Islanders protest as President arrives on Filladhoo

Islanders of Filladhoo in Haa Alifu Atoll gathered at the beach yesterday upon President Mohamed Nasheed’s arrival on the island to protest the current government’s religious policy.

President of Filladhoo Council Mohamed Vijaan told Minivan News that the protesters conducted the protest to express their opinion from the time President arrived until he left the island.

“I do not know which party they represented or the amount of protesters,’’ Vijaan said. ‘’They were protesting against placement of ‘idols’ in Addu and demanding to give the money that Filladhoo is waiting to receive from the money foreign countries gave in aid to the country following the 2004 December tsunami.’’

Vijaan said the money was granted to the Maldives during the time of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.

‘’Due to a court ruling the money was not given to Filladhoo, and this government said they would appeal the case at the High Court but after that there was no news of it,’’ Vijaan said, adding that 110 houses in Filladhoo were destroyed by the tsunami.

He said President Nasheed arrived to the island at 12:20pm and left at 3:30pm yesterday. The protesters protested until his departure.

Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair said that it was not a protest but a group of people expressing their opinion.

‘’There was no unrest,’’ Zuhair said. ‘’It was this government that introduced freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.’’

According to the President’s Office the President met with Island Councils of Filladhoo and exchanged views with the Council members on proposed development projects for the islands.

‘’He also called for the support of the Island Councils in executing government policies,’’ read a statement on the President’s Office website.


Release of inmates will be gradual and supervised, says Zuhair

The impending release of close to 400 convicts announced by President Mohamed Nasheed on Independence Day will be “a gradual and supervised process,” Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair has said.

Zuhair explained that a coordinated effort involving the Home Ministry, Health Ministry and the Department of Penitentiary and Rehabilitation Services (DPRS) was currently ongoing.

“[The process] will be divided into phases. All 400 convicts won’t be released at once,” he said.

Zuhair added that the release would be the culmination of months of “an integrated effort” by the concerned authorities to categorise and interview inmates.

“The government has not decided to do this all of a sudden,” he said. “The screening process has been going on for months.”

The interviewing and evaluation process was still ongoing, he continued, and inmates were being categorised to determine whether they needed to enter a rehabilitation programme or other training programmes.

Inmates are to be granted jobs in government companies with a minimum Rf2,000 salary (US$130).

In some cases, said Zuhair, there were “legal complications” caused by some convicts serving multiple sentences.

Zuhair stressed that the inmates would have their “sentences suspended” for a period of three years, during which they would immediately be returned to jail if they were found to have committed any kind of offence.

He added that the released convicts would be subject to “monitoring and constant supervision by the government.”

The authorities are currently engaged in securing job placements and finalising the rehabilitation programmes, he said.

On fears of the released convicts contributing to a rise in crime during Ramadan, Zuhair argued that the government had a “proven track record” with its previous programmes.

Out of 119 inmates released in the past, said Zuhair, only two were arrested and returned to jail.

The vast majority of inmates in Maafushi jail and Himmafushi low-security prison were incarcerated for drug-related offences.

Opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Deputy Leader and Spokesperson Ibrahim ‘Mavota’ Shareef meanwhile stressed that “a balance” should be struck between the security of society and the need to rehabilitate offenders.

“We accept that rehabilitating convicts should be the main priority, but it should be done within a strong rehabilitation programme,” he said. “Law and order and the peacefulness of society must be maintained. If not, the whole country could turn into a jail.”

Shareef also cast doubt on the figures provided by the press secretary: “We don’t believe such numbers given by this government as they always mislead and lie to the public. The public doesn’t have confidence in what the government says anymore.”

He added that previous rehabilitation and parole programmes were not particularly successful in reintegrating inmates into society.

However, said Shareef, “we don’t believe that [convicts] should forever stay in jail either. They are also the children of our friends and families. We will not oppose releasing them through a strong and sound rehabilitation programme.”


Airport deal “will allow Israeli flights to stop over after bombing Arab countries”: Umar Naseer

Deputy Leader of the Maldives’ main opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), Umar Naseer, has said that the government’s decision to privatise Male’ International Airport is “ridiculous.”

”Privatisation is a good policy, but there should be limitations,” Umar said. ”There are many disadvantages that Maldivians will face in the long term future if Male’ International Airport is privatised.”

He claimed that if the airport was privatised, the Maldives would not have the authority to decide which flights would be permitted to land at the airport.

”That means, if [the operators] allowed it, an Israel flight can come and stop over after bombing Arab countries,” Umar claimed.

He also claimed that “more than 1500 jobs” would be lost.

”More than half the Maldivians working in the Airport will lose their jobs if a foreign company takes over it,” Umar predicted. ”There are currently more than 3000 Maldivians working there.”

He said that if foreigners replaced Maldivians working in the airport, “income which was earned by the Maldives would go to the hands of foreigners.”

”Retail shops in the airport will also belong to foreigners,” he said. ”So money coming into the county will flow out of the country because foreigners are earning it.”

Umar suggested that the airport could charge a US$25 airport development fee for each passenger, the same amount GMR has proposed to collect.

”If that US$25 charge is implemented it will generate an extra US$25 million annually, because more than 500,000 tourists come to the Maldives each year and could be charged upon arrival and departure – which means US$50 from each person could be collected.”

He claimed the government was pushing ahead with the privatisation deal because “there are no successful businessmen in the government.”

”President Nasheed did not even know how to run a carpentry business. In 1990 his father gave him the business, and the president bankrupted it,” Umar alleged.

He said that “any economist” would consider the privatisation deal “ridiculous”.

Today the parliament is voting on whether to amend a Financial Bill stating that any state asset can only be sold or rented by an imposed law approved by parliament.

The signing of the privatisation deal with GMR-KLIA was derailed at the last minute yesterday, in front of assembled press, when representatives of the Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) reportedly disagreed over who would sign the document.

Three MACL board members have now reportedly resigned after disputing the government’s decision to privatise the airport.

Press Secretary for the President, Mohamed Zuhair, said he had not officially received confirmation.

”I also heard something like that unofficially,” he said. ”I have asked for the minutes of the last MACL board meeting.”

Minister for Civil Aviation Mahmood Razee, also Chairman of the Privatisation Committee, said he had no information regarding the matter.

”All the board members agreed to privatise the airport,” said Razee. ”If they are having disputes, that might be an issue concerning individuals.”

MACL board members Shaz Waleed, Moosa Solih, and Chairperson Ibrahim Nooradeen, declined to comment.

The vote on the Financial Bill will go before parliament today.


AG proposes narrowing ‘the right to remain silent’

The Attorney General Husnu Suood has proposed a bill to be presented to parliament removing the right to remain silent during investigation of people suspected of commit serious crimes.

The bill removes the right given under Article 48[N] of the Constitution that a person need only reveal their name and thereafter remain silent during police questioning.

The bill proposes that the right to remain silent should be removed in such cases such as threatening a person, attacking a person or his property, assault on a person using sharp objects or weapons, murder, drug trafficking, storing drugs to deal, importing drugs, using a sharp object or dangerous weapon in public without a valid reason, storing a sharp object in secret without a valid reason, gang rape and terrorism.

Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair said that the government believed it was necessary to remove the right to remaining silent on these cases.

”Why should we provide the right to remain silent for a man arrested with five kilograms of dope?” Zuhair asked.

”If the bill is passed people arrested in connection with these kind of crimes will be convicted for objection to order if they remain silent.”

He said the police would only arrest a person in the first place if they had conclusive evidence.

Spokesperson for the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) parliamentary group Mohamed Shifaz said the MPs had tried very hard to introduce the right to remain silent.

”The government would try to remove it in certain cases only when they notice a credible reason,” Shifaz said.

Vice president of Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) Umar Naseer, a former police officer, agreed, saying the right to remain silent “should be removed for all the cases.”

”This would make it very easy to prosecute criminals, so I think it is very important,” he said.

The Maldivian Detainee Network issued a statement saying it was “concerned by the news that the Attorney General proposes to narrow fundamental rights afforded to persons accused of certain serious crimes.”

“We urge the Attorney General and Parliament to ensure that any legislation proposed or passed fully embodies the principle that all persons are innocent until proven guilty. Furthermore, any narrowing of rights must be done in accordance with Article 16 of the Constitution which states that “Any such law enacted by the People’s Majlis can limit the rights and freedoms to any extent only if demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”

The NGO added that while it was concerned about the recent rise in crime and “the inability to successfully prosecute criminals, we would like to caution against reactionary steps which threaten fundamental rights.”

“The answer to rising crime in society is the full and effective implementation of a rights-based system by addressing the numerous issues within the criminal justice system,” it urged.

“The rush to discard fundamental rights is not only a short-sighted strategy which not only ignores the moral and practical imperatives behind those rights, but also risks returning to a society in which innocent citizens needed to fear the criminal justice system.”

Deputy Attorney General Abdulla Muiz did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.


Liquor licenses spark protests across Male

A group of NGOs gathered outside the residence of Economic Minister Mohamed Rasheed last night for publishing regulations permitting the licensed sale of alcohol on inhabited islands.

The protesters called on the minister to withdraw the new regulations, which allow hotels with over 100 beds to sell alcohol and pork to foreigners amid tight security. Newspaper Haveeru reported that some elements of the crowd even called for the minister’s “execution”, calling him “an infidel”.

Police media official Sergeant Athifa Hassan said police received information about the protest around 11:00pm, and immediately attended the scene.

”It was a very peaceful protest and nobody was injured,” she said, adding that the protesters went home at 1:00am.

A second protest was sparked outside the Iskandhar Koshi (police base) after reports that police had discovered 168 bottles of alcohol in a car belonging to Maldivian Democratic Party MP MDP’s Parliamentary Group leader ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik, who is currently in Singapore.

Sergeant Abdul Muhsin from the Maldives Police Service said the protesters gathered in front of Iskandhar Koshi around 10:30pm and were dispersed at 2:30am, reportedly with tear gas.

Muhsin said the protest was “not very violent” but ”three police were injured and five men were arrested.”


Political parties including the Adhaalath Party, Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), Peoples Alliances (PA) and the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) strongly condemned the regulation.

The Adhaalath Party has indicated its intention to host a protest on Friday afternoon, calling on the president to invalidate the regulation “and apologise to the people.”

Vice president of the Tourism Employment Association of Maldives (TEAM) Mauroof Zakir said more than 80 NGOs were present at the protest.

”We called on the resignation of the Minister,” Mauroof said, adding that ”nobody called for his execution.”

He claimed more than 1000 members took part in the protest, the first in a series of planned events.

”We will not say what kind of events and when we will start,” he said.

Spokesperson of the Adhaalath party and State minister for the Islamic Ministry Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed said the party would not allow alcohol to be consumed and sold on inhabited islands.

Shaheem said he regretted that the government had not discussed the issue with the Islamic Ministry.

”We invite all political parties and all people against the new regulation to take part in the protest [on Friday] so their voices are heard by the government,” he said.

The use and sale of alcohol was not permitted under the tenets of Islam, he said, ”and nobody under the sky can allow it.”

Vice President of the DRP Umar Naseer said he “knew this would be happen” and ”I am not surprised.”

Naseer claimed the government was trying to promote alcohol in the country “and make everyone drink it.”

”This government consists of alcoholics,” he claimed, accusing President Mohamed Nasheed of “building a bar inside Muleeage three months after he came to presidency.”

”I bet on that,” he said. ”One day let’s go inside Muleeage with journalists to check.”

Secretary General of the PA Ahmed Shareef said the party would be taking part in the protest held by Adhaalath party.

”We are against [the sale of alcohol],” Shareef said. ”Maldivians would not let the government to sell and use alcohol in the inhabited islands.”

He said the party was confused about the government’s policy on the subject.

President of religious NGO Jamiyyath-al-Salaf, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Mohamed Ibrahim said the organisation would also take part in Friday’s protest by the Adhaalath Party, and that the entire coalition of concerned NGOs would participate.

”The whole country is against it,” he said. ”We will continue our protest until we succeed.”

Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair said he was confident that the president would not pass any law against the tenets of Islam, and would discuss the matter with the Islamic Ministry and the Economic Ministry over the coming days.

He said that the regulations would “not technically” become effective until they were published in the government’s gazette, and noted that “the President has not yet made the decision to do so. He has reservations and is seeking advice as to the extent the regulations [can be implemented].”

The ministry of economic developments commented that the regulations would come into effect on 1 March “were not true”, he said, “even if gazetted, as certain criteria have to be met by sellers.”

State Minister for Economic Development Adhil Saleem said the regulations would be effective from 1 March “unless we receive instructions otherwise.”

“We have a mandate to regulate controlled substances,” he said. “This ministry regulates the use of alcohol and pork in this country, and working with police and customs we have formulated regulations we believe are best suited for today’s economy.”

The sale of alcohol, he said, was innately linked to Western tourism in the Maldives and its ability “to provide an environment conducive to foreign investment.”

“The Maldivian people want an international airport at Gan, and there are many development projects to boost economic activity through foreign investment,” he said. “If we want to be [a hub] like Singapore, we have to allow big hotel chains to establish themselves here and create an environment attractive to foreign investment. City hotels create economic activity and jobs.”

Adhil said he felt people were “being misled” over the issue, and “do not understand what this means for the economy.”

“It’s not just the development of airports [at stake] but schools and hospitals. We cannot achieve this development by 2013 unless our revenues increase.”

He claimed that many countries grappled with the issue, “and if you take a religious angle on this, many Muslim countries issue liquor permits to non-Muslims. Some of them have minerals, soil or gold, we have based our economy on tourism. For 15 years we’ve been attracting Western tourism development, and that includes alcohol. If that is unacceptable we should design another industry.”

He noted that many resorts in the Maldives “employ more than 1000 Maldivians, which is larger than the population of some inhabited islands.”

Like those opposed to the new regulations, he said “the real public reaction will be gauged on Friday. Let’s see how many people turn up. If this is something the majority of people don’t want, then no doubt the government will reconsider it. I am defending the new liquor regulations openly in public and I believe we should stand firm against these attacks.”


Police summon second DRP deputy leader for questioning

Police have summoned the Dhivehi Rayyihtunge Party’s (DRP) deputy leader MP Ali Waheed for questioning about his involvement in the protest outside the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) base and president’s residence on 28 January.

Umar Naseer, another deputy leader of the DRP, was summoned for questioning yesterday about his involvement in the protest.

Waheed notified the media he had been summoned shortly before 3pm, and said he would “face the press” afterwards.

He said he had remained silent during questions about his involvement, and about the comments he made to the media about police cooperating with the protesters.

When the police asked him whether he would like to investigate the incident in which he was hit by a stone during the protest, he replied ”no”.

After the questioning concluded Waheed said he had reported three cases to the police and asked them to investigate.

”The first thing I reported was that during the protest a person from the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) – ranked higher than sergeant – used abusive language [against the protesters],” he said.

”Secondly, why that night when MPs asked for police protection were they ignored?”

Thirdly, Waheed said he asked police to investigate an MDP MP who allegedly demanded police stop handcuffing a protester outside parliament during a protest over the decentralisation bill.

Waheed added that it was “really dangerous” for armed police to use abusive language and “threaten people.” He did not mention what was said.

Press Secretary for the President Mohamed Zuhair said the government did not believe that the MNDF used abusive language while controlling the protest.

”That was really a dangerous protest by DRP,” he added.

He said it was all right for Waheed to remain silent, but said that ”the police begin such a questioning session of an investigation only after they have collected evidence and proof.”

”As the police is investigating the case we better not comment,” he added.

Spokesperson for Maldivian Democratic Part MDP Ahmed Haleem said also did not believe the MNDF had used abusive language, and furthermore claimed that when MPs asked for police protection the police provided it.

”I was watching the protest very closely,” he said.

Sub Inspector of police Ahmed Shiyam said police were not commenting on whether they would investigate the three cases reported by Ali Waheed.

In a statement police issued on 2 February police said they would launch an investigation of the demonstration outside MDNF and the president’s residence.