Blood and money: stabbing attack follows campaign deal gone wrong

Maldivians across the atolls were glued to state broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM) one week ago, awaiting the results of the country’s second multi-party presidential election.

As counting from the 470 ballot boxes continued throughout the evening, live updates were accompanied by news bulletins keeping all up to date on this historic event – even the deaf.

Members of the Maldives’ deaf community were glued to the bottom corner of their television screen, where Shaheez Abdulla communicated in sign language for those with impaired hearing.

What was not communicated through Shaheez’s hands that day was the intense pain still coursing through his legs, his arm, and his back – the result of a stabbing just 72 hours earlier that he alleges was linked to one political party’s election preparations.

I met Shaheez on the roof of his building. On my way up to the terrace, traces of blood were still visible outside the lift where three youths attacked him the Wednesday (September 4) before the election. The first witnesses to the scene describe a bloodied but furious Shaheez, keen to expose those he sees as responsible for his assault.

He sits awkwardly, shifting in his seat – his determination to expose his wrongdoers unabated.

“They tried to kill me, but they could not. I am not afraid – for the truth, I will do anything,” he said.

Learning to interpret

Eight years ago Shaheez worked in one of Male’s CD/DVD shops and – like many Maldivians – dreamed of travelling abroad to study. Eventually however it was his interactions with the deaf customers he encountered that would decide the direction of his career – in particular, meeting his future-wife, Adhila.

Having admired her from afar, it was only when Shaheez plucked up the nerve to approach her that he realised she too was deaf.

“I finally approached her and tried to talk to her, but she didn’t respond – finally, a woman came over and said to me, ‘Don’t you know she’s deaf?’ I was shocked,” Shaheez explained.

This marked the point at which Shaheez began to learn sign language, leading to eventual fluency in British, Arabic and international signing, as well as the more unusual Dhivehi dialect. He also got married to Adhila and they now have two children.

Shaheez soon became one of the first deaf interpreters in the Maldives and today offers interpretation assistance in the courts, hospitals, and even trains members of the police force to sign. Shaheez regularly lectures at the Education Development Centre, and is contracted by the Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) to provide interpretation services on TVM.

During our interview, Shaheez proudly shows Minivan News the registration certificate for his new project – the Maldives Disabled Federation – which will act as an umbrella organisation for the country’s separate disability civil society groups.

Shaheez’s tireless activity across Maldivian civil society  – working on many different disability related projects – could have been halted on September 4, however, as his work became tangled with the country’s internecine politics.

Warning signs

The events leading to the attack began around one month prior to the elections, when Shaheez says he was contacted by the Jumhoree Party (JP) about potential projects for disabled people. Full of ideas, and never without a sheaf of papers outlining his many projects, Shaheez was able to produce proposals for a number of schemes at the very first meeting.

“I told them I can help, but I can’t be a political tool,” he recalled. “There are so many projects that need doing.”

Two days after this initial meeting, Shaheez claimed that a JP member gave him just under MVR 300,000 (US$1,948) for three projects – including an instructive video to help deaf people learn the Salaath prayer, the creation of a Dhivehi sign-language dictionary, and the development of a sign-language font.

A call on speakerphone to a JP member during the interview confirmed that the party had given this cash to Shaheez. He was also able to show paperwork outlining the agreed projects and their cost, as well as a contract which agreed the projects would be launched by JP leader, Gasim Ibrahim.

However, Shaheez claimed the relationship started to go sour when he was given two day’s notice to prepare for the official launch of the projects.

“After I told them the launch could not be done in that time, they asked for all of the money back,” Shaheez recalled, despite much of the work having already been carried out.

“I said I would give the money back, but that I would also then do anti-campaigning against Gasim.”

It was on his way home from this meeting on September 3 that Shaheez says two young men on a motorbike threatened him.

“They said ‘Don’t even dare do anti-campaigning – if you do, you’d better watch out’, ” he alleged.

The following day, on his way to return to the cash – moments after arranging to meet with a JP member over the phone – Shaheez was confronted by his attackers on the way out of his building. After demanding Shaheez’s bag – containing the JP’s money – the youths attacked, taking the bag with the money inside.

Shaheez was keen to point out that his blame for the attack was not aimed at Gasim himself, noting that the leader’s close associates had warned Shaheez not to return the money to anyone other than them.

Response to threats

Minivan News was unable to obtain a response from the JP member named by Shaheez as the person responsible for his attack, and so his name has been left out of this account. Another senior party member, cited as being involved in the initial agreement, has denied all knowledge of any projects involving the JP and disabled organisations.

Shaheez is aware of rumours that he had stolen the party’s money himself, but rejected these accusations, citing his lack of a criminal record.

“I know who I am and God knows who I am,” he says.

Asked whether he was intimidated by the threats, he said that this was not the first time this tactic had been used, as he seeks to expose the persistent abuse of disabled people in the Maldives. He recalled one shocking example of such abuse he encountered when conducting surveys in Haa Daalu Atoll.

“There was one lady everyone said was mad. When I spoke with her, I found that she was just deaf. But the men in the island had already been abusing her – she had seven or eight children with unknown fathers. Men had used her, raped her, and even drugged her.”

“I will hold a big event one day and all these abuse cases will be publicised,” he vowed.

When asked about the difficulty of interpreting for the election coverage so soon after his ordeal, Shaheez remained defiant.

“I don’t care if both legs are stabbed, if even one of my hands can move I will interpret for the deaf until my last breath.”

Video taken by a bystander following Shaheez’s stabbing on September 4:


Presidential candidate Gasim has no plans to boycott TVM

Presidential candidate Ibrahim Gasim has no plans to boycott national broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM), despite media reports last week suggesting his Jumhoree Party (JP) was considering such a move.

“Gasim would never do anything like that. We have no plans to boycott TVM,” said JP Policy Secretary Mohamed Ajmal.

Ajmal also confirmed that the JP’s leader would be participating in the upcoming presidential debate, due to air on TVM on September 1. Competing parties had claimed that talk of a boycott was a pre-planned attempt to “dodge” the debate.

JP deputy leader Ilham Ahmed last week told local media that the JP would be considering a boycott of the station after TVM presenter Liza Laurella asked Gasim a series of personal questions in what he interpreted as an attempt to damage his reputation.

“This was done with the intention of demeaning a person under a systematic plan. We don’t believe that this could have been done under press freedom,” Ilham explained to reporters from Haveeru. “We have seen TVM going after Gasim.”

The Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) defended its station, telling local media that Gasim’s TVM interview was conducted within its editorial policy.

The interview with Gasim was the first of a series of programs titled ‘Siyaasath’ (‘policy’) featuring all four presidential hopefuls in discussion of their respective parties’ policies.

The program concluded last night with the interview of former president and Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) candidate Mohamed Nasheed.

Reflecting on all four interviews, Ajmal alleged that all candidates had not received equal treatment from the host.

“We are not happy with the way Liza handled it. Maybe [that approach] is okay in Europe, but not in the Maldives,” he said.

Ajmal noted in particular Liza’s tendency to point her finger at Gasim during the interview: “It was very disrespectful.”

The ‘siyaasath’ episode featuring current President Dr Mohamed Waheed was singled out as an example of unequal treatment, with Ajmal describing his interview as “very mild” in comparison.

“All interviews should have been equally harsh,” he added.

The JP’s criticism of the show were dismissed as “baseless” by the Progressive Party of Maldives’ (PPM) MP Ahmed Nihan, whose candidate Abdulla Yameen appeared on ‘siyaasath’ last Thursday.

“The PPM believe Liza did quite well… we understand there will be those types of questions in a hard talk program like this,” said Nihan.

His sole criticism of the program concerned a lack of focus, with what he felt was an excessive time spent discussing the past at the expense of debating policies for the future.

Nihan did however acknowledge that this problem had been consistent in all four interviews.


Vice President should not be a “spare part”: Waheed

President Dr Mohamed Waheed last night told state broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM) that a vice-president should not be treated like a “spare part”.

Speaking in the second of a series of TVM interviews with next month’s presidential candidates, the incumbent president stated his belief that the vice president ought to have more responsibility.

“I believe that changes are needed. A vice president should not be a spare part that replaces the president if he resigns or passes away. The people choose a vice president after careful consideration. They vote for two people, the president and the vice president, on the same ticket,” President Waheed said.

Waheed assumed office on February 7, 2012, after being elevated from his position as vice-president to Mohamed Nasheed. President Nasheed resigned amidst chaotic scenes as police mutinied following weeks of anti-government agitation.

Waheed told his interviewer, Leeza Laurella, that Nasheed had reneged on a prior agreement to hand the vice-president powers over foreign policy – giving preference to fellow Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) members.

Soon after Waheed assumed the presidency, his frustration with his previous role was described by his then-special advisor Dr Hassan Saeed in a leaked audio recording.

“There was no major role for President Waheed in the previous government. Very many days [spent] bored in the office… When an educated man like him whiles the day away being like this, going on the Internet… really it is sad. This is how Waheed was,” said Dr Saeed.

Prior to his political career, Dr Waheed was notable for being the first Maldivian to gain a doctorate as well as being the first person to appear on Maldivian Television, anchoring TVM’s first broadcast in 1978.

After a short period as a member of the People’s Majlis, Waheed spent a number of years working for UNICEF, eventually becoming Deputy Regional Director for South Asia.

Role in February 7

Responding to the repeated accusations that he did not fulfil his responsibilities in supporting President Nasheed during the February 2012 crisis, Waheed told his interviewer that Nasheed had not asked for his counsel.

“President Nasheed did not call me. If he wanted to talk to me, he could have asked the SPG (Special Protection Group), the same group that protects us both. He could have handed me the phone through them, could he not?”

Maintaining that the events of February 7 marked the final stages of a conspiracy in which Waheed was complicit, the MDP have repeatedly accused Waheed of failing to fulfill his duties as second in command.

Mentioning a late night meeting with anti-Nasheed figures just days before the transfer of power, Waheed told TVM that Nasheed had been informed of the meeting and all normal procedures followed.

MDP MP Mariya Didi manwhile published a report in June 2012 arguing that Waheed’s failure to fully discuss this meeting with the rest of the cabinet represented a violation of his responsibilities as the vice-president.

Waheed had been open on a number of previous occasions regarding his marginalisation in the decision making process, in 2010 describing the Nasheed administration as a “one man show”.

Nasheed will stand against Waheed in September’s poll, having chosen Dr Musthafa Luthfy as his running mate. When making the announcement, the MDP stipulated that Luthfy would call an election immediately should Nasheed be “killed or incapacitated” rather than assuming the presidency himself.


Waheed yesterday explained that he had chosen his current running-mate, Dhivehi Rayithunge Party (DRP) leader Thasmeen Ali as he is “well-mannered and keeps his word”.

During the interview he also denied that he had described the Adhaalath Party as containing extremist elements – comments which prompted the religious party to leave Waheed’s ‘forward with the nation’ coalition in June, later allying with the Jumhoree Party (JP).

Yesterday’s interview, the second in a series featuring all the presidential hopefuls, followed Friday’s combative encounter with Jumhoree Coalition candidate Ibrahim Gasim.

Following Gasim’s discussion with Laurella, JP deputy leader Ilham Ahmed told local media that the JP would be considering a boycott of the station. Ilham argued that, contrary to the shows title – with ‘siyaasath’ meaning ‘policy’ – the presenter asked Gasim a series of personal questions in an attempt to damage his reputation.

“This was done with the intention of demeaning a person under a systematic plan. We don’t believe that this could have been done under press freedom,” he explained to reporters from Haveeru. “We have seen TVM going after Gasim.”

Ilham also insisted that the show had made repeated attempts to make Gasim appear “odd”.

The Maldives Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) defended its station, telling local media that Gasim’s TVM interview was conducted within its editorial policy.

It was announced in June that TVM would be scheduling a presidential debate featuring all four candidates for September 1.


Decision to halt live programme not politically motivated, state broadcaster claims

The Chief Operating Officer (COO) of state broadcaster Television Maldives (TVM) Mohamed ‘Mondhu’ Asif has said that yesterday’s decision (December 19) to cease transmission of the live show ‘Thafaas’ was not politically motivated.

Speaking to Minivan News Today, Asif dismissed allegations circulating on social media alleging that the programme was halted following a direct order from Dr President Mohamed Waheed Hassan, claiming the decision was taken over a violation of “editorial policy”.

“I can confirm you that no order was sent from either President Waheed or any governmental authority. We are now an independent television station as under the Maldives Broadcasting Corporation Act,” he said.

Asif admitted that the programme had been halted during a live telecast, but claimed the decision was made over concerns that the show’s content had violated the station’s editorial policy.

“We had done that previously as well. As a principle, in a live television programme, if [the show’s content] violates the editorial policy set out by the company, we would usually halt the telecast of that programme,” he explained.

Asked if any action may be taken against members of staff over the issue, Asif explained that TVM had only decided to halt the yesterday’s live broadcast at present. He added that TVM management would need to assess in future how guests were briefed over what they could and could not speak about on the state broadcaster.

During the terminated broadcast, Feydhoo constituency MP Alhan Fahmy and Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) council member and a local lawyer Ibrahim ‘Wadde’ Waheed had been invited to reportedly discuss current parliamentary issues.

Twitter response

Despite Asif’s claims that the show was taken off air in line with concerns over editorial policy, the host of the ‘Thafaas’ show, Ali Shamin, yesterday used his personal twitter account tweeted to claim – “I’m done with this, it’s all politics,”.

One of the guests, MP Alhan Fahmy responded to the tweet urging Shamin to “make it clear” for the public about what happened.

“[Please] make it clear to the public. [People] need to know what happened! [Don’t] worry about the job,” read MP Fahmy’s twitter response to Shamin’s tweet.

Speaking to Minivan News, Communications and Advocacy Manager of local NGO Transparency Maldives, Aiman Rasheed Ibrahim said that the NGO had noticed that “an incumbent government had always had the opportunity to unduly influence the content of the state media [in the country]”.

Transparency Maldives had previously conducted a media monitoring programme back in 2011.

“Perhaps the new legislation may mean state influence may not be as extreme as was the case prior to the ratification of the legislation, but the ground reality is that an incumbent government has always had the opportunity to unduly influence the content of the state media,” Rasheed suggested.

When contacted by Minivan News today MP Alhan Fahmy said that he was very busy and had already given information about the matter to private broadcaster Raajje TV.

The MBC has been previously involved in a protracted legal battle against former President Mohamed Nasheed’s administration over whether the executive – via the Maldives National Broadcasting Corporation (MNBC) – or parliament should have responsibility for overseeing state media.

The MNBC was established by Nasheed to run the state media, removing its employees from the jurisdiction of the Civil Service Commission (CSC). In 2010, the then-opposition majority parliament created MBC and demanded the transfer of MNBC’s assets to the new body, which Nasheed’s government refused to do, alleging political partiality on behalf of the MBC board.

Following the controversial transfer of power that saw President Mohamed Waheed Hassan take office in February, MBC was granted control of the state broadcaster.  On February 7, the channel – then called MNBC one – was renamed TVM.

Meanwhile, fellow state broadcaster Raajje Radio was re-branded as Voice of Maldives. TVM and Voice of Maldives were used as the names for the two channels during the autocratic 30-year rule of former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom.


DhiTV interested in commercial arrangement with public broadcaster TVM

Privately-owned television station DhiTV is among six parties to have expressed interest in a joint venture arrangement with the ailing Maldives National Broadcasting Company (MNBC), which broadcasts rival channels including Television Maldives (TVM) and Voice of Maldives (VOM).

DhiTV CEO Yoosuf Nawaal said the station had approached MNBC and offered to buy TVM’s land for Rf100 million (US$7.78 million), “and they would pay us a monthly rent of Rf1 million (US$77,800).”

“We actually gave them quite a clean business offer; in terms of interest it was about 10 per cent,” Nawaal said, adding that DhiTV was only interested in the land not the property on it as “TVM’s equipment and staff are quite old.”

As for the broadcaster’s independence, “they would be running the show and we would not be involved.”

MNBC’s Managing Director Ibrahim Khaleel did not confirm that DhiTV was one of the interested parties but did state that one was “local” while the others were foreign interests.

“During last year six parties expressed interest, five foreign and one local company. But their interest was a commercial interest and not our interest,” Khaleel said. He added that the local company concerned was a “very established company”, and “if we do some business with them it may not be as a partner, but to share some services. That would be one way of doing it.”

He emphasised that media reports this morning suggesting that MNBC was selling its stations “are not true. We are not going to sell, and we are not looking to sell. We are looking for a partner for a joint venture [agreement].”

MNBC was currently trying to “reduce and restructure” TVM, he explained, “as at the moment it is an expensive operation.”

If the partner turned out to be another local media company, he noted, “I think we have to think about a lot of things.”

“Public service broadcasting is very important. We are trying to become a developed nation and that means developing not only buildings, but the intellectual community [as well],” he said.

“I think if someone was interested, the partner should agree that TVM and VOM would remain as public service broadcasting. We have to set standards and editorial guidelines, because it will be a problem if they are not there.”

MNBC’s other channels, including YouthTV and RaajjeFM, represented commercial opportunities for the right partner, Khaleel said.

“As well as commercialising YouthTV and RaajjeFM, they could create another channel or develop internet, mobile and cable [broadcasting],” he suggested. “If someone expresses interest we will sit down together and discuss how we can handle it.”

There were many successful models for running state media, he agreed, but Maldives was unique because of its small population.

“Everyone says the BBC model is great, but the population, technology and human resource situation is completely different here in the Maldives. We have 300,000 people, and the expenditure for a public broadcasting service is huge.”

The current program of “reducing and restructuring” would not affect the editorial quality of the state broadcaster because of the organisation’s investment in training, he insisted.

“We need to develop our staff. For 47 years of radio and broadcast there has not been a single human being with a diploma or a degree involved. We are funding 14 journalist diplomas and have sent 15 staff to study degree-level journalism abroad. Most important thing is not numbers [of staff], but quality and experience.”

President of the Maldives Journalist Association Ahmed ‘Hiriga’ Zahir said he was not in favour of foreign influence on local media, and that furthermore he felt “state TV should remain state TV, even if it was run with a much lower budget.”

“TVM’s budget is Rf100 million (US$7.78 million), they could cut that in half. I think the state would provide that,” he said.