President urges soldiers to stay clear of politics

Politics should not enter the minds of soldiers, who have a sworn duty to defend the lawful government, the constitution, and Islam, President Abdulla Yameen has said.

“The Maldivian state today needs to be defended not only against foreign enemies or adversaries, and not only from military [threats],” Yameen said at an oath-taking ceremony for new graduates of the defence institute for training and education this morning.

“The Maldivian state has to be defended against the political turmoil among ourselves.”

The president advised the new recruits not to question orders from commanders and to guard against external influences that could disrupt the unity of the army.

In his speech at 123rd anniversary of the military in April, Yameen had called on the armed forces to defend the government, claiming international pressure was undermining the Maldives’ sovereignty and weakening the rule of law.


Prosecutor general criticises law enforcement amid spike in violence

Gangsters and murderers remain on the loose because laws are not being implemented, not because the laws themselves are inadequate, the prosecutor general has said.

“Our institutions have problems. If we solve those problems and co-operate with each other to combat those problems, we will see results,” said Prosecutor General Muhthaz Muhusin, according to CNM.

Muhuthaz said that the country will only be able to take strong action against gangs and their financiers when existing laws are implemented. After that, he said, “we can talk about creating new laws”.

His comments follow Home Minister Umar Naseer’s announcement that the government is preparing changes to several laws to increase police powers and remove “loopholes”.

At a ceremony to mark the 82nd anniversary of the Maldives Police Service this week, Naseer said existing laws were unsuited to the Maldives, making it harder to maintain public order, and needed to be revised to reflect the country’s “unique circumstances”.

A series of attacks has included the killing of a 29-year-old on Saturday night, the murders of two expatriate workers and the abduction of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan late last year. He has still not been found.


MDP condemns death threats received by Majlis members

The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) have condemned death threats received by six MDP MPs last night (August 2), and called on  the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) to desist in sheltering radical suspects.

“[T]he PPM government continues to shelter radical suspects and is yet to name or arrest a single suspect accused of having issued such threats in previous cases lodged by the MDP,” read an MDP statement.

The MDP confirmed that MPs Mariya Didi, Rozaina Adam, Eva Abdulla, Ali Azim, Parliamentary Group Leader Ibrahim Mohamed Solih and former Speaker Abdulla Shahid all received death threats.

Two threats were sent to each MP via text message. The first message read, “[We] will kill you if you behave inappropriately.” The party suggested that the police had the technical capability to identify unlisted numbers.

The second read, “It is not a sin to kill those who challenge Allah’s words and call for freedom of religion. Afrasheem Ali was an example.”

In June the party requested that police investigate a series of threats made via Twitter against its members, including former President Mohamed Nasheed.

The MDP statement went on to note the recent spate of murders taking place around the capital, as the number of violent attacks reported rises to nine.

“The Maldivian Democratic Party notes with concern that the present climate of fear in Male’ and several islands began to escalate following Home Minister Umar Naseer’s constitutional powers as the Minister in charge of Police being reduced on 24 July 2014 by his former political rival President Yaameen Abdul Gayoom.”

Writing on her Twitter account, Eva Abdulla challenged the Maldives Police Service to investigate the matter. “You have the means to investigate, if you have the will,” Eva stated.

“[The] police have the means to look this up, if they have the will to do so. If they do not (as they did not with any of the complaints I lodged past two years) well at least I will know this is govt-approved. [sic]” Eva added on social media.

Police have confirmed with Minivan News that they are investigating the matter, but declined to give any more information on the details of the case.

Dr Afrasheem Ali’s murder in October 2012 was the most high profile attack on a member of parliament in the country’s history.

In the second death threat sent to MPs yesterday, the perpetrators referred to the attack on the former Ungoofaaru constituency MP and Islamic scholar.

The ensuing investigation found the crime to have been premeditated and politically motivated. On January 16 2014, the Criminal Court sentenced the prime suspect in the murder, Hussain Humam, to death.

Meanwhile, former MDP MP Alhan Fahmy was unable to walk for months after he was stabbed in the back in February.

The safety and rights of MPs have previously been a concern of organisations such as the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), who in November 2013 called for an emergency visit to the Maldives.

The organisation’s request for an urgent visit was prompted by the growing list of cases – 24 in total – involving Maldivian MPs filed with the IPU’s Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians.


Maldives must empower Anti-Corruption Commission, says Transparency International

The Maldives must empower anti-corruption agencies to investigate and prosecute cases in order to fight corruption, says Transparency International.

“Maldives and Sri Lanka must ensure that their anti-corruption agencies are granted ‘suo motto’ powers to instigate both corruption investigations and prosecutions on their own initiative without prior government approval,” suggested the Fighting Corruption in South Asia (FCSA) report released today.

At present, the Maldives Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) can only initiate investigations, but not prosecutions. Instead, it has to forward cases to the Prosecutor General for any further action to be taken.

Analysing 70 institutions across 6 countries, the anti-corruption NGO concluded that a “serious lack of political will on the part of governments to make laws work” was hampering the regional fight against corruption.

The report also called on the government to enforce the Right to Information Law and ensure protection of whistleblowers.

Independence and Accountability

Although the report advocated greater independence for oversight bodies, it highlighted the need to balance independence with accountability.

Too much of either can lead to abuse of power, the report noted, arguing limited judicial accountability has resulted in the Maldives Supreme Court exerting excessive use of power over other branches of government.

One example that the FCSA uses to demonstrate their findings is the Maldives Supreme Court’s much-criticised decision to convict the president of the Elections Commission Fuwad Thowfeek for contempt of court earlier this year. The apex court acted as prosecutor, judge and jury during the trial.

The Maldivian Anti Corruption Commission itself has raised concerns over a Supreme Court rulings, in which the apex court ruled the body does not have the authority to prevent the state from entering into questionable contracts.

ACC President Hassan Luthfee has said a ruling on a legal battle involving Department of Immigration, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), and Malaysian IT firm Nexbis in 2012 had rendered the organisation powerless.

“If this institution is simply an investigative body, then there is no purpose for our presence,” he said.

“Even the police investigate cases, don’t they? So it is more cost effective for this state to have only the police to investigate cases instead of the ACC,” Luthfee said.

Referring the court’s, Luthfee said the ACC had no power to prevent corruption, arguing that anti-corruption bodies in other countries had powers of investigation, prevention, and awareness raising.

“If an institution responsible for fighting corruption does not have these powers then it is useless,” he said.

Right to Information

Another key finding highlighted in the FCSA report was what it regarded as the weak implementation of the Freedom of Information act, ratified earlier this year.

“In Maldives, although the new law has only just been passed, there are concerns about the level of citizens’ awareness of their rights, an issue which will need to be addressed as a matter of urgency,” the report states.

Under the act, an appointed commissioner has the power enforce a fine on information officers who deliberately refuse access to information. The President’s Office has today called for applications for the post which must be filled by mid July according to the new law.

The FCSA report categorises both the Maldives’ capacity to implement the law, and citizens’ awareness of the law as “weak”.

Additionally, the report highlighted the safety and protection of whistleblowers as a being major barrier to anti-corruption activities in the Maldives.

Noting the Right to Information Act provides protection to whistleblowers, the FCSA report called for more comprehensive whistleblower legislation with a broader scope covering both the public and private sectors.

Aiman Rasheed, Advocacy and Communications Manager at local Transparency branch Transparency Maldives said one the key findings of the report was the reversal of judicial reform after the February 2012 transfer of power.

“We had a new government set up. It was a positive environment. That has been reversed,” Aiman said.

He noted a “huge gap” between current systems and practices as politicians enjoyed an atmosphere of impunity following the controversial removal of President Mohamed Nasheed.

He went on to note that public engagement in holding officials accountable have been hindered by the lack of public debate in the local media.

“We have published a lot of reports on the public opinions of corruption, but we don’t see these being discussed in the media,” Aiman said.


Home Minister Umar Naseer to run for presidency in 2023

Minister of Home Affairs Umar Naseer has announced he will run for the presidency in 2023 and has pledged to back President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom for re-election in 2018.

“I am not a political threat to President Yameen. I am ready to work to help President Yameen get re-elected to presidency in 2018. What I may have said before, and the competition that existed between us before is a completely different matter. That has come to an end,” he said in an interview on state broadcaster Television Maldives’ Friday variety show ‘Heyyambo.’

Naseer lost to Yameen in the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) presidential primaries in 2013 and alleged the primaries were rigged. He accused Yameen of illicit connections with gangs and the illegal drug trade and vowed to bring a “white revolution” within the party.

The PPM expelled Naseer from the party and he backed Jumhooree Party (JP) Leader Gasim Ibrahim in the 2013 presidential elections. Naseer was appointed to the cabinet when Gasim’s backing proved crucial in PPM’s second round win.

Speaking on Heyyambo, Naseer said Yameen will “have no reason to contest again” by 2023 and said he himself will run for the presidency then. The Maldives constitution limits presidential terms to two five year terms.

Naseer ran for the presidency in 2008 and won 2,472 votes.

Coalition friction

Naseer expressed confidence that he will be able to sort out any differences within the government coalition, pointing to his prior experience working with Yameen and Gasim.

Friction within the coalition became apparent with Gasim warning the PPM against betrayal in a rally on April 13.

But Naseer asserted that Yameen and Gasim are working together in the national interest.

He also dismissed competitive words exchanged between the two coalition partners in the lead up to the 2013 presidential elections as “an attempt to choose the best leader from among those sharing the same ideology”, and said personal ambition has now “taken a backseat and national interest is what drives [us] today”.

“Although we walked over each other in the race to select a leader amongst those of us who holds the same ideology, once we have come out to the actual national race we have removed our personal jerseys and donned the national jersey. Today we are playing in the national uniform,” he said.

Extradite offenders

Naseer said he will amend laws which require police to present detainees to the Criminal Court with 24 hours of arrest and spoke of plans to extradite Maldivian offenders.

Maldivian offenders will not be able “to hide in any corner of the world,” Naseer said.

“No offender should delude themselves into thinking that they can flee from the Maldives and peacefully live elsewhere. That cannot be done. The first topic of discussion that I take up with leaders, Home Ministers and police leaders of every country I travel to is that in the instance there is a runaway Maldivian offender in the country, they should arrest them immediately and turn them over to the Maldivian authorities.”

He also spoke about a recent police raid where 79 youth were arrested from the island of Anbaraa during a musical festival, where all detained were reported to have tested positive for illicit drugs.

It is permissible for Maldivians to go on picnics, play loud music and have fun, Naseer said.

“But, there cannot be the abuse of drugs or consumption of alcohol. There cannot be DJs. If these kinds of things are being done, the police will go in and stop the activities. What I am saying is, you can party, but you cannot ‘Ambaraa'”.

Referring to the controversial order he had made unto the Maldives Correctional Services to implement death penalty, Naseer asserted that he had done so only on prior discussions with the President.

The Attorney General is currently drafting regulations for implementation of the death penalty on the cabinet’s request, he said. The government would only implement the death penalty if the Supreme Court upholds the sentence, he reiterated.

Speaking on the illegal drug trade, Naseer alleged that “powerful gangs from neighbouring countries” are involved in smuggling drugs into the Maldives.

Naseer identified population dispersion as the biggest obstacle for development and called for population consolidation.

“If the desired development is to be brought about, the approximately 400,000 inhabitants of this country will have to start living on three or five islands. We cannot bring the development otherwise,” he said.


High Court rules Jabir cannot be released

The High Court has decided that the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) member Abdulla Jabir cannot be released from jail as his legal team had requested.

Jabir’s legal representatives submitted their appeal earlier this month on March 3. At the hearing yesterday (March 10) Jabir’s lawyers asked the court to release the MP until it had reached a conclusion on whether or not to uphold the Criminal Court’s decision to imprison him for 12 months.

On February 20 Jabir was sentenced to 12 months in prison after being found guilty of failing to provide a urine sample to the police to run a drug test.

The Kaashidhoo MP’s representatives have argued that his trial and sentencing “was in violation of several procedural and factual formalities accorded in the Constitution and statutes of the Maldives.”

Local media reported that the High Court informed Jabir’s legal team that their request could not be granted later on the same day.

The incident leading to Jabir’s imprisonment happened on November 16, 2012, when a total of 10 people were taken into police custody after police raided and searched the island Hondaidhoo. Officers alleged they found large amounts of “suspected” drugs and alcohol upon searching the island.

Police Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef said at the time of the arrests that officers requested all suspects taken into custody on Hondaidhoo to provide urine samples for a routine examination. Seven individuals including other senior MPs refused to give a urine sample, leading to prosecution.

Police issued an order for Special Envoy Ibrahim Hussain Zaki – one of those facing charges related to the incident – to be taken into custody presented in court after officials were unable to present him with a summons.

After his conviction, Jabir’s legal team submitted a plea to the High Court arguing that he had the right to campaign for the Majlis elections. Jabir was set to re-contest his Kaashidhoo seat after an internal MDP decision to discipline the MP for repeatedly breaking three-line whips was overturned on appeal.

The constitution stipulates that a anyone sentenced to longer than 12 months in prison will be ineligible for election to the People’s Majlis.

While the MP was recently found not to have been guilty of possessing cannabis during the incident, his trial for alcohol possession is ongoing.

Speaking prior to this announcement by the High Court, Jabir’s wife Dhiyana Saeed stated the legal team would file a case with the Civil Court if the High Court did not accept.

Dhiyana was not responding to calls at the time of press.


Government commence student health screening

The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) has commenced their student health screening project as part of the governments pledges. Local media reported that the MNDF have so far screened up to 600 students.

This initiative is being carried out as part of a joint agreement between Education Ministry, Health Ministry and the MNDF.

Education Minister Dr Aishath Shiyam said that neglect of small health issues in children has led to obstructions in their studies and development, an issue that the government is trying to overcome.

“With the combined work of the health ministry and the education ministry, health screening shall be administered to all the first grade students in all the schools of Maldives. The health screening we have done so far proves how important a service this is for school students,” she said.


Human Rights Commission receives Juvenile Court summons

The Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) has been summoned to the Juvenile Court for a report that gave a “negative impression” of the court’s conduct during the sentencing of a 15 year old rape-victim to flogging and house arrest.

Following the release of the confidential report, the Juvenile Court has sent an order to every individual involved from the HRCM, summoning them to a court hearing this Wednesday (March 12) at 1:30pm.

The HRCM stated that they will release an official press statement after the court summons this Wednesday.

On February 26 2013 the Juvenile Court convicted the 15 year old girl on the grounds of fornication and sentenced her to 100 lashes and 8 months house arrest. The case attracted global concern from both local and international organisations, and the charges were later annulled in August of the same year.

Although the sentence was eventually annulled, the case attracted international attention to the Maldives’ juvenile court system and their policies in dealing with victims of sexual abuse.

Speaking with Minivan last year, HRCM member Jeehan Mahmoud said that the sentence represented a “continuous failure” on behalf of the whole state to protect children and other victims of sexual abuse.

The HRCM submitted an investigative report on how the court handled the case, taking into account safeguards, rights, and protections afforded to a victim of child abuse under the Maldivian constitution, Islamic Shariah, and international human rights standards.

Spokesperson for the Juvenile Court Zaima Nasheed explained that some points outlined in the HRCM report were not reflective of how the court conducted its work. She noted that it portrayed a negative impression of the court and tried to exert undue influence on its work.

Zaima added that the HRCM did not hold any discussions or ask for any questions from the Juvenile Court while they were compiling their review.

The Juvenile Court wished to clarify that they sent a letter to the HRCM last month to arrange a meeting, though the commission said that it would not be able to attend.

Following this, the court compiled a written document with all of its concerns and shared this with the HRCM. In addition to this, the court asked to meet again with the HRCM yesterday (March 9) at 10am. The HRCM did not respond to the letter and failed to attend the meeting, said Zaima.

In light of this, the HRCM was in breach of the constitution’s Articles 141, said Zaima. These state that no officials performing public functions can “interfere with and influence the functions of the courts”, instead they must “assist and protect the courts to ensure the independence, eminence, dignity, impartiality, accessibility and effectiveness of the courts.”

Following the 15 year-old’s conviction, local NGO Advocating the Rights of Children (ARC) called on the Maldivian government to pass legislation concerning the treatment of sexual abuse victims.

ARC also previously called for reforms of the juvenile justice system and reform of the current protection mechanisms provided to minors who are kept in state run institutions, such as homes and foster programs.


Majlis committee to summon police for clarification on Alhan stabbing case

Parliament’s privileges committee has decided to summon police officers next Sunday to clarify details of how the investigation into the attack on Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Alhan Fahmy is proceeding.

Speaking to Minivan News, MDP MP Imthiyaz ‘Inthi’ Fahmy, who submitted the case to the committee, described the incident as a murder attempt.

Alhan was stabbed in Malé on February 1 while at the Breakwater cafe in the artificial beach area.

“It is a concern to the whole parliament,’’ Inthi said. “It undermined the privilege of all the MPs, that’s why I sent a letter to the committee.’’

He said that a meeting was held regarding the case, and the committee had decided to ask police to send officers who could provide details of the investigation.

Inthi noted that the police were not sharing information with the public as they did during the investigation into the October 2012 murder of Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Dr Afrasheem Ali.

“So under the right to information we need to clarify this information,’’ he said, adding that the meeting with the police had been scheduled for 1:30pm on Sunday February 16.

Similarly, a source within Alhan’s family – speaking to Minivan News on condition of anonymity – said that police had not been cooperative thus far.

“Twelve days have passed now and we have tried many different ways to get information on the investigation,’’ he said, adding that he was sure the arrested persons were the assailants.

The Criminal Court yesterday extended the detention period to fifteen days for the two suspects arrested in the case. A third suspect was arrested, but was released soon after.

The family member said today that there was now a small movement in his leg, though doctors were unsure how long it will for him to fully recover.

During the attack, Alhan received stab wounds to the back and was quickly flown to Sri Lanka for spinal surgery.

“He still cannot sit, stand or walk and can’t talk a lot because he does not have energy,’’ said the family member. “We are still discussing sending him to Singapore and we also sent the surgery report to the doctors in Singapore where they have said it was done well and there were no issues.’’

The attack was politically motivated and well organised, stated the source, who noted that Alhan’s car had been followed three days prior to the incident.

MPs condemning the attack earlier this month suggested it may have been carried out by powerful local gangs working on the orders of political paymasters.

The source said that Alhan might not be able to be actively involved in his campaign for re-election in the Feydhoo constituency, where he intends to run as an independent after losing what he claims was an unfair party primary.

Though the MP’s family were critical of the MDP’s decision not to repeat the primary vote, local media were told this week that Alhan would continue to promote the MDP’s policy and ideology if re-elected.