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PRESS RELEASE – June 30, 2016

Transparency Maldives (TM) notes with concern the increasing intimidation and challenges faced by watchdog bodies, activists and media outlets reporting on corruption in the Maldives. Bypassing principles of transparency and accountability with complete impunity is becoming a common trend in the Maldives with changes made in legal mechanisms to facilitate corruption.

The recent amendment made to the Tourism Act to lease islands without a competitive bidding process contravenes principles of transparency and accountability. Instead of addressing the issues identified in the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation (MMPRC) corruption scandal, where islands were given away for resort development, allegedly through corrupt deals, this new amendment builds on past corrupt practices and seeks to legalise similar corrupt behavior. In submitting and passing this amendment the Government of Maldives and the People’s Majlis has blatantly disregarded public concerns as well as concerns raised by the ACC over the lack of transparency, accountability and integrity in the leasing of islands for resort development. It appears that the Government has not learned any lessons from the MMPRC corruption scandal where an estimated USD 72 million of state fund was lost, and plans to continue on the same track and engage in legalised corruption. TM reminds the Government to honour its obligations under UN Convention Against Corruption and ensure transparency, competition and objective criteria in decision-making on public matters and resources.

TM condemns the continued persecution of anti-corruption actors in the Maldives, including media outlets and anti-corruption activists. The most recent example is the closing down of the online news website CNM, which recently reported on corruption allegations against First Lady Fathmath Ibrahim regarding the distribution of dates given by the Saudi Government and the fixed Hajj quota allotted to the First Lady. The minority shareholder and editor-in-chief of CNM cited political pressure as the reason for closing down CNM. The closing of CNM comes amidst increasing restrictions on press freedom and threats against journalists.

The on-going case against Gasim Abdul Kareem, former Manager at Bank of Maldives F. Nilandhoo branch, is a case where a possible whistleblower is being persecuted. Gasim  revealing information related to the bank transactions of SOF. Pvt Ltd.––the company accused of stealing USD 80 million of public money obtained through MMPRC resort leases–– may amount to whistleblowing.  As a consequence of revealing this information, Gasim has been in detention on charges of unlawful acquisition and disclosure of private information, since February 2016. Before any formal charges were made against him, Gasim was held in detention for over three months. TM believes that disclosure of information in public interest and in good faith by any individual to expose corruption should not amount to criminal prosecution.

TM calls on the People’s Majlis to provide legal safeguards for whistleblowers by enacting and enforcing comprehensive whistleblower protection laws based on international standards. The Government must provide protection for those who engage in anti-corruption activism, and ensure that the ACC is able to conduct their investigations into corruption cases, particularly the MMPRC case, free from intimidation and political coercion.

ENDS

View/download the press release in English and Dhivehi.

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In comparison to other South Asian countries, the Maldives follows a relatively liberal labour policy and over the past 25 years migration has become a permanent feature in the Maldives labour market. Growing income inequality between countries in South Asia has added the incentive for South Asians to explore income-earning opportunities in other countries. As such, since 1990 there has been a significant expansion of the foreign migrant1 workforce in the Maldives.

This study was commissioned by the Advocacy and Legal Advice Centre (ALAC) of Transparency Maldives (TM). Established in 2012, ALAC started out as the first free legal aid centre in the Maldives and over the years the majority of the clients that seek assistance from ALAC has been migrant workers – one of the most marginalised groups in the Maldives. ALAC has assisted migrant workers in accessing justice in relation to various issues, including human rights violations, immigration and labour related issues, and injustices related to corruption.

The purpose of the study was to develop a profile of migrant workers in the Maldives, identify the key stakeholders and issues related to the migrant worker system, and recognise migrant worker trends in the Maldives. The study was undertaken through the completion of a mapping exercise and evaluation of the state mechanisms and systems which deal with migrant workers in the Maldives, in an attempt to identify systemic gaps and loopholes that are supportive of the potential for acts of corruption. The study focuses on the practices, processes and procedures that are prone to corruption in relation to the migrant worker system at the national level.

View/download the Maldives Migrant Worker System Assessment


In 2014 a child custody dispute took place between a Maldivian man, Ahmed Sharaan, and a German woman, Tanja Sharaan. The two had met in 2013 whilst both were working in a Maldivian resort and had subsequently become romantically involved, getting married later in the same year.

Following their nuptials, the two moved to Switzerland, where they had a daughter. When the daughter was 5 months old, the father, unhappy with having to live abroad took forced custody of the child and travelled back to the Maldives without the mother’s knowledge, whilst she was at work.

Tanja subsequently returned to Male’ to try and find her daughter and Ahmed went into hiding with the child. Availing herself of legal counsel at a local firm, Tanja filed a case at the Maldives Family Court to take back custody of her daughter.

The initial difficulty in proceeding with the trial was locating Ahmed, whose lawyer appeared in court in his stead. Ahmed’s lawyer’s chief argument against granting custody to Tanja was that she would raise the child as a non-Muslim, despite Tanja having formally converted to Islam in 2013.

In February 2014 the Family Court ruled in favour of Tanja and ordered Ahmed to give Tanja practical custody of the child within 24 hours. Ahmed remained in hiding and, through his lawyer, appealed the decision to the High Court, which issued an injunction temporarily halting the Family Court order until the matter was deliberated upon by the Superior Court. This was done without the mother being given any prior notice.

The High Court ordered Ahmed to attend court in person and he subsequently came out of hiding to become involved in the court proceedings. During the proceedings, Tanja, who cannot speak Dhivehi, was not provided an interpreter by the state, as is constitutionally required.

On 20th March however, the High Court upheld the decision of the Family Court, granting Tanja custody of the child, on the condition that she could not leave the Maldives as this would contradict the visitation rights of the father. Tanja was subsequently able to overturn the court imposed limitation on her freedom to travel and has since moved abroad and filed for divorce.

It should be noted that despite the case being resolved in the mother’s favour there were serious issues with how the trial preceded that detrimentally affected the quality of justice she received. That an important injunction affecting her case was issued without giving her any notice was highly problematic. Also of concern was that Tanja was not given an interpreter despite her inability to speak in Dhivehi, which was a serious impediment with regard to her ability to access justice in the Maldives as a foreigner. Article 51 of the Maldivian constitution delineates an interpreter as a right to be afforded to a party to a dispute in the event that that party does not understand the language in which proceedings are being conducted.

View/download a PDF of Case Study: Custody dispute between Maldivian and foreign national


A female magistrate in Hithadhoo faces constant verbal discrimination and bullying from her male colleagues.

The magistrate district in question has five serving judges, four of whom are male and one of whom is female. The female magistrate’s male colleagues are accused of repeatedly making lurid and inappropriate comments about the female judge’s choice of attire and subjecting her to constant verbal harassment.

The male judges are reported to be particularly unhappy with her rulings in cases involving domestic abuse and divorce requests on the basis that her rulings favored women in such disputes.

The male judges are reported to constantly question her competency to serve as a judge on account of her gender, despite the female judge in question being the only judge with a law degree on the district – and collectively advocate for her resignation.

Furthermore they are reported to have appealed to the Judicial Services Commission with regard to her ability to preside over cases involving Hudhood offences, as reportedly, they do not find it appropriate that a woman should preside over cases of that nature. Reportedly the JSC were in agreement with this view and she is no longer able to preside over such cases. Sources also informed that, in accord with their belief that female judges should not be able to rule over certain types of cases, they also advocate that she should only be given half the salary of a male judge.

Transparency Maldives would like to note that observers and stakeholders in the judicial affairs of the Maldives have repeatedly observed that there is prevalent gender discrimination in our Judiciary, and furthermore that, as a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Maldives has a responsibility to ensure that the type of behavior described above does not occur or go unpunished.

View/download a PDF of case study: Female magistrate in Hithadhoo faces discrimination and harassment from male colleagues


Hussain Humaam was arrested for the murder of Raa. Ungoofaaru Member of Par l iament Afrasheem Ali, who was found murdered near his residence on the 8th of October 2012.

He was arrested as a suspect during the initial round of investigations during which he confessed to the crime. He was tried at the Criminal Court where he was found guilty of first-degree murder on January 2013 on the basis of the aforementioned confession, and also witness testimony and forensic evidence which, according to prosecutors, attested to his guilt and corroborates with his confession.

Humaam subsequently retracted his previous confession, stating that it had been made under duress following police intimidation and, furthermore, on the understanding that if he had confessed, prosecutors would not press for the death penalty. Whilst Humaam has stated that although he is responsible for much violent activity during his criminal past, he denies involvement in Afrasheem’s murder.

The case was subsequently appealed to the High Court. It should be noted that although Humaam did not appeal the verdict within the time period allowed to make an appeal, under regulations pertinent to the death penalty in the Maldives, the death sentence can only be implemented after all stages of appeal have been exhausted. Hence death sentences handed out by the Criminal Court will automatically be appealed to the High Court after the period of appeal ends. Corollarily, if death penalty verdicts are upheld at the High Court, such cases will then automatically be sent to the Supreme Court for the final stage of appeal.

The High Court upheld the verdict in December 2015 stating that Humaam had twice confessed, and that court guidelines do not allow one to retract confessions of that nature at a later date; they further iterated the Criminal Court ruling citing that the aforementioned witness testimony and forensic evidence corroborated with Humaam’s earlier confession.

Currently the case is at the final stage of appeal at the Supreme Court, which has already held preliminary hearings. Humaam’s lawyers are, as of this writing, requesting that the Supreme Court allow them more time to prepare a defence, as the High Court has not yet given them the case report elaborating on their verdict (this reasoning was dismissed by the SC on the understanding that the relevant report is available on the High Court website). If the Supreme Court upholds the verdict of the Criminal Court and the High Court and all of Dr. Afrasheem’s surviving relatives insist on the application of the death penalty, there is a significant possibility that the state will put Humaam to death.

View/download a PDF of the Case Study: Hussein Humaam sentenced in Afrasheem murder


On the 1st of May 2015, Adhaalath Party leader, Sheikh Imran Abdulla participated in an antigovernment rally and delivered a speech lambasting President Yameen Abdul Qayoom’s administration. He was arrested on the day on the basis that his speech was directly responsible for the violence that ensued during the demonstration. Though he was not convicted of any offence the Criminal Court kept Sheikh Imran in detention based on the reasoning that he might express opinions that could contribute to further public disorder.

Sheikh Imran was subsequently released on the 27th of May before being rearrested two days later at the request of the Prosecutor General on the basis that Sheikh Imran’s speech constituted terrorism under the 1990 Terrorism Act.

On the 1st of June, the Criminal Court ordered him to be brought to court under police custody, with hearings scheduled for the next day.

Following the initial hearings, however, Sheikh Sheikh Imran was held without trial for a period in excess of 150 days before the trial process resumed on the 12th of October. It should be noted that during this period Sheikh Imran was repeatedly transferred between house arrest and prison, despite not having been convicted of any offence.

It is important to emphasize that under Article 14 (3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which the Maldives acceded to in September 2006, the accused is to be tried without undue delay.

Furthermore the reasoning provided for the inordinate delay between the initial hearing and the resumption of the trial was that a new courtroom was under construction. Once the trial resumed however, hearings and trials took place inside of an old courtroom building.

During the trial prosecutors argued that Sheikh Imran’s speech directly contributed to the violence on May Day protest and that, under the Freedom of Assembly Act, organizers of a protest must be proactive in ensuring that violence does not occur as a result of their demonstrations.

It should be noted that during the speech Sheikh Imran repeatedly denied any intent of violence against the government. Nonetheless, the Criminal Cour t found the prosecution’s arguments persuasive and on the 28th of February 2016 found Sheikh Imran guilty of the charge of terrorism. Sheikh Imran was subsequently sentenced by the Criminal Court to 12 years in prison. Sheikh Imran still has the ability to have thisverdict contested at the High Court.

View/download PDF of Case Study: Sheikh Imran sentenced on terrorism charges


The purpose of this governance update is to provide a very brief introduction to the historical development of the Maldivian Judiciary from the earliest recorded times up until the introduction of the new Constitution in 2008.

Prior to the country embracing Islam in 1153 A.D legal disputes were settled according to customary law (Fooruve Rudin). The King (Radun) was the highest authority on judicial matters and a council of nobles and religious functionaries would have advised him in settling legal disputes that arose between his subjects.

Following the Maldives’ conversion to Islam there was an attempt to impose a uniform system of Islamic Sharia across the country – often with visiting Arabic travellers being offered senior judicial posts on the assumption that their superior command of Arabic than locals would have made them more erudite on matters of religious law.

View/download the governance update on Ancient judiciary of the Maldives


Transparency Maldives condemns the recent spate of reprisals against journalists and media outlets by the State, particularly the arrest of a group journalists from 6 different media outlets on 3 April 2016. The journalists were protesting against recent developments that further stifled media freedom in the country.

Despite repeated concerns raised by international actors, local and international civil society, journalists and political parties, media conditions continue to deteriorate with numerous incidents of harassment and violence against journalists reported, compounded with a host of legal restrictions placed on press freedom. This includes the move to criminalise defamation, a recent court order to halt the publication of Haveeru News – longest running newspaper in the country – and the arrest of 16 journalists who were calling for press freedom.

We appeal to the Government of Maldives to uphold its State obligation towards freedom of speech and association (ICCPR and its First Optional Protocol (acceded to in 2006), and immediately withdraw the Defamation Bill from the Parliament and open up space for press freedom in the Maldives as enshrined in Article 28 of the Maldivian Constitution.

ENDS

View/download the press release in English


Transparency Maldives (TM) calls on parliamentarians, political parties, civil society actors including media, and citizens to stand up to protect civil and political liberties guaranteed under Chapter 2 of the Constitution.

TM is deeply concerned by the recent bill submitted by the ruling party to criminalise defamation and expressions contrary to national interest or tenets of Islam. The bill criminalises defamatory comments, anti-Islamic rhetoric and comments threatening national security. Anyone convicted under the law faces an initial punishment of a fine ranging from MVR 50,000 (USD 3, 262/-) to MVR 5 million (USD 324,000/-). Should a convict fail to pay the fine, he/she would be sentenced to a year in prison.

The criminal defamation bill is yet another attempt to stifle freedom of expression and dissenting voice in the Maldives. The law would be an addition to the list of anti-democratic laws and regulations passed over the past year to repress criticism and mark a dramatic deterioration on an already poor human rights record.

We also note with concern that this proposed law comes at a time when a massive grand corruption case amounting to MVR 1.22 billion is being investigated with widespread allegations of involvement of high-level public officials. Restrictions on freedom of expression also infringes on freedom of information and freedom of speech, making exposing corruption and holding corrupt officials to account impossible when individuals, particularly civil society actors and journalists, can be prosecuted for dissent.

We call on the parliament, judiciary, the executive and the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives to deliver on their constitutional duty to protect civil and political liberties of Maldivians and to facilitate an environment where citizens can hold those that govern them accountable without fear of persecution.

ENDS

View/download the press release in English