PG withdraws disobedience to order charges against home minister

Prosecutor General (PG) Muhthaz Muhsin has withdrawn disobedience to order charges against Home Minister Umar Naseer.

Muhsin had raised charges against Naseer in April for violating Article 8 (a) of the General Laws Act of 1968 when he called on anti-government protesters in January 2012 to storm the military headquarters with 50 ladders.

The clause prohibits speech or writing contravening Islamic tenets.

If found guilty, Naseer would have faced imprisonment, banishment, or house arrest not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding MVR150 (US$10).

PG Office Spokesperson Adam Arif said charges had been withdrawn in August for further review, and stressed that the PG is authorised to withdraw charges at any point until a sentence is issued. The moves comes after concluding statements had been delivered at the Criminal Court.

Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party MP Imthiyaz Fahmy said the move “is yet another act by a PG backed by the government to deliberately show the people that the government enjoys complete impunity.”

The decision appears to reflect a thawing of a tense relationship between Naseer and President Abdulla Yameen.

Naseer was summoned to court during the acrimonious dissolution of a coalition agreement between Naseer’s Jumhooree Party (JP) and the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM).

Four ministers had been appointed to the cabinet on JP slots, but following the split two defected and a further minister was dismissed. Naseer now remains as the sole JP minister in the cabinet.

Naseer initially joined the JP after he lost the PPM primaries to Yameen in 2013. Following this defeat, he publicly alleged widespread vote rigging and accused Yameen of illicit connections with gangs and the illegal drug trade.

Naseer also implicated Yameen in MP Dr Afrasheem Ali’s death, claiming he had witnessed a meeting between Yameen and an individual who was under investigation for Afrasheem’s brutal death.

Naseer has since retracted his statement under oath during a Majlis sitting.

In August, Yameen also reduced the home minister’s powers after Naseer allegedly ordered police officers to investigate Minister of Tourism Ahmed Adeeb – the PPM deputy leader – for alleged unlawful activities.

Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed took over the case mid-way through the trial from Judge Abdulla Didi, after Naseer requested a change of judge folowing Didi’s refusal to accept a procedural point raised by Naseer.

Didi, on June 12, had issued an arrest warrant ordering the police to present Naseer at court today after he had missed three consecutive hearings due to official visits abroad.

The police, however, made no move to arrest the minister on his return to the Maldives, and Naseer arrived at the court on June 17 with a bodyguard escort.

Naseer had initially refused to cooperate with the trial, claiming clause Article 8 (a) contradicted the freedom of expression guaranteed by the constitution.

Related to this story

Home Minister Umar Naseer’s trial concludes at Criminal Court

Home Minister refuses to cooperate with disobedience trial

President Yameen does not have gang affiliations, Umar tells the Majlis

Umar Naseer is not a fugitive from justice, says Home Ministry


MDN urges the police to speed up investigations of death threats against journalists

The Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) has urged the Maldives Police Service (MPS) to speed up its investigations into the many death threats made to journalists and to ensure their adequate protection.

In a press statement released on the occasion of UNESCO’s International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists, MDN also expressed its concern over the prevalence of aggressive threats made against journalists.

“Journalists in Maldives continue to receive death threats and other violent messages, some in the public domain through social media. They have been targeted with grave physical harm. It is appalling that these incidents should go without investigation and apprehension of perpetrators,” read the MDN statement.

MDN also voiced their concern over the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan who has been missing for 87 days as of today (November 2).

“There has been no progress in finding Rilwan, and allegations of impunity have risen with every passing day,” said MDN.

Rilwan’s disappearance is the first such instance of its kind in the Maldives, although near fatal attacks were carried out on the blogger Ismail Hilath Rasheed in 2012 and the Raajje TV reporter Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed in 2013.

Adopted by a resolution in the UN General Assembly last year, the day is used to urge member states to implement definite measures countering the present culture of impunity.

November 2 was chosen to commemorate to two French journalists killed in Mali on 2 November 2013. UNESCO reports that over 700 journalists have been killed in the last decade, with 2012 and 2013 representing the deadliest years.

Following Rilwan’s disappearance in August, journalists from across the Maldives joined to declare that his abduction was a threat to all, and calling for an end to persistent intimidation faced by the press.

“As intimidation of press grows, and attacks against journalists, equipment, and buildings continue, we are extremely concerned over the delays in bringing to justice those who commit these acts,” read the landmark statement.

Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon also expressed concern regarding acts of intimidation and reprisals to journalists in general, noting that “freedom of media facilities a greater degree of interconnectedness and awareness in the community, and is the cornerstone of any democratic society”.

Last week, the People’s Majilis threw out a 5055 strong petition urging the parliament’s National Security Committee to pressure the Maldives Police Services to conduct a speedy and thorough investigation.

Rilwan’s family also lodged a formal complaint with the Police Integrity Commission accusing the police of negligence in the investigation into the 28-year-old’s disappearance.

Meanwhile, a media official from MPS told Minivan News today that that investigation into Rilwan’s disappearance is going ahead speedily but reported no new updates to the investigation

The media official also mentioned that police security was provided for two journalists after two convicts who were serving life sentences for murder escaped the Maafushi high security  prison in October.

A total of four men have been arrested over Rilwan’s disappearance, although only one man remains in custody at present.

Home Minister Umar Naseer said he believed Rilwan to be alive and promised to return him safe to his family. He has also acknowledged the involvement of criminal gangs in the case.

Last month, MDN released the findings of a private investigation, which discounted theories of voluntary disappearance and suicide, concluding that the disappearance was most likely an abduction by radicalised gangs.

On September 25, a named suspect in the MDN private investigation broke a CCTV outside Minivan News building before two men on motorbikes lodged a machete to the door.

Police arrested the renowned gangster who was caught on footage when he broke the camera only to be released the next day by the Criminal Court demanding the man to cooperate with the investigation and not to cause any further disturbances.

MPS also provided Minivan News with static security outside the building after the attack with one Minivan News journalist receiving death threats in the hours following the attack.

Recently, Amnesty International demanded police intensify their efforts to find those responsible for the numerous death threats and violent attacks against journalists.

Numerous international organisations have criticised the slow progress in the investigation of the case including Reporters without Borders and the International Federation of Journalists.


Maldives should repeal the death penalty – UN Human Rights office

The United Nations Human Rights Office (OHCHR) on Tuesday voiced deep concern about a new regulation in the Maldives that effectively overturns a 60-year moratorium on the use of capital punishment in the country and allows for children as young as seven to be sentenced to death.

“We urge the Government to retain its moratorium on the use of the death penalty in all circumstances, particularly in cases that involve juvenile offenders and to work towards abolishing the practice altogether,” said Ravina Shamdasani, spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

“We equally encourage the Government to repeal the new regulations and other provisions that provide for the death penalty,” she told reporters in Geneva.

Adopted on 27 April, the new regulation provides for the use of the death penalty for the offence of intentional murder, including when committed by individuals under the age of 18. The age of criminal responsibility in the Maldives is ten, but for hadd offences, children as young as seven can be held responsible. Hadd offences include theft, fornication, adultery, consumption of alcohol, and apostasy.

“According to the new regulation, minors convicted of intentional murder shall be executed once they turn 18. Similar provisions in the recently ratified Penal Code, allowing for the application of the death penalty for crimes committed when below the age of 18, are also deeply regrettable,” Shamdasani said.

Under international law, those who are charged and convicted for offences they commit while they are under 18 years of age should not be sentenced to death or life imprisonment without possibility of release, the spokesperson added.

Government support

Speaking at a press conference last week, Minister of Home Affairs Umar Naseer said the chances of killing an innocent person after completing all the procedures in the regulation – titled “procedural regulation on investigating and penalising the crime of murder” – was “far-fetched” and “almost impossible”.

With the new regulation, the president will no longer have this authority if a person is sentenced to death for murder by the Supreme Court, Naseer noted.

Although the death penalty has proven to be a contentious issue, Naseer assured the international community that the Madlives has a firm reason to continue with the ruling.

“There will be some parties who will be concerned about this. Concerned countries, concerned NGOs. Some counties are not too pleased with it [death penalty, but we will know about the issue of executing people in this country, the overcrowding of prisons in this country, how much the criminal environment is more lively in this country. And we are a hundred percent Islamic country and there are certain values that we all believe in,” Naseer said.

Meanwhile, President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom has called for the death penalty to be put into practice in the Maldives from as early as July 2013.

The half brother of former autocratic ruler Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, first told media of his “change of heart” while speaking on the program Voice of Maldives on July 22 2013.

Yameen explained that although he had not been not an advocate of the death penalty, he now believed it must be implemented to save Maldivian society from commonplace murders that have become too commonplace.

“Murder has to be punished with murder,” Yameen said.


PPM strikes back against DRP’s criticism of government

Vice President of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) Umar Naseer has alleged to local media that Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP)’s recent criticism of the government was due to their intention to leave the ruling coalition.

Speaking to newspaper Haveeru, Naseer accused DRP leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali of trying to “get things done in his favor” through the present government.

“The DRP is seeking to get a sovereign guarantee to pay off Thasmeen’s debts. As soon as they know it can’t happen, they will break away from the coalition”, Naseer claimed.

DRP Deputy Leader Ibrahim ‘Mavota’ Shareef denied Naseer’s allegations and said Thasmeen had no debts under his name.

He further accused Naseer of continuously attempting to defame Thasmeen.

“Umar accused Thasmeen and Abdulla Shahid of being involved in the [awarding of the airport] to GMR . If that is so, why aren’t they investigating the matter now that they are in the government? There is never any truth to what [Umar Naseer] says,” Shareef said.

Naseer claimed that PPM deserved more positions in the current government than the DRP, as PPM had played the “most important role” in the transfer of power in February.

“Ninety-nine percent of the anti-government protesters were from PPM. 99 percent of the injured were from PPM. Our members sacrificed the most to change the government. And DRP does not deserve to get an equal number of government positions as PPM,” Naseer said.

Naseer’s comments follow Monday’s press conference by the DRP criticising certain government officials and describing them as incompetent.

During the press conference, Shareef claimed the Foreign Ministry had inaccurately portrayed the real situation in the Maldives, and had falsely claimed that the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) had sided with the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

Misconceptions in the international community surrounding the transfer of power represented a failure on behalf of the Ministry, Haveeru reported Shareef as saying.

In response, Naseer accused the DRP of trying to win a parliamentary majority by forming a coalition with the MDP.

However, speaking to Minivan News, DRP MP Dr Abdulla Mausoom said that despite some concerns the party had regarding the current government’s policies, it had no intention of leaving the coalition until the next presidential elections.

Asked about any possible consequences clashes between the DRP and PPM – the two largest parties in the ruling coalition – would have on the functioning of the unity government and political stability in the country, Dr Mausoom said the cross-party strife had “nothing to do with the functioning of the government”.

Furthermore, “imagining” that the DRP would leave the coalition and join the MDP was “irresponsible journalism”, he said, adding that the DRP would continue to support President Waheed’s administration until the next election.

The PPM was formed last year following an acrimonious split with the DRP, after the party’s disciplinary committee evicted Naseer from the party. Naseer claimed he had been thrown out of the party for protesting against the MDP, while the DRP leadership contended that he had been holding protests without the party’s consent.

In December 2010, following Naseer’s departure from the party, a DRP event ended in a factional brawl.

A meeting came to blows after Naseer, the party’s Deputy Leader prior to his dismissal by the party’s disciplinary committee, and his supporters gatecrashed the venue.

The meeting was held in celebration of a Supreme Court ruling, which saw seven cabinet ministers departing their posts after their reappointments were disapproved by the opposition-majority parliament.

In February 2011, police evacuated Shareef from DRP headquarters after the spokesperson was attacked by a crowd of Naseer’s supporters.


“Hold down the poison pen” of Haama News journalist, demands Salaf

Religious NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf has demanded the editor of local news paper ‘Haama’ take action against one of the publication’s journalists, accusing him of “insulting the ‘Kaaba’”.

The Kaaba is the most sacred site in Islam, a cube-shaped building in Mecca which all Muslims around the world must face during prayers.

Salaf has sent a letter to the newspaper claiming that the article by Mohamed Naseer violated the Sunnah of Prophet Mohamed (PBUH), “and that the article was against the consensus of the scholars of Islam.”

“Although he has written many articles critisicing the religion, those articles were not read by the scholars, and therefore he was not exposed,’’ the letter said. “The constitution of the Maldives does not allow anybody freely criticise the religion.’’

“Before the poison of his pen reaches your news agency and people who looks after Naseer, we call on you to stop his pen,’’ the NGO threatened.

Salaf also recommended Naseer “to fear God and repent.”

Editor of Haama, Saif Azhar, told Minivan News today that the author of the concerned articles “was not a staff at Haama but a freelance columnist.”

“It was mistakenly published without being approved by the editor,” said Azhar. ”We removed the article as soon as people brought it to our attention.”

Azhar said the article was on the author’s view of eating and sleeping inside the mosque, something the writer noted that Maldivians had never supported.

”We advised him not to write articles like that,” Azhar said. ”We have never supported anti-Islamic articles or anything against religion, and it was just a mistake.”

State Minister for Islamic Affairs Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed could not be reached for comment, and Ministry Spokesperson Sheikh Ahmadulla Jameel declined to comment stating that he was not a religious scholar or political appointee.