Parliament to hold no-confidence vote against Home Minister Jameel, Defence Minister Nazim, JSC member Gasim Ibrahim

Parliament has scheduled a series of no-confidence votes for tomorrow concerning Home Minister Mohamed Jameel, Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim and JSC member Gasim Ibrahim.

Parliament rules state that a minimum of 39 votes are required to successfully pass a no-confidence vote against a government minister. The opposition MDP currently has 29 MPs, short 10 votes of the required majority.

While the Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) has said it will back the trio, the DRP, which has 15 MPs, has said the party will “decide tomorrow”.

Following the scheduling of the vote, President Mohamed Waheed Hassan told local media that he was confident that the government-aligned parties would “defend” his ministers from impeachment.


Four arrested in guesthouse raid on charges of prostitution

Four people were arrested in a guesthouse raid by police on Tuesday night (March 19) as part of an ongoing operation to curb prostitution in Male’.

The latest arrests take place just one week after police raided ‘Roma Beauty and Wellness Centre’ – a beauty salon in Male’ – and arrested 10 individuals on charges of prostitution.

Local media reported that the Tuesday night raid took place at a local guesthouse called ‘Relax @ Kangaroo Inn’ located on Dhiggaamaage in the Heniveru ward of Male’.

Police Spokesperson Chief Inspector Hassan Haneef said today (March 20) that two Maldivian men and two Thai women were arrested on Tuesday night around 8:30pm in an “intelligence-led operation”.

“Police received an arrest warrant before raiding one of the rooms within the guesthouse, where the suspects were found naked and engaged in sexual activity.

“Following a search of the room, a number of [sex] toys and over MVR 4000 (US$260) were found by police,” Haneef told Minivan News.

Refuting a report in SunOnline that claimed the Relax @ Kangaroo Inn guesthouse was being run as a brothel, Haneef stated: “We never made a comment to suggest that claim.”

Manager of Relax @ Kangaroo Inn Mohamed Hamid confirmed to Minivan News today that the premises had been raided by police.

“We had no idea that the two men had been with prostitutes at the guest house. The police just came, took them outside and then they were gone,” he added.

Last week, four Maldivians, four Thai women and two Bangladeshi men were arrested in the beauty salon raid.

Police claimed that when police raided the salon four of the 10 people inside the premises were naked and involved in sexual activities.

When police searched the premises of Roma Beauty and Wellness Centre they discovered MVR13,000 (US$845) and “tools used for sexual activities”.

Police said the office of Roma Beauty and Wellness Centre was also searched, where police discovered “other items’’ in connection with the case.


MMC pulls magazine, forwards Sun brothel expose to Prosecutor General

An undercover account of Male’s illegal brothel scene, dubbed ‘Operation Sunset’, has landed Sun in hot water with the Maldives Media Council (MMC) for its lurid details of the experience.

The stories, which initially appeared in Sun’s magazine, reportedly involved three Sun journalists visiting massage parlours in Male’ and soliciting sex from the women in an attempt to expose illegal brothels operating in the capital.

The stories have sparked a public debate on morality and journalism, and prompted the Maldives Media Council (MMC) to call an urgent meeting and demand that the offending edition be pulled from circulation.

Versions of the stories were also published on Sun Online’s website, and are now the site’s most viewed. A source within Sun Online told Minivan News that the content was edited and toned down prior to appearing on site.

Police Sub-Inspector Ahmed Shiyam said claims made in the article that the operation was conducted with the assistance of police were untrue.

“They called the police media section and said they were checking these places to see if anything illegal was taking place, but they didn’t say how. They have provided no information on these places to police,” Shiyam said, adding that police had also received complaints from the public over the story.

Shiyam confirmed that the case had been sent to the Prosecutor General’s office by the MMC, but did not say whether the subject of the investigation would be the journalists involved, the publication or the alleged brothels.

“We are waiting for the PG to request us to start an investigation,” he said.

President of the MMC Mohamed Nazeef said the council had never before received such a significant volume of complaints following the publication of a story.

“[The complaints] were mainly about the style of presentation, so we decided to ask them to pull the magazine,” Nazeef said, adding that the matter had been forwarded to the Prosecutor General’s office “because of the police issues involved.”

The MMC’s policy was to step back when other authorities became involved, he said.

“We have been very cautious because we do not want to kill investigative journalism in the Maldives or undermine the reporting of serious issues,” he said. “But the problem was the style of writing – it was not professional, and the editor has to take responsibility. These are young journalists with little training, and the editors are senior people who have put them in a bad position by saying they have paid [for sexual services].”

Nazeef said he had spoken to the executive editor of both publications, Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir, and ascertained that the original article was published in the magazine due to some internal misunderstanding.

“I got the feeling that they asked these boys to do this and write about the experience,” Nazreef said. “I think this is an issue of training. We need to run a course in investigative journalism, perhaps bring in a CNN journalist to talk to them, and offer training on how to cover protests, possibly with someone from the Western Australian police [who trained police in the Maldives].”

Zahir told Minivan News he had no official comment on the matter, and referred Minivan News to the editor of Sun Magazine, Shinan Ali. Ali was not responding at time of press.

The Maldives Journalists Association (MJA), of which Zahir is President, has meanwhile issued a statement stating that while some of words and phrases used in the article were “inappropriate for Maldivian society”, the MMC’s decision would “narrow the opportunity for investigative journalism in the Maldives.”

The MMC could have resolved the issue without forwarding the case to the Prosecutor General, the MJA suggested, as illegal prostitution in the Maldives was “something the public needs to be made aware of.”

Lawyer and former Attorney General Dr Ahmed Ali Sawad suggested to Minivan News that while the media was free to pursue the truth in the Maldives, it was still bound by the need for “ethical” conduct in doing so.

“I believe investigative journalism is about unraveling the truth and truth is protected by law. Our constitution and the democratic system we are working to establish is designed to protect journalists who reveal the truth,” he said.

“Responsible investigative journalism implies not being accountable to the consequences of the revealed truth, but to the ethical propriety [standards] of the revealing of the truth,” he said.


Authorities warn of looming AIDS pandemic

The Health Ministry has warned of the spread of AIDS in the Maldives after an expatriate prostitute tested positive for HIV.

At a press conference yesterday, Dr Ahmed Jamsheed Mohamed, senior medical officer at the centre for community health and disease control, said prostitutes from neighbouring countries were working in the Maldives on tourist visas.

“We have some evidence now that expatriate women who came to the Maldives without a work permit on a tourist visa are involved in prostitution,” he said. “We learned that one of them was HIV positive.”

While the authorities required  medical checkups for expatriates who apply for work permits, he said, foreigners on tourist visas were not tested.

246 foreigners on work permits have been sent out of the country after testing positive since 1995, an average of 15 a day.

He added the authorities discovered the expatriate prostitute was HIV positive when she applied for a work permit.

Jamsheed said it was likely that there were more prostitutes with HIV who work at massage parlours and appealed to the public to be aware of the risks of visiting local brothels.

Prostitutes from China and Russia working in Sri Lanka often come to the Maldives when their tourist visa expires, he continued, while prostitutes in the Maldives visit Sri Lanka to re-enter the country on a new tourist visa.

“There’s a rotating group between Ceylon and Maldives,” he said. “We believe there must be a lot of HIV positive people among them.”

If AIDS begins to spread in the country, he added, there was no reason to believe it could be controlled.

Jamsheed said HIV in the Maldives was like a ticking time bomb: “Everything necessary for the disease to spread exists among us.”

A recent survey on AIDS revealed all the behavioural risks contributing to the spread of HIV, such as promiscuity, prostitution, homosexuality, rape, child abuse and sharing needles, were “widespread” in the country.

Jamsheed said responsibility had to be taken at an individual, societal and government level to avoid the country “reaching that critical stage”.

Although the survey was based on a small sample of the population, since its release one Maldivian had been found HIV positive and it was likely that more would be discovered. There are over 30 Maldivians with HIV, according to estimates said Dr Jamsheed.

Of the 14 people with AIDS known to the authorities ten have passed away, three are undergoing treatment while the others’ condition had not deteriorated to require treatment.

Asked whether recommendations in the study, such promoting the use of condoms and making clean disposal syringes available to drug addicts could be implemented in the Maldives, Jamsheed said both strategies have been successfully deployed overseas.

“The question is whether they can be brought in to our society with our Islamic principles and values,” he said, adding that the National AIDS Council had to discuss the issues.

Dr Ali Nazeem, in charge of treating HIV patients, said more voluntary counselling and testing centres (VTCs) would be established in the near future, while testing was already available in regional hospitals.

Testing is currently available at ADK hospital and the police VTC.

He added the centres will maintain anonymity and the test results would be confidential.

Earlier this week, drugs NGO Journey opened a VTC with more than 20 volunteers to offer counselling.