Unrest rising with no reconciliation in sight: Eurasia Review

In the current tense situation prevailing in Male, one would have expected President Waheed to make the initial move towards reconciliation during the national day address last week on the 47th year of independence. It was not to be, writes Dr S Chandrasekharan for the Eurasia Review.

In his speech President Waheed appealed to the people to offer full cooperation to the State’s relentless peace efforts while maintaining high regard for the country’s laws and legislature. While highlighting the need to safeguard the religion, consolidating the military forces and further unifying people, a conciliatory gesture on his part would have gone a long way in defusing the current tensions.

On the other hand his position is seen to have hardened. On 17th July he said that he ( he meant his party) will not participate in the All Party talks while the MDP continues to going back to street protests in Male. Earlier the President’s spokesperson condemned the MDP protests as “acts of terrorism.”

President’s Adviser Dr. Saeed who holds a very important post and who is expected to show some restraint declared very categorically that there is no benefit in continuing the “All Party Talks” and does not believe that Nasheed’s participation would reap any benefit!

Earlier the chairman of the All party talks- Ahmed Mujuthaba announced that 16 previous attempts at talks among the top political leaders had not resulted in any breakthrough! It looks that the talks have been given a decent burial. So much for the Indian initiative!

In the last few days, over 200 protestors have been arrested and this included many MDP MPs and even a former cabinet minister. Many of those released after arrests have been ordered to remain indoors in the evening and the night till the next morning! Quite a strange order!

Not all the protests have been peaceful either. In many instances the protestors are seen to have broken the barricades and rushed towards the security forces. The security forces have also been subjected to verbal and filthy abuses.

The Police are also seen to be using “pepper spray” indiscriminately. There is a video footage doing the rounds showing the security forces aiming the spray at Nasheed! The government has publicised the statements of the bodyguards provided by the government from the forces that they did not see any spray being aimed at Nasheed. They have to say this if they are to keep their jobs!

With the government pushing for prosecution of Nasheed, the latter has called on all the population to be present at the trial to witness what happens in the court while alleging that he whole case is being politically motivated.

The MDP has already declared that it will not participate in an election where its presidential candidate ( here Nasheed) is prevented from contesting.

An unfortunate incident of a killing of a lance corporal of Maldivian police by a criminal while he was being arrested is being given a political twist by none other than the Home minister himself that the MDP protests and abuse of Police by the demonstrators have led to the killing!

UK Foreign Office Spokesman Alistair Burt made a very balanced statement. He said -” I call on all sides to show restraint in the interest of achieving a sustainable political solution to Maldives’ recent problem. Protests must be peaceful and security forces’ response should be professional and proportionate. Violence and any cases of excessive use of force should be investigated and those responsible held to account.”

The Special Envoy of the Commonwealth made a similar call for restraint. He expressed his concern at ‘rising political tension’ in Maldives and specifically over the ongoing protests and criminal charges filed against Nasheed. He called for dialogue among political parties urging all parties to show restraint and restore calm.

The European Union made a similar observation. Their High Representative said – continued political unrest, heavy-handed response of security forces and charges filed against political leaders will only lead to further deterioration of the political climate of the country and will adversely affect the lives of all Maldivian citizens.

India on its part has also called for restraint and dialogue. These appear to have fallen on deaf ears of both sides.

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Thousands rally as diplomats meet with press

United States’ Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake has encouraged the coalition of “former opposition” political parties affiliated with the new government to “work with all parties to reform and improve the capacity of the judiciary, the police and the election commission to ensure the election can be held in an orderly and peaceful manner.”

Large crowds gathered at MDP rally

Meeting the press this afternoon in the National Art Gallery, Blake said that “a number of good ideas” were being explored to “try and bring former President Mohamed Nasheed’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) into the national unity government.”

Blake’s suggestion follows that of new President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan, who said on Saturday morning that he hoped some cabinet posts would be taken by the MDP: “I hope MDP will be part of my cabinet, and I will keep posts vacant for them.”

Nasheed’s supporters have criticised the legitimacy of Dr Waheed’s government and have refused to participate in his proposed ‘national unity’ government.

Challenged by a foreign journalist as to the legality of the transition, Blake said that US commitment was to the new government of the Maldives.

““The United states remains committed to working with all Maldivian people to ensure democratic and prosperous future for this important friend of the United States,” Blake said.

However he added said that there were “some questions regarding the transfer of power” and suggested that some sort of independent Maldivian commission be formed to investigate the issue, before arriving at conclusions.

As per the constitution, the Vice President is next in line for the presidency and the speaker of the parliament “has already said that the transfer of the power was constitutional.”

“Some people say it was a coup, some people say it was a peaceful and constitutional transfer of. power. That not for the US to decide, that is for Maldivians,” Blake said.

He did express concern over the “anti-semetic commentary” and strongly condemned it, and also praised Nasheed’s government “for working to improve [the country’s] relationship with Israel and show themselves as a modern and progressive government.”

Nasheed and his party supporters gathered in their thousands at the Artificial Beach in Male’, where they were shown a chronology of videos leading up the change of government. Crowd control police or military were nowhere to be seen, and the crowd eventually dispersed peacefully.


Comment: Citizen sheep

A Maldivian chronicler once recounted an anecdote of the late Prince Hassan Farid Didi who remarked back in the 1930’s that granting democracy to Maldivians is like giving a handkerchief to a monkey. “The monkey doesn’t know what a handkerchief is used for and soon it will wipe its bottom with it,” the Prince reportedly said.

A lot of Maldivians take offense at being compared to primates, but the past few weeks of political volatility has definitely called into question the country’s ability to shoulder the responsibilities of being a democracy.

The current crisis was sparked after the armed forces were commanded to forcibly detain Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed of the Criminal Court, after he ordered the release of two opposition leaders who were being prosecuted for “hate speech”.

The DQP leaders, Dr Jameel and “Sandhaanu” Ahmed Didi, had publicly accused the government of coming under the influence of Jews and Christian missionaries “to destroy Islam”. Religious hyperbole is frequently used for political slander in the Maldives – an unfortunate outcome of the country’s failure to adopt a secular constitution in 2008.

The military detention of the judge has led to a series of increasingly violent, opposition-led street protests in Male’ for the past 10 days. Protesters have allegedly attacked journalists, uprooted trees, damaged public property and vandalised a Minister’s house.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court, High Court, the Opposition parties, the SAARC Secretary General and the Vice President have all spoken out against the detention calling it unconstitutional. Even the Prosecutor General has declared the detention unlawful.

This wouldn’t be the first time President Nasheed has exercised his uncanny willingness to shake things up.

In August 2010, he commanded the armed forces to lock down the Supreme Court after the Interim Supreme Court bench boldly decided to declare itself permanent. Following the siege, the major political parties managed to do some quick backroom negotiations to appoint a new panel of judges.

While the President’s latest salvo has successfully brought into the mainstream public conscious, for the first time, the long ignored issue of the runaway judiciary, it does raise concerns about the Executive setting unwelcome precedents for the future.

Runaway Judiciary

Aishath Velezinee, the former Judicial Services Commission whistle-blower, has publicly alleged that there is a collusion between senior opposition parliamentarians and the judiciary, which exercises undue influence over the JSC.

The JSC, which is supposed to be the independent watchdog of the judiciary, is itself dominated by judges and opposition allied politicians – and its record thus far is less befitting a watchdog, and more indicative of a lap dog.

Velezinee alleges that this is tantamount to a ‘silent coup’, where the judiciary is hijacked by a nexus of corrupt judges and opposition leaders, and the courts are used as an instrument to protect members of the old establishment that was overthrown during the democratic uprising.

The Criminal Court

The charges against Judge Abdulla Mohamed are extremely serious – ranging from corruption, to obstruction of police duties, to questionable judgments and poor professional conduct.

In February 2010, the judge ordered the release of a murder suspect – who would then stab another man to death within the next month.

The judge has in the past demanded that an underage sexual abuse victim re-enact her abuse in the public courtroom. These allegations were first reported in 2005 by then Attorney General Dr Hassan Saeed, whose political party is now among those leading the charge to release him.

The police have in the past accused the judge of delaying search warrants by several days, allowing major drug traffickers to get away. The Home Minister accuses him ordering the release of suspected criminals “without a single hearing”. He also stands accused of arbitrarily dismissing court officials.

It does not help allegations that the courts are in bed with tainted politicians when the same Criminal Court Judge also bars the media from covering corruption proceedings against opposition-allied Deputy Speaker Nazim.

A February 2011 report released by the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) also highlighted the failure of the politicised courts to be impartial in providing justice.

The Rule of Law

While there are obviously dark clouds looming over Judge Abdulla Mohamed’s record, and the state of the judiciary is less than acceptable, does this automatically excuse the executive’s decision to forcibly detain the judge on a whim?

The unilateral actions of the very first democratically elected executive sets a rather poor precedent.

Will it be the case in the future that any elected President can arbitrarily command the armed forces to detain errant officials or citizens without the any court approval, or warrant or legal backing?

Will all future presidents be similarly entrusted to be the ultimate judge of when the Rule of Law can be subverted – if they feel it is in the larger interests of society? Will their judgements always be enforced through the brute force of the military?

The ruling party and the President’s apologists offer the explanation that given the nature of the allegations against Chief Judge Abdulla Mohamed, and the cartel-like behaviour of the judiciary, drastic action needed to be taken to ensure justice.

Yes, drastic action was indeed required – but did it necessarily need to be initiated from the President’s Office? Does not ultimate power rest with the voting public anymore?

Citizen Sheep

It has proven surprisingly difficult to get the public involved in a debate over the many, many allegations against the judiciary – that less glamorous wing of state power where the primary actors work behind closed doors, hidden from the media limelight.

When former MP and Chairman of the Special Majlis Drafting Committee Ibrahim “Ibra” Ismail expressed alarm in September 2011 over the growing excesses of the judiciary, the Supreme Court fantastically reprimanded him in a press release, asserting that criticising the Courts went “against the principles of civilisation” and that the constitution forbade such criticism.

In a democracy, the power rests with the people. However, Maldivians so far have shown little inclination to hold their state office bearers accountable.

In the neighbouring country of India, tens of thousands of outraged members of the public poured out onto the streets in recent months to protest against corruption in high offices.

The impact of overwhelming public sentiment and the willingness of the Indian public to hold their elected officials accountable worked. Several cabinet ministers and powerful provincial leaders previously thought to be untouchable by law suddenly found themselves behind bars.

Despite their every natural instinct, both opposition and ruling party leaders in India were forced to bend to public will and draft legislation that would create a new constitutional authority – an ombudsman that would be empowered to investigate corruption at the highest levels, including the Prime Minister’s office.

In contrast, the Maldivian public seems to be lethargic, and content with mindlessly echoing whatever slogan is aired by whichever party they happened to plead allegiance to.

Thus, we had ten thousand protesters mindlessly follow their sloganeering political leaders last month to complain about monuments and a host of other trivial non-issues, but there wasn’t a murmur to be heard about the serious charges of corruption and undermining of the judiciary by the same politicians who were on stage blathering about some imagined grief caused by invading Jews.

Pray where were the hordes of MDP loyalists that today defend the President and speak in angry tones against the Criminal Court judge, when the judiciary made a mockery of the constitution throughout the whole fiasco involving the appointment of judges?

Does anyone know the views of the opposition protesters on the state of affairs of the judiciary?

Are they not concerned about the under-qualified, under-educated, and sometimes convicted criminals of poor moral calibre that now occupy the benches of their courts?

If they are worried about the abuse of executive power, why are they not concerned about the abuse of judicial and legislative power?

Perhaps the Maldivian public is simply uneducated on the gravity of these issues due to the lack of any avenue for factual, impartial information – and having access only to a bunch of partisan propaganda outlets masquerading as ‘the media’, with the choice to pick one that most panders to their views.

The slant of the State media coverage of the recent protests is eerily similar to the language employed by Gayoom-era news propaganda. Similarly, the bias and sensationalism spewed by opposition-allied TV networks would make Fox News and The Daily Mail blush.

A second revolution

An argument can be made that the task of democratic transition still lies incomplete, and that democratic reforms only changed things in the executive, leaving the judiciary and parliament to remain bastions of the old guard.

The President and the ruling party have the right to educate the public and complete the task of democratic reform in all areas of governance.

However, if they feel that more drastic, revolutionary actions are necessary, then perhaps they ought to relinquish the position of the executive, return to the streets as ordinary citizens, and organize a grassroots campaign to cleanse the country’s courts and Parliament.

It simply does not bode well for the country’s democracy when the powers bestowed to one arm of the State is unilaterally employed to twist the other arm.

The country has already had one failed attempt at democracy before. If the actions of the democratic leaders causes the general public loses faith in democratic institutions and the rule of law, then there’s no reason to believe it won’t fail again.

The Maldivian public needs to realize that the ultimate Constitutional power is not vested in the President’s residence of Muleeage, but in the hands of voting citizens, and that if they are serious about completing the task of Judicial reform, then it is up to the citizens themselves to rise up and sort out the Judges.

Echoing the sentiments of the Prince Hassan Farid Didi, Former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom once said in an interview that Dhivehin are not ‘ready’ for democracy.

Recent events suggest that both the Pharaoh and the Prince appear to be correct.

Four years after we voted in our first democratic government, the Maldivian public continues to be as clueless as the monkey with the handkerchief – and it is under our watch that politicians and judges wipe their bottoms with the constitution.

All comment pieces are the sole view of the author and do not reflect the editorial policy of Minivan News. If you would like to write an opinion piece, please send proposals to [email protected]


Sri Lankan tourism model could benefit local industry and exposure

While Maldives niche market continues to draw elite dollars, Sri Lanka’s tourism industry earned more money in 2011 than its island neighbor, statistics suggest. However, the Maldives’ move into the mid-market sector could expand horizons for budget travelers and Maldivians alike.

On January 6, Reuters reported that Sri Lanka’s tourist arrivals hit a record high in 2011 with a 30.8 percent jump to 855, 975; in 2010, the country experienced a 64.8 percent jump. Sri Lanka’s state revenue from tourism also rose by 46.7 percent to US$735.7 million in the first 11 months of last year.

Meanwhile, the Maldives has seen its own tourist arrivals jump to a record high of 1 million in 2011 – triple the country’s population.

The elite level of a Maldives vacation would suggest an elite revenue; use of the airport alone costs the 1 millions tourists approximately US$18 apiece, bringing US$21 million to the State last year. Yet in spite of the higher arrival rate, Maldives Inland Revenue Authority (MIRA) statistics estimate state revenue from tourism in 2011 at US$374 million–half its neighbor’s intake.

MIRA’s statistics are subject to two wild cards–the newly implemented Goods and Services Tax (GST) which left many items undeclared, and the possibility that some yachts aren’t declaring their total profits. Corruption is also a concern across the region, in which many countries have developing government infrastructure. “In the old days, there was no tax or GST,” said Managing Director of Maldives Marketing and PR Corporation (MMPRC) Simon Hawkins. “But now we have an accounts footprint from the GST, which will be available by 2013, so we will have a better idea of how money is being spent and where it’s going,” he added.

In addition, Sri Lankan nationals have more options for travel within their own country than the average Maldivian does among the islands. Even for Maldivians who could afford a resort trip, the un-Islamic stigma of the resorts is socially prohibitive and limits domestic tourism.

While Finance Ministry officials have been unable to clarify the discrepancy, Sri Lankan officials have pointed to the grassroots nature of their own tourism industry.

Listing the variety of vacations available in Sri Lanka, one official noted that the tourism industry is integrated into the local culture, and money paid to guest houses, restaurants and cultural and entertainment services goes directly into the economy.

By contrast, a Maldivian vacation typically happens on an island isolated from local culture and economy, feeding chunks of revenue to the expatriate workers and foreign investors who dominate resort operations.

While both countries compliment each other, Maldives is hard to beat, said Hawkins.

“Most people who go to Sri Lanka are backpackers. The beaches are okay, but people go for the cultural experience,” he said. “The most common package is the honeymooners who want to spend a week in Sri Lanka and a week in the Maldives. The general consensus is its more expensive in the Maldives but its worth it.”

According to State Minister of Tourism Thoyyib Waheed, the Maldives elite niche is a product of high-stakes bidding.

“In the last five years the government has given away many islands to the highest bidder. Because of that process, the winning bidder cannot develop a resort for the mid-market. To earn a return on the investment, the bidder has to aim for the high-end market,” he said.

Pointing to the dwindling arrivals from Europe, Waheed explained that during the global recession tourism operators have more Europeans requesting budget vacations.

“They’re looking for those rooms, especially the UK market, but we don’t have them. We need to provide for that charter market.”

While Sri Lanka may attract more budget backpackers, statistics suggest it is also pulling more of the Maldives’ main markets – flush Europeans and curious, recession-proof Asians.

In 2011, Western European arrivals jumped 22.7 percent, accounting for over ⅓ of tourist arrivals that year. South Asian arrivals jumped 35.3 percent, rivaling their Western European counterparts, government data suggests.

As a result, “the government is targeting annual revenue of $2.75 billion by 2016 from 2.5 million expected visitors attracted by Sri Lanka’s beaches, hills and religious and historic sites, while aiming for $3 billion in foreign direct investment,” Reuters reports.

Looking ahead to 2012, Sri Lanka is expecting a revenue in excess of US$1 billion – a 20 percent increase from 2011.

Deeper in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives appears to be edging into the mid-market sector.

According to State Minister Waheed, land lease rates have dropped from previous levels to encourage more mid-market tourism projects–and benefit the local economy. “The President’s view is, why can’t tourists come and stay in an empty room of a local home? There are so many empty rooms on the islands, everyone shouldn’t come and stay in a resort. In Germany tourists can stay in bed & breakfasts. In Maldives, it doesn’t have to be five-star.”

According to MMPRC, 88 percent of Maldives hotels are four star and above, giving it the highest propensity of hotels in terms of the high-end market anywhere in world. It also enjoys the highest occupancy rate (75 percent) world-wide.

While Maldives will maintain its one island, one resort image, it is aiming for more variety. Two projects in Laamu Atoll Gan are actively moving in that direction.

J Hotels and Resorts is expected to bring two 300-bed hotels and 69 guest houses to the 25 hectare area along with recreation activities, water sports and restaurants. Tourism Minister Dr Maryam Zulfa has said the Ministry is keen to see the Asseyri Project succeed.

“Right now we can’t cater to the mid-market tourists who want to have options when they make a trip to or within the Maldives,” Zulfa explained. “This will give them that opportunity. And the basis of the project will be the natural beauty – the beach, lagoon and reef are absolutely fantastic.”

She added that commercial components of the area would be rented out to different parties, thus involving more local entrepreneurs in the Maldives tourism-based economy.

In February, Reveries Boutique will become the first resort to open on a local island. Offering rooms available for under US$200 and the option of strolling into town for fish curry or mashuni, management aims to “explore the idea that parts of the Maldives are open for people of all types.”

Locals stand to gain in both income and experience.

Allowing guest houses in local islands would bring more jobs and new businesses to those areas while raising the rate of interaction between locals and tourists. Waheed added that the government is taking steps to help tourists navigate the country, rather than remain stationary on resort islands.

The same rule applies to Maldivians.

While Maldivians don’t normally go for vacation in the Maldives, they do spend high amounts abroad, “although vacations are often combined with medical treatments”, Waheed pointed out. High domestic costs also make international travel an attractive alternative–a return flight to Addu can cost more than the airfare to Colombo and back.

Although inter-island transport has improved in recent years, “locals don’t really know where to go or where to stay,” said Waheed. “The steps we are taking now will give locals more opportunities to travel around the Maldives.”

In August 2011, Sri Lanka’s “The Sunday Times” advised the nation to follow the Maldives’ lead.

“Resorts in the Maldives charge rates from US$200-300 upwards to over $1000 per night, and the authorities are now looking to attract the mid-market clientele which is also Sri Lanka’s market – though the two markets have different attractions”, read the article.

While Sri Lanka’s product is less luxe its method appears to bring more to the government, and theoretically the people working in the tourism industry. Moving into the mid-market sector could open opportunities for Maldivians seeking to gain a slice of the nation’s highest-earning industry, as well as offer them more exposure to their own country.


Parties launch protests as foreign media descends on Male’

Police this morning dispersed a rally of several hundred anti-government demonstrators who gathered at Republican Square near the headquarters of the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), amid a somewhat carnival atmosphere that settled over other parts of the city on Friday.

Dismissed Deputy Leader of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), Umar Naseer, and MPs Ali Arif and Ahmed Mahlouf were detained for an hour after allegedly shoving police.

After a run of demonstrations across Male’ this week in protest against the government’s decision to implement a managed float of the rufiya, effectively devaluing the currency, police on Wednesday announced that any protests not held in the open artificial beach or tsunami monument areas would be immediately dispersed.

The DRP, which insists the protests are ‘youth-led’ despite the apparent leadership of its MPs, has tried to replicate the ‘Arab Spring’ protests across the Middle East, painting President Nasheed as a despot to the international media and dubbing a busy Male’ intersection ‘Youth Square’.

The DRP announced that the protest would continue this evening at the artificial beach from 8:45pm.

Meanwhile, the ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) held a counter-protest this afternoon, with several thousand people gathering near the tsunami monument carrying banners and waving yellow flags.

Speaking at the rally, President Mohamed Nasheed stated that the government’s currency decision was backed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and challenged the opposition to defeat him in an election rather than attempting to topple the government illegitimately.

Nasheed claimed that the budget deficit had improved since the government took power, and that it had also introduced state pensions, health insurance and benefits for single parents and the disabled.

A concert stage and a number of upturned and smashed vehicles in the area, part of a police ‘Speed Kills’ campaign, provided a surreal backdrop to the pro-government demonstration.

An upturned car near the MDP rally, part of a police road accident campaign.

A number of foreign media outlets, including Al-Jazeera, have arrived in Male’ to cover the demonstrations after violent protests last week were widely publicised internationally.

Passing the DRP headquarters this afternoon and assumed to be foreign media, Minivan News was approached by an opposition supporter who compared the pro-government demonstrators to “pro-Mubarak supporters” who “beat us at night.”

Former Egyptian President of 30 years Hosni Mubarak was deposed by a democratic uprising in Egypt, leading to a tide of similar pro-democracy rallies across the Middle East.

Maldivian tourism representatives attending the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai, the region’s largest such expo, claimed this week to be receiving cancellations because of safety fears amid the ongoing demonstrations.

“Travel operators in Taiwan have said they are postponing and cancelling group bookings because of negative perceptions [of safety] in the Maldives,” a tourism source attending the expo told Minivan News.

“We just had another two confirmed bookings cancelled today because of reports of riots and instability. We worked hard to get these bookings and the potential domino effect is really worrying – people panic.”

Economic problems

An ongoing dollar shortage, reluctance of banks to exchange local currency, and a flourishing blackmarket that reached Rf 14.2-14.8 to the dollar, culminated in mid-April with the government finally acknowledging that the rufiya was overvalued – after a short-lived attempt to crack down on ‘illegal’ exchanges.

High demand immediately led to most banks and companies dealing in dollar commodities – such as airline ticketing agents – to immediately raise their rate of exchange to the maximum permitted rate Rf15.42.

With the Maldives almost totally reliant on outside imports, including fuel and basic staples such as rice, the government’s decision has effectively led to a 20 percent increase in the cost of living for most ordinary Maldivians.

In an article for Minivan News, Director of Structured Finance at the Royal Bank of Scotland Ali Imraan observed that ‘growth’ in the domestic economy had been driven by the public sector and “paid for by printing Maldivian rufiya and clever manoeuvres with T-Bills, which the government has used since 2009 to be able conveniently sidestep the charge of printing money. In simple terms: successive governments printed/created money to drive domestic economic growth.”

With the introduction this year of a 3.5 percent tourism goods and services tax, a business profit tax and a revision of the rents paid for resort islands, the government now has a number of economic levers it can pull to increase revenue in the future.

However, it has struggled to explain that to people now paying up to 20 percent extra for basic commodities – an affront to the MDP’s pledge to reduce the cost of living – and was caught unawares by this week’s populist protests.

Both factions of the opposition have seized the political opportunity to take the focus off the party’s internal troubles, but have offered few alternatives beyond demanding the government “reduce commodity prices”.

Read more on the Maldivian economy


HRCM condemns police attack on media

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) has condemned the police reaction towards journalists who were injured while attempting to cover the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) led protest on Monday night.

Several journalists from different media organisations have reported violent police attacks on journalists covering the opposition protest.

A journalist from Miadhu, Three journalists from DhiTV, two journalists from VillaTV, one from newspaper Miadhu and a photographer from Haveeru reported they were attacked by the police.

The two journalists from VillaTV were also arrested, handcuffed, and released the same evening.

‘’As the media is a pillar that plays an important role in democracy, the freedom of media is a right guaranteed under the constitution which cannot be restricted under any circumstances,’’ said the HRCM in a statement. ‘’Persons active in the media have to be given freedom and protection.’’

The HRCM claimed some of the journalists working there were obstructed from conducting their work by using force, and ‘’therefore we condemn these actions.’’

The freedom of gathering shall also be conducted peacefully in a way that it would not be an obstacle for other peoples’ rights.

The commission advised the protesters to pay attention to these issues and  “to keep their actions in accordance with the rules and regulations.”

“And in a situation where gatherings have to dispersed for security reasons, the chance of causing disruption narrows if it is conducted in accordance to the established procedures,’’ the commission said. ‘’We are now investigating the concerning issues raised after the riot.’’

The HRCM called on the police to use methods “that will not injure people and cause disturbance to citizens” when dispersing riots in the future.


Released MPs continue protests while Vice President claims situation “is embarrassing”

The government has claimed it had “absolutely no role” in the decision made by police on Thursday evening to take senior opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) leaders into custody.

DRP Vice presidents Ali Waheed and Umar Naseer, and MPs Ahmed Ilham and Ahmed Mahlouf were among those taken to the nearby prison island, Dhoonidhoo, after being escorted from DRP headquarters at 10:30pm on Thursday night by riot police. They were released at 3am early the next morning.

An MDP gathering taking place at the artificial beach was disrupted when DRP supporters in the party’s nearby headquarters began playing loud music, with tension between the supporters of both sides turning violent when some began to throw chairs, rocks and water bottles.

“Police tried to control the area using teargas but some people would still not obey police orders, and we were forced to take 19 people into police custody,” said Sub Inspector Ahmed Shiyam with the Maldives Police Service.

“The intention was to remove them from Male’ until the city was brought under control, then release them,” he said. “Anybody who was there would understand how difficult the situation was to control. Police felt [detaining the leaders] was the easiest way to control the situation.”

Shiyam called on those organising the demonstrations to “show some responsibility” and ensure they were able to control the gathering and obey police rules and regulations.

However running protests by the various parties continued to erupt sporadically across Male’ yesterday afternoon, with supporters for various parties clashing outside the homes of Parliamentary Speaker Abdulla Shahid, DRP Leader Ahmed Thasmeen Ali, Home Minister Mohamed Shihab, and Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan.

Last night crowds gathered again at the artificial beach during a DRP meeting, which turned violent after a group of people crashed into the party’s gathering and took the microphone away from somebody who was speaking.

MDP and DRP supporters threw stones at one another, which led to the arrival of team of police who requested the crowd disperse as it was disturbing the peace. DRP Vice President Umar Naseer continued using the loud speaker in the party’s office to announce that the demonstrations would not stop until President Mohamed Nasheed resigned.

Police then announced they would be using tear gas, and deployed two grenades into the crowd before arresting 31 people. At 12:30am Naseer called on the remaining demonstrators to gather again at 9pm tonight.

Shiyam said there had been reports of many civilian injuries during the two nights of violent clashes, although nothing serious. Six police officers had also sustained injuries, he said.

Vice president response

Vice President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan said in a press conference this morning that the political demonstrations were regrettable while more than 90 diplomats and senior government officials from some 40 countries were visiting for the donor conference.

Waheed also said he regretted last week’s brawl in parliament, over a no-confidence motion against the Auditor General Ibrahim Naeem.

”As the vice president of the country I regret these things and as a Maldivian I am embarrassed,” he said, calling on Maldivians “not to take part in such activities” for the benefit of the country.

“Countries do not provide aid for a certain party or for a certain government, but the country as a whole,” he said.

Waheed said almost all the countries which provided aid to the country would attend the conference, which starts tomorrow at Bandos Island Resort, and appealed to the major political parties not to hold meetings and rallies in a manner that might affect the conference.

“Political issues are not solved on the streets, they should be solved through discussions,” he said.

DRP response

DRP Spokesperson and Vice President Ibrahim Shareef told Minivan News the party had no intention of disrupting the donor conference and harming the country’s national interest, and said he did not blame police “who are doing a very professional job under the circumstances.”

Instead, he accused the MDP of using “criminals and hired thugs” to attack DRP supporters, saying that the crowd that attacked DRP’s headquarters last night were armed with batons and iron bars.

“We saw some very well known MDP activists in the crowd,” he said. “Some people were very badly injured and taken to hospital with broken arms.”

“We are a very peaceful party and the leaders are very moderate, and DRP has many people experienced in political leadership,” he said. “But when people are injured and attacked they will react, and if mobs are forming it is only out of self-defence.”

He said he “did not know” why the MDP would be provoking DRP supporters ahead of the donor conference.

“The government pays lip-service to democracy while being totally dependent on hand outs,” Shareef said. “the international community has a role to play because the government must listen to it.”

He warned that unless the government “does its job properly” and ensured political stability, “the consequences will be beyond anyone’s control. The government must stop using thugs to attack our supporters,” Shareef said.

“Two of my shops have been attacked, this is very unhealthy,” he noted. “Now I hear some people are coming to Male’ from the islands. If the violence spreads to the islands it will be become uncontrollable. We are trying to calm and control things.”

He explained that it was sometimes necessary for DRP leaders to work with the sentiment of the crowd to cool the situation and stay in control.

Government’s call for calm

Spokesperson for the President’s Office Mohamed Zuhair accused the DRP of “just trying to oppose for the sake of opposition”, and said that if Umar Naseer’s calls for continued protests eventuated, “that will be a very undesirable message for international donors, who expect stability.”

The government was aiming for US$40 million in short-term funding to alleviate the current budget crisis, and seeking US$150 million per year over the next three years in longer term funding, he said.

Protests had “progressed from one thing to another” Zuhair claimed, beginning with efforts to oust the Auditor General, harass MDP functions and now disrupt the donor conference.

“The DRP accuses Naeem for using his corporate credit card to buy a tie and $400 on personal transportation. The DRP obviously think that if they are able to oust the AG, all his reports about the corruption of the last 30 years can be dismissed as not credible,” Zuhair said.

Police had an intelligience group monitoring the conference and were ready to make an appearance if necessary, he said.

Zuhair also noted that as an elected political representative, “there is no need for Mr Umar Naseer to jump over the president’s gate.”

“There is proper protocol and he need not go to that length if he wants to see inside Muleeage. He is welcome to see that there is no bar inside, as he has previously suggested.”