a high priority.

Police Spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef said police could not disclose further information before the investigation reached a conclusion.

He said he could not tell if the arrested persons had any relations to the victim.

Hassan Abubakur was found murdered inside his own house on May 30 at around 6:00pm on the island of Manafaru in Noonu Atoll.

“Neighbors living near his house noticed that he had not been coming out at all, and went in to see what was going on and found his dead body,” said Ahmed Shareef, President of the Island Council of Maafaru.

“I saw inside the house after the incident, it seems that some people tried to steal something from the house, because the things inside his house were not arranged as they usually were,’’ he told Minivan News, in a previous interview. “Some cupboards doors were opened and some things supposed to be kept on the table were dropped on the floor.”

Head of Maafaru Island Health Centre Ali Shareef said according to rumours, the man had received a large amount of cash in a lump sum through the elderly persons’ pension scheme, as he had not received it for a long time. The assailants may have killed him in an effort to steal the money, Shareef speculated.

The elderly man’s legs were tied and a pillow was on his face when his body was found, Shareef said, according to islanders who witnessed the body.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the island was ‘Manafaru’. This should have been ‘Maafaru’.


Saudi Fund gives US$12.5 million to Hithadhoo hospital

A US$12.5 million (Rf192.7 million) has been given to develop Hithadhoo Regional Hospital in Addu by the Saudi Fund for Development.

Finance Minister Ahmed Inaz and Saudi Fund’s Vice Chairman and Managing Director Yousef Ibrahim Al-Bassam signed the agreement yesterday. Health Minister Dr Aminath Jameel and Islamic Minister Dr Abdul Majeed Abdul Bari were in attendance.

The loan carries a one percent interest rate and a five year grace period. It is expected to be repaid within 20 years.

The project, which will be supported by loans from the Saudi Fund and the OPEC Fund, has not yet been opened for bidding.


MDP elections bring down “Male’ supremacy”

Provisional results from Saturday’s ruling Maldivian Democratic Party elections point to two Adduans, Dr Ibrahim Didi and Alhan Fahmy, on the way to the two top posts of the party.

The latest “preliminary” results dated May 1 and posted on the MDP’s website show that former fisheries minister Dr Didi was leading with 9,048 votes for the post of party President, with 53 percent of votes. Special Envoy to the President, Ibrahim Hussein Zaki was showing as having obtained 7,546.

The post of Vice President seems more or less confirmed for MDP MP Alhan Fahmy who is leading with 10,171 votes. Transport Minister Mohamed Aslam who contested Fahmy got 5,985 votes and Hussain Adam 128 votes. The website says that “so far” 145 boxes have been counted, while 73 remain to be counted.

Though the MDP said it would try to announce the final results yesterday, some members have expressed discontent at the length of time being taken to announce the final results. Both Zaki and Aslam have conceded the results, according the MDP’s site.

Didi told a meeting of the MDP held last night at the Artificial Beach that he will immediately start the “homework” needed for President Nasheed to win in 2013. He praised Zaki for the graceful way he accepted defeat and Zaki in turn told the meeting that he will stay true to the party’s aspirations and that internal dissent “doesn’t mean internal rebellion”. The MDP will always stay united “in its lines”, Zaki said.

Alhan told the meeting that the party will now “speed ahead with full throttle” in getting to the destination envisioned by President Nasheed and that he will “win over 100,000 members” to the MDP. He praised Aslam for the graceful way he had also accepted defeat, and expressed his confidence in Aslam’s capabilities.

The election of two candidates from Addu, the only other region of Maldives with “city” status, will bring down the traditional Male’ supremacist attitudes which hinder a sense of social equality and have ultimately resulted in economic disparity.

“The Maldives’ ruling party being led by two Adduans should give out a strong message that this party is reform-minded and therefore will not tolerate intolerance and will strive towards national achievements based on merit, not on social status which does not necessarily come from merit,” an MDP official told Minivan News on condition of anonymity.

“Furthermore, this also demonstrates to the Maldivian people that this party’s ordinary members are still reform-minded Maldivians and we have a self-cleansing democratic mechanism within the party that will ensure that the party is never hijacked by scrupulous opportunists.”

There was discontent among ordinary members of the MDP, which accuse its senior members of being “badly out of touch once they got into the government.”

“Today’s results should herald as a wake-up call to senior MDP leaders that ordinary members will not tolerate corruption,” an MDP activist, who was arrested more than once along with President Mohamed Nasheed during the party’s protests as the opposition before 2008, told Minivan News on condition of anonymity. The activist was referring to alleged corruption cases involving Zaki, a former tourism minister and SAARC Secretary General.

“The government now seems more concerned with running big-budget projects attracted by the business community through opportunists like Zaki, rather than implementing socio-economic programs that address the root causes of youth violence which occur today. Two years later, we have yet to see a ‘halfway house’ and inmates in Maafushi Prison continue to suffer torture and subhuman conditions.

“That could have gone a long way to solving many of the pressing current issues like abuse and gangsterism,” she said, adding that, “I was surprised when the President openly endorsed Zaki. But then I realised that ironically the MDP leaders in the government had more pressing concerns than party issues in order to find short-term ‘fixes’ from international sources so that the government could survive each popular vote, and continue its national reform program.”

Prior to the elections President Mohamed Nasheed said that the elections would demonstrate to the Maldivian people “how political parties should perform in a democracy.”

Alhough some people have left the MDP, the President said that the “real members” of the party would not leave just to follow a “personality cult.”

The presidential jab was apparently at the current main opposition, the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), which has gone into disarray due to the return to active politics of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. The move has resulted in the party splitting into two factions, one loyal to Gayoom and the other loyal to DRP leader Thasmeen Ali, who remains heavily in debt to the state and the target of corruption allegations. Gayoom’s “worst days” continue as he recently lost a landmark defamation suit launched against a Maldivian journalist.

DRP MP Ahmed Mahlouf has meanwhile criticised the MDP’s elections, stating there was a “poor” voter turn-out according to the results of the ballot boxes which have been announced so far, but an MDP official retorted that the “45,000 people who voted in favor of the MDP in the February Local Council Elections speaks for itself.”