MP Riyaz refuses to apologise for ‘discriminatory’ tweets

Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) MP Riyaz Rasheed has said his tweets about prohibiting “islanders” from traveling to protest in Malé were misinterpreted.

Raajje therey meehun [islanders] will no longer have the opportunity to come to Malé, protest on the streets of Malé, assault and harm police,” the MP for Thaa Vilifushi had tweeted on Thursday.

The security forces will no longer allow “islanders” to protest in the capital anymore, he tweeted the following day.

Riyaz’s tweets sparked an outcry on social media. An online petition was also launched calling on the MP to “publicly apologise for his discriminatory and bigoted views against people who are not from Malé.”

The PPM parliamentary group’s deputy leader told Haveeru today that he will not apologise as he did not consider the phrase “raajje therey meehun” to be derogatory.

Riyaz said he meant the opposition alliance will not be allowed to deceive people from the atolls and bring them to Malé for violent protests.

Responding to outrage over Riyaz’s remarks on Twitter, PPM parliamentary group leader Ahmed Nihan said the MP has been told to change the phrases used in his tweet.

“I hope he will apologise soon!” the majority leader tweeted yesterday.

President’s office spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali meanwhile tweeted today: “Under this government, from HA Thuraakunu to Addu City will be first class Maldivians. There will be no discrimination.”



“Our prayers are as powerful as swords”: Malé is calm, but anger simmers

On a rainy Sunday night, dozens of families gathered in Malé to meet with lawyers over the detention of their loved ones, arrested from a mass anti-government protest on May 1. The vast majority of the 193 detainees had never been arrested before.

Some families had travelled rough seas and weathered strong winds to come to Malé to find out the news. Lawyers passed on messages from those in custody—where keys had been left, progress on monthly rent, extent of injuries—and advised families on how they could seek redress for police brutality.

The May 1 arrests were the largest numbers detained from a single protest in a decade. Some 20,000 protesters took to the streets on May Day against authoritarianism, and called for the release of jailed ex-president Mohamed Nasheed. When protesters attempted to enter Malé’s main square at dusk, the police cracked down with tear gas, pepper spray, baton charges, stun grenades and indiscriminate arrests. Malé’s streets were empty by 1:00am, and three leaders of the allied parties were arrested.

The government declared ‘victory’ with a fireworks display and said that President Abdulla Yameen will not negotiate over Nasheed’s imprisonment.

With opposition leaders and scores of supporters still in jail, the opposition coalition’s activities have slowed. Police have prohibited gatherings beyond 12:00am, and dispersed any attempts at street protests by arresting key figures. Malé City is calm for now, but anger is simmering.

Opposition supporters remain determined to continue protests, with many saying the police brutality they witnessed on May Day only strengthened their resolve. Growing international pressure over Nasheed’s imprisonment and scrutiny of the judiciary is giving many further hopes.

Anger in Dhoonidhoo

Businessman Mujthaba ‘Muju’ Saeed, 40, was among the first 50 detainees released last Thursday. The protesters in Dhoonidhoo detention centre are angry, but remain strong, he said. “As soon as I was released, I went to the opposition rally. We are not afraid, we are angry.”

According to Muju, two ruling party supporters were also arrested; one was on his way to open a shop while the other was on his way to a safari boat where he works.

Conditions at Dhoonidhoo island detention centre are cramped, with 40 people packed into cells designed to hold just 20. Some are sleeping upright, or sleeping by the entrance to the bathrooms. Many are still nursing injuries from beatings and pepper spray. Several people who were recently released said detainees are calling for the resignation of president Yameen, police chief Hussein Waheed and tourism minister Ahmed Adeeb from their cells.

Some 116 people have now been released, and the police have asked the prosecutor general to press charges against 129. If prosecuted, many face a MVR3,000 fine or a six-month jail term. Charges range from disobedience to order to assaulting police officers.

Zahiya Abdulla, 47, and two of her sisters were also arrested from the protest. In the women’s cell, those arrested from the protest held yoga classes, and bonded with others held on charges of drug abuse and sexual offences. “No one was crying despite the physical and verbal abuse they suffered. I will always be on the front lines of the protests,” she said.

An even bigger rally

The opposition has vowed to continue protests, with Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MP Ibrahim ‘Ibu’ Mohamed Solih pledging to hold “an even bigger rally” by the end of the month.

“We have re-formed our ranks, and we’ve are out to go forward once again. Our resolve remains strong,” he told a thousand supporters at a rally this weekend.

At the rally, some voiced concerns over the how disorganised the May Day protest was, yet they described it as a success. A 23-year-old student marvelled at the sheer number of people at the rally: “People are aware now, they know what is going on.” A housewife said: “We came out by the thousands, we were unarmed, but they pushed us back because they had shields, batons, tear gas and pepper spray.”

Some were scared, but angry. A 62-year-old boat owner said he will march and protest as long as the police do not crack down.“But I do believe we will prevail. Our prayers are as powerful as any sword,” he said.

“We’ve been here before”

A 46-year-old, who had played a key role in organising the pro-democracy “August 12/13 protests” of 2004, told Minivan News he, too, was amazed by the numbers on May Day. He believes approximately 8,000 people had participated in the August12/13 protests a decade ago. “Now, we are seeing thousands more, women, young people, elderly, who’ve never participated in political rallies before,” he said.

The August 12/13 protests had forced then-President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to bring in liberal reforms, a democratic constitution and hold multi-party elections in 2008.

“We’ve been here before,” MDP MP Eva Abdulla said. “The exact same situation—large numbers of people on the street, president Nasheed in jail, the same heavy-handed tactics by the government, defiance to the international community, jailing hundreds, including parliamentarians – until the point the government just couldn’t continue.”

For Eva, there is no choice for the opposition but to continue with protests. “Public opinion does not matter to this government. But we must show all observers, we, the Maldivian public are not OK with what is happening.”

The international spotlight is once again on Maldives. Calls for Nasheed’s release are growing, with several countries, including the US, UK and India slamming the Maldives’ politicised judiciary at a recent human rights council session. The EU parliament last month urged member states to warn tourists over Maldives’ human rights record, and Nasheed’s family has asked the UN’s working group on arbitrary detention to rule his imprisonment as illegal.

But the government maintains the international community cannot dictate what the Maldives must do, and the home minister Umar Naseer has vowed to keep Nasheed in jail.

Eva said President Abdulla Yameen will relent as international pressure grows: “We are absolutely and entirely dependent on international goodwill.”

Back at the meeting between lawyers and families of detainees, one woman said she will now join the opposition protests because of her resort worker husband’s arrest on May Day. She had gone by the criminal court to see if she could catch a glimpse of him at his remand hearing the next day, but instead, she was verbally abused, pepper sprayed and pushed back by police in riot gear. She said she saw police officers pepper-spraying a pregnant woman.

“I’ve never seen such brutality before. It is almost as if the police view us as their enemies. But we are the real power here,” she said.

Photo by Shaari


Opposition, police raise fears of violence on May Day

The opposition and police have raised fears of violence at a mass antigovernment protest on May Day, as a political crisis triggered by the jailing of ex president Mohamed Nasheed deepens.

The religious conservative Adhaalath Party has accused government ministers of planning to release convicts on Friday to incite violence as a pretext to crack down on protesters.

The police meanwhile told opposition leaders they have received reports that the demonstration will not be peaceful, and have ramped up riot training exercises for its special forces this week.

Tensions are high in Malé with the opposition Maldivians against brutality coalition vowing to bring 25,000 people out on to the capital’s streets demanding Nasheed and ex defence minister Mohamed Nazim’s release. But president Abdulla Yameen has labeled the opposition’s demands unconstitutional and has said he will not negotiate or resign on May Day.

Adhaalath Party president Sheikh Abdulla Imran speaking at a rally in Malé’s suburb Vilimalé accused Tourism Minister Ahmed Adeeb of seeking the release of 200 dangerous criminals to “shed blood” on May Day.

“Adeeb has sent a 200 strong list of the most dangerous and vile criminals to the courts seeking their release, in order to confront protesters,” said Imran.

The sheikh has also previously accused Adeeb of corruption and illicit connections with gangs.

Speaking to Minivan News Adeeb dismissed the allegations, saying the opposition must ask state institutions to investigate any allegations of wrong doing.

“I don’t think they will be able to do much on May Day,” he said.

The tourism minister had previously challenged the opposition to a confrontation on May Day, saying that the government “will not tolerate any bloodshed of or even a scrape on any young person, police officers or military officers.”

“Even if its May 1, June 1 or that grand February 27, if you dare to confront us, come, this government stands ready,” Adeeb said.

Over 10,000 opposition supporters took to the streets of Malé on February 27 following Nasheed’s arrest, but the rally was unexpectedly called off at 6pm when the police threatened a crackdown.

Police are meanwhile continuing riot trainings for its Specialist Operations unit at Feydhoo Finolhu Island.

The police held separate meetings with the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and the Jumhooree Party (JP) yesterday, according to a statement.

Superintendent of police Abdulla Shareef told MDP chairperson Ali Waheed that opposition politicians were inciting violence at daily protests and threatening the country’s independence and sovereignty. He said the police will take actions against any acts that violate rights.

The MDP and JP however assured the police the protest would be peaceful and will respect the law, the statement said.


Penal code delayed amid opposition MPs’ protest

Parliament has approved a three-month delay for the implementation of the new penal code amid vociferous protests by opposition MPs on the People’s Majlis floor.

The new penal code was ratified a year ago and was due to come into force tomorrow, but the ruling Progressive Party of Madives (PPM) claims more time is needed to raise awareness among the public.

However, both the attorney general and prosecutor general have said there is no reason to delay enforcement. The government has trained some 1,100 individuals including state prosecutors, police officers, customs staff, lawyers and journalists on the new law.

Critics say the existing penal code adopted in 1966 is outdated, draconian and not in line with international human rights conventions the Maldives is signatory to.

The main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) contends that the postponement is a “politically motivated attempt to continue using the current penal code as a means to harass and intimidate the opposition.”

Hundreds of protesters face harsher punishment for ‘disobedience to order,’ a charge MDP argues the government uses to suppress rights to expression and assembly.

While similar offences are included in the new penal code, the punishment for protesters who do not have a criminal record would have been less severe as judges are required to take mitigating factors into consideration under sentencing procedures.

Show of hands

The government-sponsored amendment bill to the penal code was passed with 43 votes in favour and one against at an extraordinary sitting of parliament held today.

Prior to voting, MDP MPs took over the speaker’s chair and the secretariat desk and protested with megaphones and sirens, leaving Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed unable to use the electronic voting system and forcing secretariat staff to vacate their chairs.

In a scuffle between pro-government and opposition MPs, PPM MP Ahmed Assad grabbed and smashed one of the megaphones.

Pro-government MPs meanwhile surrounded Speaker Maseeh as he used a megaphone to ask for a show of hands. The secretary-general walked around the chamber and took the count.

Adhaalath Party MP Anara Naeem voted against the legislation.

MDP MPs have said the voting took place in violation of parliamentary rules as there was disorder in the chamber.

“During this time of increased political opposition to the [Abdulla] Yameen government, the MDP condemns the government’s use of their political majority to cripple the criminal justice system and restrict the rights of all Maldivians,” the party said in a statement.

However, majority leader Ahmed Nihan said former Speaker Abdulla Shahid had called a vote under similar circumstances in 2011, which can be considered a precedent under the standing orders.

Human rights NGO Maldivian Democracy Network has called on President Yameen not to ratify the amendments as the current law “is widely understood as draconian and unreflective of the democratisation process that was introduced to the Maldives through the constitution ratified in August 2008.”


Speaking at a symposium about the new penal code yesterday, Attorney General Mohamed Anil said the country should bid farewell to the existing law “without any fear” as it was unsuited to the present day.

Former Prosecutor General Hussain Shameem told Minivan News today that 98 percent of police investigators have been provided extensive training as part of preparations for implementing the penal code.

Shameem has been involved in the training as a senior legal consultant at the Legal Sector Resource Centre established by the attorney general’s office with assistance from the UNDP to train and sensitise stakeholders.

A phone application for the penal code was launched yesterday and 12 information papers were published on the penal code website, he added.

Shameem noted that the website features an ‘ask us’ interactive function, marking the first time questions can be posed to experts regarding a Maldivian law.

“So the government is ready. The public are ready as all this information has been provided through the media as well. The documents and phone application are available. We have never been more prepared for a law than this,” he said.

Majority leader Nihan meanwhile told reporters that the PPM parliamentary group did not consult the attorney general’s office before today’s vote.

Nihan said ruling party MPs did not believe the public was adequately prepared, adding that the state broadcaster should show educational television programmes.

Revisions based on issues raised by religious NGOs can also be incorporated during the next three months, he said.

NGO Salaf said today that the new penal code is contrary to the principles of Islamic Sharia.


Police to break up “unauthorised” protests

Police have announced they will break up protests which have not received authorisation in advance, in an apparent attempt to clamp down on daily demonstrations over the jailing of ex-president Mohamed Nasheed.

The opposition said its daily protests would continue, while decrying the move as a violation of the right to peaceful assembly guaranteed in the constitution. A member of the human rights commission also said the police plan was unconstitutional.

Police said last night that regular protests using “unusually loud” sound systems have been disrupting schools, businesses and are not in the public interest.

The opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and allied parties have been holding daily protests throughout the country to demand the release of Nasheed, who was sentenced last month to 13 years in jail on terrorism charges. Protesters in the capital Malé have been marching through the streets every night, often through its main thoroughfare Majedhee Magu and through its narrow alleys.

Police said that demonstrators must apply for authorisation in advance for any “pre-planned” protests , as required by article 13 of the Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act.

The act was passed in 2013 but police have not so far enforced the authorisation requirement, although hundreds of protesters have been arrested on other charges.

Police last night warned they will break up any unauthorized protests after one warning, and will confiscate loud sound systems.

The police announcement was deemed “unconstitutional” by Human Rights Commission member Ahmed Tholal.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Tholal said that freedom to assemble peacefully without permission from the state is a fundamental right granted by article 32 of the constitution.

“They [police] cannot withhold constitutional rights by referring to a provision in the [assembly] act. If there are problems with regards to the provisions in the act, they should address it without limiting constitutional rights,” said Tholal.

Police have arrested over 100 people at recent opposition protests. While some of them have been released without detention, several were barred by the criminal court from going to further protests for 60 days.

Elsewhere, the Ministry of Housing and Infrastructure wrote to the MDP on April 1 saying that the ministry would not be able to provide any plot of land for political activity because of the political situation in the country.

However, Minivan News understands that ruling Progressive Party of Maldives will be holding a rally at the artificial beach tonight (April 9).

MDP MP Eva Abdulla described the government actions as an attempt to “harass the opposition by attempting to obstruct peaceful assembly.”

“This is a coordinated attack by the government on our constitutionally stipulated rights to freedom of assembly and yet another example of how far this regime is willing to go in its harassment and persecution of the opposition,” Eva said.

“There is no longer any pretence of the government upholding our laws and our constitution,” she continued.

Minivan News was unable to obtain any comment from the Housing Ministry about the letter at the time of going to press.


Opposition anger over release of protest ‘attacker’

A 28-year-old man arrested for disrupting an opposition protest last week will be released tomorrow, sparking outrage among opposition supporters.

Mohamed Nasheed Abdulla, an activist for the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives, was arrested after protesters accused him of charging into a crowd of demonstrators on a motorcycle on April 1 in Malé. He did not cause serious injuries.

The next day the Criminal Court transferred him to house arrest for five days, which is set to expire today.

A spokesperson for the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party, Imthiyaz Fahmy, condemned the criminal court’s “double standards”, noting that opposition supporters arrested at protests were frequently detained for ten to 15 days in police custody.

Unlike Abdulla, the opposition supporters are also being released on condition they stay away from protests for a set period of time.

“These people who attack us, they are the dangerous people, not elected MPs,” said Fahmy, in reference to a court’s Friday decision to hold independent MP Ahmed Mahloof in police custody for an extra 15 days.

Mahloof has been held without charge since he was first arrested from a protest on March 25.

Fahmy also accused the police of failing to take action against individuals who he says continue to attack opposition protesters and vandalise speaker systems and trucks used in protests.

Several individuals the opposition say are gangsters have been caught on camera assaulting protesters and journalists and dousing protesters with crude oil and petrol. Some protesters say they have also been threatened with knives.

The police say they have arrested several people, but that only the court has the authority to detain suspects for longer.

Meanwhile, the release of protesters on condition they stay away from demonstrations for a set period 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.


Adhaalath party complains of double standards on protests

The religious conservative Adhaalath party has formally complained to the Human Rights Commission about what it says are double standards in how the Elections Commission handles political party protests.

Adhaalath’s letter notes that the Elections Commission last week fined the both the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and the Adhaalath party for breaking political party rules and allegedly inciting violence.

However, the Adhaalath party said that at protests of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM), “Young men have been present with their faces covered, holding pipes and sticks.”

Despite these circumstances, police and the Elections Commission did not take any action against the PPM, the letter said.

The Adhaalath Party asked the Human Rights Commission to investigate discrimination between parties, and what they said was obstruction of the freedom of expression by the Elections Commission.

Police have also previously written to the Adhaalath party, saying they received complaints from the public about protests held jointly by the Adhaalath and MDP.

Police said the protests were violating the human rights of other citizens, and asked the Adhaalath to hold protests without being too loud or disrupting the peace and order of Male’ city.


Global MPs’ group calls for Mahloof release

Global MPs’ group Parliamentarians for Global Action has condemned the detention without charge of MP Ahmed Mahloof and called upon authorities to immediately release him from house arrest.

Parliamentarians for Global Action (PGA) expressed its “undiminished solidarity” towards MP Mahloof in a statement today.

He was arrested at an opposition rally on March 26 for allegedly “obstructing police duties and disobeying police orders.”

Noting that Mahloof may have been “targeted” by police for his criticism of the government, PGA expressed concern that freedom of speech, freedom of expression and the constitutional rights of MPs may have been violated.

After five days at the Dhoonidhoo detention centre, Mahloof refused to accept the court’s conditional release, which would have barred him from protesting for 60 days. The criminal court then placed him under five days of house arrest.

Mahloof was expelled from the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives after its disciplinary committee said he brought President Abdulla Yameen into disrepute with false statements in the media.

Meanwhile, a letter from the Prosecutor General’s office was leaked to Minivan News, which arguesthat some recent decisions by the court may have limited individuals’ rights relating to pre-trial detention.

The letter, addressed to Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed, said the decisions limited rights under Article 49 of the constitution.

This article says that no one shall be detained prior to sentencing unless there is a fear of the accused failing to appear at court, for the protection of public safety, or to prevent the accused interfering with witnesses.

Local media have interpreted the letter, dated yesterday, as a warning to the criminal court over the conditional release of people arrested at protests, which often stipulates they must not go to any more demonstrations for 60 days.

Previously, MP Fayyaz Ismail, of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), was detained for 15 days after he refused to accept release on these conditions following his arrest at a protest on March 8.

At the time, the Criminal Court had released 33 of the 77 individuals arrested at protests, on the condition they would not participate in further protests for 60 days.

“This is not a limitation of rights, but a violation of [the detainee’s] rights to assembly, expression, and free will,” said Shahindha Ismail, executive director of Maldivian Democracy Network’s, earlier this month.

Courts can enforce conditions on detainees to ensure a person’s attendance at hearings, for example having to obtain a permit from the court when travelling, but they cannot place a condition asking the individual not to go to a protest, she said.

The government has started implementing stronger measures in the crackdown against opposition protests, which escalated after the arrest of former President Mohamed Nasheed on February 22.

President Abdulla Yameen today ratified an amendment to the Civil Service Act which bars civil servants from holding posts in political parties and taking part in political activities.

The amendment comes at a time where several state owned companies have been accused of firing opposition supporters for participating in anti-government protests.

Since March 1, at least four employees of State Electric Company Limited and one from Malé Water and Sewerage Company were dismissed, and at least five were suspended from Maldives Ports Limited.


Former MDP President Dr Didi arrested

Former Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) President Dr Ibrahim Didi was arrested on Wednesday for attending opposition protests in violation of a Criminal Court order, reports online news outlet CNM.

Didi was arrested during a protest on February 27 and accused of obstructing police duty. After being held in remand detention for 10 days, the former fisheries minister was released on March 10 on the condition that he not attend protests for 30 days.

Police said Didi was arrested today in connection to an ongoing investigation.

Most people arrested during the ongoing opposition protests are released on the condition that they do not participate in protests for a period determined by the court. Human Rights NGO Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) has described the move as unconstitutional, arguing the condition violated the right to freedom of assembly and expression.