Law amended to prevent passports being held without court orders

Parliament has passed an amendment altering the immigration law to prevent the holding of passports without a court order.

The amendment was submitted by ruling Progressive Party of Maldives MP Ibrahim Riza, and was passed by a total of 65 votes.

Under the amendment, Article 5(b) of the Immigration Act has been made void.

Article 5(b) of the current Immigration Act stipulates that a passport can be held for a maximum of seven days on request of the police authorities even without a court order. If passports are to be held for a period extending seven days, it must be done so under a court order.

A police media official stated that the change in law will not present any difficulties to the services as their normal procedure is to obtain court orders before requesting that any passports be held or travel bans imposed.


Week in review: March 1– 8

This week saw tensions between the Elections Commission (EC) and the Supreme Court rising as the commissioners were hauled before the court once again.

After telling a Majlis committee that the court’s election guidelines were undermining the commission’s work, EC Chair Thowfeek was grilled by the bench before a travel ban was placed on himself and his colleagues.

As well as having their travel restricted, EC members also raised concern that the commission’s budget – in addition to being given piecemeal by the Finance Ministry – was insufficient to conduct the March 22 Majlis poll.

With voter re-registration completed this week, the EC noted that one in four voters intended to vote in places other than their permanent residence.

After the US State Department’s human rights report joined the chorus of those critical of the Maldives judiciary, Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon asked the international community to support rather than undermine the country’s courts.

After receiving criticism from the political opposition for failing to mention the judiciary’s issues in his first address, President Yameen stated that he had complete trust in the institution.

This comment prompted the Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) Mohamed Nasheed to suggest that this faith stemmed from the Progressive Party of Maldives’ strong influence over the courts.

Speaking on the campaign trail, Nasheed pledged that an MDP majority in the Majlis would seek to reform both the judiciary and the Judicial Services Commission.

Two fellow MDP MPs seeking to return to the campaign trail were the recently jailed Abdulla Jabir and the recently stabbed Alhan Fahmy.

While Jabir’s legal team pleaded with the court to allow the Kaashidhoo MP the opportunity to campaign during his incarceration, Alhan was told that the Civil Court could not invalidate the candidacy of the disputed Feydhoo by-election winner.

Government agenda

As well as listing the government’s recent achievements during his address at the Majlis opening this week, President Yameen explained that a legislative agenda had been formulated. This agenda was subsequently revealed by the Attorney General to include 98 new bills and 109 amendments to existing laws.

The government’s pledge to increase the pension to MVR5000 was delivered – after some confusion while the Home Ministry’s drive against drugs continued with plans made to reintroduce sniffer dogs to the Maldives.

Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz received a royal welcome from the government this week, releasing a joint statement with Yameen reiterating the countries’ mutual commitment to moderate Islam and strengthened bilateral ties.

As the fallout from the IGMH HIV scandal continued, hospital officials revealed that a member of staff had been taken into police custody after admitting culpability for the error which led to the transfusion of infected blood.

Health Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela explained that the expenses of the victim’s children would now be borne by the state, though local NGO Voice of Women expressed concern that the family may still face discrimination due to “societal myths and misinformation” about the illness.

Shakeela told the Majlis government oversight committee that her resignation was not the solution to the health sector’s problems.

The same committee was also informed that a Maafushi Jail inmate – left in a coma after being attacked by his cellmates in February – had requested to be taken out of his quarters more than an hour before the attack.

The government’s attempts to keep Raajje TV away from President’s Office press conferences were dropped by the AG this week, while the broadcasting commission asked DhiTV to respond to allegations that it had irresponsibly criticised the Anti Corruption Commission.


Former President Nasheed reaches Copenhagen climate talks despite alleged obstruction

Former President Mohamed Nasheed was temporarily obstructed from traveling overseas yesterday (April 14) despite having High Court approval, the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) has alleged.  Nasheed’s office has said this is the fourth time over the last 12 months that he has faced restrictions on his travel.

The High Court had granted Nasheed permission to travel abroad yesterday, while Maldivian authorities were informed of his planned departure to Copenhagen, Denmark, at 7:30pm in the evening, MDP MP and Spokesperson Hamid Abdul Ghafoor claimed today.

However, an hour before Nasheed’s scheduled departure – after he had arrived at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) in Male’ –  his office said they were informed Nasheed could not leave the country.

The Department of Immigration and Emigration were then accused of preventing Nasheed from leaving the Maldives, claiming the High Court had not granted him permission to travel overseas before April 15.

After Nasheed’s flight departed, the Immigration Department then granted their official permission, Ghafoor said.

Nasheed then rescheduled his flight and departed the Maldives for Copenhagen at 11:40pm on April 14.

Ghafoor added that this was the fourth instance where Nasheed has been obstructed from traveling abroad on a scheduled international visit under the present government.

He explained that “everything was scheduled properly and there was no controversy from the High Court,” instead the issue lies with the Immigration Department.

“The Immigration Department will not stop trying to find any little administrative mistakes – and when they can’t, they invent something. They will most likely quote an administrative error on the part of Nasheed’s staff,” said Ghafoor.

“President Nasheed has not been shown the courtesy a former head of state deserves,” he added.

Nasheed’s spokesperson, Mariya Didi echoed these sentiments stating: “As a former President, it deeply concerning that the Maldivian authorities continue to withhold the constitutionally stipulated privileges accorded to President Nasheed.”

When asked about Nasheed’s travel arrangements, Immigration Controller Dr Mohamed Ali told Minivan News today to “ask the MDP about it,” adding he would not comment on any instance of the former president being obstructed from traveling overseas.

Climate change, economics, and democracy

While in Denmark, Nasheed has been invited to speak at the University of Copenhagen on the economics of climate change.

His office has said he will speak on outlining the dangers posed to the Maldives by climate change, and explain how the world can build a carbon neutral global economy by focusing on the opportunities provided by clean technology.

The investments for producing sustainable energy in the Maldives are now viable, Nasheed told local media prior to his departure yesterday.

Ghafoor said that Nasheed plans to speak at the Danish Parliament and meet with ministers during this “rushed but comprehensive trip”.

“He’s not a green man per se, but rather supports economics of the green movement,” he added.

Nasheed told local media that his parliamentary speech will highlight how the Maldives has deviated from democratic principles and the efforts necessary to put the country “back on track to democratic governance”.

Nasheed is scheduled to return April 18.

Previous travel bans

Earlier this year,the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court denied former Nasheed’s request to travel abroad for a family wedding from March 27 to March 31.

Meanwhile, Nasheed’s request to travel overseas between February 27 to March 5 was denied by the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court because “he had not cooperated with the court on previous instances”. The trip had been scheduled after Nasheed received an invitation from the Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma, and to Denmark under an invitation from the state.

Nasheed was also prevented from leaving the country December 21, 2012 to visit his ill father in Bangkok, Thailand due to a “technical problem,” the Department of Immigration and Emigration has claimed.

Earlier in 2012, the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court imposed an internal travel ban “confining Nasheed Male’,” which he said will hinder his political campaigning and wider party work.

Copenhagen climate justice advocacy

Nasheed galvanised thousands of environmentalists at a rally in Copenhagen December 2009, vowing to persevere until a politically binding climate change treaty was attained.

The Danish Prime Minister called Nasheed “the real hero of Copenhagen” following a marathon 30 hour negotiation session to reach an agreement during the 2009 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) talks.

The agreed-upon accord recognises that global temperatures should rise no higher than two degrees Celcius above pre-industrial levels, but does not commit developed countries to legally-binding emission reduction targets.

Current carbon-neutral commitments

The current government of President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik has said it is committed to pursuing carbon neutral ambitions, despite last year’s political tensions reportedly affecting investment potential for such schemes.

Environment Minister Dr Mariyam Shakeela said last year that some of the programs presently being undertaken by her ministry had started seven years previously – before Former President Mohamed Nasheed came to power – and were being adhered to on the grounds they would benefit the nation.

“We are continuing with the carbon neutrality program,” she said at the time. “ We are giving it our best shot.”

Since early 2012, the Maldivian government has overseen the initial stages of a few new renewable energy projects to achieve this goal.

The Maldives’ State Electric Company Limited (STELCO) announced in March 2013 plans to implement a 50 megawatt floating solar panel project to power the country’s capital Male’ and provide renewable energy for 28 islands with rooftop installations.

The Ministry of Environment in conjunction with the Ministry of Finance issued a prequalification application in January 2013 for the “Solar Maldives Programme.” The project aims to “design, build, finance, own, operate and transfer grid-tied solar photovoltaic systems for integration with diesel generators on 15 islands” in the south, north, and upper north provinces.

The government has also received bids to install a 300 kW grid connected solar PV system on Thinadhoo Island, the regional capital of Gaaf Dhaal (Huvadhoo) Atoll. This is part of the “Clean Energy for Climate Mitigation (CECM) Project” financed by the Climate Change Trust Fund (CCTF) – a collaboration between the Maldivian government, World Bank, European Union (EU) and the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID).

“The system is expected to meet 30 percent of the peak day time demand of electricity and will offset approximately 300 tons of carbon dioxide annually,” the Ministry of Environment previously claimed.

The Waheed administration has also announced its intention to move ahead with plans to transform the Maldives into a biosphere reserve through the designation of zones across the country that would earmark land use for specific purposes such as tourism development or conservation.


Court bans former President Nasheed from travelling abroad

Former President Mohamed Nasheed has said that the travel ban imposed against him will hinder his political campaign and party work.

Speaking to the Times of India, Nasheed stated that despite ending his 11-day stay at the Indian High Commission in Male’ last month, he was still not entirely free, adding that he “fears” an arrest warrant will be issued against him “any day”.

The former President sought refuge inside the High Commission building on February 13 after Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court ordered police to produce Nasheed at his trial hearing scheduled for later that day.

Nasheed has maintained that the charges against him – of detaining the Chief Criminal Court Judge during his final days in office – are a politically-motivated effort to prevent him contesting the 2013 elections.

Nasheed spent 11 days inside the commission building before making an unannounced exit on February 23, after a “deal” had allegedly been brokered between both Indian and Maldivian governments.

Despite Nasheed’s exit from the commission, the former President has now stated that the travel ban imposed by Hulhumale’ court – prohibiting him from leaving Male’ – shows the “politically motivated nature of the court”.

“I believe the Indian government is worried that if there isn’t a free, fair and inclusive election, there will be instability in the Maldives.

“However, if I am not allowed to travel outside Male and campaign, it means that there is no firmness to the understanding brokered by India. I fear the court might even issue a warrant against me any day,” Nasheed was quoted as saying in Times of India.

The former President claimed that there had been an understanding – rather than a deal – between the two governments that he would be able to conduct a peaceful political campaign and would participate in an inclusive election.

“The charges would not be dropped against me, but even if I became the president after the elections, the law would take its course. On my part I would create space for the Indian and Maldivian governments to settle the issue,” Nasheed said.

Despite Nasheed’s claims, an official from the Judiciary Media Unit told local media last month that the court had denied Nasheed’s request as he had not cooperated with the court on previous instances.

Responding to a question about President Mohamed Waheed Hassan Manik’s stance on the matter, Nasheed told Times of India that the President has yet to say anything.

“As president, he [President Waheed] should say clearly that the case against me is deferred. This deliberately created situation of suspended animation is going to harm our campaign,” Nasheed said.

President’s Office Spokespeople Masood Imad and Ahmed ‘Topy’ Thaufeeq were not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

An official from the Judiciary Media Unit told Minivan News that he would attempt to find out more information regarding the length of Nasheed’s travel ban, however he was not responding to follow-up calls at time of press.

The former President was invited to be the guest of honour at the opening of the Cultural Season 2013 in Abu Dhabi in the UAE, by Sheikh Nahayan Mabarak Al Nahayan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research.

Nasheed was also due to meet Commonwealth Secretary General Kamalesh Sharma, and was to visit Denmark on the invitation of the Danish government.


“Technical problem” prevented former President Nasheed from leaving, Immigration Department claims

Former President Mohamed Nasheed was prevented from leaving the country yesterday (December 21) to visit his ill father in Bangkok, Thailand due to a “technical problem,” the Department of Immigration and Emigration has claimed.

Nasheed was told by immigration officials on Friday morning that his passport was held because of a court order by the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court that had been sent to the department on December 18 imposing a travel ban on the former president.

The formerly ruling Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) presidential candidate is currently on trial at the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court over charges of illegally detaining Chief Judge of the Criminal Court Abdulla Mohamed in January this year.

However, on December 18, the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court authorised the former President to travel overseas between December 19, 2012 and January 6, 2013. The letter granting permission to travel was signed by Magistrate Hussain Mazeed.

Following the incident on Friday morning, the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court confirmed to local media that the Immigration Department was informed of the decision on December 18.

In a statement later in the day, the Immigration Department said the court order lifting the travel ban was received and entered into the system.

However, Nasheed was told his passport had been withheld due to a “technical problem with the system,” the Immigration Department claimed.

“The issue has now been identified and fixed a short while ago,” the statement read. The department did not elaborate on the nature of the “technical problem”.

Controller of Immigration Dr Mohamed Ali told Minivan News today that the system error “affected both arrivals and departures from 7:30am to about 2:00pm.”

He added that the incident involving the former President was “the only case” of a passport being held due to the disruption.

“The system at airport did not show the release, while the release was entered on Wednesday (December 18). It was a simple system dependent decision by the duty officer at that time.  We have apologised to [Nasheed] and all who were affected and even have a letter sent to him assuring that he can leave during the specified period,” Dr Ali said.

However, the Immigration Controller told newspaper Haveeru on Friday that Nasheed’s passport was held due to a court order.

“He cannot leave until the court orders [the passport] to be released. When he wants to go somewhere, the court will instruct us to release it within a certain period,” Dr Mohamed Ali was quoted as saying.

Nasheed was reportedly due to leave for Bangkok on a private visit ahead of his father’s surgery.

Former President Nasheed’s office meanwhile issued a statement contending the move blocking the former President’s departure was in violation of the constitution.

The statement noted that article 128 of the constitution entitles former Presidents to “the highest honour, dignity, protection, financial privileges and other privileges entitled to a person who has served in the highest office of the land.”

Moreover, article 41 of the constitution guarantees “the freedom to enter, remain in and leave the Maldives” to every citizen.

“This office condemns in the harshest terms the act by the current government to deliberately obstruct President Nasheed from leaving the country for his father’s operation,” the press release stated.

It added that the Immigration Controller’s claims in the media that a travel ban had been imposed by a court order on December 18 was a “deliberate falsehood.”

The Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court informed Nasheed’s lawyers on Friday afternoon that the Immigration Department was sent the court order lifting the travel ban.

The statement called on the government to “respect the constitution and immediately cease these attempts to harass and hassle President Nasheed.”

The former President’s office also called on the Hulhumale’ Magistrate Court to take action against the Controller of Immigration for making false claims regarding the court.


Blacklisted Chinese national flees Maldives as “murder” allegations circulate in media

Immigration authorities have confirmed that a Chinese national allegedly linked to the disappearance of a tourist staying at a Maldives holiday resort has fled the country, defying a court-mandated travel ban issued Wednesday (December 12).

Local media has reported that the husband of Chinese tourist Song Yapin, who went missing from the Bandos Island Resort and Spa on December 6, has accused another Chinese national staying at the property of murdering his wife.

Immigration Controller Dr Muhamed Ali today confirmed to Minivan News that a court order had been issued against an unidentified Chinese national banning him from travelling from the country.  However, despite being blacklisted, local newspaper Haveeru today reported that the Chinese national was still able to leave the country on Wednesday evening after the travel ban was issued against him earlier the same day.

Dr Ali declined to comment further on the issue when contacted by Minivan News today.

“That has been covered enough now,” he said by SMS.

The immigration chief previously told local media that a situation where a blacklisted person was then able to leave the country reflected “major issues” within his department.

“The court had sent us a fax. It was sent during unofficial hours and went unnoticed. However it was brought to our attention by the lawyer of the husband of the missing woman,” Dr Ali was quoted as telling media, adding that an investigation into the matter would be held.

Search ongoing

The Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) today confirmed that the search to locate the missing tourist was continuing.  However, MNDF Spokesperson Colonel Abdul Raheem said that the country’s coastguard had presently ceased sending out dive teams to explore local waters.

“We have checked the area, but were not able to find anything when we sent our dive teams out over a number of days,” MNDF spokesperson Colonel Abdul Raheem told Minivan News today. “We will not be calling off our operation until the person is found, but we will be amending our operation on a daily basis.”

Colonel Raheem was unable to confirm the manner of search the MNDF was presently conducting in its hunt for the missing woman at the time of press.

Bandos Island Resort and Spa was also unable to comment on the matter at the time of press due to the unavailability of a senior spokesperson outside of office hours.

Police Spokesperson Sub-Inspector Hassan Haneef was not responding to calls from Minivan News today.