Police have informed Malé City Council that no action will be taken against the Maldives Road Development Corporation (MRDC) in relation to the removal of trees planted by the council last week.
A letter given to the council explained that the state-owned company had acted on the orders of the housing ministry, which was the highest authority in the country for environmental matters.
Around 25 areca palm trees – donated by the Indian government in 2011 – were cut down late last month by men alleged to have been off-duty Special Operations police officers, although police have denied this.
Opposition politicians have told local media the trees had been used by the Maldivian Democratic Party – which holds a majority of seats on the council – to curse President Abdulla Yameen.
Subsequent efforts to replace the trees were stopped by the MRDC last week, before the cabinet announced it was to remove control of the city’s streets from the council’s jurisdiction.
Council members have suggested that the government is infringing on services designated to the council under the 2010 Decentralisation Act.
Police have released a statement on Sunday, saying that they have widened the search for the missing journalist to include guesthouses, vessels, and nearby islands.
“No matter how poor we were, I raised my children with love. He is a good boy.
I am not trying to protest here. Let me stay here. I have waited at home all of these days patiently. But today, I came here to plead with you to find him.
Hear our plea. Please. I’m calling on all leaders. We are going to all leaders in the Maldives. We are telling them please calm our hearts. For Allah’s sake, please tell us what has happened to our son.”
– Rilwan’s mother, Aminath Easa
The demonstrators, who gathered at the People’s Majlis around 10:30am this morning, held signs urging the authorities to speed up investigations.
‘Today Rilwan disappeared. Who will disappear next?’ read one of the signs.
‘Majlis, do your job, ensure security for all citizens,’ read another.
The peaceful demonstration was quickly moved away from the Majlis buildings, behind a set of police barricades.
“Today was a clear example of how stupid policies inadvertently compound the psychological distress and trauma experienced by victims of crime,” said Rilwan’s friend, Maryam Adam.
“We were not aggressive or contravening logical laws. The family needs to know they can trust the authorities and that their pleas are being heard. Being able to wait outside Majlis was important to us symbolically,” she added.
Rilwan’s brother, Moosa Rilwan, who attended the demonstration said the group had gathered only to show concern over the progress of investigations.
“We have not seen any progress. It’s been 17 days. We call on the government and Majlis to do everything necessary to find our brother.”
“We, the family, are very concerned. We do not believe [the state] has done enough to find him. We are deeply saddened there has not been adequate efforts through the Majlis,” Moosa told local media.
Another member of the demonstration, Yameen Rasheed, highlighted a lack of urgency from the Majlis regarding this case.
“Majlis committees have previously convened at odd hours over lesser matters. But 17 days after a journalist has been abducted, they are yet to show any such urgency.”
“I plead with you, find out how my son is”
In the letter submitted to Majlis Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Ahmed, family members highlighted that Rilwan, in addition to being a journalist, is also a human rights advocate on social media and a long time blogger.
“Rilwan has received numerous death threats from anonymous sources in connection to his writing and thoughts,” read the letter.
The letter also stressed that Maldives police services have failed to give adequate information at a time of increased insecurity, with young people assaulted, killed, and anonymous murder threats sent to young writers and journalists.
It also noted the resolution submitted to Majlis and the ‘241′ security services committee, a five member select team determined earlier this year.
“I beseech you, as Speaker of the Majlis, prioritise this important case, and for the sake of all Maldivians, question commissioner of police to find out the truth. I plead with you, find out how my son is. Please take all necessary steps through the Majlis,” read the letter.
The thoughts and feelings of Rilwan’s family and friends have also been captured on film as part of a coordinated media campaign designed to raise awareness of his abduction.
The Maldives media community recently released a joint statement on the creation of a new a committee to pressure the state to expedite investigations into Rilwan’s disappearance and end intimidation of the press.
In addition, International groups, including the Office for the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights (OCHR) and Reporters Without Borders have called for a speedy and thorough investigation.
The OCHR has also urged the relevant authorities to address threats and intimidation of the press, while the International Federation of Journalists said the government must determine the circumstances of his disappearance as a “matter of urgency.”
Moreover, the New York based Committee to Protect Journalists urged the authorities “to leave no stone unturned” in their efforts to find him.
The Ministry of Health has held discussions with Bangkok Hospital to provide Aasandha, the Maldives universal healthcare scheme, in Thailand.
The ministry said today that discussions with Bangkok Hospital were held between heads of Bangkok Hospital and the acting Minister of Health Mohamed Nazim, reported local media Sun Online.
The discussions reportedly included providing specialist services and medical equipment to the Maldives, establishing a mechanism to prevent shortages of drugs, improving health clinic services in the Maldives, and ensuring the availability of certain drugs at Bangkok Hospital through Aasandha.
Earlier this year, President Abdulla Yameen inaugurated the ‘Unlimited Aasandha’ universal health scheme, as a part of his presidential campaign pledge and his first hundred day programme.
At the time, Yameen assured that the new unlimited service will be an upgrade from the existing Aasandha programme introduced by President Mohamed Nasheed which encountered a number of issues, particularly with regards to sustainability.
Climate change could cause annual economic losses of over 12% of the Maldives’ GDP by the end of this century, says a new Asian Development Bank (ADB) climate and economics report released today (August 19).
“A potential ocean rise of up to 1 meter by 2100 will have devastating consequences for this island archipelago, where the highest natural point is only a little over 2 meters above sea level,” said Bindu Lohani, ADB Vice-President for Knowledge Management and Sustainable Development.
The Maldives is the most at-risk country in South Asia from climate change impacts, said the report titled ‘Assessing the Costs of Climate Change and Adaptation in South Asia’.
Given the uncertainties of climate change, there is a slight possibility that the losses could swell to more than 38%. But if mitigation and adaptation steps are taken, the Maldives will benefit the most in the region, with annual losses limited to around 3.5% of GDP by 2100, the report concluded.
Programmes and Advocacy Manager at local environmental NGO Ecocare Maeed Mohamed Zahir, however, believes the government is currently far from taking such steps.
“There is no clear-cut adaptation strategy,” he added.
Energy supplies at risk
According to the report, the Maldives’ energy supplies are particularly at risk from climate change.
The Maldives’ energy vulnerabilities are related to the low elevation and small size of islands, the report explains. Their low elevation and narrow width makes powerhouses and associated infrastructure vulnerable to flooding and damage from severe weather events.
The report also notes that, with the commitment to become carbon neutral by 2020, the country is increasingly investing in renewable energy technologies, particularly solar power, for which there is abundant solar energy — 400 million MW per annum.
The environment ministry has recently announced a number of initiatives to minimise the country’s dependence on fossil fuels, including a pledge to convert 30 percent of all electrical use to renewable energy, and the Scaling-Up Renewable Energy Programme (SREP) set to “transform the Maldives energy sector.”
In addition, the report highlighted that vector-borne diseases could be a major public health concern for the Maldives in the future.
Dengue is now endemic in the country with seasonal outbreaks, observed the report. Epidemiological data shows changes in the seasonal nature of dengue, spreading across the atolls, and leading finally to epidemic proportions.
Morbidity from dengue by 2090 could increase to 34,539, with 324 deaths per year, the report stated.
Moreover, although malaria is not prevalent in the Maldives, it could be future concern if left unchecked said the ADB.
During 1990–2003, the number of malaria cases averaged 16 per year, with no fatalities. However, the report warns that annual morbidity due to malaria incidence by 2090 could reach more than 200.
Ecocare’s Zahir argued that the government is at best unclear, and at worst unprepared, for climate change. Speaking with Minivan News, Zahir appealed to the government to reveal their policy for adaptation in the face of climate change.
He went on to explain that in the last four to five years there has been no clear stance on climate change from the government.
“The number one priority is to make everyone aware if they have one,” he said.
Back in 2009, former president of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, unveiled a plan to make the Maldives carbon-neutral within a decade. Zahir suggested that the following administration’s have been less clear on the issue.
“In the last two governments we don’t have a clear-cut climate change plans,” he argued. “From 2009 to now – it’s a disaster for us.”
Ecocare has previously accused the Maldives as being “not prepared at all” for the projected acceleration of sea level rise caused by the collapse of a glacier system in Western Antarctica.
Officials from the Ministry of Environment and Energy were not responding to Minivan News at the time of publishing.
The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) and the Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) jointly reiterated their call on the government of Maldives to make substantial changes to the laws on assembly and association at a press conference held yesterday (August 17).
“The people of Maldives are not allowed to express or assemble freely, which is a fundamental right they are taking away from them,” argued Shahinda Ismail, Executive Director of MDN.
Changes need to be made in order to meet the country’s constitutional guarantees of fundamental rights and legal obligations under international human rights law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Maldives is party, read a press release from FORUM-ASIA.
One of the main issues raised at the press conference was the freedom of association law. According to this law, protests cannot take place near schools, mosques, or hospitals, Shahinda told Minivan News.
Malé – the capital of the Maldives – is home to approximately 150,000 residents in 6 square kilometers of land, making it among the most densely populated capitals of the world. Therefore, facilities like schools and mosques are abundant.
“When you really look at Malé, there’s a mosque on every block,” Shahinda argued, “there is hardly any space left for people to demonstrate.”
“The restrictions on protesting must be made in consideration with the geography of the landscape,” she added.
Restriction not regulation
Another point highlighted at the conference was the wide range of powers given to police in controlling demonstrations.
“The problem we see is it doesn’t provide for police to protect demonstrators. It doesn’t regulate the right, it curbs the right [to demonstrate],” Shahinda stated.
“There must be a provision where police engage with demonstrators and try to bring order before deciding to disperse,” she added.
Furthermore, Shahinda the highlighted vague phrases in the legislation, which she fears are open to numerous interpretations.
“The word ‘reasonable’ used many times. It’s very subjective and we don’t feel it’s appropriate to use in the law.”
Another line could be interpreted as restricting right to assembly solely to police, added Shahinda.
“It’s just one line, a sub-section off a sub-section,” she notes, “but it can be interpreted in a number of ways.”
“The right to freedom of assembly doesn’t not stand alone, it has to come with freedom expression and association,” Shahinda warned.
Shahinda went on to connect the issues raised to the recent disappearance and feared abduction of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla.
“The problems that people face in freedom of expression – Rilwan is at the height of it,” said Shahinda.
“We opened the press conference raising concern and calling on authorities to speed up the investigation, and we ended on the same note.”
Systemic Failures: Transparency Maldives
Earlier this month, a press release from local NGO Transparency Maldives (TM) revealed they are currently working to reform the Associations Act in order to create a more enabling environment for civil society.
“Governance, transparency and functioning of CBO’s [community based organisations] will improve if the systemic issues in the regulatory framework are addressed,” TM announced.
Christopher Roberts, TM’s consultant on freedom of association, released a set of comments and recommendations discussing the international best practices of freedom of association legislation and to share his experience of freedom of association in transitional democracies.
The report addresses several legal issues with the 2003 Associations Act of the Maldives.
“The definition of associations provided by article 39(a) of the act is circular and inadequate,” states Christopher Roberts, legal expert on freedom of association.
“The law should instead adopt the definition used at the international level,” argued Roberts.
The Presidents Office has announced China’s decision to lend 100 million Yuan (around MVR250 million or US$16 million) as free aid to the Maldives.
The agreement was signed yesterday (August 16), after President Abdullah Yameen departed on an official visit to China to attend the opening ceremony of the 2014 Summer Youth Olympics, and to hold discussions with Chinese President, Xi Jinping.
In addition, an agreement was made to provide the Maldives Police Service with 150 motorcycles.
According to the statement, the grant aid is to be used for developmental projects in the Maldives.
At separate meetings held on Saturday afternoon, discussions were focused on the investment opportunities in Maldives, and the mega development projects proposed by the government.
Furthermore, Yameen met officials from Tuniu, one of China’s top travel agencies, and attended a lunch hosted by the group.
During the discussion on Saturday, Xi also conveyed his government’s commitment to propel bilateral relations with the Maldives onto a higher plane.
In addition, Yameen outlined the key developmental projects envisaged for commencement in the time ahead, and emphasised that no project is as important or pertinent as the Male-Hulhulé bridge.
Yameen expressed his satisfaction that the interest of corporate China towards the bridge project and other key economic manifesto projects. He went on to note that he desired in time, for the new bridge to be known as the “China Bridge” to symbolise the friendly ties between the two countries.
Xi thanked Yameen for briefing him on his economic agenda and assured that he would alert Chinese authorities to collaborate closely with the Maldives in ensuring the key development projects, including the bridge can be implemented with due urgency.
Yameen noted that the Maldives had always been a standing supporter of the one-China policy and the Five Principals of Peaceful Coexistence governing relations between states. He also commended President Xi on his 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.
In return, Xi noted that the Maldives would feature among the countries that are included within the Silk Road sphere.
Referring to the Chinese ‘New Silk Road’ project, Yameen told reporters prior to the trip that the government was “very interested” in participating in the initiative.
Yameen also revealed that a number of bilateral agreements would be signed during the visit, including a framework agreement on trade assistance, while Chinese assistance in providing police vehicles would be “formalised”.
Chinese news agency Xinhua reported yesterday that China’s maritime ‘Silk Route’ would pass through the Ihavandhippolhu Integrated Development Project – or ‘iHavan’ – in the northernmost atoll in the Maldives.
“The design of the project seeks to capitalise on the location of the atoll, which lies on the seven-degree channel through which the main East-West shipping routes connecting Southeast Asia and China to the Middle East and Europe,” reported Xinhua.
The slow loris illegally trafficked into the Maldives has been spared euthanasia after Monkey World – a center for abused and neglected primates – offered to re-home the animal at their sanctuary in Dorset, England.
“This has never been done before, to move endangered species overseas from the Maldives. This has been an amazing, unprecedented international effort,” Dr Alison Cronin, Director of Monkey World told the press in Malé today (August 13).
The small primate, which is an Appendix I listed species of CITES – giving it the highest level of protection in international trade of wildlife – was discovered during a police raid in the capital in January.
Shazra Shihab from the Ministry of Environment and Energy explained that the government had been trying to rehome the animal ever since, but had struggled due to issues relating to costs, transportation, and the loris’s unknown country of origin.
“However, with tireless dedication from one party, and cooperation from all relevant government organisations of both countries, as well as dedication from other involved parties on both sides, we have now found a home for the slow loris,” she added.
“I first heard that the Bengal Loris had been confiscated in the Maldives by colleagues who work in Asia rescuing wildlife,” Dr Cronin told Minivan News.
The animal will now be taken back to the UK and paired with another of its species, she explained.
“We believe this to be a male Loris, and we have a home for it in England with a female Loris, so he will have a wife,” Dr Cronin added.
“We’ve been doing this work around the world for more than 25 years and I was impressed, heart-warmed and felt that everybody here deserved support and encouragement for what they’ve done.”
Echoing Dr Cronin’s sentiments, Gabriella Tamási from the International Airline Group IAG Cargo remarked, “this is totally unprecedented, what we have done to transport the slow loris, as currently our travel operations in the Maldives are not approved for live animal transport.”
Illegal slow loris trade
The illegal Loris pet trade boomed after video clips which depict the animals as a cute and docile pets went viral. However, the video craze has obscured the trauma and suffering that the animals endure at the hands of illegal traffickers.
Far from its cuddly depiction, the Loris secretes toxins on its wrists which – when combined with their saliva – deliver a toxic and very harmful bite, Dr Cronin explained.
“Most commonly what happens is they get grabbed and somebody forces their mouth open, and they take large fingernail clippers and simply cut the animals teeth off at the gum line.”
“It’s a very bloody, painful and horrible process, leaving the animal crippled,” revealed Dr Cronin.
According to Dr Cronin, the Bengal slow loris in the Maldives has not been checked over yet, as she prefers to minimise the stress for the animal during the transportation process.
“The last thing it needs is more stress,” she stated, “we’ll wait until we get it back to Monkey World.”
Dr Cronin also revealed plans to check the slow loris’ DNA once back in the UK, to find out the animal’s country of origin, which may then present the possibility to a return to the wild.
“Everybody in the Maldives can feel pleased and proud of both the law enforcement and the government ministry for bothering to stick with this for so long,“ Dr Cronin concluded.
The Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) came to a standstill yesterday (August 6) after a Cathay Pacific aircraft was unexpectedly grounded.
The runway had to be closed down for about an hour from 9pm because of a hydraulics problem on the plane. Hydraulic fluid consequently leaked onto the runway, causing numerous delays and disruptions, reported local media Haveeru.
According to Haveeru, one Emirates Flight which was scheduled to land had to be diverted elsewhere. Other flights delayed due to the incident include Malaysian Airways, Singapore Flights, and a number of domestic flights.
An official from INIA told Haveeru, “The runway has been cleared and is now operational. The delay took about one hour. Operations are now turning back to normal,” he said.
The Maldives Government will not hesitate to implement the death penalty, the Ministry of Home Affairs has assured.
The statement follows a wave of attacks within the past 7 days, including fatal stabbings in Malé and Thulusdhoo.
The Home Ministry said that the government “will not hesitate to implement the death penalty placed by the courts upon persons who stab and murder with the willful intent to kill,” according to local media Sun Online.
The ministry also said that the Maldives Police Service is conducting a number of special operations to prevent further attacks, assuring that the government is taking every possible measure to bring an end to the outbreak of violence in the capital.
Measures to re-introduce the death penalty were finalised in April, while local media reported last month that the Maldives Correctional Services (MCS) had completed a facility in which to administer the lethal injection.
Minivan News has been unable to obtain comment from either the Home Ministry or the MCS regarding these preparations.
Prior to this policy change, the Maldives had maintained an unofficial moratorium on the death penalty since 1953, when Hakim Didi was executed by firing squad for the crime of practising black magic.
Several people have been sentenced to death during the moratorium, although they have traditionally had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment by presidential decree.
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.
Conversely, Amnesty International have pointed out that the decision to resume the death sentence is in contradiction with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – a treaty to which the Maldives became a party in 2006.
Similarly, The Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) has condemned the Maldivian government’s decision to implement the death penalty.
“Given the state of the Maldivian judiciary, which is also perceived to be highly politicised and corrupt, it is most concerning that as grave a matter as life and death of humans is to be decided by it,” the MDN stated.
“In addition to this, research shows that capital punishment does not deter murder any greater than the threat and application of lesser punishments,” the statement concluded.
The practice of the death penalty, and the use of lethal injections, has recently grabbed international headlines again after aconvicted murderer in Arizona appeared to take two hours to die.
Joseph Wood’s death is the third such instance in the US this year, and has prompted a suspension of executions while the state undertakes a review of its procedures.