The Maldives Police Services on Friday warned social media users against harassing and posting photos of individual officers online, prompting a social media outcry with dozens of Twitter users posting pictures of police brutality with the hashtag #NameThatPolice.
“Publicizing photos of individual police officers, with warnings, on social media is unacceptable,” the police said, claiming the act was aimed at intimidating police officers and inciting hatred towards the police force.
Appealing to social media users to be more responsible, the police warned of penalties against continued harassment.
The warning came after opposition supporters started circulating photos of individual police officers accusing them of criminality, brutality and bribery. The police statement, however, appears to have escalated matters.
#NameThatPolice Name and shame any police officer who goes against the law!
Many photos posted by Twitter users were from the brutal police crackdown in the aftermath of former President Mohamed Nasheed’s ouster on February 7, 2012. A Commonwealth backed national inquiry had recommended penalizing officers for brutality, but the opposition says the government had instead promoted officers accused of brutalizing protesters.
Mohamed Shaheed asked, “Are we not allowed to talk about this?”
Speaking to Minivan News, he said the public must publish photos of police brutality, “otherwise it will not stop.”
“This is not aimed at all police officers, just the ones who break the law,” he added.
“I think the warning by police is downright ridiculous. Nobody should tell us to stop speaking out against brutality. We will not remain silent when crimes are committed, be it police or any other state institution,” Twitter user Ibrahim Huzam told Minivan News.
“In addition to the lack of discipline and professionalism, police act very hostile towards the public, this is very wrong,” he added.
Tensions are high in Malé with the opposition protesting daily over the imprisonment of former President Mohamed Nasheed and former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim. Protests have now entered a seventh consecutive week.
Confrontations between police and protesters have increased recently, and hundreds including MPs and journalists have been arrested.
Chief Superintendent of Police Abdulla Nawaz on March 26 said inidivdual police officers have been confronted and intimidated at their homes, adding that efforts were underway to “psychologically weaken” police personnel
Nawaz also accused certain media outlets of attempting to falsely portray police as brutal towards civilians and said the media cut off live feed when protesters attacked police officers. He warned the police would arrest media personnel if they obstruct police duty.
Former Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim has meanwhile accused the police’s Specialist Operations (SO) officers of framing him by planting illegal weapons at his home and committing criminal activities including the chopping down of Malé City’s Areca Palms in October last year.
The police have denied the accusations as baseless and untrue.
Nazim was sentenced to 11 years in jail on Thursday (March 26).
The President’s Office has removed “socially unacceptable” pictures taken at Tuesday’s Maldives Film Awards from its website.
Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali told Minivan News the pictures had been removed on Wednesday evening following local media and social media criticism of “pictures against social norms.”
President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom and Defense Minister Ahmed Nazim attended the event held at the Olympus Theater in Malé. The ceremony was broadcast live on state broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM).
“We felt these pictures should not be on the President’s Office website. They are against social norms,” Muaz said.
Muaz refused to provide further details on which pictures were removed. But Minivan News understands they were of female film stars in revealing clothes.
Some commentators criticized the photos on religious grounds, while others pointed to the administration’s “hypocritical” treatment of female detainees arrested from a music festival on Anbaraa Island and accused of wearing revealing clothing on April 18.
The women were wrapped in sarongs when they were presented at the Criminal Court for remand hearings.
Comparing the film awards and Anbaraa music festival, one Facebook commenter said: “When the girls wore shorts and danced at Anbaraa it became a problem. But its OK when adult women wear revealing clothes and when some dance infront of political leaders. Raid Olympus just as they raided Anbaraa. This is why I say how they do things do not make sense.”
One commenter on Channel News Maldives said they were saddened by President Yameen’s presence at the event, while another said: “Those who raised their voices and cried in the name of religion and nation are now speechless, their voices silenced, mute.”
Facebook user, Shifa Aishath, called for Home Minister Umar Naseer’s resignation: “Girls wearing shorts needed sarongs to cover them. What about the so-called celebrities? End discrimination! Umar resign!”
Political Analyst Azra Naseem said the treatment of the young people on Anbaraa Island “is a supreme example of the hypocrisy that defines Maldives.”
“It is one of the worst kept secrets of Maldivian politics that most of the Maldivian cabinet, and a substantial number of parliamentarians in the Majlis all drink alcohol and/or take recreational drugs. Several government Ministers not only drink but also facilitate parties and raves for young people they know. On the more sleazy side of things, several do so with the goal of getting sexual favours from young people in exchange for the illegal substances provided,” she said in a comment piece.
Referring to the Criminal Court’s stalling of a court case against MP Ahmed ‘Sun Travel’ Shiyam and state failure to investigate Supreme Court Judge Ali Hameed’s alleged appearance in a series of sex tapes, Azra said: “And the hypocrisy of those meting out such punishment, while happily indulging in worse behaviour themselves, boggles the mind perhaps even more than some of the substances said to have been available at Anbaraa could have.”
In May 2013, the police detained a 16 year old girl in Malé for “dressing inappropriately.”
The Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has expressed caution following the Commonwealth’s decision to assign a security expert to observe police conduct during the 2013 presidential election.
The opposition party this week questioned the Commonwealth’s previous lack of success in ensuring security force reforms, adding that it remained “highly suspicious” of Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz’s conduct in the build up to the election.
Police announced this week that the Commonwealth had appointed Eldred de Klerk to assist with ensuring election security, a decision they declared was in line with “international best practices” after requesting the intergovernmental organisation provide consultancy services.
Police Commissioner Abdulla Riyaz met with de Klerk in Male’ on Sunday (August 26) to discuss his planned work ahead of the election.
Minivan News understands a similar request was made to the UN, which opted instead to work with others members of the international community to try and ensure the “smooth running” of next month’s election. Despite rejecting the police service’s request, a UN source today said it appreciated the Commonwealth’s contribution.
The Maldives Police Service earlier this month launched an operation to send large numbers of police officers to islands in preparation for the presidential election with the stated aim of ensuring voting goes peacefully.
Riyaz is also the subject of an ongoing Police Integrity Commission (PIC) investigation over whether he contravened regulations on political neutrality by publishing a letter written by a third party on Twitter urging officers to “say no” to former President Mohamed Nasheed.
The PIC has maintained that it had received no formal complaints concerning the tweet, but was instead investigating the case on the commission’s “own initiative”.
Contacted today on the status of its investigation into the post, the PIC said it was not the commission’s policy to give details of an ongoing case, while also declining to provide a time-line for whether such a “complicated” matter would be finished before September 7.
In July, Commissioner Riyaz said his institution would continue to refuse any orders it deems “unconstitutional”, after expressing concerns over leaked proposals allegedly devised by the MDP to reform the country’s security forces.
MDP MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said the party was cautious at the Commonwealth’s decision to provide an elections security consultant after it’s lack of success in ensuring the police reforms called for in the Commission of National Inquiry (CoNI) report it had backed.
“We will have to wait to find out if the Commonwealth is actually trying to help diffuse mutinous elements [in the police],” said Ghafoor.
The CoNI report was mandated to ascertain the truth behind the MDP’s allegations that former President Mohamed Nasheed was forced to resign from office on February 7, 2012, due to a “coup d’etat”, after sections of the police and military mutinied against the government.
While the CoNI report concluded there was “no coup, no duress and no mutiny” behind the change of government, the findings did urge changes to the country’s judiciary, legislature, certain independent institutions, and the police service.
The MDP added that it currently had no plans to meet with the Commonwealth’s election security consultant despite its concerns.
“It would be up to the consultant to come and talk with us,” Ghafoor said. “All we know is, if police try to cause any disruption during the election, all hell is going to break loose.”
Despite the MDP’s concerns, PPM MP Ahmed Nihan said the party welcomed the Commonwealth’s appointment of a security specialist to assist with ensuring election security ahead of what was likely to be a “highly competitive election”.
Nihan said that although police should have no role in running the election or visiting polling stations – unless required by the country’s Elections Commission (EC) – it was important that officers were present in case of significant disruption.
“Things can go wrong in any given circumstance,” he said, reiterating concerns expressed earlier this week by his party that “major incidents” on the day of voting could compromise a free and fair vote.
Elections Commission criticism
The PPM maintained that it was more concerned with the competency of the country’s EC and its commissioner Fuwad Thowfeek ahead of next month’s vote – rather than security issues with the police.
Nihan maintained that the PPM, along with election rival the Jumhoree Party (JP), were more concerned at what it alleged was the “mishandling” of the upcoming election by the EC, expressing particular concern over whether the commission’s president was fit for the post.
He accused the EC over the last two and a half months of failing to address the party’s concerns about holding free and fair polls, claiming it “could have done better”, while also questioning the timing of allowing IT experts from India to be programming software for the commission. Nihan accused the EC of only offering rebuttals to the party’s concerns.
However, EC President Fuwad Thowfeek this week told Minivan News that he had met with a PPM delegation several times in the build up to voting, providing what he called detailed queries to their questions.
“Every time [the EC has met with the PPM] we have very clearly explained everything to them, answered all their queries and gave very detailed responses to them,” he said. “But there are some demands that we cannot meet. For example, one of their demands was to see our IT section. They wanted to see the hardware and software of our network system, which we cannot do and we are not ready to do for the safety and security of our system.”
The Maldives NGO Federation last week expressed concern that political parties were attempting to discredit the Elections Commission (EC) by inciting hatred toward the institution in an effort to obstruct the holding of a free and fair presidential election.
A man lies sound asleep in his home, unaware of a shadowy figure approaching him.
Suddenly awakened by the intruder, the man’s shock and fear quickly turns to confusion as he is asked to assist in stealing his own television set, which the robber explains requires too much effort to take on his own.
This unconventional robbery is one of thirteen sketches included in a web-show produced by a Maldivian group known as ‘Space Parade’, which since 2008, has been producing satirical, and at times surreal, sketches and parodies of local life – mainly as a reaction to a perceived lack of creativity in mainstream media.
The latest video by the group – viewed thousands of times on YouTube – lampoons egotistical newsreaders, the ubiquitous role of social media among Maldivians, as well as the perils of confusing real life with the overtly romanticised, Bollywood-inspired world of Dhivehi cinema.
Sitting down to discuss their work this week, Space Parade – a group of friends/film-makers including Ahmed Iyash, Ahmed Karam and Mohamed Hursheed – explained that their sketches are most definitely apolitical.
An apolitical reaction
Other emerging Islamic democracies like Egypt have garnered worldwide attention in recent months for the role art and comedy is playing during difficult political transitions, notably through high-profile figures such as doctor turned satirist Bassem Youssef.
Yet to Karam, Space Parade’s comedy is a reaction to a dearth of locally produced entertainment and a wider failure to cultivate and maximise the creativeness of Maldivians.
“There is a fine line with satire. Everyone everywhere is making fun of politics in this country. Politics is a joke already here,” the group’s founder Karam added, albeit one he accepted carries potentially serious consequences for the nation in an election year. “There are already sketch shows here about politics. But so many things here are politicised – people just need a break.”
With Karam first producing sketches as entertainment for family and friends dating back to a circumcision party back in 2008 – the same year of the country’s first multi-party democratic election – Space Parade has taken inspiration in something much more prosaic than political turmoil.
“We’re really bored,” explained Hursheed, who describes himself as working mostly behind the camera on editing and adding visual effects to Space Parade’s video. “We have all these ideas to do things, so we do it for the enjoyment. There was nothing good on TV, so we thought we can try and do better.”
Partly inspired by popular shows broadcast in the Maldives during the 1980’s and 1990’s such as ‘Bahabaru’ and ‘Floak the International’, Space Parade argue that in the intervening 20 years, there has been very little comedy television of any comparable quality.
According to the group, in contrast to the internet, the country’s “restrictive” broadcast regulations have severely limited what can be shown on local TV, which increasingly has to compete with content made available through the internet and cable channels.
Co-founder Ahmed Iyash said that while the Maldives had many people people with good ideas for movies, sketches, and shows, few were presently capable or knew where to go to get funding for their work. He said that a lack of foundations, grants, or arts institutions was a major factor stifling creativity in local artists.
Stepping on toes
Having targeted certain tropes and idiosyncrasies of local film and culture for their comedy in an attempt to “step on toes” and send a message to the country’s film-makers of the need to try and push boundaries, Space Parade contends that some of their efforts had not been well received by local artists and film makers.
“Often people are expecting crap here and not a lot is happening to change this,” contended Hursheed. “We would look to try and raise the bar, though we have our doubts if we are doing this.”
Hursheed suggested that some local artists appeared reluctant to put in the effort to try and create new forms of art.
“As long as [a film] makes a women cry, you will make money here. Even if the film is horrible,” he said of the local film industry.
Amidst the challenges facing young artists, Space Parade took the example of one director who took such objection to a review published in local newspaper Haveeru that he sought legal action against the publication.
By comparison, the group said there were a limited number of pioneering local directors such as Moomin Fuad, whose work is regarded as trying to cover social issues, rather than tried and tested formats such as ex-girlfriends or mother-in-laws turning into monsters – a popular staple of local film.
However, despite efforts to try and be more socially relevant, the group said Moomin’s films were not thought to have been commercial successes, leading him to attract more of a cult following among Maldives cinema-goers.
Despite the group having taken on some limited commercial production work using their self-taught film production and editing skills, Space Parade maintain that their key aim in making videos – beyond “goofing around” and enjoying themselves – was trying to inspire other Maldivians to produce their own content online.
“The idea is to show that you don’t need professional equipment. That you can use just an i-pad or camera phone. We were hoping people would be inspired to show their own talents online,” said Karam.
“This hasn’t really happened,” he added, stressing that Maldivians still predominantly used video sharing sites to upload music videos of professional artists, or to capture political developments or scandals across the country.
The Maldives ‘art scene’
Outside of video sharing and the emerging opportunity for expression online and on social media, Ahmed Naeem, Exhibition and Projects Officer for the National Centre for the Arts, accused successive governments of failing to help nurture artists over the last three decades.
Naeem said it was notable that the country did not have buyers or collectors to help drive commercial interest in the local art scene, which he contended had in turn limited encouraging more creative forms of expression nationally.
“The top levels of society should be more concerned about this,” he added.
Naeem stressed that although Maldivian artists, whether painters, writers, or film-makers, had to show “more initiative” in pushing their work into the public sphere, he argued that the state, the educational curriculum, and wider society needed to develop a greater awareness and appreciation for its own art.
“In other countries such as Europe and Asia, there are special arts colleges and institutions. There are no universities [here] providing arts-based subjects,” he said.
Naeem added that he had attempted in recent years to contact universities in the country about holding visual arts programs, a suggestion that he claimed was rejected on the basis having no purpose for students and society.
“There need to be degrees in art. This will serve a good purpose for the country,” he added.
Naeem said that while he believed Maldivians were creative as a people, there continued to be an overall a lack of public awareness and appreciation of art, something he contended was reflected in a growing number of people turning away from earning a living through music, writing, or other forms of expression.
“People are going away from art here. I think they find it too hard for survival. Certainly compared to when we grew up, people are having to pay much more for less space to live their lives,” he said.
Naeem pointed to limited activity at the National Art Gallery in Male’, where he presently serves as curator, as an example of the challenges facing local artists.
“At present, the gallery is just a name, a space for various activities,” he said. “I want it to be a gallery with permanent exhibitions, a place where tourists can come and purchase artwork, with shops selling crafts and fine art produced by local people.”
Ahmed Suveyb, president and founding member of local NGO the United Artists of Maldives (UAM), argued that Maldivian art was visible in all aspects of daily life, yet he questioned whether the public were able to perceive or value such works.
“I take pictures everywhere I go and I see art being used by politicians and businessmen,” he said.
Suveyb suggested that Maldivian artists, and therefore their work, continued to be open to a form of “abuse” by these same powerful figures as a result of almost 30 years of failure to emphasise the importance of the country’s heritage and culture.
With the country’s rapid economic development following the advent of its tourism 40 years ago, Suveyb argued that traditional island life and culture had changed immeasurably, sometimes resulting in time-old cultural practices being neglected and even disappearing.
Where once the country was reliant on learning traditional skills such as producing thatched roofs from palm leaf, or being provided with paints and craft equipment, he argued that an increasing lack of space and the growing availability of technology like smart phones, had limited opportunities for people to engage with each other and be creative.
With such rapid societal changes, Suveyb alleged that art had overtime been neglected not only by society, but by local authorities, which continued to mantain that there was limited funds to concentrate on projects and grants in the face of more traditional development projects.
“The problem really is that we don’t understand what art is,” he concluded.
Police have confirmed they are investigating the alleged attempted assault of the editor of Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM)-aligned news website, MV Youth.
Musharraf Hassan alleged he had received “death threats” from PPM Council Member Zahid Rameez for refusing to make him an administrator of a PPM fan page on Facebook.
Musharraf told Minivan News that Rameez and another individual came into the studio of Channel 13 – a local broadcaster also affiliated with the PPM – and demanded he give them control of the Facebook page that promoted PPM’s campaign and its presidential candidate, Abdulla Yameen.
Musharraf alleged the second individual was a person the police had previously identified as a “dangerous person” and a well known local gang member.
Minivan News understands that the Facebook page being contested is the ‘Progressive Party of Maldives’ page founded in September 2011, which at time of press had 6,113 people following it.
“It is a page that we formed as supporters of PPM. It was formed even before Mv Youth came into existence. The page has no official connection to PPM, but Rameez wanted the control of it. Even before the incident, they threatened me to give up the control before 8:00pm last night or I would be sliced into pieces,” he alleged.
Musharraf said he had conceded to the threats and given up control of the page. However, the case was shortly after reported to police. Rameez and the other individual had left the scene by the time the police arrived.
“Following the incident, there have been attempts made to defame Mv Youth in public. Rameez is spreading the word that we were demanding money for the page. But I can assure you, we demanded nothing from them, although they owe us money regarding other work we had done,” Musharraf told Minivan News.
Mv Youth meanwhile issued a statement calling on the authorities and the PPM to take action against the PPM council member.
“Mv Youth will not ground its operation based on threats it receives from a politician or any political party. We will remain determined in bringing truth to the public,” read the statement.
The alleged PPM Council Member Zahid Rameez was appointed to the party’s council as part of three appointees of Party President and former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, after he unsuccessfully contested the position of the party’s Youth League President, losing to current Deputy Minister of Transport Ibrahim Nazim.
A police media official confirmed to Minivan News that they were currently investigating a case of “attempted assault” concerning the Editor of Mv Youth.
The parents of a baby girl born with an usually large black birthmark across her face are seeking donations for surgery to remove the scar.
The baby’s parents are from the island of Meedhoo in Dhaalu Atoll in the Maldives.
The father of the baby said doctors had advised him to go abroad to seek further medical assistance as there was little they could do to help in the Maldives.
“Doctors advised me to go for a plastic surgery,” wrote Ahmed Shareef on Facebook, posting a picture of his newborn.
“But plastic surgery is not available here in Maldives. And it costs a huge amount. Please help me in anyway you can if it is possible. Even I will appreciate your good prayers too,” he adds.
The picture has gone viral across Maldivian social media since it was posted on Thursday, and has been shared by over 5000 users. The local community – both online and offline – are rallying to raise money to help the girl.
Speaking to Minivan News on Sunday, Shareef said he had been in touch with doctors from abroad who had given a preliminary diagnosis of Congenital Nevomelanocytic Nevus (CNN).
A nevus – the medical term for a birthmark – larger than 20 centimetres in diameter only occurs once in every half a million newborns. This is the first such case reported in Maldives, which has a population of around 350,000 people.
The scar went undetected during ultra sound scans throughout the pregnancy, Shareef explained.
Although the scar is believed to be benign, there is risk of it further spreading across the baby’s face and causing complications as serious as cancer, according to the family.
“There is a chance of the scar spreading. Or even it may become cancerous. So most of the doctors are saying go for surgery,” Shareef explained.
The young couple, who also have a four-year old son, say they are extremely worried about their daughter’s future.
“Just imagine how can a girl will live here with that. Think about her future,” he said. “The only way I can help my baby is to take her abroad, consult a specialist and do the surgery. But my wife and I cannot afford the travel and costs of the treatment. Please help me,” he begged.
Shareef is a primary school teacher while his wife is a clerk at the island council office, earning less than US$800 a month between them.
Shareef said his wife also had a heart condition requiring prescriptions and regular check ups.
“Despite all this, my wife is very strong. I am doing everything I can to help my wife and daughter,” Shareef said, thanking the public for its generous support so far.
While Shareef is struggling to raise money, little support is available from the state as the national health insurance scheme does not cover expenses for plastic surgery.
The Maldives has a culture of families and friends helping to raise funds for medical treatment to save loved ones, increasingly through social media.
Recently, a young woman launched a search for a Maldivian donor for her husband whose kidneys had both failed. She recently announced that two matching donors had been found.
Similarly, parents of a child born with cleft lip and palate ran a successful campaign called “Help Lisa Smile”. The family raised money through T-shirt sales, in addition to generous donations, and the operation was successful.
A social network strategy launched this week to promote the Maldives has been labelled a “travel-related farce” by media sources including Conde-Nast Traveller, while publications such as the Daily Telegraph newspaper report that the focus has been “hijacked” by anti-government protesters.
The scheme, launched on Thursday, was devised to have the country’s recently reintroduced “Sunny Side of Life” slogan become an online trend among Twitter users by playing up the destination as an unparalleled tourism paradise and honeymoon getaway.
However, global news reports soon emerged that “pro-democracy campaigners” were sabotaging the focus by using the “#SunnySideOfLife” hashtag to draw attention to alleged human rights abuses reportedly committed during the last few months by the government of President Mohamed Waheed.
“For example, the majority of the site’s users are using the term to post tweets such as ‘#SunnySideOfLife: Pristine white sandy beaches, crystal clear lagoons filled with blood of its citizens who are fighting for democracy’,” the Daily News of New York reported on Thursday.
Tourism authorities in the country have recently targeted the increased use of social media sites like Facebook to more effectively promote the destination. The promotion plan was adopted on the back of fears that global headlines following the controversial transfer of power in February have had a detrimental impact on the destination’s reputation.
Contacted by Minivan News about the implications the week’s global media coverage might have on future social media promotions in the country – as well the more encouraging developments of the “Sunny Side of Life” Twitter campaign – Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb said he was about to board a plane and unable to respond at the time of press.
Speaking before embarking on his flight, Adheeb added that the question of a future direction of social media to promote the destination was something that “required thought”, but he could not elaborate further at the time. Calls to Deputy Tourism Minister Mohamed Maleeh Jamal went unanswered.
However, on the official Visit Maldives Twitter Page, the focus remained on encouraging guests at properties such as Bandos Island Resort and Spa to make use of the Twitter to play up the Maldives’ reputation internationally.
In addressing the coverage of the Twitter promotion, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) claimed that it was presently between “a rock and a hard place” in terms of balancing the economic need for preserving tourism in the country, whilst asking tourists to boycott the destination to pressure the government for early elections this year.
President Waheed, who maintains that he was constitutionally sworn into office on February 7 following the resignation of his predecessor Mohamed Nasheed, said that the earliest elections can be held under the constitution is July 2013. Political bodies and organisations including the EU and Commonwealth have recommended that early elections be held this year to bring political stability back to the country.
The MDP alleges that the elected government of former President Mohamed Nasheed was removed from office on February 7 by a “coup d’etat” sponsored by mutinous sections of the police and military. It claims the action was additionally financed by certain prominent local tourist tycoons, who control significant amounts of the nation’s wealth.
Earlier this month, former President Mohamed Nasheed told the UK-based Financial Times newspaper that he was calling for a blanket boycott of tourism in the country, earning criticism from a number of resort operators that employ a significant amount of local people alongside foreigners at their properties.
Though the opposition party claims to have no direct affiliation with the Twitter stunt, MDP spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor said the focus indicated young people were adopting a “grass roots” approach to highlight concerns about the present government’s legitimacy.
“There would appear to be no needed for a boycott of tourism with Twitter campaigns like this,” he claimed. “Whose bright idea was this? We are seeing the Maldivian youth raising their voices about democracy.”
Ghafoor contended that with such a high-profile focus seemingly now raising the issue of alleged human rights abuses around the world – the concept of needing a tourism boycott, as previously advocated by Nasheed, was a “lot less relevant”.
He pointed to his own observation of some Chinese tourists this week, who during a visit to Male’, asked local people about the reason for successive days of protests. These protests have at times escalated to violent clashes between anti-government protesters and police.
These clashes have led to allegations and reports of attacks on members of the media both reportedly by police and anti-government protesters, while certain reporters were also criticised for reportedly involving themselves in protests.
Fellow MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy added that it was “inevitable” that by turning to popular services like Twitter to promote the destination, the government would open itself up to allegations about police brutality and reported human rights abuses.
“This is not an MDP thing, but people here know very well what is going on and the role of some resort owners in sponsoring this ‘coup’,” he claimed.
Fahmy claimed that despite former President Nasheed’s recent calls for a boycott, the MDP at present was “undecided” if the party would support a blanket boycott or calls to avoid certain tourism properties in the country.
“We all know that some of the country’s richest people are behind the coup,” he said. “We need a focus that will help the Maldives bring about early elections.”
Despite the party’s claims, UK-based NGO Friends of the Maldives, which had previously been associated with a targeted travel advisory asking tourists steer clear of resorts owned by figures alleged to have a direct roll with brining the present government to power, warned against blanket action.
Friends of Maldives – established in the UK in 2003 during the autocratic rule of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom to focus on human rights issues in the country – raised concerns against seemingly penalising the entire tourist industry in the Daily Telegraph newspaper.
“A boycott is a last resort and I don’t think it has reached that stage,” Friends of Maldives founder, David Hardingham told the paper. “It’s easy for people like us to tell tourists not to visit, but it is the people of the Maldives who will suffer – and they are the ones who must decide whether it’s worth it. Any campaign for a boycott needs to be a grass-roots one.”
However, Friends of Maldives said it continued to reject the legitimacy of the present government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan, which the Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) linked to Mohamed Nasheed has since alleged came to power in February through a “coup d’etat”.
The Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) has opened a social media department to promote the Maldives on networks such as Facebook and Twitter.
Head of the MMPRC, Mohamed Maleeh Jamal, told Minivan News that the new ‘Digital and Social Media’ department would aim to establish the Maldives as a “strong presence in the social and digital sphere.”
“Social networks have been under-utilised in the Maldives [as marketing tool] in the past,” Maleeh said, adding that the department would also work on search engine optimisation for the destination.
MMPRC staff will be trained to use the networks for marketing purposes and would attend the Digital and Social Media Conference in London in November, he said.
Dismissing potential criticism that the new approach was a ‘Department of Facebook’, Maleeh explained that social media was a cost-effective marketing tool that would enable greater sharing of positive messages about the destination, especially given its popularity with international – and tweeting – celebrities.
“Honeymooners are a key market for the Maldives, and social media users are quite young. It is good if we can occupy a space in their mind when they are booking their honeymoon,” Jamal explained.
Furthermore, “all other major destination promoters are is doing it, and we don’t want to be left out,” he said.
The Maldives was very social media-savvy, Maleeh noted, with a ‘social media population’ of around 50,000.
“If one person sends out a positive message, that is worth millions of rufiya in word-of-mouth marketing. Visitors are also very loyal – 25 percent are repeat visitors,” he added.
According to Facebook statistics, there are 123,280 active Facebook users in the Maldives – a third of the population. The vast majority of these – 113,760 – are under the age of 35. Sixty percent of all Maldivian Facebook users are male.
While Facebook has been popular in the Maldives for many years, Twitter use has exploded following the controversial transfer of power on February 7. Tags such as #mvcoup are full of furious exchanges between bloggers, activists, politicians and office holders.
Mohamed Nasheed, the recently ousted president of the Maldives, has witnessed first-hand how technology and social media can organise civil society to create change and generate awareness, reports Mashable in an interview with the deposed President.
“Videos activisim is social media. Everything is about awareness, and when people know what is happening it is difficult not to do something about it,” Nasheed told Mashable.
“Social media very helpful in giving out messages, you couldn’t get out through the print and broadcast media, which are censored and regulated.”
The large youth demographic (“60 percent of our population are below 30 years-old) made the country very receptive to social media, Nasheed said.
Twitter has been very popular recently, along with of course Facebook. People are able to give out mesages on what is happening.”
Nasheed became the first democratically elected president of the country in 2008. During his two-decade-long fight for democracy, there were strict government restrictions against Internet communications. As a result, he and his followers leveraged SMS text messages to organize their underground activities.
Since his election, Nasheed has fought tirelessly against climate change. The Maldives, a country of 1,200 islands, will be completely submerged if the ocean level rises a few feet — becoming the first nation of environmental exiles. His story is told in a new film The Island President, which will be released in New York on Wednesday (trailer below).