Police release two suspects in Afrasheem murder case

Police have released one man and a minor arrested in connection with the murder of Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP and religious scholar Dr Afrasheem Ali.

Local newspapers have identified the man released as Ali Hashim ‘Smith’. Minivan News understands that a 17 year old boy was also  released last week, on condition that he not talk about the police investigation or face rearrest.

The Criminal Court extended the pretrial detention period of the suspects arrested in the Dr Afrasheem’s murder case.

Afrasheem was killed on October 1. His wife discovered the body lying on the staircase of their home.

Immediately prior to his murder Afrasheem had made his last public appearance on a live talkshow on TVM titled “Islamee Dhiriulhun” (Islamic Living).

In his last words, Afrasheem said that he was deeply saddened and asked for forgiveness from citizens if he had created a misconception in their minds due to his inability to express himself in the right manner.

Minister of Islamic Affairs Sheikh Shaheem Ali Saeed was quoted in local media as saying that the Islamic Ministry had not forced Afrasheem to offer a public apology for anything during his last television appearance and disputed that there was any religious motivation in the death of the moderate scholar.

The Maldives Police Service (MPS) has sought assistance from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Singaporean police to analyse 200 items collected as evidence during the ongoing investigation.

Evidence gathered so far includes recordings of phone conversations, forensic samples and over 300 hours of CCTV footage, which were being analysed at the police forensic laboratory with the help of foreign experts.

Meanwhile, former President Mohamed Nasheed has publicly alleged that the people behind the MP’s murder have fled the country.

He made the remarks during a rally held in Haa Dhaal Atoll Vaikaradhoo Island in Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s ongoing campaign trip ‘Vaudhuge Dhathuru’ (Journey of Pledges).

Nasheed said that two foreign intelligence agencies had informed him that the murder of Afrasheem was related to an incident that took place in a neighboring country and that the culprits had fled to a Middle Eastern nation after murdering the Maldivian MP.

“According to information I received, the person who murdered Dr Afrasheem fled the country on the same night the murder took place. This murder is related to an incident that took place in a neighboring country. This is an international issue. I was informed of this by the intelligence agencies of two friendly states,” he said.

Nasheed expressed his disappointment over the senior officials of the current government, including cabinet ministers, who had politicised the case, accusing the MDP of murdering the MP for political gain.

Despite the allegations, Nasheed contended that his party would neither commit such a gruesome act nor use it for political gain. He also said that despite all the false allegations, the party had won twice the number of votes it did in 2009, during the recently held by-election to elect a parliamentarian to the vacant seat.

After rigorous campaigning, PPM candidate Ibrahim Ameen won the by-election 1159 votes in polling held on the islands of Ungoofaaru, Hulhuduffaaru, and Maakurathu, all in Raa Atoll, as well as a special polling station in Male’. He defeated MDP candidate Dr Ahmed Ashraf who had 1078 votes.

The former president meanwhile also alleged that the police were trying to force out a confession from those currently under arrested in connection with the murder. This confession, he said, would be used to hold trials against the suspects to cover up the real case. Nasheed said the suspects should not be tried on confessions extracted in such a manner.

“Trial should not be held based on confessions. I urge the police to properly investigate the case. But even as I say this, I know that [Commissioner of Police] Abdulla Riyaz does not have the capacity to do this. That is because he is busy defending this government that was brought in through a coup, instead of being concerned for the general well being of the public,” he said.

“Highly concerning” – Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed

Meanwhile, Home Minister Mohamed Jameel Ahmed expressed concern over Nasheed’s remarks and said his statements “needed to be included in the investigation”.

Speaking to local newspaper Haveeru, Jameel claimed that Nasheed had been speaking about the murder differently in every island he had been visiting.  The Home Minister said that he felt that public remarks made on a case that is being investigated should be considered a criminal offence that needed to be addressed.

“From the day Afrasheem was murdered, the remarks made by Nasheed have been highly concerning. It is not a good thing for politicians to use the case for political influence. One should always consider the fact that it may involve a hidden motive,” he said.

“This not a practice that would be accepted anywhere in the world,” he added.

Jameel affirmed that Nasheed’s remarks which he claimed to have been following information from foreign intelligence agencies would be included in the murder investigations.  Jameel also called on him not to make  emarks that would hinder the ongoing murder investigations.


Waheed government submits bill to facilitate death penalty

The government has announced its intention to introduce a bill to the People’s Majlis in order to guide and govern the implementation of the death penalty in the country.

“It is currently a punishment passed by the judiciary and a form of punishment available within the penal system of the Maldives,” said Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed.

“But for full guidance and matters governing the matter, legislation is required,” he added.

A meeting of the cabinet yesterday strongly condemned last week’s murder of MP Dr Afrasheem Ali and urged President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan to start taking immediate measures to ensure safety and security in the country.

President’s Office spokesman Masood Imad said that the government had received a large number of calls for implementing the death penalty.

“We are having enormous pressure since these high profile murders,” he said. “We have indications – the talk around the town – that there will be more murders.”

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has this week proposed a no-confidence motion against the home minister, citing the unprecedented instances of murder and assault in the country since he assumed office in February.

Afrasheem’s murder was the 10th in the small country this year, sparking much debate on the death penalty.

Following the murder of high profile lawyer Ahmed Najeeb on July 1, two people were sentenced to death after Najeeb’s heirs opted for qisas (equal retaliation) rather than blood money.

Public outcry over Najeeb’s murder prompted Chief Justice Ahmed Faiz to declare that full enforcement of the courts’ rulings is necessary to maintain the effectiveness of the judiciary.

A case was submitted to the High Court in August, requesting that it annul the President’s ability to commute death sentences to 25 years imprisonment, provided in the Clemency Act.

Similarly, in April Ahmed Mahloof – parliamentary group member from the government-aligned Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) – proposed an amendment to the Clemency Act to ensure that the enforcement of the death penalty be mandatory in the event it was upheld by the Supreme Court.

In a comment piece written for Haveeru following Najeeb’s murder, however, Special Advisor to the President Dr Hassan Saeed warned that implementing the death penalty could be both arbitrary and prohibitively expensive.

Judiciary and human rights

The last execution in the Maldives came in 1953 when Hakim Didi was charged with attempting to assassinate President Ameen using black magic.

Since that time, the Maldives has retained the practice of the death penalty for murder although Islamic Shariah tenets also give the courts the power to pronounce capital punishment for offences such as sodomy, fornication, apostasy and other crimes against the community.

Statistics show that from January 2001 to December 2010, a total of 14 people were sentenced to death by Maldivian courts.

Jameel said that there was to be no re-consideration of the Clemency Act but that “necessary reform to legislation governing the criminal justice system will be undertaken by the government.”

Concerns over the judiciary were confirmed in the Commission of National Inquiry (CNI) report which investigated the events surrounding the resignation of former President Mohamed Nasheed in February.

The final report recommended that immediate steps be taken to improve the performance of the judiciary.

“The judiciary must enjoy public confidence and where there are allegations about judges’ conduct, the Judicial Services Commission must act in a timely and definitive way and report,” read the report.

Aishath Velezinee, formerly Nasheed’s appointee to the Judicial Services Commission (JSC), has said that corruption and an unreformed judiciary were the primary causes of crime in the country.

“Islam upholds justice, and not only has death penalty; it has very clear qualifications for judges too. Neither MP Mahloof, nor any of the Sheikhs, has expressed alarm that the judges are far below standard and some of them are convicted criminals themselves. This is pure politics and abuse of Islam,” she told Minivan News in a previous interview.

In July, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) said it was “deeply concerned about the state of the judiciary in the Maldives,” as well as calling for the abolition of the death penalty, in order to ensure the Maldives’ compliance with International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

After speaking with a Maldivian delegation headed by Jameel, the council released a statement saying that the state had acknowledged both that the independence of the judiciary was severely compromised and that the death penalty did not deter crime.

Today marks World Day Against the Death Penalty – organised by an alliance of more than 135 NGOs, bar associations, local authorities and unions seeking the universal abolition of capital punishment.


Tensions escalate as government accuse MDP, Raajje TV of “inciting hatred and violence against police”

Following the murder of Lance Corporal Ahmed Haleem on Sunday, the government has said deposed President Mohamed Nasheed, opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), and the opposition aligned Raajje TV are responsible for attacks on police, and have pledged to summon Nasheed for questioning over charges of inciting hatred and violence against police.

Superintendent of police Mohamed Riyaz at a press conference this evening publicised an audio conversation held between MDP MP Mariya Ahmed Didi and Nasheed on May 29, in which Nasheed allegedly told Mariya to find people to fight the police. Riyaz said the police would obtain a court order to summon Nasheed for questioning within the week.

A few hours later, former Deputy Home Minister Hassan Mahir was arrested under a court warrant on charges of inciting violence against the police during a speech given at the MDP’s protest camp at Usfasgandu.

Meanwhile, in a separate joint press conference held at noon at Iskandhar Koshi today, Home Minister Mohamed Jameel and Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz said Raajje TV had spread “baseless allegations” about police brutality and the police role in the controversial change of government on February 7, thereby inciting and encouraging violence against the police and their families. Further, deposed President Nasheed was directly responsible for planning and inciting violent attacks on police, Abdulla Riyaz said.

Nasheed had resigned from office on February 7, but later claimed he was ousted in a coup d’état, planned by the remnants of the former dictatorship, funded by resort interests, and carried out by mutinous elements of the police and military. The MDP has since held regular protests calling for early elections.

Attorney General Azima Shukoor has also told state broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM) that the government will take action against the Elections Commission and the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) for respectively failing to discipline Raajje TV and the MDP, claiming the two bodies must be held responsible for encouraging attacks on police and the death of Haleem.

Police have arrested Mohamed Samaah, 22, over Haleem’s death, but have declined to give any further details. The MDP have said Samaah belonged to government coalition member and former President of 30 years Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM).

Nasheed- Mariya conversation

Nasheed and Mariya’s leaked audio conversation appears to have been held during the police’s attempt to dismantle the MDP’s protest camp at Usfasgandu on May 29. Police had obtained a search warrant claiming MDP was performing black magic, conducting criminal activity and damaging public property in the area.

In the audio clip, Mariya says: “[Police] are forcing people back! They are using pepper spray! That is why we are unable to hold a national council meeting. And we have also received a second letter, ordering us to vacate the area by ten o’clock tonight. We cannot file an appeal at court or do anything. We cannot even hold the National Council meeting. We won’t have [enough members for] quorum. Shihab is here. But they are using pepper spray and forcing people back. Can only vacate the place if we could only get in there. This is all very unjust. What shall I do?”

Nasheed then replies, “There’s not much we can do. I don’t know. What is there to do? I think [we] need to get people out to fight if we can get them. If we can get people to fight, get them out. It’s very clear to me, I think we need to fight back. If we can get people to fight. Find kids from Male to fight the police,” Mariya laughs at this point, but Nasheed continues, “That is what I think. I don’t know if we can get people to fight. I want to fight against them.”

Amnesty International released a statement on June 11, alleging the police had used excessive force against protesters on May 29, by pepper spraying, beating and arresting peaceful protesters, bystanders and journalists. Police denied the allegations.

Superintendent of Police Mohamed Riyaz today said the police had decided to publicize the audio conversation “because we have no other choice.”

Riyaz said Mariya had been summoned for questioning over the audio clip on June 20, but the MDP had spread baseless allegations that the police were arresting and harrassing opposition politicians for no apparent reason. Hence, “the time has come to reveal the truth,” Riyaz said.

The audio clip was obtained legally through a court warrant, he added.

At approximately 9:00 pm this evening, former deputy Home Minister Hassan Mahir was arrested for comments made at Usfasgandu, in which he had allegedly incited violence against the police. Video footage of February 7 shows Mahir being attacked by men in civilians as police in riot gear watch outside the Police HQ and another man screams, “Kill him!”

The MDP has consistently raised concerns over new President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s failure to prosecute the police for brutality on February 7, 8 and at subsequent MDP demonstrations.

“Enemies of the state”

Speaking at a press conference at noon, Home Minister Jameel and Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz condemned MDP and Rajje TV’s alleged incitement of hatred and violence against police and their families.

Jameel described MDP and Raajje TV as “enemies of the state,” while Riyaz said Nasheed and senior MDP officials were behind the planning of psychological and physical attacks on the police.

“I note that former President Mohamed Nasheed is behind the planning of the attacks and damage caused to police property and repeated physical attacks on police officers.” Riyaz said.

Claiming Raajje TV’s reporting was “not responsible journalism,” Riyaz said that the station had spread baseless allegations regarding police brutality towards protesters and police role in the controversial change of government.

“Raajje TV has repeatedly attempted to defame and raise questions over police professionalism by broadcasting baseless allegations to create distrust towards the police,” he added.

He went on to refute a recent Raajje TV report that police had stolen fuel from parked motor cycles, claiming Raajje TV was attempting to falsely cast the entire police force as “brutal” and as “thieves.”

Earlier in the day, the Police released a satement saying they  will no longer cooperate with Raajje TV or provide protection to the station due to its attempts to defame the institution. The Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) subsequently told Raajje TV to issue an apology for the report on police officers stealing petrol.

Conversely, Raajje TV has also accused police of targeting, assaulting and harrasing its reporters during MDP’s protests.

A statement from Raajje TV on July 10 read: “Raajje TV journalists have been forced to live in fear as they have increasingly become targets of attacks by the national security forces, particularly the police service. The station also believes that these attacks and harassment has been the source of emotional distress and psychological damage to all Raajje TV employees.”

However, Riyaz stressed today that the police force did not discriminate.  “I believe the police are professional. I am not under any political influence,” he added

During MDP’s protest on February 8, 64 policemen had been injured while police stations had sustained over Rf 130,000 (US$ 8387) worth damages, Riyaz said. It was Raajje TV’s broadcasting of false reports that police had killed a man in Male’ that led to the vandalism and arson attacks on police stations and court buildings throughout the Maldives, Riyaz alleged.

“We will take action against whoever incites violence against the police, no matter who it is or what kind of position they hold or have held in the past,” Jameel said.

Police have already filed criminal charges against Nasheed for his alleged role in the detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January and the discovery of alcohol bottles at Nasheed’s residence following his resignation. The Prosecutor General (PG) this month filed charges against Nasheed at the Hulhumale’ Island Court over Abdulla’s detention, but the court has rejected the case claiming the case was outside its “jurisdiction.”

The Commonwealth’s Special Envoy to the Maldives Sir Donald McKinnon and the UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay have expressed concern over the state’s attempt to prosecute Nasheed.

Complaints against EC, MBC

Attorney General Azima Shukoor, speaking on TVM’s Raajje Miadhu programme, said the Elections Commission (EC) and the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) had failed to discipline Raajje TV and MDP for inciting violence despite the government filing numerous complaints.

Azima said MDP’s call for violence were “a fact. You cannot dispute this. Look at the tweets, the materials on Facebook, and the speeches at meetings and protests.”

However, the failure of independent oversight institutions to take action had put the democratic process in the Maldives in jeopardy, Azima claimed. “The country is not functioning when space is given for democracy,” she said.

“Institutions that must take responsibility are not doing their job. [We have] to take action against them. The executive will conduct necessary legal work to take such action. We will submit this case to the Majlis. We are also ready to take necessary action through the courts,” she stated.

In response, the Elections Commissioner Fuad Thawfeeq told TVM that the commission “will not yield to threats and intimidation.”

Regarding the MDP’s protests, he said: “The constitution guarantees freedom of assembly and speech. The elections commission cannot narrow such freedoms.” Thawfeeq said it was the executive’s resonsibility to investigate criminal activities.


Rising Islamism Set Stage for Maldives Coup: Wall Street Journal

In the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s ouster of President Mohamed Nasheed, his political opponents fomented opposition among conservative Muslims by claiming Mr Nasheed’s government was trying to undermine their faith, writes Tom Wright for the Wall Street Journal.

Islamists calling for jihad against Mr Nasheed played a significant part in antigovernment protests that began in January. Events came to a head Tuesday when a band of armed police and army officers backed the protesters and forced Mr. Nasheed to resign.

The emergence of hard-line Islam is a relatively new development for the Maldives. But it is stoking concern in neighboring India that it could be used as a potential base for Islamist militants. It also raises questions about the stability of a country which sits on strategically important sea lanes used to transport a large portion of the world’s crude oil.

And the rise of conservative Islam could have an impact on the country’s tourism industry. Around 900,000 foreigners come to the country each year and the development of spas and bars to cater for them has angered some Islamist leaders.

Ahmed Naseem, the country’s recently ousted foreign minister, faced opposition at home last year when he became the first Maldivian official to visit Israel. He says religious orthodoxy has become the norm as more people go to study in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

“This country had no one wearing headscarves 10 years ago” but it’s common now, said Mr. Naseem. The political opposition, he added, capitalized on this growing religiosity by portraying Mr. Nasheed as un-Islamic. “They’re using Islam as a tool.”

The party of Mohamed Jameel, who was sworn in as Home Minister this week, issued a pamphlet last month in the local language entitled, “President Nasheed’s Devious Plot to Destroy the Islamic Faith of Maldivians,” according to a translation reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

The pamphlet claimed that empty bottles of alcohol, which is proscribed for Maldivians, were found in offices of Mr. Nasheed’s government. It blamed the government for planning to sell land to Israel. And it said the then-president was working to undermine Islamic law in the country.

Mr. Jameel, in an interview Friday in his offices overlooking Male’s aquamarine harbor, acknowledged the pamphlet. He said Mr. Nasheed had at times lacked sensitivity toward Muslims.

“It’s one of the obligations of the state to protect Islam,” said Mr. Jameel, who went to a religious high school in Pakistan and got his doctoral degree from London University.

The Maldives, a country of almost 400,000 people, is almost entirely Muslim. The constitution makes Islam the state religion and minority faiths are not recognized. The legal system is a mixture of common law, a legacy of the former British colonists, and Quranic law.

After the December rally, the participation of Muslim extremists in antigovernment protests grew. During demonstrations earlier this week, a group of Islamists, their faces covered, trashed Buddhist statues in the National Museum.

For now, tourism has not suffered visibly. Most visitors arrive at an airport on its own island and are ferried to their resorts on uninhabited atolls, where alcohol is allowed. But as numbers grow, more tourists also are stopping off in Male, causing frictions.

“There are some fringe religious extremist elements and we hope the radicalism doesn’t hamper the Maldives’ image as a tourist destination,” an Indian government official said Friday.

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