‘Island Grab,’ Swell Surges, Dengue Deaths

Photo from Vaavu Thinadhoo council

Friday, October 14

Protesters led by the Vaavu Atoll Council occupied Hulhidhoo, demanding the return of the uninhabited island for public use.

More than 30 people protested on the island, some of whom slept there the night before. They remained when police officers from the Fulidhoo station backed by Specialist Operations riot police from Malé arrived, Atoll Council President Shujau Ali told the media. But the protesters agreed to leave the island after calls from president’s office officials, MP Ali Niyaz and Local Government Authority CEO Afshan Latheef assured a meeting before 20 October to resolve the dispute.

The island was leased for agricultural purposes to Aarah Investment in 2017, but the atoll council contends that it has not been used for farming. The annual rent was reported to be just MVR36,000 (US$2,300). The leaseholder is also accused of building a jetty, damaging the reef to create an entrance, and covering over the island’s mangrove or wetland with sand, all of which were allegedly done in violation of environment impact assessments.

In addition to environmental fines, the protesters have been demanding the termination of the lease over the island’s alleged misuse in breach of the agreement.

The return of Hulhidhoo to atoll council ownership for use as a picnic island was a campaign pledge of President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, as guesthouses would also be able to take tourists for picnics or day trips. All 14 uninhabited islands in the atoll are under long-term leases for farming or resort development.

On Saturday, guesthouse owners and members of the public from all five inhabited islands of Vaavu Atoll also protested on boats near Hulhidhoo.

Friday, October 14

Thursday, October 13

The Human Rights Commission of the Maldives has “taken all necessary measures” to address issues raised by the watchdog following an assessment of the Centre for People with Special Needs in Guraidhoo in March, the president’s office spokesman told the press.

A report released by the commission in July flagged inhumane treatment of patients by employees and care-workers as well as the lack of a psychiatrist at the understaffed government-run facility. Urgent measures recommended by the HRCM included regular supervisory visits, training for staff on the anti-torture law, installation of security cameras to monitor wards, procurement of essential medical devices and equipment, and a mechanism to speedily facilitate consultations with specialist doctors.  

Thursday, October 13

The police defended the release of alleged alleged drug kingpin Arshad Khalid after the Prosecutor General’s office filed a complaint with the National Integrity Commission, an oversight body that serves as the police watchdog. A complaint against the police officer who released him was also lodged with the police disciplinary board.

After months abroad, Arshad was forced to return when he was refused entry to Dubai last week and then held in an immigration detention centre for five days in Sri Lanka, where he resides.

Arshad was arrested on his return and released on Wednesday night despite a High Court order to bring him under police custody to appeal hearings of his acquittal on drug trafficking charges. Following his release by the police, the High Court issued a travel ban to prevent Arshad from leaving the country.

A police media official told reporters that normal procedure had been followed in Arshad’s release. But the procedure has been changed with effect on Thursday, the official said.

Arshad and seven others were arrested in 2020 over 9kg of drugs smuggled on a boat. More than MVR4.6 million (US$298,300) was seized from 10 residences connected to his network. More than MVR167,000 was in Arshad’s wallet when he was taken into custody. Packing devices and cash counters were found in the apartments, one of which bore the suspect’s fingerprint. But he was acquitted by the criminal court. Two out of eight defendants were found guilty. The same network is suspected to have smuggled 119kg three months after their release.

Amid a bout of rough southwest monsoon weather, swell surges flooded households and caused extensive damages on Dhigurah, a long and narrow island that has not experience tidal waves for a decade and was largely unaffected by the 2004 tsunami. Videos showed large waves overturn dinghies and crash ashore. Some islanders feared a tsunami, according to the island council president.

Heavy rainfall also flooded homes on Naifaru in Lhaviyani atoll. Stronger storms and floods are expected to become more frequent due to climate change.

Wednesday, October 12

The Maldives Bureau of Statistics is aiming to complete census-taking by 18 October. When fieldwork ended earlier this month, census takers were unable to gather information from 900 locked households and businesses in the Malé region. But 41% has since been reached and others have been contacting the bureau.

Households and owners of residential or vacant buildings who have not participated in the census were urged to either call the 1423 hotline or submit an online form.

Census data is expected to be released on 20 October.

Wednesday, October 12

The Health Protection Agency urged precautionary measures to prevent mosquito breeding amid heavy rainfall after three people died of dengue fever in a week, including a nine-year-old child and 21-year-old man. The number of cases has risen significantly after low incidence over the past two years.

A mosquito-borne viral disease that could lead to potentially lethal complications, dengue symptoms include fever, aches and small red pimples on the skin. There are annual dengue outbreaks in the Maldives, although most cases are not life-threatening.

The gender ministry attended to a total of 248 cases in August, including 24 cases of child sexual abuse.

The housing ministry advised applicants to the government’s housing scheme for Malé residents to ensure that co-applicants approve their declarations. Submissions of many joint applications have been found to be incomplete due to the lack of declarations, according to the ministry.

The government plans to award 4,000 flats under construction in Hulhumalé and 3,000 plots of lands from Hulhumalé and Gulhifalhu, two manmade islands near the capital. The application deadline was 15 October.

A ‘Compendium of Health Research in Maldives 2018-2021′ was released with “information on the health research conducted within the past 4 years”.

Tuesday, October 11

The Maldives was elected to the UN Human Rights Council for its 2023-2025 term, securing one of four vacant seats reserved for Asia-Pacific states. Six candidates were in contention.

The Maldives was previously a member of the council between 2011 and 2016.

Tuesday, October 11

Jumhooree Party leader Qasim Ibrahim’s bill to introduce harsher punishments for homosexuality and blasphemy was voted down in parliament. The ruling party-controlled legislature also rejected a constitutional amendment to cap the number of MPs at 87.

Consensual same-sex relations – a class five felony if the offender is married – carries a maximum prison term of two years in the 2014 penal code.

Monday, October 10

Ten protesters were arrested as police dispersed an opposition demonstration against the government’s fisheries policies. Nine protesters were later released, but youth group member Ali Izhan was remanded for three days.

Opposition supporters gathered in front of the fish market in Malé. Placards accused the government of failing fishers and selling off fishing zones. The relatively small crowd was blocked from moving towards the Republic Square before police moved in to break up the protest.

The Progressive Congress Coalition condemned “the blatant violation of the fundamental human rights of the Maldivian people”.

Monday, October 10

UK institute Nekton’s historic research expedition – which aimed to “undertake the first systematic survey and sampling of the Maldives from the surface to 1000 metre depths” – announced the discovery of a previously unknown ecosystem, “an oasis of life 500 metres down in the depths of the Indian Ocean” that the mission dubbed ‘The Trapping Zone.’

“This is a zone where fish migrating from the surface at dawn are trapped against the seafloor and they create a food source for predators that are resident at that depth and they come and feed on those fish that are trapped against the seabed,” explained Professor Alex Rogers.

“Tiger sharks, six gill sharks, sand tiger sharks, dog fish, gulper sharks, scalloped hammerhead sharks, silky sharks and the very rare bramble shark have all been documented at 500 metres.”

The five-week mission concluded on 7 October. But the Ocean Conservation Exploration & Education Foundation’s R/V Odyssey vessel used by Nekton was prevented from leaving the country over an unpaid fuel bill. A court order was issued after creditors filed a lawsuit. But the case was withdrawn after the outstanding bill was settled. OCEEF took responsibility for the incident, apologised and stressed that Nekton’s charter of the ship had ended before the court order.

Divers covered an 8,573 metre area in the search for a man who went missing after a speedboat capsized in Alif Alif Atoll last week.

The overturned speedboat was found south of Maalhos. One of the two men onboard the vessel was found on the windward side of Feridhoo island last Friday, a day after he was reported missing. He was discharged after treatment at the Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital.

The search for Mohamed Minhaj, 28, ended after four days. The coastguard covered 655 square nautical miles while the military’s Dornier aircraft searched 2,000 square nautical miles.

The first lady inaugurated a Mental Health Centre in the Hulhumalé Hospital, developed in collaboration with Cadabams Hospital, a leading psychiatric and mental health institution in Bangalore, India.

With two psychiatrists, two clinical psychologists and a counsellor, the centre offers “a variety of services, including assessments for diagnosis; counselling services; and cognitive and dialectical behavioural therapy.”

First Lady Fazna Ahmed also attended the closing ceremony of the ‘Peer Support Squad’ training programme conducted by the Faculty of Health Sciences of the Maldives National University, and launched the first ‘Psychology Symposium and Exhibition’ in the Maldives organised by Villa College to commemorate World Mental Health Day.

After hiring more psychiatrists, the Mental Health Centre in Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital meanwhile revealed that it has reduced its patient waiting list to 500, down from 3,500 in April.

Sunday, October 9

The Supreme Court ruled that Dheebaja is owed compensation over the government’s cancellation of a contract to provide ferry services in four northern atolls in 2013.

But the apex court overturned a payout of MVR348 million (US$22.5million) ordered by the civil court in 2014. A new determination on compensation – which should be limited to damages due to breach of contract – was left to the lower court.

Two of the three justices on the panel decided there were insufficient grounds for the government to have unilaterally terminated the agreement without notice. Contrary to the government’s claims, the ferry service had not been interrupted in a large area and the alleged poor quality of service did not warrant termination, the majority opinion held. The agreement had also provided a mechanism for resolving complaints, they noted.

But in his dissenting opinion, Justice Mahaz Ali Zahir noted Dheebaja’s failure to resume services in a week after the government threatened to cancel the agreement, which he considered to have been valid grounds for termination.

Dheebaja Investment was enlisted in 2010 to provide ferry services in Noonu, Raa, Baa and Lhaviyani Atolls in exchange for 47 plots of land to build hotels and ferry terminals. 

In a long-running legal saga, the lower court judgment in favour of Dheebaja was overturned by the High Court in 2018. The Supreme Court later quashed the decision on the grounds that the state’s appeal had been filed two months after the deadline expired. But in 2021, the reconstituted Supreme Court reviewed and overturned the old bench’s ruling and decided to hear Dheebaja’s appeal.

Sunday, October 9

The civil court refused to grant a stay order to halt the removal of decades-old trees for the Ameenee Magu redevelopment. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Speaker Mohamed Nasheed on the grounds that there were alternative ways to build the road. But the court ruled there was no legal right to protect with an injunction.

In the face of public criticism over the loss of greenery from the Malé thoroughfare, including large trees with full canopies, the president’s office spokesman told the press that it was necessary to remove the trees to upgrade underground water and sewage pipes as well as cable networks, which were entangled with roots.

The Road Development Corporation previously said that the uprooted trees will be replanted on the Kudagiri picnic island. 

New trees will be planted where possible and ‘tree pits’ will be placed throughout the new tar road upon completion, RDC assured. 

Afcons Infrastructure rejected the Environment Protection Agency’s assessment of damages after a bridge platform ran aground on the Vilimalé reef. The Indian developer disputed calculations of the damaged area when the EPA’s report was sent for comment, director general Ibrahim Naeem told the press. Upon request, Afcons was authorised to carry out its own survey with seven days, which was standard practice, according to Naeem, who stressed that the EPA would not be obliged to accept findings.

Due to bad weather, it took 12 days to re-float the self-elevating platform. Metal pillars that sunk into the reef left holes more than 10 feet deep.

Saturday, October 8

The Malé City Council opened a plant shop. The Malé Fehi outlet in the carnival area was set up to grow and nurture plants for the council’s programme to plant 100,000 trees in the capital. Plants and fertilisers will also be sold to the public from the new shop.

Saturday, October 8

Some MVR3.8 million (US$246,433) raised from a telethon to help flood victims in Pakistan was handed over to the Pakistan High Commission in the Maldives.

Fund boxes were kept in seven locations in the Greater Malé region as well as other islands across the country.