Former President Nasheed condemns false attribution of quote by Sun Online and Vaguthu

The office of former President Mohamed Nasheed has strongly condemned the false attribution of a quote by Sun Online and Vaguthu from an article published this week in the Irish Times.

In a story published on Monday (August 18) under the headline, “Government’s image tarnished after reintroduction of death penalty: President Nasheed,” Sun Online reported Nasheed as saying that the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) was attempting to enforce Islamic Shariah and that the government’s image has been tarnished in the international arena as a result of reintroducing the death penalty.

Online outlet Vaguthu meanwhile published a story under the headline, “PPM working to establish Islamic Shariah – Nasheed.”

The former president’s office, however, noted in a press statement yesterday that both Sun Online and Vaguthu falsely attributed a section of the Irish Times article as a direct quote from Nasheed.

‘You can’t have democracy without a country. Since the election, the government has been excoriated internationally for reintroducing the death penalty; under the law children as young as seven could potentially be sentenced. The PPM is moving towards sharia law,’ Sun Online and Vaguthu quoted the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) acting president as saying.

“However, President Nasheed said no such thing in his interview to the Irish Times,” the former president’s office said, explaining that Nasheed’s direct quote was “You can’t have democracy without a country,” while what followed was written by the author of the article, Mary Boland.

Sun Online has since amended its article and removed the quotation marks. The new version states that the Irish Times article was “based entirely” on Nasheed’s interview.

Sun also noted that Nasheed listed sea-level rise and Islamic extremism as the biggest threats facing the Maldives, warning that a “reversal of democracy is under way and dictatorship once again looms”.

Both during last year’s presidential election and his three years in office, rival parties and religious groups accused Nasheed of being anti-Islamic, promoting secularism, and pursuing liberal policies. The MDP presidential candidate had denied the allegations and assured that “other religions” would not be introduced under his administration.

Speaking to Minivan News today, Sun Online Editor Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir conceded that there was “a problem with the presentation in the part where there was a direct quotation.”

“But the news [on Irish Times] was written based on an interview Nasheed gave to the paper more than the paper’s editorial opinion, when you look at the whole context of it,” he said.

The correction or removal of the direct quotation was made “within a very short period” after publication, Hiriga said, adding that formally issuing a correction or retraction was not warranted as it was not “a problem with our information”.

“We corrected it when it came to our notice. The whole [Irish Times] story was based on what Nasheed said. It wasn’t the best presentation from our reporter with the inverted commas,” he continued.

“I also do not believe that presenting it as direct quotes from President Nasheed is the best practice. So we have made the change.”

The statement from the former president’s office meanwhile condemned “in the strongest terms” the dissemination of “false information” from the news outlets.

The statement called on journalists and editors to be more mindful of publishing incorrect or “misleading” information and appealed for impartial and unbiased reporting.

The statement urged reporters to take more care in translating from other languages into Dhivehi.

The former president’s office also called on the state’s media oversight or watchdog bodies to “investigate such matters and take measures fairly and without discrimination” and for all involved to work together to “strengthen the media sector to ensure such incidents that hinder independent journalism do not recur.”


15 journalists receive death threats over gang reporting

Fifteen journalists received murder threats via text message on Sunday warning them against reporting on gangs in the wake of street violence which has seen at least one death and nine injured.

“[We] will kill you if you keep writing inappropriate articles about gangs in the media,” the message from an unlisted number said.

Journalists from Haveeru, Raajje TV, Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), VTV, Sun Online, and Vaguthu received the death threat.

Maldives Journalists Association (MJA) president and a long time journalist Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir said the threats have been brought to the attention of the Maldives Police Service (MPS).

“It is still unclear who are behind these texts, or how they are sending it. Regardless, we don’t take this as a simple matter. We have requested the police to look in to this,” he said.

A police spokesperson condemned the threats and said the case is under investigation.

An IT expert with experience in the telecommunications field told Minivan News it would be difficult to identify the culprit if the text messages were sent through an online mass text message service.

“Unless it came from a local IP address it would be almost impossible to trace it back. If they used anonymous proxy servers to send the texts it could be traced back to the SMS gateway, but no further,” he said

Serious threats

Haveeru journalist and recipient of Maldives’ journalist of the year Fazeena Ahmed said journalists have received similar threats in the past, specifically during the Supreme Court’s delay of presidential polls in 2013.

“I don’t think think this should be taken lightly. Especially considering that parliamentarians have received similar threats and that there is a lot of violence going on these days, I would say this is very serious,” she said.

Two more Haveeru journalists received the same text message.

Rajje TV journalist Ibrahim ‘Asward’ Waheed, who nearly died from a fatal beating in February 2013, was among four Raajje TV reporters who received the text message.

“I still haven’t got justice for the life threatening attack against me, and here is a threat once again. I take this very seriously. It has been brought to the attention of the police, I hope they will investigate and provide necessary protection,” he said.

Meanwhile, private broadcaster DhiTV reported receiving threats via phone calls following a report on gangs on Friday.

“Last Friday after we aired a report on gang violence, our office received two threatening phone calls. This happens whenever media cover gang related news,” CEO and Chief Editor of the channel Midhath Adam told Minivan News today.


Raajje TV reporter Ahmed Fairooz believes the threat may be a ‘political ploy’ possibly to divert attention.

“One reason I believe this is because I don’t cover crime at all, I work at the political desk. So there is no reason gangs should worry about me. And the fact that MP Eva Abdulla received a similar message with political references also shows that,” he said.

MP Eva Abdulla received threatening text messages today after she questioned the Minister of Home Affairs Umar Naseer in the Majlis. The texts were sent under Naseer’s name and number, and accused her of making false allegations against the minister

“National police are also with me. Through a single order from me to Special Op[erations] boys you tiny MP can be shredded into pieces,” read one message sent to the Galolhu North MP.

Fairooz said he had received threats in the past from political activists and more recently following a report on Maldivian militants fighting in Syria.

Vaguthu journalist Maahil Mohamed also said these threats are likely to be sent for some other purpose than by actual gang members intending to attack journalists. But regardless of the reason behind it, Maahil said it would not keep him from covering such news.

History of threats

threat analysis report from the Maldives Broadcasting Commission in May revealed that thirty percent of broadcast journalists are reluctant to report gang activity.

The report found a staggering 84 percent of journalists surveyed reported being threatened at least once, while five percent reported being threatened on a daily basis. The report also identified gangs, politicians, and religious extremists as threats to media freedom, and claimed approximately 43 percent of journalists do not  report threats to authorities.

In addition to threats, Raajje TV offices were destroyed in an arson attack in October. The station has accused the police of negligence in preventing the torching of their headquarters and the attack on journalist Asward.

DhiTV’s Midhath also noted that coverage of the Armenian drug traffickers the Artur bothers was followed by threats. The brothers were alleged portrayed in some outlets as having connections to Minister of Tourism Ahmed Adeeb.

In 2010, staff members of DhiTV and Haveeru were attacked following the coverage of the release of a convicted gang leader in 2010. A Haveeru employee was stabbed with a knife in the incident.

On Saturday, six MP s from the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP), including three female MPs received murder threats via text message.

The first text stating MPs will be killed if they “behave inappropriately.” The second one said, “It is not a sin to kill those who challenge Allah’s words and call for freedom of religion. Afrasheem Ali was an example.”

Former MP and moderate Islamic Scholar Dr Afrasheem Ali was brutally murdered at his own home in October 2012, while MPAlhan Fahmy was unable to walk for months following a stabbing in February.


Foreigners removed from pension scheme as voluntary amendment is passed

Following the passing of the second amendment to the pension act at the parliament yesterday, the Maldives Pension Administration Office (MPAO) has said that foreign employee participation in the pension scheme is now voluntary.

In a statement issued yesterday, the office said that employers are now permitted to delay the foreign employee pension contribution for the month of May.

Quoting Ismail Sujau, a director at MPAO, Sun Online has reported that the office has decided not to collect from those who are registered with the scheme this month as a lot of people have already started withdrawing from the scheme after it was made voluntary.

As of April, a total 3854 foreign employees have registered with the retirement pension scheme, reported Sun.


Adhaalath Party denies supporters physically attacked by MDP

Adhaalath Party representative Hussain Wafeer has denied allegations that Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) supporters “physically attacked” its members on the island of Thulhaadhoo in Baa Atoll last week.

The comments were made after local media reported that a crowd of “violent thugs” – led by an unnamed MDP councillor – attempted to attack Adhaalath Party President Sheikh Imran Abdulla during a visit to the island.

An unnamed source from Thulhaadhoo previously told the Sun Online news service that the attackers threw stones at the visitors, injuring several people during the incident.

Despite the claims, Wafeer told Minivan News today that while the gathered crowd did not physically attack anyone during the visit, sand was thrown at Adhaalath party representatives.

Wafeer refused to speculate on whether the crowd were true MDP members, or whether an MDP Councillor had been involved in the alleged attack.

“They were waving MDP flags, so we can assume they were MDP, but we didn’t recognise any of the members so we can’t say they were MDP,” Wafeer added.

An official from within Thulhaadhoo Island Council – speaking on condition of anonymity – said that the crowd who greeted the Adhaalath Party officials was both a mix of MDP and anti-MDP supporters. The council source said it was not certain who had thrown sand at Sheikh Imran.

“Some of local women on the island witnessed a Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) councillor throwing sand and causing the trouble, while some people said it was the MDP supporters,” the council official claimed.

“After an hour the riot police showed up and arrested the island President, a councillor and some MDP supporters.”

Adhaalath Party Leader Sheikh Imran Abdulla was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

Following the incident, a senior MDP MP told Minivan News that he had received death threats via telephone from unknown callers whom he believed to be members of the Adhaalath Party.

According to Sun Online, the police have arrested a number of individuals allegedly involved in the incident, including an MDP councillor.

Verbal abuse

Following an MDP protest held in Male’ on Friday (January 25),the Adhaalath Party alleged that demonstrators had verbally abused its supporters and vandalised promotional materials at a membership drive held at a school.

The party also claimed MDP protesters ripped up the party’s banners at the school, which were temporarily put up as part of the membership drive.

Responding to the allegations at the time, MDP MP Hamid Abdul Ghafoor claimed that while the party did not encourage such behaviour towards government-aligned parties, he said he would not be surprised if some supporters had ripped up banners during the protest.


Nasheed returns from visiting ill father

Former President Mohamed Nasheed returned to Male’ around 10:30pm Thursday night following a trip to Bangkok where he was visiting his ill father, reports Sun Online.

Nasheed left the Maldives December 25, 2012 following multiple immigration delays to his departure to Thailand.

This included the withholding of his passport due to the ongoing trial against him in relation to the arrest of Criminal Court Chief Judge Abdullah Mohamed while he was president, as well as a “technical error” at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport on December 21, local media reports.


Six bids for US$60 million Hulhumale land reclamation project: Housing Development Corporation

The Housing Development Corporation (HDC) has conducted a pre-bid meeting with six foreign parties interested in carrying out the second phase of the Hulhumale’ land reclamation project, reports local media.

With a cost of US$60 million the project is the largest of its kind in the Maldives, and will involve 230 hectares of reclaimed area suitable for a population of 100,000, Sun Online reported.

“Bids should come before the end of this month. As soon as bid evaluation is complete, the project would commence”, an HDC official was quoted as saying.

Companies involved in the bid included those with previous experience in the Maldives, including Royal Boskalis Westminster, Sun reported.


CSC asks Pension Office for lump sum of MVR 2.5 million for eight retired civil servants

The Civil Service Commission (CSC) has asked the Pension Office to release a lump sum of MVR 2.5 million as pension for eight civil servants who retired between 2008 and 2010, reports Sun Online.

Sun Online has obtained a letter from the CSC to the Pension Office requesting pension funds for the eight individuals from April 2011 onward.

The Pension Office has however contended that the individuals were not entitled to a government pension under the Public Finance Act.

The retired civil servants were Hussain Moosa, of Finivaage Kaashidhoo, retired on January 5, 2009 after 22 years, 11 months and 24 days (MVR90,000); former Deputy High Commissioner to the UK, Adam Hassan, of Ocean Lodge, retired on 3 June 2008 after 24 years and 22 days (MVR320,000); Mohamed Zuhair, of M. Oceania, retired from the post of Chief Executive Officer on 7 August 2008 (MVR343,000); Abdullah Shakir, of Baikan’dige Aage, retired from the post of Assistant Director on 22 September 2008 (a monthly pension of MVR2,417 monthly in addition to a lump sum of MVR120,000); Ahmed Wajeeh, of Hazaarumaage, retired from the post of Executive Director in September 2008 (MVR120,000); Abdul Haadhee Ibrahim Didi of Aasikkage, M. Muli, retired after 27 years, 9 months and 19 days (MVR114,600);  Abdullah Faroog Hassan, of Primrose, Fuvahmulah, retired from the post of Commissioner on 7 August 2008 after  39 years, 11 months and 7 days (MVR1,000,000); and Adhnan Abdullah, of Kudhimaage Haa Alif Ihavandhoo, retired on 7 June 2010 after 34 years, 2 months and 14 days (MVR219,120).


Jesus on SAARC banners, reports Sun Online

Banners and posters put up at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport to promote the SAARC summit in Addu City feature the image of Jesus Christ, reports Sun Online.

The online paper reported that it received a number of calls complaining about the Christian imagery.

The visual art set to the theme of ‘Building Bridges’ was designed by local company Mooinc Pvt Ltd.

Mooinc Creative Director Ali Saeed said the designs were based on five themes approved by the cabinet to depict the culture and religion of the eight SAARC nations, where some 10 religions are practiced.

Under Religious Unity Regulations published by the government in September, it is illegal to propagate any other religion other than Islam, to carry or display in public books on religions other than Islam, and the translation into Dhivehi language such books and writings on other religions. Proselytising by foreigners remains punishable by deportation.

The regulations interpret the Religious Unity Act passed by parliament in 1994, which carries a 2-5 year prison sentence for its violation.

An Indian teacher working in Raa Atoll was arrested and deported in October for possession of Christian imagery and a Bible, after another teacher contacted police after finding hymn videos on the desktop of a school laptop.

Kokkattu claimed he had allegedly transferred the files from his personal flash drive by accident.

Kokkattu’s subsequent detention drew media attention in India, and the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) demanded the Indian government seek an apology from the Maldives for Kokkattu’s treatment.

“The lack of justice and the degree of religious intolerance in the Maldives is reflected by the actions of the Maldives government,” GCIC President Sajan K George told Asia News. “This is the worst form of religious persecution. The Indian government should demand an apology for the shabby treatment inflicted on one of its citizens.”

George called Kokkattu’s case evidence of the Maldives’ paradoxical nature. He said the Maldives “claims to be a major tourist destination, yet arrests innocent people,” George said. “This shows its intolerance and discrimination towards non-Muslims as well as its restrictions on freedom of conscience and religion.”


“Falsehoods” reported in media, claims EC

The Elections Commission (EC) has accused local media outlets Sun Online, Villa TV and DhiTV of reporting “falsehoods” in their coverage of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) submitting registration forms to the commission this week.

In a press statement yesterday, the EC said that the media outlets did not contact the commission for their side of the story and “brought the news very irresponsibly in a way that could lead to loss of public confidence in the commission.”

The private media outlets had reported that the PPM founding members were made to wait at the commission when they arrived to submit the forms and none of the EC members were present to receive the delegation, led by former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s son Farish Maumoon.

The EC statement noted that the commission had never conducted special ceremonies to receive registration forms.