Tax authority removes freeze on Villa Group accounts

The tax authority has removed a freeze on Jumhooree Party leader and tourism tycoon Gasim Ibrahim’s Villa Group accounts in yet another indication of a thaw in relations between the opposition and the government.

A senior government official told Minivan News that the Villa Group had submitted a plan to pay the US$90.4million claim within two years.

“The Villa Group initially denied that had to make any payments. But now Villa Shipping has agreed to pay the government. That’s why MIRA [Maldives Inland Revenue Authority] has removed the freeze,” they said.

MIRA froze the accounts of Villa Shipping and Trading in May after the Tourism Ministry annulled several agreements on properties leased for tourism development and claimed the company had failed to pay rents on some of the properties since 2006.

The 90.4million claim includes US$75.5million as a fine.

The opposition says the move was an act of reprisal after Gasim’s JP split from the ruling coalition and allied with the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in an anti-government campaign.

Several opposition politicians including ex-president Mohamed Nasheed was arrested and sentenced to jail shortly after the formation of the new alliance.

After months of street protests, historic anti-government marches, and mounting diplomatic pressure, Nasheed was transferred to house arrest in late June and preparations are now underway for talks.

Speaking to Haveeru today, Gasim maintained that his company did not owe any money to the state, but said he had no choice but to make the payment.

“We are having to do this this because our cases at the courts are still pending. We had no choice to do this until the court reaches a decision. If there is any justice in Maldives, I am sure I would not have to make the payment,” Gasim said.

The Villa conglomerate – which operates businesses in shipping, import and export, retail, tourism, fishing, media, communications, transport and education – previously said the claim is unlawful and is contesting it at the civil court.

The civil court had rejected a request for a stay order on paying the fine until the courts uphold the claim.

Villa Group says the claim has cost the company a US$80million loan. It had struggled to pay the salaries of some 5000 employees following the accounts freeze.

In mid-June, Gasim announced that he will retire from politics once his term as Maamigili MP expires in 2019. The long-time presidential hopeful also said he will no longer contest in presidential elections. The government with opposition backing has now amended the constitution to set new age limits of 30-65 years for the presidency, meaning Gasim will be ineligible for the 2018 presidential elections. He will be 66 then.

The JP is in disarray. Two senior party officials fled the country after they were charged with terrorism over a historic anti-government protest on May 1.


Police place further restrictions on opposition protests

The police have banned the use of four-wheeled vehicles in the opposition’s protests without prior permission, prompting concern over “unlawful restrictions” on freedom of assembly.

The police last week said the opposition must obtain prior permission before holding a protest despite a constitutional provision stating no prior notice is needed for demonstrations. Since a mass anti-government protest on May 1, the police have stopped any attempt at street protests by briefly detaining key figures.

In a statement yesterday, the police said the permission to use four-wheeled vehicles was set because a lorry drove at high speed into police lines on May 1 and injured police officers. The step is required for public safety and protection of private property, the police said.

The opposition frequently uses lorries at protests to hold speaker systems, and to publicly announce the opposition activities during the day. The police have previously banned the use of megaphones or speaker systems beyond 11pm.

Some 20,000 people took to the streets of Malé on May Day, after three months of daily protests over the imprisonment of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim. The protest was organised by the Maldivians against tyranny coalition – consisting of the Adhaalath Party, the Jumhooree Party and the Maldivian Democratic Party.

Police officers used tear gas, pepper spray, baton charges and stun grenades to break up protests when protesters attempted to enter Malé’s restricted Republic Square. Nearly 200 protesters were arrested and scores were injured, including two police officers.

Speaking to Minivan News, MDP vice president Mohamed Shifaz, said the police have no authority to place restrictions on freedom of assembly.

“The police do not have the right to ask us to obtain such permissions, we will continue to exercise our rights to the fullest extent guaranteed to us by the constitution,” he said.

If a police officer is injured, the police must investigate the case, but cannot restrict the use of vehicles, he said. The police arrested the driver of the lorry used in the May Day protest. The MDP says he was severely beaten.

Shifaz also pointed out Specialist Operations (SO) officers often drive lorries at high speed at crowd of protesters to disperse them.

“The police lorry also drove in to the large crowd of people as well, the chaotic situation on May 1 was created by the police’s pre-planned decision to stop the rally at any cost. They had a zero tolerance policy,” said Shifaz.

The opposition does not condone or encourage violence, he said, adding police chief Hussein Waheed is running the police force like a political party.

However, a police media official said that the constitution does not prohibit the protection of the public. “The law does not obstruct us from protecting the citizens, these are measures we are jurisdictionally allowed to take, but we just have not taken them before,” he said.

He said the police are allowed to drive at high speed, but said the police tactics are different to that of the opposition.

“Sometimes we have to go at high speed, like we did on May 1. That does not compare to the MDP driving past an area declared beyond use by the police, which harmed some of our officers,” he said.


Opposition, police raise fears of violence on May Day

The opposition and police have raised fears of violence at a mass antigovernment protest on May Day, as a political crisis triggered by the jailing of ex president Mohamed Nasheed deepens.

The religious conservative Adhaalath Party has accused government ministers of planning to release convicts on Friday to incite violence as a pretext to crack down on protesters.

The police meanwhile told opposition leaders they have received reports that the demonstration will not be peaceful, and have ramped up riot training exercises for its special forces this week.

Tensions are high in Malé with the opposition Maldivians against brutality coalition vowing to bring 25,000 people out on to the capital’s streets demanding Nasheed and ex defence minister Mohamed Nazim’s release. But president Abdulla Yameen has labeled the opposition’s demands unconstitutional and has said he will not negotiate or resign on May Day.

Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Abdulla Imran speaking at a rally in Malé’s suburb Vilimalé accused Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb of seeking the release of 200 dangerous criminals to “shed blood” on May Day.

“Adeeb has sent a 200 strong list of the most dangerous and vile criminals to the courts seeking their release, in order to confront protesters,” said Imran.

The sheikh has also previously accused Adeeb of corruption and illicit connections with gangs.

Speaking to Minivan News Adeeb dismissed the allegations, saying the opposition must ask state institutions to investigate any allegations of wrong doing.

“I don’t think they will be able to do much on May Day,” he said.

The tourism minister had previously challenged the opposition to a confrontation on May Day, saying that the government “will not tolerate any bloodshed of or even a scrape on any young person, police officers or military officers.”

“Even if its May 1, June 1 or that grand February 27, if you dare to confront us, come, this government stands ready,” Adeeb said.

Over 10,000 opposition supporters took to the streets of Malé on February 27 following Nasheed’s arrest, but the rally was unexpectedly called off at 6pm when the police threatened a crackdown.

Police are meanwhile continuing riot trainings for its Specialist Operations unit at Feydhoo Finolhu Island.

The police held separate meetings with the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and the Jumhooree Party (JP) yesterday, according to a statement.

Superintendent of police Abdulla Shareef told MDP chairperson Ali Waheed that opposition politicians were inciting violence at daily protests and threatening the country’s independence and sovereignty. He said the police will take actions against any acts that violate rights.

The MDP and JP however assured the police the protest would be peaceful and will respect the law, the statement said.


MDP seeks candidate to contest Dhiggaru by-election

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) is seeking a candidate to contest an upcoming by-election for the vacant Dhiggaru constituency parliament seat.

The opposition alliance, made up of the MDP, the Adhaalath Party (AP), and senior leaders of the Jumhooree Party, had previously said discussions were ongoing on fielding a single candidate.

“At the discussions, opposition parties agreed to bring forward one candidate. We also agreed that the candidate will come from the MDP,” said MDP vice president Mohamed Shifaz.

The MDP announced yesterday that a primary will take place next Monday to select the party’s candidate and invited members to apply by Sunday.

The by-election, triggered by a 25-year jail sentence handed down to former ruling party MP Ahmed Nazim, is scheduled to take place on June 6.

Contestants must file candidacy papers at the Elections Commission before the end of April.

AP spokesperson Ali Zahir had previously expressed interest in contesting for the Dhiggaru seat.

However, AP secretary general Iaad Hameed told Minivan News today that the religious conservative party has not decided yet on fielding a candidate.

“We have also agreed on bringing one candidate from the opposition,” he said.

He stressed that Zahir had only expressed interest in contesting. Zahir is currently overseas and was unavailable for comment.

Meanwhile, a primary of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) is due to take place tomorrow between former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s eldest son, Ahmed Faris Maumoon, and Meemu atoll council president Moosa Naseer.

Three other candidates who initially sought the ruling party’s ticket withdrew their candidacies this week, including Meemu atoll councillor Moosa Naseer Ahmed and deputy environment minister Mohamed Hanim.

Polling is due to take place from 2:00pm to 5:00pm on Friday in four of the five islands that make up the Dhiggaru parliamentary constituency.

The five islands in the constituency are Dhiggaru, Madduvari, Veyvah, Muli and Raimmandhoo. Arrangements have been made for party members from Raimmandhoo to vote in other islands.

The by-election is expected to be hotly contested amid heightened political tension following the jailing of former president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim as well as the alleged unfair targeting of JP leader Gasim Ibrahim’s business interests.


Police to break up “unauthorised” protests

Police have announced they will break up protests which have not received authorisation in advance, in an apparent attempt to clamp down on daily demonstrations over the jailing of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed.

The opposition said its daily protests would continue, while decrying the move as a violation of the right to peaceful assembly guaranteed in the constitution. A member of the human rights commission also said the police plan was unconstitutional.

Police said last night that regular protests using “unusually loud” sound systems have been disrupting schools, businesses and are not in the public interest.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and allied parties have been holding daily protests throughout the country to demand the release of Nasheed, who was sentenced last month to 13 years in jail on terrorism charges. Protesters in the capital Malé have been marching through the streets every night, often through its main thoroughfare Majedhee Magu and through its narrow alleys.

Police said that demonstrators must apply for authorisation in advance for any “pre-planned” protests , as required by article 13 of the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act.

The act was passed in 2013 but police have not so far enforced the authorisation requirement, although hundreds of protesters have been arrested on other charges.

Police last night warned they will break up any unauthorized protests after one warning, and will confiscate loud sound systems.

The police announcement was deemed “unconstitutional” by Human Rights Commission member Ahmed Tholal.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Tholal said that freedom to assemble peacefully without permission from the state is a fundamental right granted by article 32 of the constitution.

“They [police] cannot withhold constitutional rights by referring to a provision in the [assembly] act. If there are problems with regards to the provisions in the act, they should address it without limiting constitutional rights,” said Tholal.

Police have arrested over 100 people at recent opposition protests. While some of them have been released without detention, several were barred by the criminal court from going to further protests for 60 days.

Elsewhere, the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure wrote to the MDP on April 1 saying that the ministry would not be able to provide any plot of land for political activity because of the political situation in the country.

However, Minivan News understands that ruling Progressive Party of Maldives will be holding a rally at the artificial beach tonight (April 9).

MDP MP Eva Abdulla described the government actions as an attempt to “harass the opposition by attempting to obstruct peaceful assembly.”

“This is a coordinated attack by the government on our constitutionally stipulated rights to freedom of assembly and yet another example of how far this regime is willing to go in its harassment and persecution of the opposition,” Eva said.

“There is no longer any pretence of the government upholding our laws and our constitution,” she continued.

Minivan News was unable to obtain any comment from the Housing Ministry about the letter at the time of going to press.


IPU to send ‘urgent’ mission over MP death threats, arrests

The Inter-Parliamentary Union will send an urgent mission to the Maldives during the upcoming months to investigate death threats, attacks and arrests of MPs in the country.

The union, which represents parliaments around the world, said they are investigating reports that 30 former and current MPs have been victims of human rights abuses, including one MP who was murdered and another who was stabbed.

After the 132nd Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) assembly this week in Hanoi, the organization said political polarisation and heightened tensions in the Maldives “necessitated an urgent on-site mission” by the IPU’s human rights wing to gather first-hand information.

“The organisation is deeply concerned by the serious and repeated death threats allegedly made against opposition MPs in the Maldives since last year,” an IPU statement said.

Tensions are high across the country after the conviction of former President Mohamed Nasheed on terrorism charges this month, with opposition parties holding daily protests.

IPU also called on law enforcement agencies to show restraint, and to abide by international and national human rights laws and standards when handling protests.

Meanwhile, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) complains that the speaker of parliament has been excluding the party from the Maldives’ delegations to IPU.

Mohamed Rasheed, secretary general of the MDP parliamentary group, said the delegation is selected in a “petty” manner without including the main opposition party.

One MDP MP was present in Hanoi, but fellow members of his party said that he was “hand-picked”, whereas in the past, the party has sent two MPs of its choice.

Eva Abdulla, an MDP parliamentarian, has been excluded from recent delegations despite being an elected representative for all female South Asian MPs at the IPU.


Eva told Minivan News that opposition lawmakers have been receiving death threats “every other day” since the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan last August. Rilwan has still not been found.

She said opposition MPs have been receiving phone calls and text messages, and sometimes stalked.

“We filed complaints at the police and with the Majlis itself. However the speaker has not even condemned the threats in public or privately,” she said.

Threats against opposition parliamentarians have caused the IPU to classify the Maldives as one of the most dangerous countries to be an MP, noted Eva.

Several opposition MPs have been arrested at anti-government protests.

Most recently, MP Ahmed Mahloof, formerly of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives, was arrested at a protest last week and detained for five days.

When his detention ended, the criminal court placed him on further five days of house arrest after he refused the court’s condition to not participate in further protests for 60 days.

Similarly, MDP MP Ismail Fayyaz was given 15 days’ detention after he refused to accept release under the same conditions.

Eva said police had been slow to investigate a forced entry into Mahloof’s apartment last month, although they were handed CCTV footage of the incident.

The IPU’s list of Maldivian cases includes that of the late PPM MP Dr Afrasheem Ali, who was murdered outside of his home in October 2012, and the stabbing last year of MP Alhan Fahmy, who narrowly avoided paralysis as a result.

PPM MPs and the speaker of parliament had not responded to requests for comment at the time of going to press.


Gayoom denies rifts within government

Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom has denied any rifts between himself as leader of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) and President Abdulla Yameen’s administration.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday prior to departing for Singapore to attend the funeral of ex-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew as President Yameen’s representative, Gayoom denied claims by Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdulla that he was a victim of the government’s “brutality.”

“Things are going very well with the party working together with the government. There is no discontent at all,” he was quoted as saying by newspaper Haveeru.

Gayoom suggested that the opposition was using his name for their political purposes.

Asked about international concern over the conviction of former President Mohamed Nasheed, Gayoom said criticism from foreign nations and organisations was not a cause for concern.

Gayoom reportedly said Maldivians connected to foreign actors wanted to help them achieve their ends in the country, but the PPM did want to follow instructions issued by another nation.

He added that the criticism was baseless and uninformed, suggesting that certain foreign parties harboured longstanding prejudices against the Maldives.


Gasim “economically paralysed,” says JP Deputy Leader

The current government has “economically paralysed” Jumhooree Party (JP) Leader Gasim Ibrahim, its Deputy Leader Ameen Ibrahim has said.

“Even though Gasim has not been put behind prison bars, the government has economically paralysed him,” Ameen said at a press conference of the opposition’s newly formed “Maldivians against brutality” alliance today.

Gasim could not actively participate in opposition activities as the government has “cornered” the tycoon by targeting his businesses, Ameen said.

While the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) accepted the Adhaalath Party’s (AP) invitation to form a united front against the government, the JP’s national council is yet to decide whether the party will join the new alliance.

However, Ameen and several other senior JP members have been working with the alliance, claiming their participation was in an “individual capacity.”

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, AP President Sheikh Imran Abdulla accused the government of planning to seize all of Gasim’s assets and making sure he was “unable to move his hands or legs” in his defence.

Meanwhile, in an appearance on Gasim’s Villa TV, MDP Vice President Mohamed on Saturday said Maldivians should not wait and watch while the government destroyed Gasim’s Villa Group.

On March 1, the Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) gave a 30-day notice to Villa Group to pay US$100 million allegedly owed as unpaid rent and fines.

Moreover, in February, the tourism ministry seized several islands and lagoons leased to Villa Group as part of an out-of-court settlement.

MDP-JP alliance

After officially leaving the ruling coalition in January, the JP formed an alliance with the MDP in January and launched nightly protests on February 10 against what they alleged were repeated violations of the constitution by President Abdulla Yameen’s administration.

Gasim himself and other JP leaders took part in the protests, which culminated in a mass rally on February 27.

Following former President Mohamed Nasheed’s arrest on February 22 ahead of a surprise terrorism trial, Gasim called on the Prosecutor General to withdraw the “politically motivated charges” and vowed to continue protests.

However, after failing to return from a trip to Sri Lanka to attend the February 27 protest march, Gasim has not appeared in opposition protests. He has also not made any public statements since a meeting with Home Minister Umar Naseer on March 5.

Villa Group is one of the largest companies in the Maldives with the holding company Villa Shipping and Trading Pvt Ltd conglomerate operating businesses in shipping, import and export, retail, tourism, fishing, media, communications, transport, and education.


26 arrested in MDP’s all day protests

The Maldives Police Services arrested 26 protesters from opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) “last warning” rally in Malé last night.

MDP MP Fayyaz Ismail, Vice President Mohamed Shifaz, former MP Ilyas Labeeb and three minors were among those arrested between 10:30pm and 1am. Police claimed the protest was not peaceful.

Fayyaz and two others have since been remanded for 15 days. The rest have been released on the condition they do not participate in protests again.

Protesters had called for the release of former President Mohamed Nasheed, who remains imprisoned amidst a terrorism trial over the military detention of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012.

Two journalists from Villa TV and CNM were briefly detained last night for allegedly “obstructing police duties.”

Specialist Operations (SO) officers charged into the crowd of protesters several times throughout the night, using pepper spray indiscriminately.

Meanwhile, approximately 200 MDP supporters took to the seas at 4pm, traveling near Dhoonidhoo Island Detention Center where Nasheed is imprisoned. Hundreds more staged a motor cycle rally in Malé simultaneously.

The MDP claims terrorism charges against Nasheed are politically motivated and have pointed to several irregularities in the trial, including two of the three judges overseeing the trial having provided witness statements during a 2012 investigation into Judge Abdulla’s arrest.

The largest opposition party last week scaled up protests, with letter campaigns, daily protests and motorcycle rallies under the banner “Warning!”


Hundreds set out from Usfasgandu at 9pm, and split at the Majeedhee Magu and Sosun Magu junction. Those on foot headed down Medhuziyarai Magu, while hundreds on motorbikes headed down Majeedhee Magu.

When protesters reached the former presidential palace at Muleeage, SO officers in riot gear charged into the crowd and arrested Shifaz, Fayyaz, and Ilyas. The MDP in a statement immediately condemned the police’s alleged targeting of its leadership.

Police pushed some protesters back to Sosun Magu, and chased others into the narrow lanes behind the People’s Majlis.

Protesters quickly regrouped near the Seagull café on Chaandhanee Magu, but riot police once again pushed them back to Majeedhee Magu.

On a live blog at 11pm, the police claimed masked individuals had threatened to kill police officers. Journalists on the scene observed police made no move to arrest the masked individuals.

The MDP in a statement this morning claimed: “The police have allowed armed gangs, loyal to the government, to attack pro democracy protesters. There have also been reports of masked police in plainclothes attacking members of the public during these protests. No action has been taken against these individuals.”

“Also of concern is the intimidating and confrontational nature of the Police who dismantle these protests. Police arbitrarily announce areas where the public cannot assemble, closing down main roads at random. Protesters have been heavily pepper sprayed, and masses of riot Police have charged at peaceful protesters on the capital city’s busiest roads,” the statement added.

The police have also banned protests near the Malé City Hall until March 15, claiming businesses in the area had been complaining over protesters allegedly disrupting business.

As the confrontation with police and protesters went on, pictures started circulating on social media depicting Maldives National Defense Force (MNDF) officers carrying firearms. The MNDF immediately dismissed the pictures as false.

Confrontation at sea

Prior to the rally, approximately 200 protesters took to the sea on six vessels. The boats departed from the T-Jetty at 4pm, calling for the immediate release of Nasheed, former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim and all activists arrested at recent protests.

Nazim, charged with importing and possessing illegal weapons, is in police custody until his trial concludes.

After circling Malé City, the boats headed for Dhoonidhoo Island, where several coastguard and police vessels had set up a barricade. Police speedboats circled around the protesters, creating waves that rocked the boats wildly.

In a statement afterwards, police warned it would check the boats used for the protest to ensure they met all safety standards and take legal action against any boat that had carried more passengers than its carrying capacity.

On Thursday, 14 MDP women were arrested from a protest at the airport. They were released the next day.

The MDP along with opposition Jumhooree Party staged a 10,000 strong rally in Malé on February 27, and issued 13 demands on President Abdulla Yameen, including Nasheed and Nazim’s release. The government has refused to initiate talks, claiming the demands were not beneficial to the public.

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