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News in Brief

Archaeological team from India concludes survey in Maldives

A delegation from the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) visited Maldives from August 14-20 on the invitation of the Government of Maldives to conduct a detailed study for a project to undertake restoration of ancient mosques in Maldives.

The 4-member team, led by Dr BR Mani, additional director general, visited several mosques in various islands and held meetings with the Maldivian delegations in the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and the Department of Heritage led by Minister of Islamic Affairs Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed and Deputy Minister of Education and Director of Heritage Department Yumna Maumoon.

Both sides welcomed the proposal for a MoU between ASI and the heritage department, and the renovation and preservation of ancient cultural heritage in the Maldives.

The ASI delegation visit is a follow-up of the visit of Shaheem’s visit to India in April 2014, during which co-operation between India and Maldives in this area was discussed.

India had previously assisted the Maldives in restoration of several ancient mosques including Hukuru Miskiy (1988), Eid Miskiy (2006), Dharumavantha Rasgefaanu Miskiy (2004) in Male and Fenfushi Hukuru Miskiy in South Ari atoll (2001).

Six of the country’s coral stone mosques are currently being considered for UNESCO world heritage site status.

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Verdict in Afrasheem murder trial due on September 7

Judge Abdulla Didi has declared today that a verdict in the murder trial of Dr Afrasheem Ali will be delivered on September 7, reports local media.

The accused Ali Shan is on trial for allegedly killing the moderate religious scholar on October 1, 2012 together with Hussain Human, who was found guilty and sentenced to death by the Criminal Court in January.

Following testimony at today’s hearing from witnesses for the defence, Judge Didi said closing statements would be heard at the next trial date on August 28.

At the last hearing, four witnesses testified that Shan was at the Jalapeno restaurant on the night that MP Dr Afrasheem Ali was murdered.

A fifth witness, Ubaidhulla Saeed, told the court today that he saw Shan at the restaurant around 9:30pm on the night the former MP was murdered.

After having coffee with friends, Ubaidhulla said he and Shan went for a motorbike ride and was in the Dolphin Cafe when he heard of the murder. Shan was with him at the time, he said.

At a previous hearing, a witness for the prosecution testified to have seen Shan holding a blood-stained knife near Dr Afrasheem’s body by the staircase of the deceased’s residence.

At a hearing in February, state prosecutors presented evidence against the accused, including two witness testimonies, the confession of Humam, and a recording of a phone call.

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Police seize alcohol from residence in Malé

Police have arrested a 30-year-old Indian national after discovering 17 bottles of alcohol in his residence in the capital Malé.

Police said Galolhu Naseemge was searched with a court warrant around 11:15am today after receiving intelligence information suggesting the male suspect was selling alcohol.

The suspect had been renting a room in the house, police noted, and the liquor was found in 500ml bottles.

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Sagaru Nasir freed after serving sentence

Ahmed ‘Sagaru’ Nasir, 60, was released from prison last week after serving a 25-year jail sentence for his part in the failed coup attempt in November 1988, reports local media.

While Nasir and his Maldivian accomplice Abdulla Luthfee were initially sentenced to death, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom commuted the sentence to 25 years in prison.

Nasir had reportedly been transferred to house arrest in 2009, but was taken back to jail in 2012 after being seen in public.

On November 3, 1998, a group of Tamil mercenaries led by Nasir and Luthfee attacked the capital and quickly took over the airport, killing 19 Maldivians, including 11 soldiers, before 1600 Indian paratroopers foiled the armed coup.

Luthfee meanwhile fled the country in 2009 after he was authorised to seek medical treatment in Sri Lanka. In 2012, police began searching for the fugitive.

Sri Lankan newspaper The Island reported Luthfee as saying on the 23rd anniversary of the November 3 coup attempt that he “wanted to get rid of Gayoom at any cost. As the election process in my country never gave a reasonable opportunity to the opposition, I felt an outside force should be used to oust Gayoom.”

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Mandhu College sets up virtual campus

Mandhu College has set up a virtual campus in collaboration with telco Ooredoo and invited applications from prospective students from across the Maldives.

The private higher education institute explained in a press release yesterday that the ‘Mandhu College Virtual Campus’ was developed over the course of nine years and has been formally launched after a trial run of one semester.

The primary aim of the Virtual Campus is to provide easy access to aspiring students who are residing in islands other than Malé to different areas of higher education,” the press release stated.

“The Virtual Campus brings together students and lecturers in different locations to a ‘virtual classroom’, where all participants can interact freely. Students can interact with their teacher and other students in real time. Furthermore, with Mandhu College Virtual Campus, students now get an opportunity to study while carrying out their family and working obligations.

“Mandhu College and Ooredoo have worked in partnership to maximise the use of available technology to ensure that all students in the Maldives can gain easy access to higher education, and that they will be able to experience an uncompromised standard of higher education.”

The statement also noted that “students and lecturers who have experienced the facilities of the Virtual Campus have expressed their satisfaction with this mode of study and is willing to continue to progress with this opportunity.”

Speaking at a ceremony last night, Mandhu College Chairman Ibrahim Ismail ‘Ibra’ said he first envisioned the establishment of a virtual campus in 2006.

While some called it an impossible dream, “we know today that it is possible,” said the former MP and chair of the Special Majlis committee that drafted the new constitution.

Ibra said Mandhu College hoped to seek the assistance of lecturers from major international universities to conduct courses for the virtual campus, adding that that the college has decided to reduce course fees by 30 percent.

Ooredoo CEO Vikram Singha meanwhile said that the establishment of the virtual campus was “noteworthy, even on an international level.”

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Woman injured by falling branch

A woman was injured today after a falling branch hit her on the head near the national stadium on Majeedhee Magu in Malé, reports local media.

According to police, a branch fell off from a tree in Galolhu Heenaamage around 12:10pm due to strong winds. The woman was taken to Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital for treatment of head injuries.

The fallen branch also damaged four parked motorcycles and a shop in the area.

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Parliament sitting adjourned amid disorder

Today’s sitting of parliament was adjourned by Speaker Abdulla Maseeh Mohamed amid vociferous protests by opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) MPs over an amendment proposed to the parliamentary rules to require a vote ahead of debating bills and resolutions.

MDP MPs accused the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) of attempting to “silence the voice of the minority party” by blocking debate on resolutions.

The PPM together with the five MPs of coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) have a combined 48 seats in the 85-member house.

Under the existing rules or standing orders, bills and resolutions submitted to the People’s Majlis have to be tabled in the agenda and debated on the floor ahead of a vote.

If MPs decide to accept a bill or resolution following preliminary debate, it would be sent to committee for further review ahead of a final vote.

Previously, motions without notice – which opens the floor for a one-hour debate on matters of urgent public importance – submitted by MDP MPs have been defeated by the majority party.

In July, pro-government MPs voted against a motion without notice submitted by MDP MP Imthiyaz Fahmy to debate the Judicial Service Commission’s (JSC) controversial decision to clear Supreme Court Justice Ali Hameed of misconduct over his appearance in a series of sex tapes.

Imthiyaz revealed to the press this week that Speaker Maseeh – a member of the PPM - had sent a letter on Saturday (August 16) to the general affairs committee requesting the revision.

Imthiyaz noted that a resolution he submitted in July calling for a parliamentary debate on the JSC decision regarding Justice Ali Hameed’s sex tapes has yet to be tabled in the agenda by the speaker.

Today’s sitting became disorderly during debate on a report (Dhivehi) compiled by the general affairs committee after evaluating the amendments proposed by the speaker.

The committee had rejected the amendment proposed to section 77(a) after MDA MP Ahmed Amir voted in favour of a proposal by Jumhooree Party (JP) MP Ahmed Mubeen to keep the section unchanged.

The proposal was passed with five votes after Amir voted with JP and MDP MPs on the committee.

However, PPM MP Jameel Usman proposed the same amendment during today’s debate, prompting MDP MPs to object with points of order.

Several MDP MPs also sprang from their seats and surrounded Usman while he was proposing the amendment. Under the rules, once an amendment is proposed to a committee report and seconded, the speaker must put it to a vote.

MDP and JP MPs accused the ruling party of attempting to overrule the committee decision by using their majority in the full house floor.

However, Usman reportedly said later that he was not in favour of requiring a vote ahead of preliminary debates for bills and resolutions, claiming that he was going to propose giving each party and independent MP five minutes during debates but was shouted down.

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Information officers appointed against RTI Act, says information commissioner

Information Commissioner Abdul Azeez Jamal Abubakur has said that information commissioners in most government offices have been appointed “against the spirit” of the landmark Right to Information (RTI) Act.

Azeez told newspaper Haveeru yesterday that the RTI law stipulates that information officers must not be a high-ranking official.

However, most information officers at state institutions were senior officials, the commissioner noted.

As the law requires a review committee comprised of senior officials, Azeez said there could be conflicts of interest.

Moreover, there were some offices that have yet to appoint information officers, the former Progressive Party of Maldives MP said, noting that these were mostly various departments operating under ministries.

Azeez said he was in the process of hiring employees for the information commissioner’s office and expected to begin work in the near future. The office was established by President Abdulla Yameen in early July after the RTI law came into force.

The commissioner’s tenure is five years and he has the power enforce a fine on information officers who deliberately refuse access to information. Such a fine may not exceed MVR5,000 (US$324).

The commissioner may also fine any individual who destroys requested information, obstructs a public authority or the information officer’s from providing access to information. Such a fine may not exceed MVR25,000 (US$1621).

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Raajje TV secures assistance for three families enduring hardship

Private broadcaster Raajje TV has secured financial assistance for three underprivileged families enduring hardship who were featured in a special programme called ‘Dreams’ aired during Ramadan.

The first show told the story of a woman from Kaafu Guraidhoo struggling to survive with a husband whose kidneys had failed. Her “dream” was to have medical care available without having to travel.

With the help of private sponsors, Raajje TV presented the family a fully-furnished apartment in Malé with rent paid for a year.

Additionally, Dhiraagu donated a mobile phone, free internet for a year, and a one-year worth prepaid voucher while Avid College pledged to provide one year’s tuition-free higher education for a child in the family.

Moreover, MVR14,500 (US$940) donated from various parties were also presented to the family. The financial assistance was presented to the three families at at a ceremony on Sunday night (August 17).

The second show of the programme told the story of a family on the island of Thinadhoo in Gaaf Dhaal atoll with four special needs children. The family’s hope was being able to move to an apartment in Hulhumalé provided by the state.

In addition to furniture for the apartment donated by sponsors, including a washing machine, television, notebook computer, Allied Medicals pledged to provide free medical care to the youngest child.

Raajje TV also raised MVR35,000 (US$2,270) to pay rent for the apartment and arranged for a monthly stipend of MVR2,000 (US$130).

The third programme featured a single mother in Raa Meedhoo caring for a child with special needs while raising her other children. Her hope was to be able to work from home and earn an income.

Well-wishers donated three sewing machines and a laptop while Avid College pledged to cover costs of a degree course for one of her children. Allied Medicals meanwhile sponsored healthcare costs of the child with special needs.

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Torture victims in the Maldives tell their stories