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News in Brief

EU concerned at gang violence and religious intolerance in Maldives

The EU delegation in Colombo and EU member states have noted concern at “mounting gang violence and signs of increasing religious intolerance” in the Maldives.

“The EU Heads of Mission, the Ambassador of Norway and the Charge d’Affaires a.i. of Switzerland are very concerned about the recent reports of attacks, intimidation and death threats faced by journalists, politicians, human rights campaigners and representatives of civil,” read a statement released today.

The offices of Minivan News were attacked last week, as were those of the Maldivian Democratic Party, and the homes of a number of MPs. Journalists have continued to receive death threats, warning against reporting on such activities.

The EU representatives, as well as the Embassies of Norway and Switzerland, today said that these instances were “contributing to a climate of growing fear in the Maldives and reducing the space for public discussion.”

It was also suggested that the ongoing legal action initiated by the Supreme Court against the Human Rights Commission of Maldives “risks undermining the independence of the HRCM, a key democratic institution”.

The Supreme Court’s suo moto case relates to the publication of a report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council earlier this month for its Universal Periodic Review on grounds that the compilation of and the content of the report was against procedures, and contained false information.

“In the interests of both the Maldives and the many visitors to the country, we call upon the Maldivian authorities to create a safe and enabling environment in which citizens and institutions can operate freely in full respect of their constitutional rights.”

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird yesterday expressed concern at the “deterioration” of the human rights situation in the Maldives while the US and UK have also noted their own concerns this month.

Foreign Minister Dunya Maumoon has also condemned the recent attacks, reiterating the government’s commitment to an “environment that gives protection to media personnel to exercise their duties freely and responsibly.”

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Mosques to be brought under Islamic ministry on November 1

All mosques in the country will be brought under the purview of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs on October 1, Islamic Minister Dr Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed has said.

“The ministry is working to change mosques, Imams, muezzins, workers to the ministry from November 1 onward,” Shaheem tweeted on Sunday (September 28).

Responsibility for the maintenance and management of mosques was transferred from the Islamic Ministry to local councils by the landmark Decentralisation Act of 2010.

However, in April, President Abdulla Yameen ratified amendments to the Religious Unity Act of 1994 that would bring mosques under the Islamic ministry and outlaw independent prayer congregations. The amendments came into effect in mid-July.

In April 2012, Shaheem called for mosques to be returned to the ministry’s care following the refusal of some island councils to allow scholars to preach in mosques, most recently in the island of Innamaadhoo in Raa atoll.

The Innamadhoo island council filed a complaint with the Islamic Ministry in March against Sheikh Ibrahim Shameem Adam after the NGO Salaf preacher allegedly delivered a sermon in the island’s mosque without permission from the council.

In May 2013, Sheikh Imran Abdulla and Sheikh Ilyas Hussein – senior members of the religious conservative Adhaalath Party – were obstructed from preaching in Vaikaradhoo, in Haa Dhaalu atoll, whilst the Kamadhoo island council in Baa atoll prevented Sheikh Nasrulla Ali from preaching in the island’s mosque.

In Vaikaradhoo, the Adhaalath sheikhs were provided police protection in the face of unruly opposition protesters.

“Broadening the role of mosques” was among the eleven key policy objectives unveiled by the Islamic ministry in February.

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Terrorism trials on February 8 arson in Addu City postponed

The trial of 35 people from Addu City charged with terrorism over arson attacks in Addu City on February 8, 2012 resumed at the Criminal Court yesterday after a hiatus of over a year.

Of the 35 individuals charged with setting fire to the Gan police station in the aftermath of the transfer of presidential power, only three were summoned to the court.

The trial was reportedly postponed because the defence lawyers were not provided documents related to the case.

The court has said it was facing difficulties summoning defendants from the southernmost atoll as well as housing and feeding the accused. Under the Judicature Act, terrorism trials must be conducted at the Criminal Court in Malé.

More than 80 people from Addu City are facing terrorism charges for acts of arson on February 8, which saw police vehicles, courts and police stations torched. Riots spread across the country following a brutal crackdown on an opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) march in the capital.

In a press release issued on September 18 after the hearings were scheduled, the MDP contended that the trials against dozens of the party’s members and supporters in Addu City and Gaaf Dhaal Thinadhoo were politically-motivated acts of intimidation.

The party also accused the government of threatening to prosecute persons who participate in MDP activities.

The press statement also noted that police officers who committed crimes on February 6, 7 and 8 were not being prosecuted.

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Number of Maldivian seafarers has plummeted: Economic development minister

The Minister of Economic Development Mohamed Saeed says the number of Maldivian seafarers has plummeted significantly over the years due to lack of interest in the field.

Saeed’s comment came after signing the Maritime Labor Convention at a ceremony held at State Electric Company (STELCO) to celebrate world maritime day.

“Maldivian crew members working aboard vessels have reduced to a mere 400. This is a very undersized figure, we need to boost it,” said Saeed.

It is believed that Maldivians will be given the opportunity work in foreign vessels now the nation has signed the maritime convention.

“Many employment opportunities will be opened for Maldivians since we are part of the convention now. In addition the convention also protects the rights of ship crews,” said Saeed.

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Government oversight committee asked to investigate rising airline fare

Parliament’s government oversight committee has been asked to investigate rising airline ticket prices after summoning officials from the government regulatory body.

The issue was raised at today’s meeting of the committee by Jumhooree Party MP Ilham Ahmed, who reportedly said that a number of Maldivians traveling to India and Sri Lanka for medical treatment were affected by the abrupt increase in airline fare.

Another issues raised at the meeting included looking into a case of an Imadhudheen School teacher who allegedly bullied a grade three student.

The female teacher reportedly returned to work last week after the Ministry of Education lifted her suspension. While the ministry has compiled a report based on its investigation, the Teachers Association of Maldives has defended the accused, contending that the allegations against her did not warrant suspension.

Progress into the police’s investigation into the disappearance of Minivan News journalist Ahmed Rilwan was also raised at the meeting.

Meanwhile, Chair Riyaz Rasheed – deputy parliamentary group leader of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives – declined to put either issue to a vote, saying he would clarify information regarding the proposals.

Parliament is due to resume sittings next month after a one-month recess.

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Indian High Commission donates MVR 125,000 to ARC

The Indian High Commission donates MVR 125,000 (US$8,149) to children’s rights NGO Advocating the Rights of Children (ARC).

At a meeting held at the Indian High Commission, the donation was handed to ARC’s managing director Haula Ahmed Didi by the Indian High Commissioner, Rajeev Shahare.

Speaking at the ceremony, Shahare said that along with the donation there was also an agreement to train 26 special educational needs teachers at India.

“This is an area where we are very keen to help out in. India is likely to help out in this field in the future,” said the high commissioner.

Speaking from ARC, Haula said that the donation had come at a very important time for the organisation.

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Census taking extended till Tuesday

The national bureau of statistics has decided to extend the ongoing census taking process till next Tuesday (September 30), reports local media.

While the process was complete in most atolls, the bureau explained that complete information had not been gathered from some households in the capital Malé.

Census takers were facing difficulties in meeting people after making appointments, the bureau noted.

The census taking was scheduled to take place from September 20 to 27 in the first time national data has been collected since 2006.

The last census was conducted in 2006 by the Ministry of Planning and Development, which found the population to be 298,968.

In March 2013, the now-defunct department of national planning announced that the census would be conducted in September 2014 under the slogan “count me in.”

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Maldives sprinter qualifies for 100 meter sprint semi-finals at Asian Games

Maldives sprinter Hassan Said qualifies for the 100 meter sprint semi-finals of the 2014 Incheon Asian Games with a sprint time of 10.50 seconds.

In the first time a Maldivian athlete has passed the first round at Asian Games, the second biggest sporting event in the world, Said broke the national sprint record for the fifth time in his career.

He qualified for the semi-finals after placing fourth in the third heat race of the 100 meter sprints.  Said was behind athletes from South Korea, Japan and Iran.

Said, who has completed trainings at the Jamaica’s high performance training center for athletes will be competing against 16 runners today in the semi-finals where the top eight will be qualify for the sprint finals.

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Nevada store fire causes damages worth MVR13 million

A fire that broke out in the Nevada store in the local market area around 5:30pm yesterday (September 27) caused damages worth MVR13 million (US$843,060), reports local media.

The fire was put out around 6:50pm by the fire and rescue service of the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF), which said no one was harmed in the incident.

The owner of the store told local media that the fire was most likely caused due to an electrical short circuit and is estimated to have to cost MVR10 million (US$648,508) in damages.

Goods worth MVR2.5 million (US$162,127) was meanwhile damaged in the adjoining Asters Trading in the same building after the fire spread next door.

Both shops were wholesale businesses with foodstuff stored in warehouses.

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Torture victims in the Maldives tell their stories