Census 2022, Councils Conference, Broadcasting Awards

Friday, September 16

The president and first lady departed on an official visit to the United Kingdom to attend the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. Along with other Commonwealth nations, the Maldives observed three days of mourning with the national flag flown at half-mast after the British monarch passed away last week.

Friday, September 16

Thursday, September 15

Lawyer Nazim Sattar was found guilty of engaging in homosexual relations and sentenced to three months and 26 days under house arrest.

Nazim, a linguistics lecturer and younger brother of former president Mohamed Nasheed, was prosecuted over a leaked sex tape with a Bangladeshi man. After confessing and pleading guilty, the 25-year-old migrant worker, M. D. Alamgiri, was sentenced to seven months in prison in late August.

Both men were charged with “unlawful intercourse” under the 2014 penal code, which carries a lesser punishment for consensual same-sex relations than the sexual offences law, which prescribes a jail term of up to seven years.

Homosexuality is a class five felony if the offender is married. The offence carries a statutory maximum of two years in prison. But the penal code allows mitigation of two levels “if an offender credibly and publicly acknowledges guilt and expresses genuine remorse before trial” and pleads guilty. Prior to sentencing, Nazim released a statement expressing repentance and apologising to the public.

The judge also cited a provision for changing a jail term to house arrest if “the offender does not present a danger to the community” or could “provide useful service in his home to his family”.

Former MP ‘Colonel’ Mohamed Nasheed and a police officer are also on trial over leaked videos with the Bangladeshi man.

Six more suspects between the ages of 44 and 50 were arrested last week.

Travel bans have been imposed on at least 18 local men identified from the videos, who reportedly include teachers, an imam, a soldier, a customs officer, a parliament employee, and staff at various government ministries, many of whom were sacked or suspended after videos and screen-grabs were leaked online.

Thursday, September 15

The government relaxed the eligibility criteria for awarding plots of land for native residents of Malé.

Under the previous criteria, applicants must never have been registered to a permanent address on another island. But the revised rules state that a person who had been registered elsewhere due to a government policy or regulation but has since changed their address back to Malé will be eligible if their father or mother is a native resident of the capital.

The application deadline is 26 September.

The plans to award 3,000 plots of lands from the manmade islands of Hulhumalé and Gulhifalhu exclusively to Malé natives sparked fierce debates on social media. Critics argue that migrants to the capital – including about 1,400 people from other islands who are on a special municipal registry (dhaftharu) and thousands of non-native residents of Malé – cannot be excluded from government housing schemes.

Malé City Mayor Dr Mohamed Muizzu appeared in court for a pre-trial hearing of the Noomadi payout case. The former housing minister is accused of providing false testimony to an international arbitration court about the cancellation of two housing projects. His statement is alleged to have backed the company’s claim of unlawful contract termination by the previous administration.

In late 2019, the current administration paid US$55 million as compensation to Noomadi Resorts and Residences. An out-of-court settlement was reached after Noomadi filed two cases at the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague seeking US$155 million in damages and legal costs.

According to media reports of Thursday’s hearing, the judge rejected four pre-trial motions filed by Muizzu’s defence lawyers. The prosecution then revealed its evidence, including three witnesses, the arbitration statement, and some letters signed by Muizzu as housing minister. The judge granted 10 days for the defence to submit evidence and witnesses.

If found guilty, the mayor could face a jail term of four months and 24 days.

Ten people are in custody over the assault of three off-duty Drug Enforcement Department officers last Friday, the police informed the media.

Five suspects arrested on Wednesday were found hiding, according to the police commissioner. “We will continue cracking down on organised crime groups. Assaults on officers of the law will be dealt forcefully,” he tweeted.

The United States awarded a US$157,000 grant to “support a multi-sectoral, integrated approach to conserve and manage the mangrove and atoll reef system” in Baa Atoll Goidhoo. According to USAID, “this approach will attract private sector investment through the development of eco-tourism products.”

Police appealed for public assistance in finding an arson suspect in Addu City. Video footage released by the police shows a masked man attempt to set fire to a shop on the Hithadhoo island.

Veteran diplomat Abdul Ghafoor Mohamed was appointed as the new Maldives ambassador to the United States of America.

Coastguard sailors and divers alongside officers and crew of CGS Shaheed Ali helped with salvaging the cargo boat Savaaree that ran aground near the harbour entry of Nolhivaranfaru island last week.

Wednesday, September 14

The inaugural Maldives Broadcast Awards were handed out at a ceremony in Malé. As chief guest, President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih presented lifetime achievement awards to former information minister Ibrahim Manik, known as ‘Samarey,’ and the late Zahidha Ibrahim, a beloved radio presenter.

Organised by the Maldives Broadcasting Commission, a seven-member regulatory body, the inaugural awards recognised outstanding television and radio programming and journalism in 20 categories, including entertainment, documentary, current affairs, environment, and social awareness. First Lady Fazna Ahmed presented the Jury Awards.

Wednesday, September 14

Tuesday, September 13

After an eight-year hiatus, census taking began nationwide with 4,000 enumerators, half of whom will be visiting households and businesses in the Greater Malé region.

The Maldives Bureau of Statistics plans to carry listing operations until 14 September, after which the main operation will continue from 17 to 27 September. 

The statistics bureau decided to adjust the census date by an additional two days.

The president observed mobilisation operations at Dharubaaruge and spoke to data collection teams in the morning.

Tuesday, September 13

Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid ended his term as president of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly.

The growing rivalry of great powers in the Indian Ocean poses a challenge to the Maldives, Defence Minister Mariya Ahmed Didi warned in her remarks at a ceremony held to commemorate the 130th anniversary of the armed forces.

Work is underway on preparing a “defence white paper” as well as a new maritime security strategy and border management strategy, she said, accusing the previous government of “isolating” the country and alienating neighbours to the detriment of Indian Ocean security.

The country’s first female defence minister highlighted progress towards gender equality in the military, noting a 25% increase in recruiting women, a 50% increase in promotions for female soldiers, and a 120% increase in representation of women on boards and committees.

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih awarded letters of commendations to soldiers “who gained prestige for both the country and this institution”. In his remarks, the president said that the “army must always have ‘command and control’ over safeguarding the nation from threats posed to its independence and sovereignty, from within and outside.”

In a wide-ranging interview with Raajje TV, Jumhooree Party leader Qasim Ibrahim said the president deserves credit for maintaining the governing coalition unlike the previous two governments. But the 72-year-old business magnate contended that the ruling party has failed to honour 90% of its commitments under the coalition agreement.

The JP has yet to make a decision on forming a coalition or fielding a candidate for the 2023 election, the three-term MP for Maamigili said.

One of the routes of the minibus service launched in Malé this month was temporarily changed due to the redevelopment of the Ameenee Magu thoroughfare as a tar road.

In the first week of minibus operations, the police towed one car and 30 motorcycles that were illegally parked on the bus routes and issued 538 violation stickers.

The bus service has proven a success with more than 8,000 passengers on average per day.

Monday, September 12

37-year-old Maldivian man was arrested for the third time for posting “nude” cross-dressing videos on TikTok. The criminal court remanded Mohamed Nabeel to 10 days in custody after the police accused him of posting anti-Islamic content on social media.

After his second arrest in late August over videos deemed to have violated societal norms, Nabeel was released by the criminal court when the police sought a remand order. The judge decided that detention was not necessary for the investigation, the police media official told reporters at the time.

Monday, September 12

Based on an alert by its U.S. counterpart, the Maldives Food and Drug Authority warned of the illegal sale of honey that includes Sildenafil and Tadalafil, medicines used for sexual enhancement or erectile dysfunction. The products listed in its risk alert are fraudulent and prohibited for import and sale in the Maldives, the MFDA said.

Sunday, September 11

Ismail Asif, an alleged member of an extremist group from Raa Maduvvari, was found guilty of stabbing a man and sentenced to 12 years and three months in prison.

The incident occurred on the Jaree fishing boat outside the lagoon of Maalhos in late November 2019. According to the police, Asif stabbed Ismail Hammad, who is also from Madduvari, with a fish-cutting knife amid a dispute within the extremist group. The 26-year-old Hammad escaped by swimming to Maalhos island in Alif Alif atoll, from where he was transferred to the capital for further treatment. A police diving team recovered the knife from the Maalhos lagoon.

Sunday, September 11

The third edition of the Viavathi Raajje conference on decentralisation kicked off on Laamu Gan with the president, ministers, lawmakers and top government officials joining members of island councils, atoll councils and Women’s Development Committees from the southern atolls.

“The two-day conference featured four sessions with presentations and discussions on a variety of topics, including gender equality, the formulation of land-use plans, fiscal autonomy of local councils and building resilient communities,” according to the president’s office. “The sessions allowed the council and WDC members from the southern atolls to directly present their concerns to the president and collaborate on solutions with relevant parties.”

More than 270 individuals participated in the conference, including 107 elected officials from municipal councils. A sports festival was held on Saturday “as an icebreaker session to foster cooperation among attendees.”

Two Maldives scientists became the first aquanauts to descend in the maiden dive of UK institute Nekton’s historic research expedition, which aims to “undertake the first systematic survey and sampling of the Maldives from the surface to 1000 metre depths.” 

Piloted by American Kimly Do, Shafiya Naeem, director general of the Maldives Marine Research Institute, and research assistant colleague Farah Amjad descended in the Omega Seamaster II three-person submersible “to investigate the wall of coral and marine life along the east coast of Laamu at varying depths from 60 metres, through a 120 metre deep survey to the darker depths of 250 metres.”

The Maldives Transport and Contracting Company denied allegations that the minibuses operating in Malé were purchased at an inflated cost of US$203,500 per vehicle. An opposition-aligned news site claimed that diesel buses were bought for the price of electric buses.

MTCC CEO Adam Azim told Mihaaru – which reported the price as between US$90,000 to US$95,000 – that the original plan had been to use electric vehicles but the company opted for diesel buses in the interest of expediting the introduction of the public transport service.

Concerns about starting with electric buses included budgetary constraints as well as the lack of charging stations and expertise for maintenance. But six electric buses, which cost US$203,500 each, will arrive next month, he said. MTCC has a transparent procurement mechanism with a 10-member committee that includes department heads required to sign off for purchases, Azim stressed, vowing to seek legal action against the media reports.

Saturday, September 10

Two former lawmakers testified as defence witnesses in former president Abdulla Yameen’s bribery and money laundering trial.

The opposition leader is accused of accepting and laundering a US$1 million bribe from former lawmaker Yousuf Naeem in September 2015 in exchange for the no-bid lease of Vaavu Aarah for resort development at a discounted acquisition cost of US$2 million.

But Yameen denies the charges and insists that Naeem had deposited US$1 million into his bank account in a legitimate currency exchange transaction. Backing the defendant’s alibi, former Hoarafushi MP Mohamed Ismail claimed to have arranged for Yameen to purchase dollars from Naeem. The then-president wanted to buy dollars and Naeem had been willing to sell below the black market price, Mohamed Ismail told the court.

Former Hulhudhoo MP Mohamed Shahid testified that Naeem had told him about the currency exchange transaction with the president. He also claimed to have been present when Mohamed Ismail made the call to Naeem on behalf of Yameen. Naeem later told him that he had received local currency in cash, Shahid told the court, backing the testimony of other defence witnesses who claimed to have counted MVR15,420,000 in cash at Yameen’s home before handing it over to Naeem.

Naeem, former MP for Fulidhoo, is also on trial as a co-defendant on a charge of bribery.

The charges stem from a corruption scandal in which US$90 million was stolen through the Maldives Marketing and Public Relations Corporation during Yameen’s administration. The bulk of the embezzled funds was resort acquisition fees, which were siphoned off through a private company and allegedly used for bribes and political purposes.

Saturday, September 10