Opposition leaders welcome president’s call for talks

The three opposition parties have welcomed President Abdulla Yameen’s call for talks, but some have called for the release of imprisoned leaders ahead of negotiations.

Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim in a tweet said his party is ready to commence talks with the government, while Adhaalath Party spokesperson Ali Zahir said the religious conservative party will always heed calls for negotiations called for in good faith.

Welcoming the president’s call, the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) vice president Mohamed Shifaz insisted the party’s imprisoned leadership – ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and party chairperson Ali Waheed – must be able to sit at the table.

“We are ready to talk with President Yameen. These are discussions with President Yameen. Our leadership will participate on our behalf,” he said.

The Adhaalath Party has also said its detained leader, Sheikh Imran Abdulla, will represent the party in any official talks.

The religious conservative party called on the government to “create an atmosphere conducive to dialogue” by releasing Imran and other protesters arrested from the May Day anti-government demonstration.

President Yameen’s appeal comes amidst growing international pressure to release ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence Minister Mohamed Nazim.

The JP, the Adhaalath Party and the MDP formed a coalition in March and continued daily protests over what they called the government’s attempt to silence the opposition.

The Maldivians against tyranny coalition have previously called for negotiations and demanded the government release Nasheed and Nazim. However, president Yameen maintains the pair were tried through independent courts, and says he cannot meet the opposition’s demands.

The president’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali told Minivan News that the government’s stance has not changed, and the president can only negotiate over lawful demands.

Nasheed and Nazim must appeal their respective convictions on terrorism and weapons smuggling, he said.

Meanwhile, MDP parliamentary group leader Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Mohamed Solih told local newspaper Avas that the opposition coalition’s steering committee will discuss the president’s offer before making a comment.

The opposition held a 20,000-strong march in Malé on May Day after labelling President Yameen’s overtures at talks “insincere.” The president had appointed tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb as his representative for talks, but the opposition says they will only sit with the president himself.

They’ve also accused Adeeb of corruption and illicit connections with gangs, a claim the tourism minister has denied.

Nearly 200 people were arrested at the May Day protest and hundreds were injured in a police crackdown. Police used tear gas, stun grenades, pepper spray and baton charges to disperse protesters when they attempted to enter Malé’s restricted Republic Square.

MDP’s chairperson Ali Waheed, Sheikh Imran and JP deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim were arrested and remanded for 15 days.

The high court released Ameen today, but upheld the remand detention of Waheed and Imran.

Meanwhile, the criminal court has reportedly issued an arrest warrant for Gasim over the police’s claim he had funded the May Day protests. The JP leader is in Thailand at present.


President appeals for talks, no apparent change in terms

President Abdulla Yameen has called on the opposition to begin talks for the “stability and the benefit of Maldivian citizens,” but the president’s office says discussions can only be held on “lawful demands.”

The Maldives has been gripped by political turmoil over the imprisonment of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and former defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

The president has previously described the allied opposition parties’ demands for the pair’s release as unlawful, saying they must appeal their sentences at the high court.

President Yameen stresses he has no role in Nasheed and Nazim’s incarceration, insisting charges were raised by the independent prosecutor general’s office and tried in independent courts.

Speaking to Minivan News today, the president’s office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali said the government’s stance “has not changed,” stating: “There are boundaries and limits to everything, and in this case it is the law.”

President Yameen’s earlier refusal to substantially engage with the opposition had resulted in a 20,000-strong march in Malé on May 1. Nearly 200 people were arrested and hundreds were injured in clashes.

The leaders of the Maldivian Democratic Party, the Adhaalath Party and the Jumhooree Party were arrested shortly afterwards, and remanded for 15 days.

When asked if the president’s office was ruling out negotiations on Nasheed and Nazim’s release, Muaz said the government has not set an agenda or a representative for negotiations, but reiterated that talks can only proceed on “demands the president can meet.”

He once again said the pair must appeal their sentences, and said the president was merely repeating an earlier appeal for talks.

The opposition has previously accused the government of insincerity in overtures for talks, especially after President Yameen appointed tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb as his representative. The opposition had accused Adeeb of corruption and illicit connections with gangs and had insisted President Yameen himself must sit down with them.

Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in jail on terrorism and Nazim was sentenced to 11 years on weapons smuggling charges. The trials have been condemned by foreign governments and international bodies including the UN for apparent lack of due process.

Nazim has filed an appeal, but Nasheed was unable to as the criminal court failed to provide required documents within the ten day appeal period, shortened by the Supreme Court a month before his arrest.

The government, however, maintains Nasheed can still appeal, but his lawyers say the Supreme Court’s new regulations are silent on late appeals.

The apex court had struck down an earlier provision giving judges the discretion to accept late appeals in the same ruling that shortened the 90-day appeal period to ten days.

Nasheed’s family has now asked the UN working group on arbitrary detention to rule his imprisonment as illegal and arbitrary.

The allied opposition parties are also calling on the government “to stop targeting” Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim’s businesses. The tourism ministry in February slapped a US$90.4 million fine on Gasim’s Villa group, which the company insists is unlawful.

The central bank yesterday froze the bank accounts of several of Villa group’s subsidiary companies.


Four bilateral agreements signed with Pakistan

The Maldives has signed four Memorandums of Understanding with Pakistan today during president Abdulla Yameen’s ongoing two-day state visit.

The MoUs were for mutual cooperation in healthcare, education, sports, and combating drug abuse.

President Yameen was accompanied by first lady Fathmath Ibrahim, speaker of parliament Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed, and cabinet ministers. The delegation is due to return tonight.

President Mamnoon Hussain hosted a banquet in honour of president Yameen last night. The pair held talks on strengthening bilateral ties earlier in the day.

“President Yameen thanked his Pakistani counterpart for the excellent hospitality extended to himself and his delegation,” said the president’s office.

“President Yameen also extended an invitation to President Mamnoon Hussain to visit the Maldives at his earliest convenience. At the meeting, both the leaders deliberated on enhancing trade and cultural exchanges, as well as expanding the scope of investment opportunities. Discussions were also held on supporting each other in the global arena.”

Yameen has also reportedly invited prime minister Mohamed Nawaz Shareef to attend an official function due to be held on July 26 to mark the golden jubilee of the Maldives’ independence.


New bill grants president authority to declare groups ‘terrorist organisations’

The Attorney General’s (AG) office has drafted a new anti-terrorism bill that would grant exclusive authority to the president to declare groups as terrorist organisations.

The 39-page draft defines terrorist organisations as a group of people acting as a whole, which carries out or has the purpose of destroying properties or carrying out acts of brutality.

The draft legislation proposes restricting constitutional rights upon arrest for terrorism suspects – including the right to remain silent and access to legal counsel – and criminalises flying overseas to fight in foreign wars.

Inciting violence at demonstrations and threatening the country’s independence and sovereignty will be considered acts of terrorism.

Other terrorism offences include kidnapping, abduction, hijacking, endangering public health or safety, and damaging important infrastructure. The bill specifies penalties of up to 25 years in jail.

Committing any of the offences for the purpose of creating terror among the public or promoting a political or religious ideology will also be a terrorist offence.

The bill also authorises the home ministry to carry out extensive surveillance of suspects.

Encouraging terrorism, an act which carries a 10 to 15 years jail sentence, is defined as “a speech or statement perceived by the public as encouragement of terrorism.”

Circulating messages or statements of a terrorist organisation is also a crime with a jail sentence of seven to 10 years.

A draft of the bill has been shared with the Maldives Police Service and the prosecutor general’s (PG) office.

Attorney general Mohamed Anil told CNM today that his office is seeking comments from stakeholders and that the bill will be submitted when parliament returns from recess next month.

The bill is likely to pass as the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives and coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance controls a simple majority of the 85-member house.

The PG office will have to file charges against a person suspected of terrorism within 15 days and the courts will have to reach a verdict within 30 days.

The home minister will meanwhile have powers to apply for a ‘monicon’ (monitoring and control) order to tag, intercept communications and conduct surveillance on terrorism suspects.

The minister can seek a monicon order if the suspect commits an act that endangers the community.

The minister does not have to inform the suspect and the court is not obliged to summon the suspect before issuing the order.

If a monicon order has been issued the police can order the person to live at a selected house if the suspect has multiple residences, restrict travelling and search the person, his home, suspected whereabouts on any time without an additional court order.

If the law is passed, the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1990 will be dissolved.

Former president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-minister Tholhath Ibrahim were charged under the terrorism law over the military’s detention of a judge in January 2012. The pair were found guilty and sentenced to 13 years and 10 years in prison, respectively, last month.


Government accuses opposition of plotting May Day coup

The ruling coalition has accused the opposition alliance of plotting a violent overthrow of the government at an anti-government rally tomorrow.

The ‘Maldivians against brutality’ coalition last night turned down last minute overtures for negotiations when President Abdulla Yameen appointed the tourism minister as his envoy for talks.

“We will only sit down to negotiate with the the president of this country,” the Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla told the press last night.

The opposition has held daily protests over the imprisonment of ex president Mohamed Nasheed and former defence minister Mohamed Nazim. The alliance has vowed to bring out 25,000 people on the streets of the capital Malé to “end the government’s tyranny.”

Imran said tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb had sent him a letter seeking a time and place for negotiations, but declared that Adeeb is “unfit” to negotiate with the opposition, calling him “corrupt”, “a venial sinner” and “a criminal”.

Adeeb has called Imran’s refusal to meet him “cowardly” and “effeminate” in a tweet this morning, dismissing the allegations of corruption and illicit connections with gangs as lies.

Government ministers and ruling party MPs held a joint press conference this afternoon, and claimed the May Day protest will not be peaceful.

The opposition is calling for an overthrow of an elected government and attempting to destabilise the country, Adeeb said today.

“Our security forces are ready,” he said.

He accused the Jumhooree Party (JP) leader Gasim Ibrahim of “funding” the May Day protest and hiring Imran under “a contract”.

Imran is “playing the religious card” and inciting the public to rise up against the government, Adeeb said.


President Yameen had maintained on Monday that he saw no reason to negotiate or resign in the face of the’May Day’ mass rally. However, at a government ceremony the following night, Yameen said he has appointed Adeeb as his representative.

As the opposition build up to the mass rally continued and supporters from the atolls converged on Male’, Yameen has made daily public appearances this week.

Speaking at a ceremony held yesterday to accept membership forms of opposition councillors from Shaviyani atoll, Yameen accused the opposition of sowing discord, destabilising the nation, and disrupting peace and security.

Unlike the opposition parties, Yameen said the PPM will not seek power at any cost and was “impatient” to develop the Maldives.

The PPM will not torch buildings, assault civilians, and “commit atrocities,” he said.

He reiterated the government’s stance of upholding the rule of law and enforcing court verdicts.

At a live programme on opposition-aligned Raajje TV and Villa TV last night, opposition alliance leaders warned that the government will abolish political parties and establish a full-fledged “dictatorship” if tomorrow’s attempts to force president Yameen to come to the negotiating table fails.

The chairperson of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party Ali Waheed dismissed claims by police that the opposition is planning a violent confrontation with police.

The Maldivian people will be on the street “as one congregation” tomorrow.

“I want to tell the public, don’t be afraid, the whole world is watching,” he said.


President calls on army to defend government as international pressure increases

President Abdulla Yameen has urged the armed forces to defend his administration claiming international pressure is undermining the Maldives’ sovereignty and weakening the rule of law.

Speaking at a ceremony to mark the 123rd anniversary of the military on Monday, the president said: “I do not believe my government must seek permission from the international community in enforcing a court’s verdict. Maldivians will protect our interests. In protecting Maldivian citizens, remind yourselves of the the oath you’ve taken.”

President Yameen’s remarks come amidst a political crisis triggered by the arrest and the imprisonment of ex president Mohamed Nasheed and ex defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

The opposition has called for a 25,000 strong march in the capital Malé on Friday after the government shunned calls for negotiation.

President Yameen said the Maldives is facing foreign pressure, but said the military must not allow foreigners to collude with local parties to obstruct a lawfully elected government.

“As long as there is a lawful government, and as long as that government acts within the law and enforces the law, Maldivian soldiers must remain steadfast to their vows, to defend and maintain that lawful government. Otherwise, there is no dignity, honor or Allah’s blessings for Maldivian soldiers.”

The Maldives National Defence Forces (MNDF) must follow the military ideology of the US president Barack Obama, he continued, claiming Obama in a speech to the American armed forces had said he will respect the international community’s opinion, but will not seek it’s permission in saving American lives abroad.

The Maldives is a small state, but the international community must afford the Maldives the same rights as larger, more power countries, president Yameen said.

“If we are treated as second class, there is no use in us being part of international bodies. This is what my government believes.”

He said larger states did not allow foreign governments to meddle in domestic affairs. “No foreign country – as long as we do not breach international conventions – can come and tell us that kidnapping and holding hostage do not amount to terrorism in their view, and that this cannot be written in our laws.

“They cannot dictate this to our government. [They] cannot tell our government that since the Maldives is part of the international community, we must allow freedom of religion as allowed by foreign philosophies.”

Nasheed was convicted of terrorism over the military detention of a judge during his tenure. The rushed trial was criticized widely by foreign governments, international rights organizations and the UN for lack of due process.

President Yameen blamed Maldivian “enemies of the state” for foreign interference.

Powerful countries “will pressure us, and through various bodies, international organizations, they will attempt to obstruct us. On whose invitation does this happen? That of Maldivians like us, these acts are to heed their invitations,” he said.

Calls for foreign intervention are “dangerous” and encouraged disorder, but the military must stand ready to defend the state, he continued.

The international community cannot “come and see if the change of government was lawful here” or “if ballot boxes were counted right,” he added.

President Yameen described the Maldives’ sovereignty as scared, and claimed previous governments had allowed for foreign interference in domestic affairs. But the Maldives must now “unlearn” such acts, he said.

He pledged to uphold the “Maldivian laws, traditions, and enforce our court verdicts,” and said his government’s first priority is to maintain stability.

Defence Minister Moosa Ali Jaleel meanwhile said he will not “abandon” the president, while chief of defence forces Major General Ahmed Shiyam said there were attempts to “destroy” the army and said soldiers must be strong enough to counter such forces.


President dismisses calls for resignation

President Abdulla Yameen says he will not resign or negotiate with the opposition despite the threat of mass antigovernment protests on May Day.

The Maldivians against brutality coalition says it will bring out 25,000 people on to the streets of the capital on Friday, and has called on president Yameen to initiate talks immediately and free imprisoned former president Mohamed Nasheed and ex defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

But the president at a press conference today reiterated his belief that there was no room for negotiations in court verdicts and said ordinary Maldivians are not facing any difficulties in their day to day life.

“There is no reason for me to resign. The opposition shouting out what ever they like is no reason for a president to resign,” he said.

“As I govern, I am the first to take the initiative to resolve issues arising from my mistakes. They have not said anything substantial as of yet.”

The criminal court last month sentenced Nasheed to 13 years in jail on terrorism and Nazim to 11 years on weapons smuggling. Foreign governments and international rights groups have condemned the trials for lack of due process.

Tens of thousands have signed a petition urging president Yameen to free Nasheed. The opposition leader’s lawyers say the Clemency Act authorizes the president to shorten an inmate’s sentence to any period depending on the circumstances surrounding the prisoner’s conviction.

But Yameen today dismissed calls for Nasheed’s freedom, stating: “MDP says president Yameen can release president Nasheed even tomorrow. President Yameen will not release president Nasheed tomorrow. He is serving a sentence. The sentence can only be reduced according to due process.”

The coalition – made up of MDP, religious conservative Adhaalath Party, members of the Jumhooree Party and independent MPs – says it will end the government’s tyranny on May Day. Opposition politicians have been traveling across the country in recent weeks urging supporters to converge on the capital on May 1. Meanwhile, daily small scale protests are continuing.

But president Yameen says he faces no pressure stating: “I would like to say, May 1 will once again mark a day where the rule of law is upheld in the Maldives.”

“May 1 is coming. I will wait and watch. Those who violate the laws must know they will be punished. We have been advising [the opposition] through the relevant institutions. We will not allow [the opposition] to bring out young people and put them behind bars,” he said.

He accused the opposition of inciting violence and undermining the rule of law by using religion as a shield, and advised the opposition to cease its efforts immediately.

Last week, tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb challenged the opposition to a confrontation on May Day.

The government has said Nasheed and Nazim must appeal their sentences, but the opposition says it has no faith in the judiciary saying the president controls the judiciary.


Opposition invites civil society to join anti-government May Day rally

The opposition alliance has invited civil society groups and worker’s associations to join its anti-government May Day mass rally.

NGOs and civil society organisations have a responsibility to bring an end to the alleged injustices of the current administration, former deputy gender minister Sidhaatha Shareef told the press today.

“The civil society is the fourth power of the state. But today we see the government narrowing their rights to make them useless,” said Sidhatha, a senior member of the religious conservative Adhaalath Party.

The ‘Maldivians against brutality’ alliance, made up of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), the Adhaalath Party (AP) and leaders of business tycoon Gasim Ibrahim’s Jumhoory Party (JP) claims at least 25,000 people will take part in the May Day protest.

Leaders of the alliance have been traveling across the country to rally support ahead of the demonstration, issuing stern warnings to the government and urging opposition supporters to converge on the capital on May 1.

Political tensions have been running high since the sentencing of former president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence defence minister Mohamed Nazim to 13 years and 11 years in jail, respectively.

Earlier this week, tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb challenged the opposition to a confrontation on May 1, prompting fears of a stand-off and civil unrest.

Mauroof Zakir, secretary general of the Tourism Employment Association of Maldives (TEAM), told Minivan News that the group will consider accepting the invitation after internal discussions.

“TEAM will analyse what would be the benefits of us joining in the rally. We will look into what the employees of the tourism industry will get from joining them,” he said.

“It is possible TEAM will decide on participating after discussions.”

The influential NGO is currently preparing a petition – with more than 5,000 signatures to date – demanding implementation of the government’s pledges to distribute resort shares to employees and establish a US$600 minimum wage.

Teachers Association of Maldives (TAM) said it will not participate in the opposition rally, stating it would affect their credibility as an association free of political influence.

“TAM is currently working on solving problems through negotiations. We wouldn’t want to be seen as an association sided with a political party or influenced by politicians,” said Ali Nazim, the secretary general of TAM.

Meanwhile, Sobah Rasheed, a senior JP member, said at today’s press conference that the political parties and the civil society are working towards a common goal.

“Today, both the civil society and the political parties are working to protect our human rights, to secure our civil rights which are increasingly being diminished by this dictatorial regime,” he said.

“This does not make the NGOs political but rather they are playing a crucial role in saving the nation.”

The government has been “brutal” in consolidating powers, contended former MDP MP Ahmed Easa, a former president of TEAM.

“Everyone knows that the civil service commission is ruled inside the president’s office. That is also brutality. Someone has to stand up for the rights of the civil servants. Trade unions, local NGOs and the political parties have a responsibility to fight for their rights,” he said.


‘Super specialist’ doctors treat over 700 patients

More than 700 patients across the country have consulted visiting specialist doctors in four days under the government’s new ‘super specialist service.’

Arrangements have been made to send three out of the 762 patients overseas for further medical treatment, the national health insurance provider ‘Aasandha’ said today.

Under the programme, specialist doctors from neighbouring countries will come to the Maldives for one week every month and consult patients at hospitals in three different regions.

Every year, thousands of Maldivians fly to India, Sri Lanka and Thailand, seeking medical treatment unavailable in the country.

“Such a programme allows the government to provide health and social services at a lower cost, with better functioning systems in place,” said the Aasandha office in a press release.

The ‘super specialist service’ will employ neurologists, cardiologists, urologists, neurosurgeons, ENT doctors and paediatricians to provide consultations in different parts of the country.

Some 11 specialist doctors from India and Sri Lana are currently treating patients in Haa Dhaalu Kulhudhuhfushi, Laamu Gan, Gaafu Dhaalu Thinadhoo and Hulhumalé.

A haemoglobin specialist doctor meanwhile visited the Maldives Blood Services and consulted 21 thalassemia patients.

The Aasandha office said that the biggest problem faced by the travelling teams was lack of medicine from island pharmacies.

However, the National Social Protection Agency (NSPA) has assured that the medicines will be provided within five days.

NPSA CEO Mujthaba JaleelSpeaking at the inauguration ceremony of the super specialist programme last week, NSPA CEO Mujthabaa Jaleel said 22 hospitals from India and Sri Lanka will participate in providing doctors.

The visiting doctors will improve healthcare for people suffering from serious conditions, he said.

The super specialist programme is one of the key healthcare pledges in President Abdulla Yameen’s manifesto, Jaleel said.