Three arrested from opposition protest

Three men were arrested from an opposition protest on Wednesday night when they reportedly refused police orders to step out of the street and on to the pavement.

Opposition MP Rozaina Adam told Minivan News that police officers pushed some hundred protesters on to the pavements at the main junction of Chaandhanee and Fareedhee Magu. Three protesters were arrested for disobedience to order.

“They are cracking down on our right to assembly and free speech.  This is how rights are taken away in dictatorships, step by step,” she said.

The allied opposition parties, the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), the Adhaalath Party and the Jumhoree Party (JP), are protesting over the imprisonment of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and the ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim, and the takeover of JP Leader Gasim Ibrahim’s businesses.

A police spokesperson said the protesters had been told to stay on the pavements to avoid blocking traffic. Protesters were very cooperative, he said.

The official declined to comment on the opposition’s claims of narrowing rights. “But we never do anything against the law.”

The three men who were arrested remain in police custody.

Since a 20,000-strong march on May 1, the police have banned the use of four-wheeled vehicles in protests. In April, police banned the use of sound systems beyond 11pm and protesting beyond 12am.

MP Rozaina said the protest had ended at 11pm when the police ordered sound systems to be shut off.

MDP Vice President Mohamed Shifaz said the police had prevented supporters from holding a demonstration on Monday as well.

The opposition had protested peacefully every day from February 10 to May 1.

Violent clashes broke out on May Day when protesters attempted to enter the city’s restricted Republic Square. Some 193 people and the three leaders of the allied opposition parties were arrested. Protests have slowed since then to just three or two days a week.

The opposition has opened a campaign hall for its nightly activities and have announced a third mass protest on June 12.

In a speech this morning, President Abdulla Yameen welcomed “non-stop protests” but said the government will not tolerate attacks on police officers.

“To politicians, I say, we will not allow you to violate police officers, torch property and disrupt the peace. Political activities should be carried out, but it should stay within the limits,” he said.

Two police officers were beaten on May Day. Some 14 people were arrested. At least three of the suspects have told lawyers police severely beat them and threatened to kill them.

The president also condemned calls for a tourism boycott.

“People who call for boycotting tourism in political turmoil are enemies of the country,” he said.

Photo: social media


Government rejects ex-president as MDP representative in talks

The government has rejected ex-president Mohamed Nasheed as a representative for talks with the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

In a tweet today, president’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali said the government had rejected Nasheed’s name because he is serving a jail sentence.

Nasheed was sentenced to 13 years in jail in March on terrorism charges relating to the detention of a judge during his tenure.

Foreign governments and international bodies including the UN have criticised the trial for apparent lack of due process, while the European Union parliament has called for the ex-president’s immediate release.

Nasheed’s arrest and jailing triggered daily protests and a historic anti-government protest on May 1. Nearly 20,000 people took to the streets and some 193 people were arrested.

The government subsequently called for separate talks with the three allied opposition parties – the MDP, the Jumhooree Party and the Adhaalath Party.

The MDP’s national council yesterday proposed Nasheed, chairperson Ali Waheed and parliamentary group leader MP Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Mohamed Solih to represent the party in talks with the government.

MDP vice-president Mohamed Shifaz said the party will hold a meeting to decide on a response to the president’s office’s statement.

“But I personally believed that we should be able to determine who should represent us. Not the government,” Shifaz said.

“When they say he is serving a jail term, we need to look at the circumstances in which he was sentenced. The Maldivian public and the world do not accept the trial and its verdict. Nasheed is a former president, and a man loved by a large majority of the public. Maldivians do not see him as a convict.”

In late April, the pro-government majority voted through amendments to the Prison and Parole Act that prohibited inmates from holding high-level posts in political parties. The revised law effectively stripped Nasheed of the MDP presidency.

Some ruling party MPs have also threatened to cut financial payouts to Nasheed by amending the law on privileges and immunities of former presidents to exclude individuals serving a jail sentence.

Speaking to Minivan News, Muaz said the government will proceed with the talks as soon as representatives are decided.

“If there is no legal, medical, physical or administrative obstructions regarding the representatives proposed by the three parties, we will proceed with the talks,” he said in a tweet today.

President Abdulla Yameen’s proposed agenda for talks focuses on three aspects: political reconciliation, strengthening the judiciary and legal system and political party participation in economic and social development

The government has ruled out negotiations over the release Nasheed and former defence minister Mohamed Nazim, insisting the president does not have the constitutional authority to release convicts before the appeal process is exhausted.

The opposition has previously questioned the government’s sincerity, pointing out that several opposition leaders had been arrested from the May 1 protest.

While the Jumhooree Party (JP) has accepted the invitation for talks, the religious conservative Adhaalath Party proposed its detained president, Sheikh Imran Abdulla, among the party’s representatives.

Imran was arrested on May 1 and remains in police custody.

The JP’s representative for talks, deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim was also arrested, but released by the High Court. The police are appealing the court’s ruling at the Supreme Court, a move the opposition says is aimed at barring Ameen from representing the JP.

During the national council debate yesterday, MP Eva Abdulla stressed the importance of talks involving all political parties, including the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM).

“MDP is the first party that called to solve the political crisis. So we are happy the government took the initiative to hold talks and we accept it. But we want to hold the discussions together, not separately as the government has suggested,” she said.

“We are not going to discussions to talk only about what the government wants. The discussions will include what the government wants, but also what we want. The agenda of the talks also should be set at the discussions.”

The opposition coalition has called for a third mass protest on June 12.


Judge may bar defence evidence in ‘airport protest’ cases

A criminal court judge overseeing charges against 15 opposition supporters accused of protesting at the airport has allegedly said he may bar the defence from calling witnesses if evidence by the state is sufficient to prove charges.

Some 14 women and one man were arrested on March 5 while carrying posters calling for former president Mohamed Nasheed’s release at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport.

The freedom of assembly act prohibits protests at airports. The penalty is a MVR150 fine or a six-month jail term, house arrest or banishment.

Lawyers claimed the women were not protesting, and requested the opportunity to present defence witnesses. But criminal court judge Sujau Usman said if the testimony by ten police officers proves charges, he may not allow the defence to present evidence.

Usman sat on the three-judge panel that sentenced ex-president Nasheed to 13 years in jail on terrorism charges, without allowing him to call defence witnesses.

The UN high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein described the move as “contrary to international fair trial standards.”

Former defence minister Mohamed Nazim was also not allowed to call the majority of his defence witnesses in a weapons smuggling charge. He was sentenced to 11 years in jail by the same bech that oversaw Nasheed’s trial.

The opposition has held nightly street protests and mass demonstrations on February 27 and May 1 over Nasheed’s sentencing, but it is rare for demonstrations to take place at the airport in view of international tourists.

Among those arrested were Malé City deputy-mayor Shifa Mohamed and MDP women’s wing vice-president Shaneez “Thanie” Saeed.

One woman, Yumna, says her passport has been withheld over the charges.

Meanwhile, MDP MP Ali Azim has been charged with obstructing police duty during a mass protest on February 27. The first hearing is scheduled for May 25.


Opposition condemns police obstruction of protests

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has accused the police of disrupting demonstrations and obstructing freedom of assembly by asking for prior notice for protests.

The opposition has continued nightly gatherings despite a crackdown on a mass antigovernment protest on May Day. Nearly 200 were arrested and scores were injured in violent clashes on Friday.

The police have now ordered the MDP to give prior notice despite a constitutional provision guaranteeing freedom of assembly without prior notice.

In a statement today, MDP said: “On May 2, the police barged into the opposition gathering and attempted to confiscate the sound system and asked to stop the gathering without giving any legal reasoning. The activity continued despite the warning.

“On May 3, the police’s special operations team again disrupted the gathering and arrested Jumhooree Party Council member Sobah Rasheed. On May 4 and 5, police disrupted peaceful gatherings. When the protest spilled onto the streets, the police arrested people indiscriminately.”

Former president Mohamed Nasheed’s running mate in the 2013 presidential polls was arrested, but was released, the party noted.

The opposition is protesting over the imprisonment of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed and ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim.


Since the May Day protest, the police have stopped and confiscated the sound system used in a lorry to announce daily gatherings, the statement read. The individuals on the lorry were arrested.

The police, however, have said the MDP has rejected repeated calls for dialogue over the protests.

In a statement on Tuesday, the police insisted the opposition’s protests must not obstruct others’ rights or daily life in the capital. The MDP had provided prior notice, but had failed to act as indicated in the notices, the police said.

The MDP spokesperson Imthiyaz Fahmy said they had asked police to provide discussion points in writing prior to the meeting, but had not received a reply.

The police statement was “very irresponsible,” he said, insisting that the party has always accepted invitations to hold discussions.

“It is also very hard to attend such discussions when the party’s chairperson and president have been jailed. What discussions can we have without our leadership?” he said.

The party’s chairperson Ali Waheed, Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Imran Abdulla and JP deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim were arrested on May 2 for “intimidation.”

The MDP has now written to the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) and Human Rights Commission of Maldives (HRCM) urging the oversight bodies to ensure the constitutional right of freedom of assembly.

Freedom of expression and right to assemble are constitutional rights, the MDP said, calling on the independent commissions to investigate violations.


EU calls for political dialogue to resolve crisis

The European Union has called on political parties in the Maldives to engage in dialogue to resolve a deepening political crisis.

The EU delegation along with EU heads of mission and the ambassador of Norway in Sri Lanka called for dialogue after strongly condemning “the violence which occurred at the public demonstration held in Malé on 1 May 2015.”

Nearly 200 protesters were arrested from the anti-government mass rally following a police crackdown, including Adhaalath Party (AP) president Sheikh Imran Abdulla and main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) chairperson Ali Waheed.

The opposition ‘Maldivians against tyranny’ alliance had vowed to bring president Abdulla Yameen to the negotiating table through the mass rally.

Last week, Imran refused to negotiate with president Yameen’s envoy for the talks, tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb, calling the ruling party’s deputy leader “corrupt” and “a criminal.”

The EU meanwhile called on all sides to “exercise restraint and to refrain from any acts which could make the current political situation worse.”

“The EU delegation is especially disappointed because of the reassurances which the visiting EU [heads of mission] had received from all major Maldivian political parties and the government that every effort would be made to ensure that peace would prevail on 1 May,” reads a statement released yesterday.

The opposition May Day protest began peacefully with an estimated 20,000 supporters marching across the capital’s main thoroughfare Majeedhee Magu, calling for an end to the government’s “tyranny” and demanding the release of former president Mohamed Nasheed, ex-defence minister Mohamed Nazim.

However, clashes erupted when protesters attempted to break through police barricades to perform sunset prayers at the Islamic centre. Protests are prohibited at the Republic square or the restricted ‘green zone’ in front of the mosque.

Police cracked down with tear gas, thunder flashes, stun grenades, and the indiscriminate use of pepper spray.

Later in the night, a Specialist Operations (SO) police officer left behind after a baton charge was tripped and severely beaten by protesters. He was sent to Sri Lanka for medical treatment along with another officer injured after a protest pickup charged through police lines at dusk.

The president’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali declared after Sheikh Imran’s arrest that the government will no longer hold discussions with the Adhaalath Party leader.

The EU parliament meanwhile passed a resolution last week calling on member states to issue warnings on the Maldives’ human right records on their travel advice websites and demanding the release of ex-president Nasheed.

In a visit to Sri Lanka, US Secretary of State John Kerry echoed the calls and warned that democracy is under threat in the Maldives.

“We’ve seen even now how regrettably there are troubling signs that democracy is under threat in the Maldives where the former president Nasheed has been imprisoned without due process,” he said.

“This is an injustice that needs to be addressed soon.”


Government celebrates ‘protest failure’ with fireworks

The government held a firework display in Malé tonight after declaring the opposition’s mass antigovernment protest a failure.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets yesterday over the jailing of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed, but police cracked down on protesters when they attempted to enter the city’s main square and dispersed the protest.

Hundreds including opposition leaders were arrested and injured in the crackdown, and two police officers suffered serious injuries in the clashes.

Announcing the fireworks event at a press conference this afternoon, MPs of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) labeled the protest a coup attempt.

“A president is elected for five years. It’s very clear how [the state] must act towards those who come out to oust the government before that. Those people are attempting a coup. That is an unlawful protest,” MP Riyaz Rasheed said.

“You cannot change a government without us. I’m saying very clearly that cannot be done. The people with those capabilities are with the PPM,” he added.

The PPM in alliance with the Adhaalath Party and the Jumhooree Party (JP) had led a campaign in 2012 to oust former president Nasheed. He resigned on February 7, 2012, after a police and military mutiny.

Accusing President Abdulla Yameen of authoritarianism, the Adhaalath Party and the JP split from the ruling coalition in March and February, respectively, and allied with Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

“The protest failed, Imran went to jail and President Yameen will go forward with the nation,” MP Abdul Raheem Abdulla said.

Adhaalath president Sheikh Imran Abdulla, MDP chairperson Ali Waheed and JP deputy leader Ameen Ibrahim were arrested in a late night crackdown last night.

PPM parliamentary group leader Ahmed Nihan dismissed the opposition’s claims that 35,000 people had taken to the streets. He said only 13,000 had come out, but only to celebrate labor day and take selfies.

He described the protesters as unemployed young people who continue to depend on their parents for money to buy a cup of coffee.

“The 60 percent of people there do not support any political ideology, but since its May Day, labor day, they powdered their faces and came out to take photos for social media,” he said.

Many families are calling ruling party MPs requesting the release of family members who were arrested at protests, but “there is nothing we can do,” Nihan said.

Nihan says the government must dismiss civil servants and employees of state owned companies who were encouraging violence against police on social media.

“The parliamentary group requests the government to identify these people and give them notice as soon as possible and dismiss them. Open up opportunities for the young people who do not participate in such acts,” he said.

Praising the police for breaking up the protest, Nihan said the PPM parliamentary group will consider increasing financial and human resources for the police force.

MP Riyaz meanwhile warned the opposition the government stands ready to confront protesters: “we will not hide when they come out to beat us. We will hit back if we are beaten. We will not step back.

“This parliamentary group will do everything necessary to defend the government. We have a majority in all committees. We are telling the security forces and the independent commissions, you must carry out your responsibilities. Otherwise, the Majlis will take the required action,” he said.


Parliament reverses import duty hikes for garments and motorcycles

The parliament today reversed import duty hikes for garments and motorcycles, three weeks after increased rates came into force.

Higher tariffs approved by parliament in December as part of revenue raising measures proposed by the government came into force on April 1.

However, days before the changes took effect, economic development minister Mohamed Saeed told the press that the government was reviewing the new rates as motorcycles had become “a basic need in the Maldives”.

The custom duty for motorcycles had been raised from 100 to 150 percent.

A marketing executive at Sheesha Pvt Ltd, one of the largest automobile whole-sale and retail traders in the country, told Minivan News today that the company has not increased prices as its last shipment arrived before April 1.

Sales picked up dramatically in early February and its stock of motorcycles was completely sold out before April, the executive said.

In late March, hundreds of people queued up to buy cigarettes before import duties on tobacco was hiked from 150 to 200 percent and from 90 laari to MVR1.25 for a single cigarette.

The amendments passed today also require the customs authority to reimburse motorcycle importers who were charged the hiked rates from April 1.

However, Sheesha does not expect a reimbursement as its new shipment has not cleared customs yet.

According to a 2011 report by the Environment Protection Agency, one in six residents of the capital own a motorcycle.

Debate and voting on the government-sponsored legislation meanwhile took place today amid continuing protests by opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs.

The amendments to the import-export law submitted by Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Jameel Usman were passed with 46 votes in favour.

The import duty for ready-made garments was raised from zero to 15 percent in April last year. The rate will be brought back to zero once the amendments are ratified.

MP Ahmed Nihan, parliamentary group leader of the PPM, said today that discussions are ongoing with the government to reduce tariffs for other items as well, including heavy-duty vehicles used for construction.

Former minister Mahmoud Razee told Minivan News earlier this month that the government was “flip-flopping” with its policy reversals.

In December, the government also reversed a decision to impose a 10 percent import duty on staple foodstuff such as rice, flour, wheat and sugar.

“There’s no clear-cut, defined, long-term policy,” the economic development minister under the MDP government said.

Revenue raising measures

This year’s record MVR24.3 billion (US$1.5 billion) state budget includes MVR3.4 billion (US$220 million) anticipated from new revenue raising measures.

In addition to revisions of import duty rates, the measures include the introduction of a “green tax” in November, acquisition fees from investments in special economic zones, and leasing 10 islands for resort development.

The government expected MVR533 million (US$34.5 million) in additional income from import duties.

On April 1, the import duty for oil or petroleum products was raised from zero to 10 percent while duties for luxury cosmetics and perfume was increased from zero to 20 percent.

The import duty for cars, vans, and jeeps was hiked to 200 percent.

Import duties were also raised in April 2014 for most items, including textiles, cotton, sugar confectionaries, iron, steel, diesel motor oil, and seat covers of passenger vehicles.


Horns and megaphones banned in parliament chamber

The People’s Majlis today banned the use of horns, sirens and megaphones in the parliament chamber following weeks of protests by opposition MPs.

MPs of the Maldivian Democratic Party and Jumhooree Party have been protesting since March 2 over the arrest and imprisonment of former president Mohamed Nasheed on terrorism charges.

Opposition MPs continued protests with horns and megaphones today, but Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed called for a vote on the changes proposed to the parliamentary rules despite the disorder in the chamber.

The changes were proposed by the speaker and approved with 43 votes in favour at today’s sitting.

The debate on the bill was once again inaudible to the viewing gallery and the parliament secretariat ceased providing a live feed of the sittings to television stations this morning.

“Work on bringing an end to the MDP’s horns by amending article 51 of the parliament rules is on the agenda today,” tweeted majority leader Ahmed Nihan before today’s sitting.

Nihan was not responding to calls at the time of publication.

MDP spokesperson Imthiyaz Fahmy told Minivan News today that opposition MPs will continue the protests.

With daily anti-government demonstrations and heightened political tension, the state of the nation shall be reflected in the People’s Majlis, he said.

“While democratic principles are destroyed and political leaders are jailed, the Majlis is a place where such issues can be resolved,” he said.

The MPs are calling for a resolution to the political crisis, but the “current majority party does not want to listen,” he added.

Imthiyaz also questioned the need for the changes as the rules allow the speaker to order the sergeant-at-arms to expel MPs who disrupt sittings.

He contended that laws were passed in recent weeks in violation of parliamentary rules as voting took place with disorder in the chamber.

Constituencies represented by opposition MPs did not have a say either, he added.

Previous speakers resolved disputes through dialogue with political parties, but the current speaker “is too dictatorial and doesn’t even want to talk to the minority,” he said.

Maseeh is conducting sittings in violation of the rules while insisting that there was order in the chamber despite the protests, Imthiyaz said.

But neither the speaker nor MPs were able to hear debates, he noted.

Last week, a three-month delay for the implementation of the new penal code was approved with a show of hands amid protests by MDP MPs.

Rules of procedure

The new provisions state that cases of MPs who use horns or megaphones and approach the speaker’s desk will be investigated by the ethics committee.

The committee can cut 55 percent of an MPs’ monthly committee allowance and suspend participation in an official parliament trip for six months.

Imthiyaz said the proposed punishment was “ridiculous” as it amounted to undoing or erasing committee attendance.

MPs receive a monthly allowance of MVR20,000 for attending more than 50 percent of committee meeting.

The purpose of today’s changes to impose pay cuts on opposition MPs as the ruling coalition lacked two-third majority required by the constitution for non-payment of salaries and allowances, he said.

He also noted that the MDP parliamentary group leader sent a letter to Maseeh expressing concern with sittings taking place in violation of the rules.

However, in a meeting last week, Maseeh insisted that he was following the rules.

Imthiyaz also objected to the speaker refusing to allow MDP MPs to speak during debates and advocate on behalf of their constituents.

At a previous sitting, deputy speaker ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik refused to allow MDP MP Mariya Ahmed Didi to speak.

Imthiyaz said Mariya was seated, but the deputy speaker said the MDP MP will not be allowed to speak while her fellow MPs were protesting.


MP Mahloof held for 15 days after rejecting second protest ban

Independent MP Ahmed Mahloof has been taken into police custody for 15 days after refusing to accept a conditional release from detention under which he would have been barred from protests.

Mahloof scuffled with police outside the court after the period of detention was handed down Friday evening. Police said he tried to flee while being escorted into a vehicle. He was immediately seized by officers, but said he had just been trying to speak to his wife.

Mahloof’s wife Nazra Naseem was also involved in an altercation with officers and later said they had twisted her arm, pinched her stomach and torn buttons from her top.

Mahloof is being held at the Dhoonidhoo detention centre, his lawyer said.

Formerly a member of the ruling party, Mahloof was initially arrested on 25 March at an opposition protest over the jailing of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed, and was detained under house arrest for five days.

He was handed additional house arrest for refusing a previous protest ban, then was taken to the criminal court last night for a third remand hearing, as the court order to detain him was about to expire.

The criminal court ordered that Mahloof be detained again because he refused for a second time to accept the court’s condition to stay away from gatherings of four or more people for 30 days.

“Mahloof said he would not accept the court’s terms, so he was remanded for an extra 15 days in police detention,” said Abdulla Haseen, the MP’s lawyer.

The criminal court has recently released a series of protesters on condition they stay away from demonstrations for a set period of time, but this tactic has met with criticism from legal experts and the prosecutor general.

“Releasing a person suspected of a crime with conditions other than ensuring the person’s return to the court maybe unconstitutional,” the prosecutor general wrote in a letter to the chief judge of the criminal court, obtained by Minivan News last week.

Meanwhile, the constitution says people can only be held in pre-trial detention under certain circumstances: if further interrogation is needed, if they are a danger to society, if they may influence witnesses or if they might flee.


Police said Mahloof had tried to run away from officers as he was being escorted into a police vehicle after Friday’s remand hearing, a claim he denies.

“Mahloof said he wanted to talk to the reporters outside because police manhandled his wife,” said his lawyer.

Eyewitness Sabra Noordeen said the MP did not try to flee but “ran to his wife” because she was shouting.

“Nazra [Mahloof’s wife] was near the police vehicle and he ran towards her. He wasn’t trying to flee though,” she said.

Speaking to Raajje TV last night, Nazra said she was molested by police as she tried to meet her husband outside the court.

“One policeman pinched my stomach and touched parts of my body that he should not have. He also tore off the buttons of the top I was wearing,” she said.

“My arm and finger were twisted so badly that I thought they were going to break it. I am sure if I hadn’t screamed he [the police officer] would have broken my fingers.”

Nazra has submitted a complaint to the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives today.

Meanwhile the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has condemned “police brutality towards Mahloof and his family”.

“Mahloof has been detained illegally for 25 days without charge. The MDP is concerned about the criminal court’s harassment of MP Mahloof and we condemn it,” the statement read.

“MDP sees the harassment towards MP Mahloof and his family as a warning to all Maldivian citizens by the government.”

Mahloof, a close associate of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, was expelled from the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) last month after he publicly criticised President Abdulla Yameen and the government.

He is now part of the opposition Alliance against Brutality, an anti-government coalition.