Ministry of Foreign Affairs issues Thailand travel warning to Maldivians

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has alerted Maldivian citizens of the potential risks of travel to Thailand, particularly Bangkok, due to ongoing political and social unrest.

A statement released by the Ministry yesterday (May 24) explains that Maldivians should take extra care due to the Royal Thai army seizing power on May 22.

“The situation may evolve quite rapidly”, the statement warned. “Maldivian citizens are cautioned to avoid protest sites, demonstrations, and large gatherings.  Foreigners who join the anti-government protests face risk of deportation.”

“Be alert and aware of your surroundings and pay attention to local news media reports. You should allow extra time when travelling throughout the city or to/from airports.  Consider using public transportation.”

The statement goes on to advise all Maldivians travelling to Thailand to take all necessary precautions for personal safety, and purchase comprehensive travel and medical insurance.

In addition, the Ministry asks Maldivians who are in need of consular assistance while in Bangkok to contact the consulate-general of the Maldives or the Maldives’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

On May 20, the Royal Thai Army imposed martial law in Thailand, giving the military expanded authority to take action it deems necessary to enforce law and order.

Furthermore, the army have announced an overnight curfew during 10pm – 5am local time.


February tourist arrivals to the Maldives increase by 25 percent on 2012

Tourist arrivals for February have increased by over 25 percent compared to the same month in 2012.

Figures from the Ministry of Tourism Arts and Culture reveal that an increase of 21,493 tourists visited the Maldives last month compared to February last year.

Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb told local media in February that he was confident the Maldives would reach one million tourist arrivals in 2012.

Despite the Ministry’s aim, January saw a 7.6 percent drop compared to the same month in 2012 – the first time the Maldives had seen a decrease in January arrivals in three years.

The Asian market – which holds a 43.7 percent share of the overall tourist market – increased by 106.8 percent in February compared to the same month last year.

China, which has the largest share of the market for a single country, saw an increase from just 12,237 tourist arrivals in February 2012 to a total of 33,592 in 2013.

The 174.5 percent increase from Chinese tourists could be attributed to Chinese New Year, which was held in February this year as opposed to January in 2012.

Despite the continuing rise in the Asian market, Europe – which holds the largest share of the tourism market at 51.6 percent – fell by 6.2 percent in February 2013.

Arrivals from the United Kingdom also continued to fall last month from 9,006 in February 2012 to 7,745 in 2013 – a 14 percent decrease.

Tourists from Italy, which has the second largest share of the European market after the UK at 7.5 percent, fell by 12 percent in February compared to the same month in 2012.

Whilst arrivals from southern, western and northern Europe continued to fall, the eastern and central European market grew by 22.9 percent from 9,376 in 2012 to 11,519 in 2013.

Political turmoil

Despite the sharp rise in tourist arrivals last month, February 2012 saw unusually low tourist arrivals following the political instability that took place on February 7, 2012, when former President Mohamed Nasheed was removed from power.

Following widespread media coverage of the country’s political unrest, Maldives Association of Tourism Industry (MATI) released a statement claiming that resorts had registered 500 cancellations in the first week following the change of government.

One Shanghai-based travel agent, Sun Yi, told Minivan News she was faced with many cancellations just two days after the events of February 7.

”It has seriously affected our business. Many guests cancelled the Maldivian holiday package which used to be very popular,” she explained, adding that her company had suspended plans to hold a commercial event at a Maldives resort this spring.

“Quite a lot of Chinese customers are very concerned of this situation. Some of them are hesitant to make reservations now,” said Emy Zheng, a Chinese national working at Villuxa Holidays.

‘Cup noodle’ scandal

Meanwhile, calls for a tourism boycott to the Maldives exploded across Chinese social media networks earlier this month, after allegations of discrimination against guests from China at one resort became widely circulated.

On March 1, dismissed Chinese employees of the Beach House Iruveli resort – formerly Waldorf Astoria – posted allegations on the Chinese forum Tianya that guests from the country were receiving inferior treatment to Europeans, despite paying the same prices.

The staff alleged that this discrimination extended to removing kettles from the rooms of Chinese guests, to prevent them making instant noodles in their rooms and thereby forcing them into the resort’s restaurants.

By Sunday, the employees’ post had been forward over 91,000 times across the Chinese blogosphere, according to one report from the International Herald Tribune, and sparked calls for a Chinese tourism boycott of the Maldives in Chinese media.

One Bejing-based travel agent specialising in the Maldives told the South China Morning Post that many Chinese tourists had started cancelling their plans to visit the country.

Minister of Tourism Ahmed Adheeb said no formal complaints had been received by Maldivian authorities over alleged discrimination at the country’s resorts.

However, Adheeb asked that in future, any tourists who had such complaints about their treatment file such concerns with the tourism ministry and other relevant authorities rather than through the press and social media.


“We want to kill you. Do not think you can behave like you do and get away. You will have to die today”

Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)’s interim chairperson MP Moosa ‘Reeko’ Manik has for the first time spoken to the media after he was brutally beaten up by the Maldives police during what was meant to be a “peaceful march around Male’” after yesterday’s MDP National Council meeting.

Manik, who was in critical condition when he was taken to the hospital late yesterday afternoon but had regained some stability, spoke to local media Raajje TV about how violently the police had dealt with him while he was accompanied by the former president Mohamed Nasheed and former party chairperson and MP Mariya Ahmed Didi.
Moosa said that when the police started beating the protesters and spraying pepper spray without warning and using excessive force in dismantling the protests Nasheed, Didi and himself had ran into a tile shop in the east of the local market area.

“While we were in there the police came, sprayed pepper spray and started beating us. We ran into the road, to the east of the market, and hid in a shop… selling  tiles… if… if I remember correctly. I walked in first followed by President Nasheed and Mariya. We went into the back and stayed in the storage area”, Moosa said with a weak voice.

Moosa continued that police officers addressed them with foul language when Nasheed asked the officers not to hurt them. The officers openly said that Moosa was on their “hit list” and that they wanted to kill him, before taking three to four punches on his face, Moosa said.

“….When they police looked at me [to hit me] the President said, ‘Don’t hurt [him]’ and they… hurled abuse at the President. Maari said the same thing. I said, ‘If you want to beat us beat me first’ and by then they had already hit me on the face three or four times. They pointed their fingers at me and said, ‘You are a person we want to kill’…” Moosa continued.

Although the police were beating him, Moosa said that an MNDF person came to his rescue and tried to stop the police officers. “They did not let me go and continued beating me. And I saw an MNDF [army] person. He ran to me hugged me and said, “don’t hit, and don’t hit!’ ”, Manik said.

Moosa said that the officers enjoyed taking turns hitting his genital area and one police officer who was in plain clothes tried to stab something (a stick or a pole) into his head, and he was fortunate enough to have ended up with a two inch gash on his head instead.

According to local media, Moosa’s family has said he has been flown to Singapore for further medical treatment. The MP for Hulhuhenveiru constituency, Moosa has been a vocal critic of former president Maumoon Abdul Gayyoom and the Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed. He has also been active in MDP’s campaign to reform judiciary.

Interview transcript

“While we were in there the police came, sprayed pepper spray and started beating us. We ran into the road, to the east of the market, and hid in a shop… selling  tiles… if… if I remember correctly. I walked in first followed by President Nasheed and Mariya [Ahmed Didi]. We went into the back and stayed in the storage area.

“Police came in after a while and asked the people at the counter where Maryia and them were. When the people at the counter did not respond the police charged into the back of the store and I said to the President, “They are coming to kill us and so I will just let them do what they want to do” and I walked out. The president followed saying, “Moosa don’t go alone”, followed by Mariya.

“When they police at me [to hit me] the President said, “Don’t hurt [him]” and they… hurled abuse at the President. Maari said the same thing. I said, “If you want to beat us beat me first”, and by then they had already hit me on the face three or four times. They pointed their fingers at me and said, “You are a person we want to kill”. The army person? It was police… they were police not army personnel.

“It was a very narrow path and they pushed me out, beating me. They threw me out on the doorstep and hit me in the groin with their boots. Two policemen were holding my hands, spread, and one person held me by the back, and everyone (police) was beating me. The people on the dhonis [boats] saw everything. One person hit me here… on the ribs… with his boots. By the time I had my wits about me I could not breathe and I begged them to stop…. I pleaded that I was dying. They said, “We want to kill you. Do not think you can behave like you do and get away. You will have to die today”. They did not let me go and continued beating me. And I saw an MNDF [army] person. He ran to me hugged me and said, “Don’t hit, and don’t hit”.

“We reached MTCC [a local company] by then and they continued to beat me… I was surrounded. They were hurling abuse at me and spraying pepper spray into my eyes. One person forced my mouth open and sprayed… I fell over, coughing. The MNDF person was trying to protect me. Then came a police person in plain clothes… he was wearing a pair of shorts and a T-shirt… I know him. He jumped… and he tried to… and he said I want to embed this into your brain (probably a stick or a pole). It broke open a gash of about two inches and it hit the shoulder of the MNDF person. He was hurt too. And then… the blood was gushing out… and I fell onto the road. And they stomped onto my hand. They all seem to really enjoy hitting me in the groin.

“Then I did not know where they were taking me, two persons were dragging me by the hands. Then they got into a dispute within themselves. One person was saying not to hit me. With my knowledge, a bunch of them in Star Force attire, some in plain blue and another bunch of them in the… the dark blue uniform continued to beat me.

When the blood started flowing [from the groin] they asked me to, “Cover it with your hand… and you will die in a bit”. Then… then I did not know what they were saying. After that I did not know what was going on. By the time we reached the bus I had nothing left in me. There was a brother [relative] in the bus and that’s why I survived. When I got here I was in a lot of pain. Now… now… my spine hurts… it hurts a lot. And when I relieve myself I bleed. I am in a lot of pain. Insha Allah, I will be well soon.”


MBC requests police protection for media personnel and property

The Maldives Broadcasting Commission (MBC) has requested police protection for broadcasting stations, media equipment and journalists following recent attacks during political protests on capital Male’.

MBC has discussed the issue directly with police officials and has submitted an official letter detailing the request, reports local media.

MBC President Badhuruh Naseer condemned the threats and attacks made on media personnel last weekend, citing the rights of journalists as guaranteed under Article 28 of the Constitution in defense.

Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) staff and property were also attacked during the protests.

A press release from the President’s Office today declared the government’s commitment to a free media “absolute and unwavering”.

Last week, Maldives media authorities raised alarms when the Minister of Transport and Communication Adhil Saleem claimed that broadcasting licences of media stations “misleading the public” would be revoked.

Adhil later said he only meant to advise the media on the matter, not to issue a threat.

Rejecting accusations that the “advice” was a threat, President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair noted that Saleem merely pointed out that certain TV news channels had acted unprofessionally when airing footage of recent protests.

“President Nasheed’s administration never has and never will do anything to undermine the independence, integrity or professionalism of the media,” he said.


Further deaths reported as Syrian military accused of seizing Deraa mosque

Syrian security authorities stand accused of storming a mosque in the city of Deraa yesterday as part of attempts to quell ongoing unrest in the country, resulting in several reported fatalities.

The BBC reported that 66 civilians caught up in ongoing anti-government protests were believed to have been killed by security officials on Saturday (April 30) as soldiers allegedly established a presence on the roof of Deraa’s Omari mosque after storming the building.

State officials have said that official fatality figures were a lot lower than those reported in international media and included the death of four soldiers. Local television also reported that “armed terrorists” had attacked security forces in the cities of Deraa and Homs.

Foreign journalists are reportedly banned from entering the country, making official clarification of events in the country difficult.

According to the Al Jazeera news agency, the son of an imam at the Omari mosque was amongst the dead after allegedly being shot by security forces as Deraa reportedly came under “heavy shelling and gunfire”. The alleged attacks were reported to have taken place while civilians tried to bury bodies left over from protests taking place on Friday.

Al Jazeera journalist Rula Amin, based in the national capital of Damascus, stated that Deraa was thought to have witnessed some of the most severe clashes between security forces and anti-government protesters.

Amin added that within this backdrop, state television broadcasts featured people “confessing” to being members of terrorist groups that are sponsored by individuals based in Deraa, including the imam of the Omari mosque.

“We are told by residents that the imam was always asking for calm, for dialogue, and when I went to Deraa and I met him myself he did not say that people should carry guns or should fire at security forces,” she wrote. “He was adamant that people have the right to protest, that things need to change in Syria.”

International news organisation Reuters said that security forces had yesterday also arrested two “veteran” opposition figures and 11 female protesters taking part in a silent march around Damascus as part of their crack downs on anti-government sentiment in the country.

Reuters added that local human rights group Sawasiah currently estimates that 560 civilians had been killed by security forces since protests kicked off about six weeks ago.


Opposition PA leader under military protection “against his will”

People’s Alliance (PA) leader Abdulla Yameen has told local media outlets that he is being held against his will by the Maldives National Defence Force.

The MNDF has claimed Yameen sought their protection after violent clashes between MDP supporters, police and another group outside his house on the evening of July 14.

The leader of the minor opposition party, who was last week released from house arrest by the Supreme Court, had been accused by the government of corruption, bribery and treason. The MNDF have refused to present Yameen in court, despite an order from the Criminal Court on July 15.

The government has meanwhile said it intends to monitor the judiciary to ensure corruption does not obstruct the judicial process.

Speaking to private broadcaster DhiTV from the Presidential Retreat ‘Aarah’ last night, Yameen said he was contacted repeatedly by Chief of Defence Force Moosa Ali Jaleel and told that the army had orders to take him under protection by force if necessary.

Providing his account of the incident, Yameen stressed that he refused the offer of protection and requested that security forces control the crowd outside his residence.

He added that Moosa Jaleel informed him between 12:00am and 1:00am on Wednesday night that MNDF had “no choice” but to take him under military guard.

Yameen said he was at PA MP Ahmed Nazim’s house at the time when crowds began gathering outside his residence.

“MNDF suddenly somehow knew that I was at Nazim’s house and MNDF soldiers came and took over the whole area,” he said. “They started banging on the door and threatened to come in. Finally, my lawyer Abbas Shareef who was outside called me and said they have warned that they will break down the door and charge in if I did not come out.”

As he was a guest at Nazim’s house and did not wish to “dragged away so inhumanely”, Yameen continued, he left with the officers because “I was forced to and did not have any choice.”

Yameen, former Trade Minister and younger brother of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, strongly criticised the government’s handling of the political unrest in the capital.

“Imagine, every night they come out and smash and destroy so many places,” he said. “What about the rights of my neighbours? It wasn’t just my house that was damaged. What about the children that are traumatised?”

Yameen called on the security forces not to be “too concerned with one individual” and ensure the safety of the public.

“They know who it is that come out like this every time and holler,” he said. “They will do well to take legal action against those people. In no event should they have to neglect maintaining peace and all the soldiers come and protect me.”

Yameen and Nazim along with MP Gasim Ibrahim is currently under investigation for alleged corruption involving “cash for votes” in parliament.

A press release issued by the President’s Office on Thursday states that the unrest was precipitated by an attack on the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) rally on Wednesday night.

It adds that a group of people tried to incite violence and attacked participants at the rally.

In his weekly radio address on Friday, President Mohamed Nasheed said the government was “forced” to isolate political leaders after considering the consequences of inaction.

“Therefore, the isolated individuals will remain so for now,” he said. “The government has now decided to carry on with this.”

The Maldives was experiencing “teething pains” with the present political crisis, Nasheed continued, as multi-party democracy was in still in its infancy.

“When we mature for such a system, we have to always accept that we have to face a number of things that are inevitable and unanticipated,” he said. “I want to assure citizens, we have complete confidence that we can face this. We see the bigger picture. We know the difficulty we are facing today. God willing, we will emerge from it, and no matter how hard the road we have to walk, I have complete confidence that we can walk down it.”

Despite Nasheed’s apparent confidence in resolving the country’s political deadlocks lawfully and peacefully, the outbreak of violence has drawn the attention of international bodies such as the UN.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement “urging all political parties to restrain those who promote violence and confrontation, and to resolve their differences through dialogue.”

“Political rivalries should not be allowed to jeapardise the significat gains the country has registered in democratic reform,” Ki-moon said, pledging the assistance of the UN in resolving the situation.

The UN “recogises the positive steps taken by the Maldives to advance democracy in recent years, and underlines the importance of cooperation and accomodation among the various political actors as an essential ingredient of building democracy,” the statement read.

The United States has meanwhile urged the Maldives to accept offers of mediation from the international community to resolve the political crisis.

“We call on all sides to refrain from violence and to come together to resolve disagreements through dialogue,” the US Embassy in Colombo said.

US Ambassador Patricia Butenis and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse have already held mediation sessions in the country to resolve a deadlock between the executive and what President Nasheed has described as “elements within parliament.”


Police-MNDF special operation underway in Male’

Five people have been taken into custody by the Maldives Police Service and Maldives National Defence Forces (MNDF) under a joint special operation launched last night to quell violence and unrest in the capital.

A police media official confirmed that five people were arrested in separate incidents in Male’.

Shortly before midnight, police dispersed a crowd of ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters demanding the arrest of Deputy Speaker of Parliament Ahmed Nazim outside his residence, Galolhu Aabin.

Balcony windows of the People’s Alliance MP’s first floor apartment were smashed before riot police moved in.

The MP for Dhiggaru is currently under house arrest accused of bribery and attempting to influence independent institutions as well as cause physical harm to political opponents.

Announcing the joint special operation at a press conference last night, Major Abdul Raheem said MNDF assistance was requested by the Home Minister and appealed for cooperation from the public.

Denying any connection to the ongoing corruption investigation involving opposition MPs, Chief Inspector Hamdhoon Rasheed stressed that the measures were in response to growing public disorder triggered by political unrest and a resurgence of gang violence after the end of the World Cup.

“[…] We began [the operation] because some political parties are trying to create further chaos in the island using these roving gangs,” he said. “What we want is to ensure that this is a safe environment for those who don’t want any involvement in this or just wants to live peacefully.”

He added that gang attacks on rival camps set up to screen World Cup matches had taken place sporadically and was currently on the rise.

Opposition parties have blamed the unrest on angry mobs of MDP supporters gathering outside opposition MPs’ and judges’ residences.

While 18 people were taken into custody on Wednesday night following the disturbance at the MDP rally, Hamdhoon said all have since been released.

Asked whether police had arrested masked assailants that allegedly tried to attack President Mohamed Nasheed, the Chief Inspector answered no.

Hamdhoon further defended police handling of violent clashes outside opposition MP Abdulla Yameen’s residence after police reportedly took 40 minutes to intervene with tear gas.


HRCM condemns political unrest

The Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) expressed concern with the recent political unrest and turmoil in the capital, condemning the damage to private property and physical harm caused to police officers and civilians during clashes that took place on the night of July 14.

A press statement issued by the commission yesterday notes “regrettably” that irresponsible rhetoric that creates hostility and strife among the public was undermining the rights and freedoms enshrined in the constitution as well as threatening social stability and public safety.

“And since such actions on the part of either political parties or responsible persons that encourage unrest and inhumane acts hamper the rights of citizens under a democratic system of governance, the commission calls on all parties to restrain from such acts and conduct political activities responsibly,” it reads.

The HRCM further calls upon the government to strengthen its efforts to protect an individual’s right to life, liberty and security of person as well as the right to privacy and the right to protect one’s reputation and good name.

The commission urged the government not to make arrests outside the bounds of the law.


Bangkok riots delay imports, but “no major disruptions” says STO

Products imported to Maldives from Thailand were delayed due to political unrest in Bangkok last week, but Chairman of the State Trading Organisation (STO), Faruq Umar, said there “was a short delay, but no major disruptions” in imports.

He said the Maldives depends mostly on Thailand for foodstuffs, construction materials such as PVC pipes, and other hardware materials.

“It has been solved and will resume soon,” Faruq said, adding “there has been no shortage as such” of any indispensable goods.

He added Maldives is also importing many products from China, India and Brazil.

Minister for Economic Development, Mahmud Razee, said “at this moment, [a delay] hasn’t kicked in yet.”

He said there could be a possible delay soon, but “now the issue has been resolved,” and he does not expect the delay to be major.

“We rely on Thailand primarily for garments,” he said, adding that many people “go there, buy them and air-freight them back. It’s only in the last couple of weeks they have not been able to do that.”

He said despite the political unrest in Thailand, “impact has not been that significant” in the Maldives.

Press Secretary for the President’s Office, Mohamed Zuhair, said most “textiles, clothes, ladies’ fashion and children’s toys” in the Maldives come from Thailand, and many shipments have been delayed due to the political unrest in the country.

He added there has been an “unforeseen decline” for import businesses in Maldives that depend on Thai products.

According to the World Bank, Thailand is one of the top-five import (and export) partners of Maldives. According to Maldives Customs, imports from Thailand in 2008 amounted to 4.3 percent of all imports to the country.


After the 2006 military coup to oust then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, a group known as the ‘Red Shirts’ has called on new PM, Abhisit Vejjajiva, to dissolve parliament and hold new elections.

The Red Shirts had been protesting for weeks, and massive protest was organised in Lumpini Park last Wednesday. Military forces entered the park and dispersed protesters, but several smaller riots broke out across the city throughout the day.

A bank, police station, local TV station and the country’s biggest mall were all set on fire, leading to a curfew that was meant to last until today. Prime Minister Vejjajiva has now extended the curfew, but said government agencies and schools will reopen on Monday.

The curfew has been extended until 24 May, and forbids people to leave their homes between 11 pm and 4 am. The curfew has meant many businesses, and even airlines, have been operating only a few hours a day.

Prime Minister Vejjajiva said on Saturday: “We have restored order in the capital of Bangkok and the provinces of Thailand. We will continue to move swiftly to restore normalcy and we recognise that as we move ahead, there are huge challenges ahead of us, particularly the challenge of overcoming the divisions that have occurred in this country.”

According to Thai government reports, there have been at least 50 deaths and over 400 people injured in the last few weeks due to violent clashes.