Australia concerned over civil unrest following Nasheed’s arrest, trial

Australia has expressed concern over rising political tension in the Maldives following former President Mohamed Nasheed’s arrest and subsequent trial on terrorism charges.

In a statement on Tuesday, Australia said High Commissioner Robyn Mudie had registered Australia’s interest with the Maldivian government and would “continue to monitor the developments closely.”

The Maldives Police Services arrested Nasheed on February 22, claiming he may abscond from a terrorism trial over the abduction of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed in January 2012. If convicted, the opposition leader faces a jail term or banishment between ten and 15 years.

Over 10,000 opposition supporters took to the streets on Friday calling for Nasheed and former Defense Minister Mohamed Nazim’s release. Nazim is currently in police custody amidst a trial on importing and possessing illegal weapons.

Protesters also called for President Abdulla Yameen’s resignation. Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and Jumhooree Party (JP) supporters have continued daily protests since February 10.

In its statement, Australia encouraged “all parties to exercise restraint, act in accordance with the rule of law, and resolve differences peacefully.”

“As members of the Commonwealth, Australia and Maldives share important democratic values, including free speech and the right of opposition groups to participate fully in the democratic process,” read the statement.

“As a fellow Indian Ocean country and Commonwealth member Australia has a keen interest in supporting peace, rule of law and democracy in the Maldives.”

Australia has warned its citizens in the Maldives to exercise a “high degree of caution” when visiting capital Malé.

The statement follows a meeting between a government delegation and Mudie in Colombo. The delegation included ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives’ (PPM) Parliamentary Group leader Ahmed Nihan, PPM Spokesperson and MP Ali Arif, Minister of Law and Gender Mohamed Anil and Minister of Presidential Affairs Mohamed ‘Mundhu’ Shareef.

According to Nihan, the delegation also briefed Russain Ambassador Alexander A. Karchava, British High Commissioner John Rankin, and Qatari Ambassador Rashid Shafie Saeed Al-Fahida Almerri.

The government maintains it has no influence over Nasheed and Nazim’s trials, arguing the charges were pressed by an independent Prosecutor General and tried through independent courts. The trials are important to uphold the rule of law, ruling party officials have said.

Meanwhile, responding to a question in the UK parliament on Monday, British State Minister of State, Foreign and Common Office Hugo Swire said he was concerned over the “continued detention of former President Nasheed.”

Swire said that it was important for “international confidence in the Maldives that Mr Nasheed, like all other citizens, is seen to be enjoying due legal process and respect for his fundamental rights.”

Canada, Commonwealth, EU and the UN have previously expressed concern over Nasheed’s arrest and trial after he was denied legal counsel at the first hearing. He appeared in court with his arm in a makeshift sling after police manhandled and dragged him into the court building when he attempted to speak with journalists.

Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon last week hit back at international expressions of concern, insisting the state was following due process in Nasheed’s arrest and prosecution.

“Those who prefer to issue public statements about an on-going legal case, or on a domestic political situation, are advised to do a basic fact check, before bandwagoning on to accusations made by a political party,” Dunya said in a statement.

“To criticize us in public statements with lies or biased with having only heard the oppositions point of view is not acceptable. The government will not accept these statemetns and will not pay attention to them.”

Speaking to the press on February 24, Dunya questioned the value of the Maldives remaining a member state of the Commonwealth, claiming the organisation had “wronged” the Maldives before by placing the country on a watch-list in the wake of the controversial transfer of power in February 2012.

However, UK High Commissioner to the Maldives John Rankin last week said that he does not believe asking the Maldives to abide by commitments under UN conventions amounted to “undue interference.”

In an interview with private broadcaster Raajje  Tv, Rankin said decisions on domestic  matters were up to the Maldives as a sovereign nation.

“But it is legitimate for one country to [remind] another country to abide by the undertakings which together we have signed up to,” he explained.

Photo of meeting between Australian High Commissioner and government delegation by MP Ahmed Nihan

Related to this story:

Nasheed denied right to appoint lawyer and appeal “arbitrary” arrest warrant, contend lawyers

Judges Didi and Yoosuf refuse to step down from Nasheed’s terrorism trial

EU, UN join international chorus of concern over Nasheed’s arrest, terrorism trial

Foreign Minister Dunya slams Canada, Commonwealth statements on Nasheed prosecution


Former education chief calls for security review after being assaulted in street

Former Education Minister Dr Musthafa Luthfy has called for a review of security arrangements afforded to Maldivian politicians by police over fears of an increase in “orchestrated” political attacks in the country.

The comments were made after former education chief Luthfy, who has also previously served as Chancellor of the Maldives National University, claimed he had been struck in the face on Saturday (October 6) by an unidentified assailant on the island of Kanduhulhudhoo, Gaafu Alif Atoll.

Footage of the attack has already been posted on media sharing websites Youtube.

The attack, which did not result in any significant injuries to the victim, occurred less than seven days after Progressive Party of Maldives MP Dr Afrasheem Ali was found murdered by his home.

On Thursday, parliament’s ‘241’ Security Committee summoned both Commissioner of Police Abdulla Riyaz and media regulator, the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) to discuss issues including the MP’s murder, politician safety and allegations that media organisations had been “spreading hatred” against MPs.

recent report released by the Asia Foundation has alleged politicians and businessmen were paying gangs in the Maldives tens of thousands of rufiya to assault rivals, damage property, and in some cases have them killed.

While stressing that attacks on politicians within the country remained “rare” occurrences, Dr Luthfy claimed that it was the responsibility of police to ensure “order was maintained” across the nation amidst rising political tensions.

“It is rare that these sort of attacks happen, but the chance of similar incidents occurring in the future could be reduced by an increased police presence,” he said. “I accept there may be difficulty in getting sufficient numbers of officers onto different islands.”

According to Dr Lutfhy, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) had registered a complaint with police after a male assailant appeared to punch him in the face whilst he was leaving Kanduhulhudhoo, where had had been campaigning earlier in the day.

He claimed that his attacker had been waiting around ahead of his arrival, before running up and punching him in the face and quickly escaping afterwards. Dr Luthfy said he suspected the attack had been planned beforehand, though he had not been made of any developments if the attacker had been found by authorities.

“The incident as I understand it has been caught on camera and shown I think on the Youtube website. Police should have hopefully seen this,” he said, adding that an official complaint about the incident had been sent to authorities.

“It’s a serious incident, the leader of our party has been calling against violence right now. Even after it happened our supporters were very calm. I know police went after the suspect, but they might not been able to get to him as he ran off.”

Dr Luthfy claimed that a number of similar incidents had been recorded by the country’s politician and could increase further with an intensified schedule of campaigning by both the MDP and government-aligned parties ahead of presidential elections expected next year.

Despite the growth in political tensions in the country during the build up and aftermath of February’s controversial transfer of power, Dr Luthfy claimed that fears of a potential increase in violence against MPs was unlikely just the country’s electorate venting their frustration.

“I think these things are very much orchestrated and organised,” the former education minister said. “We cannot go on like this, I was just walking in the street and get attacked.”

Dr Luthy pointed to an incident last week where a makeshift blockade was set up off the shore off the island Gemanafushi in Gaafu Alif atoll in order to block the arrival of a MDP vessel as a sign of increased tension and intolerance of rival political campaigning in the nation. One of the vessels was carrying former president Nasheed as he was travelling as part of a campaign tour of some of the country’s atolls.

“I think police should be present to minimise the chance of such incidents. There are a lot of tensions right now and if there is a lack of police presence, things can go wrong,” he said.

In the past, Dr Luthfy said that some parliamentarians have had to ask police for protection, reflecting an environment where MPs and senior politicians had been more free, or “complacent” in regards to their safety whilst being out in public.

“I think now that police should take the responsibility and try to be present during these campaigns just in case,” he said. “ Yes, these incidents [of attacks] are rare, but to try and minimise these incidents in future, I think a police presence would be a good thing.”

Both Commissioner Riyaz and Police spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef were not responding to calls from Minivan News at the time of press.

Despite the former education chief’s claims, former President Mohamed Nasheed requested Thursday (October 4) in writing that his Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) security detail – provided under the Former President’s Act – not accompany him on a campaign tour. The MNDF later released a statement saying that it could not take any responsibility for harm that might befall the former president whilst not under its protection.

Nasheed’s decision was announced the same day Parliament’s ’241′ Security Services Committee summoned police chief Riyaz for an update into the investigation of MP Dr Afrasheem’s murder.

Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party MP (DRP) Mp Ali Azim, a member of the security committee, told ahead of the meeting that the committee had hoped to try and establish whether there was evidence to suggest the attack was politically or religiously motivated.

However, both Azim and MDP Chairman ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik could not detail any outcomes of the meeting when contacted by Minivan News.

Aside from the ongoing murder investigation, media regulator the Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) was also being summoned before the committee over concerns about the media’s role in spreading “hatred” about MPs in the country.

While accepting that the constitution called for the allowance of freedom of speech within the media, Azim claimed that there were limits, alleging that the national press were not being held sufficiently accountable for their work.

“The media has been accusing MPs of wasting taxpayers’ money; of suggesting not enough work is being done and saying that no laws are being passed,” he said. “I don’t think these accusations should be there. A few TV, radio and online media services has been accusing MPs of these things.”


Petrol bombs launched into MDP Haruge

Two petrol bombs landed inside ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) Haruge (headquarters) around midnight last night, January 7. MDP activists allege that the culprits were paid recruits of opposition Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM).

Police were called to the scene where they spoke to activists then inside the headquarters. Police officials today said the incident was minor, involving a few “bottles with petrol”, and that there was no confrontation.

No arrests have been made, and there is no investigation.

MDP activist Mohamed Areef described the incident to Minivan News.

“Some activists were just sitting near the wall of the haaruge, talking and playing chess. Then one bomb landed from over the wall, and I ran. Next another bomb was thrown just inches from my head.”

Areef said one man had sustained burns to his ankle, but that the injury was minor.

Areef noted that opposition PPM had held a gathering on January 5, and he was “quite sure [the attack] was planned by PPM. The party probably paid some people to do it.”

According to Areef, MDP will not retaliate.

PPM Spokesperson Ahmed Mahlouf denied that the party had any involvement in the matter.

“We have no interest in taking MDP Haruge, and we definitely do not support violence as a way of addressing issues,” he said.

Mahlouf added that the party had not held discussions regarding MDP “for two, three days”, and had no reason to launch petrol bombs into the ruling party’s headquarters.

“We are shocked to hear the news, and to hear that the blame has been put on us,” he said.

The incident follows several weeks of political controversy over demands made during a religious protest on December 23, in which PPM members and leaders joined six other opposition parties and religious NGOs in a call for stronger Islamic policies at the government level.

In response to these demands, the government ordered that all resort spas be closed and announced it was considering a ban on pork and alcohol. The first resorts to experience these effects were those owned by Jumhooree Party Leader and MP Gasim Ibrahim, the owner of Villa Hotels. Gasim subsequently sued the government over the matter.

Meanwhile, PPM argued that the demands against the sale of alcohol did not refer to the 100-plus resorts currently operating in the Maldives. However, going along with the high-stakes game of chicken the party announced that it would support the government’s suggestion to ban pork and alcohol provided “it has the courage” to do so.

Last week, the government requested a “consultative opinion” from the Supreme Court over the legality of selling pork and alcohol in a nation whose constitution is based on Islamic Sharia. Twenty-four hours later the government announced it was lifting the ban on spa operations in order to protect business interests while the court deliberates the matter.

The Judicial branch of the Maldives has been widely labelled as a remnant of the former regime, which appointed all of the current judges. A majority of the judges have little or no legal training, and have not been educated beyond grade seven. This year, MDP activists requested international support over the “increasingly blatant collusion between politicians loyal to the former autocratic President, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, and senior members of the judiciary – most of whom were appointed by Gayoom during his thirty years of power.”

Speaking at a press conference last week, President Mohamed Nasheed credited the spa controversy for having “woke the nation from its slumber and sparked a healthy national debate about the future direction of the country”.