Maldives debate intensifies in UK Parliament

Whilst the UK government professed its commitment to the India-brokered road map talks in the UK’s House of Lords this week, in less official forums MPs appeared to have reached a damning verdict on the current Maldives administration, discussing punitive measures and demanding apologies for perceived sleights.

Lord Howell of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) avoided any conclusive statements in the face of questions from the House regarding the legitimacy of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan’s government, promising only support for the work of the Commonwealth and the Commission of National Inquiry.

This followed a meeting the day before of members of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the Maldives who used offices provided by the UK Parliament to hold a meeting entitled “Democracy Derailed: Political turmoil in the Maldives”. A source present during the meeting has given Minivan News their full account of the discussion.

The source, who wished to remain anonymous, said that those who spoke about the current situation in the country were the MP for Salisbury, John Glenn; Queen’s Counsel, Sir Ivan Lawrence; former Foreign Minister for the Maldives government and current UN Special Rapporteur on Iran, Dr Ahmed Shaheed, and former Deputy Health Minister Mariya Ali.

Also said to have contributed to the panel were Helen Grant MP, Mike Gapes MP, and former Maldives High Commissioner to the UK Dr Farahanaz Faizal.

Dr Faizal has actively opposed the current administration since resigning from her position, shortly after the departure of former President Mohamed Nasheed. She has since remained in the UK, working on behalf of the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) in raising awareness of perceived human rights abuses and democratic failings in the Maldives.

The former Deputy High Commissioner and brother to President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan, Naushad Waheed, was also present as were Maldivian students and families from the UK. Representatives of civil society organisations including the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative and Third World Solidarity were also in attendance.

Chairman David Amess reportedly opened the meeting by expressing his disappointment that the Maldives government had declined to send a representative from the UK High Commission, despite being offered the opportunity to do so.

This has been disputed by Acting High Commissioner to the UK, Ahmed Shiaan, who claimed that the UK High Commission had received no official invitation.

The MP from Salisbury, John Glenn, expressed “no doubt” that there had been a coup d’etat in the Maldives, our source reports.

“[The] democratic will of the people of Maldives has been tossed aside,” Glenn is alleged to have told the group before mentioning his distress at the comments recently aimed at both the UK and the Commonwealth by the Maldives’ new governing coalition.

Glenn’s Salisbury constituency served as the base for former President Mohamed Nasheed during his exile in the UK. The Friends of Maldives (FOM) organisation, responsible for a recent travel advisory which pleads with tourists to avoid any resorts associated with alleged coup conspirators, is based in Salisbury.

Strained relations

Perceived interference from the Commonwealth, whose Secretariat is based in London and whose figurehead remains Queen Elizabeth II, has attracted scathing criticism recently in the Maldives.

Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) MP Riyaz Rasheed accused the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) as having been “bought by the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP)” after it had urged the current government to establish its legitimacy with early elections.

CMAG released a strongly worded statement last week, arguing that the “the earliest possible expression of the will of the people was required to establish universal faith in the legitimacy of those who govern the country.”

That the group had seen a “lack of progress” in this respect caused it to express “disappointment and deep concern.”

Special Envoy Sir Donald McKinnon, who departed on Friday, attended the Opening Session of the People’s Majlis on 19 March, emphasised the need for parliament to “function effectively so that parliamentarians can return to debating issues of national interest.”

President’s spokesperson Abbas Adil Riza last week went as far as to suggest to Minivan News that the Maldives may consider its position in the Commonwealth, although the reporting of his statement was later dismissed by Abbas in other media as “politically motivated”.

Addressing the all party group, Sir Ivan Lawrence is said to have spoken of his lack of faith in the Maldives’ judicial system, based on his visits to the country during the Maumoon Gayoom era.

“It is now surely important for the same international community that helped to bring about the first democracy, to underline the importance to the new regime of holding speedy free and fair elections, so that power may be restored as quickly as possible to the people of the Maldives,” Sir Lawrence purportedly quoted from a letter he had recently sent to UK newspaper, The Times.

Mariya Ali is alleged to have discussed human rights violations in the Maldives as well as police brutality, before giving the floor to Dr Shaheed who is reported to have suggested that the Gayoom coterie lost their grip on power as a result of attempts to placate the international community.

Dr Shaheed apparently expressed his opinion that they were unlikely to repeat this mistake, citing Dunyha Maumoon’s comments regarding “civil war” as evidence of this resolve. Shaheed stated that the current government will not hold early elections, but rather will work to enfeeble the opposition MDP between now and the scheduled poll date.

Shaheed is also said to have expressed his concern that the independently minded Election Commissioner Fuad Thaufeeq would now be targeted by the current government due to his reputation for impartiality.

Insult and injury

The debate is also said to have included mention of the recent insults leveled at the Queen, the Commonwealth, and the UK government.

During DQP MP Riyaz’s diatribe on DhiTV, he argued that the British public had funded the MDP in return for the establishment of churches in the Maldives and also that they hated the Maldives for gaining independence from Britain.

“The English hate us. Why? Because Ibrahim Nasir saved us from slavery and brought us independence, since then what have the English done for us?” he said.

Riyaz then turned his attention to the Queen herself, “After 50 years, the English Queen, she is physically challenged. But she is still Queen, and if she wants she can remove the Prime Minister. Where is democracy? Where is democracy? That is not a democracy.”

In agreement with the opinion of a member of the public in attendance, David Amess is reported to have said that the government of Maldives should issue a full apology for Riyaz’s outburst and, in concurrence with the other members of the APPG, he argued that the issue should be brought before Parliament.

Additionally, Amess is reputed to have stated his feeling that the attendance of President Waheed at the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations this year would be inappropriate.

Minivan News has obtained video footage of this section of the discussion and can confirm an unidentified voice from off-camera suggesting an early-day motion regarding this topic.

Early day motions are a tool used by MPs in the House of Commons to introduce a subject for discussion. They are often used to publicise certain events or subjects and to gauge the level of parliamentary support for such motions.

Finally, the meeting is said to have moved on to punitive measures. The alleged consensus was that European travel bans had greater potential to damage those alleged to be behind a coup. The option of resort boycotts was dismissed as too damaging to the Maldives’ economic lifeblood.

The video footage received also includes Mr Amess’s concluding statements and so the following quote can be confirmed:

“Ladies and gentlemen, we started off our meeting asking has democracy been derailed, is there political turmoil in the Maldives? Well, listening to the contributors before us this afternoon, the answer to the first part is ‘yes’. Political turmoil in the Maldives? Again we’ve heard the answer, ‘yes’.”

Official comments

The validity of this meeting has been questioned by the Acting High Commissioner, Ahmed Shiaan.

“This was not a UK parliamentary initiated event. If this was an official APPG event, we should have been invited. It is very disappointing,” said Shiaan, “[If it were] they would have to get our perspective, even the Foreign and Commonwealth Office [FCO] wasn’t invited.”

Shiaan pointed out that the discussion initiated in the House of Lords on March 22, at which the FCO was represented, should receive more prominence as it better represents the official line of the government.

When Lord Howell of the FCO was in the Lords about the potential suspension of the Maldives from the Commonwealth, his response was that this decision was up to the whole of the Commonwealth to decide upon, not just one member.

“We must move to encourage democratic elections, and that is what is proposed in the India-brokered plan, which we welcome and support,” said Lord Howell.

One member of the House asked if Lord Howell felt the government was doing enough to ensure an independent international enquiry after what was regarded by some as a coup.

“We do not recognise this as a coup, although obviously there has been a change,” replied Lord Howell, “We still need to establish the full circumstances of what occurred and we hope that the commission of inquiry will do that.”

Lord Howell was also anxious to make clear the view of the FCO that the Maldives remained a safe tourist destination. “At the moment we do not judge that there is any danger in the tourist areas.”

Next, Lord Howell was asked what steps CMAG might take if they were not successful in pushing for early elections, to which he responded:

“If they are not, of course we would have a new and more difficult situation that would require further resolution and effort. For the moment, we concentrate on following the plan which the Indians have so helpfully brokered.”

Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) MP Riyaz Rasheed, part of the new governing coalition, accuses the Commonwealth of seeking to build a church in the Maldives, Special Envoy Sir Donald McKinnon of taking bribes from the MDP, and the Queen of being “physically challenged”:


Police will become “feared by the most dreaded criminals”: Commissioner Riyaz

Commissioner of Police Abdullah Riyaz has outlined the Maldives Police Service (MPS)’s new operational priorities for 2012, and introduced newly appointed Deputy Commissioner of Police Hussein Waheed.

At a press conference yesterday, Riyaz said the new priorities of the police included prevention of drug trafficking, prevention of organised and violent crimes, road safety monitoring and counter-terrorism.

Riyaz said he would try to make the police into an institution “feared by the most dreaded criminals”.

“We will try our best to identify the criminals and ensure they are being tried for their charges with proper evidence,” he said.

Riyaz also said that political parties were accusing the police of “baseless accusations” and advised them to refrain from doing so.

“We would welcome peaceful protests. We will cooperate as well but when protesters resort to violence, damaging private and public property, the police will have to disperse the crowds. We are here to maintain the peace and order of the country,” he said.

“The police are the authorities that have to control demonstrations and questions are always asked about the way protests and demonstrations are controlled, especially by those on the receiving end,” he said.

He called upon parliament to make a law on protesting so that it would be a lot easier for the police to perform their duties under such a law.

Riyaz also highlighted the importance of passing of laws that were vital for the police work: “We ask parliament to pass the bills concerning the duties of the police such as an Evidence Act, Criminal Procedure Act and the Penal Code,” he said. Those bills have stalled at committee stage, in some cases for over a year.

Riyaz said that police were given the full operational independence and insisted that “none of the political figures or the government are trying to influence the police institution.”

He also said that he was trying to assign police officers to the islands after the February 8 arson attacks on police buildings, following a violent police crackdown on demonstrators in Male’.

Riyaz also said it was better if the Human Rights Commission (HRCM) and Police Intergrity Commission (PIC) investigated the events that unfolded on February 8.

Riyaz brushed off all the allegations that some police had come out to control the protests after consuming alchohol as “baseless nonsense”, and said that police were being linked to alcohol because they had been investigating a lot of alcohol cases.

Riyaz was Assistant Commissioner under Nasheed’s government prior to his dismissal in 2010. Asked about the legality of the appointment of a civilian to the post of Commissioner of Police – position usually given to ranked officers – Riyaz said that he had been appointed according to the rules under the police act.

“I was discharged from my duties while I was an assistant commissioner. After the change of government, I was asked to join the police force as they said the government required my services and had requested me to join,” he said Riyaz.

“I was reinstated to the same position I was before, and I was appointed to the Commissioner of Police afterwards,” continued Riyaz.

He praised newly appointed deputy police commissioner Waheed, stating that the Waheed was a “very experienced serviceman” and had done police training abroad. Riyaz assured that he would get full support from Waheed and that under their leadership, the police would “win the people’s trust.”

Deputy Commissioner of Police, Waheed, said that he will give full support to the commissioner and assured that he would remain committed and loyal.


MDP protesters will face terrorism charges: Home Minister Dr Jameel

The newly appointed Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel has warned of filing terrorism charges against those arrested over the destruction of public and police property during Wednesday’s late-night protests, which erupted across 10 islands in six atolls after the police attacked Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters’ peaceful march in Male’

Dr Jameel, the deputy leader of minority opposition Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP), was investigated by Nasheed’s government for ‘hate speech’ after his party published a pamphlet entitled ‘President Nasheed’s devious plot to destroy the Islamic faith of Maldivians’, alleging that Nasheed’s government was part of a “Jewish Zionist conspiracy” seeking to “spread Christianity” and “undermine Islam in the Maldives”.

Speaking to the media on Thursday, Dr Jameel claimed that “MDP is responsible for the unrest” since the crowd beaten by the police had come from a meeting of the MDP national council yesterday afternoon.

Police stations and vehicles on several islands were set on fire or taken over last night by protestors identified by the police and government as “MDP supporters”, while several magistrate courts on the islands and government offices were also burnt down.

“I believe these [attacks] fit as acts of terrorism as stated in the Maldives Terrorism Act,” Dr Jameel contended. “The law states those who commit such acts will face 10-15 years jail sentence or banishment… They will be brought in front of the law successfully and I will make sure it happens for the safety of our people.”

Police Commissioner Abdullah Riyaz who also spoke at the press conference, said that the police are continuing the search for attackers.

“Will utilise all the skills I have and resources at hand, to conduct an evidence based investigation into the attacks and forward the cases to the Prosecutor General’s Office to begin the court trails as soon as possible”, Riyaz added.

Meanwhile, MDP Parliamentary Group Leader Ibrahim Solih rejected the allegations that MDP had instigated the unrest. “We did not do anything wrong,” he claimed.

“All we wanted was to take a peaceful march around Male’. But near the Maldives Monetary Authority [MMA], military armed with shields stopped us from moving forward. And without any warning we were attacked with tear gas, while police Star Force marched in, beating us with batons,” Solih explained.

At least 50 individuals were seen at Male’ hospitals following the crackdown, and images circulating over social media and news outlets show several people with various injuries and blood stained clothes. Government hospital IGMH declared a state of emergency at 6:15pm last evening.

Party Chairperson and MP ‘Reeko’ Moosa Manik was reported to be in critical condition following the attack. Giving an interview to local media Raaje TV from his hospital bed, Moosa claimed security forces “wanted to kill me.”

Nasheed also sustained injuries to his back, hands and head. He was kept in a safe house until some time last night, when he returned to his home in Male’. Although a warrant for his arrest was issued by the Criminal Court this afternoon, Police Commissioner Riyaz has said he will investigate the legality of the court order before taking action.

Following the events, Human Rights Commission of the Maldives (HRCM) and the Police Integrity Commission (PIC) released statements, raising concerns over police actions and asking the police not to use brutal force against people.

Riyaz acknowledged the remarks and said the police would use “minimum force” to control such situations.

Meanwhile, Home Minister Dr Jameel contended that “we are not responsible” for the police’s actions yesterday afternoon, as Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim and himself assumed their respective posts after the events.


Deputy Speaker Nazim appointed Opposition Parliamentary Group Leader

A new coalition of opposition MPs from the Peoples Alliance (PA), Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP)’s Z-Faction, Jumhoory Party (JP) and Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) last night appointed the new group’s leader, deputy leaders, spokesperson and whips.

Deputy Speaker of Parliament and PA MP Ahmed Nazim was chosen as the leader of the Opposition Parliamentary Group.

DQP MP Riyaz Rasheed and Z-DRP MP Ilham Ahmed were appointed as deputy leaders of the parliamentary group while Z-DRP MP Ahmed Mahlouf was appointed spokesperson.

Z-DRP MP Hamdhoo Hameed was appointed as the “government watch” and PA MP Abdula Azeez Jamal Abu Bakur, Z-Faction MP Ali Arif, MP Ahmed Nihan, MP Abdul Muhsin, MP Mohamed Rafeeq and independent MP Ibrahim Riza were appointed as whips.

Deputy Leader of DRP Ahmed ‘Mavota’ Shareef meanwhile told Minivan News that the current political situation of the Maldives was very fluid.

“Today everyone needs power and to get that power one might do anything, be it out of the law or within the law,” Shareef said.

Shareef predicted that according to the way things were going, DRP MP Ahmed Thasmeen Ali “will not lose the position of minority leader in parliament.”

“We do not support the policy of the government, that is why DRP is here, and we will only support people that support the policy of DRP.”

Announcing the decision to create the new opposition parliamentary group, MP Mahlouf said Thasmeen was also welcome to join the opposition parliamentary group.

Thasmeen did not respond to Minivan News at time of press.


Winning the lottery, Maldives style

It was a hot afternoon and Ibrahim Riyaz was standing on the beach of his island Kudarikikilu in Baa Atoll, trying to get some cooling breeze, when he noticed something white floating in the sea.

Curious as to what it was, he nevertheless turned his attention on his son who was on talking on the phone with his aunt. When his son left, he decided to go a bit closer to the sea, and noticed the object was now floating less than six foot from him.

“At first I thought it was a puffer fish,” says Riyaz.

When he realized it was floating further away instead of coming towards him, he decided to wade in. “At the back of my mind, I did think it might be an ambergris.”

The object was white and weighed around 2.5 kilograms, with a strong, earthy smell. He placed it near a palm tree, and went home for a shower. On his return he took the ambergris and went to a relative’s house nearby.

“Having never seen ambergris I wasn’t sure what it was,” he says. When the old relative he showed to said it was ambergris, “my joy knew no bounds.”

Riyaz dropped his son at school and came back, and saw the old man had broken a little bit off and was burning it on the fire: “It smelled like perfume, like good aftershave.”

His father returned from fishing, also burned a piece and said it was ambergris. This was confirmed by the islands old medicine man the next day.

Guarding an ambergris

Now the substance had been identified as ambergris, the issue of security cropped up. Ambergris is used to make perfumes, in medicine, and is also known as an aphrodisiac, consequentially it enjoys a high value on the international market.

Kudarikilu, a small island of around 540 inhabitants, had been the location an ambergris find thirty years ago also.

“Alas the story didn’t end well for that person,” says Riyaz, explaining that a fisherman by the name of Mohamedbe had been out fishing near an uninhabited island when an object floated near the boat, bobbing up and down.

Not sure what it was, he nevertheless picked it up and kept it in the dhoni.

Upon arrival, the first person Mohamedbe met was Riyaz’s grandfather. He called his crewmates to bring the object, showed it to the grandfather who identified it as ambergris.

Ecstatic, Mohamedbe got ready to leave to Male the next night to sell it. Come the time for departure, Mohamedbe finds the batheli (small boat) had been robbed of its rudder.

“Even then Mohamedbe didn’t realize something was wrong,” says Riyaz.

Next day Mohamedbe gets a new rudder, and prepares to leave the following day. “

“That night itself someone broke into his home and stole the ambergris.”

Distraught, Mohamedbe sought the help of the island office, who said a search could be undertaken but not of any homes.

“The talk was that the island office people were in on the stealing, because what was the point if the homes can’t be searched?”

The rudder was returned the following day.

The affair remained a mystery until a couple of months later, when a couple divorced and the ex-wife, in a fit of anger, yelled at her former husband and called him an “ambergris thief.”

According to the story, the ambergris was hidden on a fish net hung in a room in the couple’s home. Mohamedbe took the matter to court; the man in question was apprehended and confessed.

“However on the day he appeared in court, he retracted saying he was scared that’s why he lied,” Riyaz says.

Islanders concluded his co-conspirators had threatened him to shutting up.

The case was closed, with the man banished to another island for lying, and the islanders concluded that ambergris would never again found around the island of Kudarikilu.

Riyaz was determined the story would not repeat itself. In the eight days since he found it, thieves have broken into his house twice, he says. “One night I woke up to a sound and found a man dashing out.”

Island councilor Hassan Siraj said the island office would provide security, if requested: “Right now they are trying to market it abroad. Thirty years before ambergris was stolen [on the island], so we will help in any way if Riyaz requests.”

Riyaz says his find is well hidden.

“Siraj did offer to bring police help, but I will only ask for that if it takes long time to sell,” he says.

Asked if he is always anxious about it being stolen, he says “of course that fear is there, but it’s safe for the time being.”

He had an offer to sell the chunk to a local businessmen for four lacks (US$40,000). However a fellow islander, who works in Male, has been entrusted the task of finding buyers for it from abroad.

“Friends say I can sell it for a very good price as this is white ambergris and it’s more expensive.”

The first thing he will do with the money he receives will be to “send my parents to hajj”, Riyaz explains.

He plans to continue fishing as it’s his passion. “I might also start a small business with the nearby resorts.”

Riyaz plans to continue living on his small island, albeit richer than before.