New Census, Chagos Dispute, Medianet Monopoly

Thursday, October 20

Attorney General Ibrahim Riffath delivered the opening statement of the Maldives to a UN tribunal adjudicating a maritime boundary dispute with Mauritius.

The International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea is due to delimit the borders between the Maldives and the disputed Chagos islands, an archipelago about 310 miles south of Addu that the United Kingdom detached  from its former colony Mauritius in 1965 before the island of Diego Garcia was leased for the United States to build a military base. An estimated 1,800 Chagossians were forcibly evicted, many of whom have been waging a legal battle to return. But the UK refuses to cede the territory despite an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice in 2019 that found British occupation to be illegal.

Mauritius, which seeks to regain ownership of Chagos, disputes a maritime boundary agreed between the UK and the Maldives. Under the Law of the Sea, the rightful owner of the islands is entitled to waters 200 nautical miles from the coast, including fishing rights and seabed minerals. The Maldives and Mauritius claim a large overlapping territory as part of respective exclusive economic zones.

The nine-judge UN panel will continue hearings next week.  

Thursday, October 20

The 2022 census counted a resident population of 452,495 persons, including 355,331 Maldivians and 97,164 foreigners.

The local population increased by 16,897 persons since the last census in 2014.

Based on administrative records, this year’s census has so far counted 89% of the registered population (397,392), which includes Maldivians who reside overseas.

The counted expatriate population was 65% of migrant workers in immigration records (150,313). The statistics bureau said it is working with employers to compile a more accurate figure. The bureau is also continuing to gather information via phone calls from households and businesses that enumerators were unable to enter. A survey to assess the post-enumeration quality will also be carried out until 10 November.

The Order of the Dignified Rule of Muleege Dynasty was presented to Health Minister Ahmed Naseem “to recognise his national contributions to the government over a period of more than 37-years, as well as his role as one of the pioneers of the Maldives tourism industry during a precarious and uncertain time.”

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih presented Naseem with the laurels at an official ceremony held for this year’s National Awards, which “recognise and encourage the efforts of individuals and organisations that contribute to the nation’s development and society’s benefit.” 

The National Award of Honour and the National Award of Recognition were conferred respectively to 10 recipients and to 22 recipients. The honourees were selected by the National Awards Committee.

Talks between the government and Vaavu Atoll Council failed to resolve the dispute over Hulhidhoo, an uninhabited island under lease for agriculture that the council wants to be made available for public use.

The council argues that the 21-lease agreement signed in 2017 should be considered void over alleged environmental damage and failure to begin farming work within a mandated period. But the agriculture minister insists that the agreement remains valid as there are no grounds for termination. 

The annual rent was reported to be MVR36,000 (US$2,300). The leaseholder is also accused of building a jetty and damaging the reef and mangroves in violation of the environment impact assessment approved for the island’s work plan. A team from the Environment Protection Agency was sent on an inspection trip to the island on Friday.

Protesters from all five inhabited islands in Vaavu have been calling for atoll council ownership of Hulhidhoo, which would open it up to the public and tourist guesthouses for picnics or day trips. All 14 uninhabited islands in the atoll are under long-term leases for farming or resort development.

Protesters occupied Hulhidhoo over the previous weekend and only left after police were dispatched and the president’s office assured a meeting to seek a negotiated settlement.

The council-led protest sparked debate about decentralisation, community assets and legitimate forms of protest. Going on the island was seen as criminal trespassing by some whilst others decried the lack of public access to islands and sandbanks.

Photo from Vaavu Thinadhoo council

Imad Solih, a former state minister and lawmaker, was appointed as CEO of the National Agency, a post that had been vacant for more than a year.

Wednesday, October 19

A man was found guilty of child sexual abuse and sentenced to 18 years in prison. A 15-year-old autistic girl was reported to have been raped and impregnated by her 37-year-old brother-in-law.

Wednesday, October 19

Tuesday, October 18

Lawmakers objected to a regulatory change by the broadcasting commission that would bar companies with foreign ownership from offering cable television services. The rebroadcasting license of Dhiraagu – a majority stake of which is owned by Bahrain’s Batelco – could be cancelled due to the requirement for 100% Maldivian ownership. The license of Dhiraagu TV – which is offered through a fiber broadband connection – expires in January.

A resolution proposed by an opposition MP called for a parliamentary inquiry into alleged unlawful attempts to secure a monopoly for the main service provider Medianet. The local company’s owners, including Jumhooree Party leader Qasim Ibrahim, State Minister Akram Kamalludin, and ‘ADK’ Ahmed Nashid, were accused of unduly influencing the seven-member broadcasting regulator to eliminate competition, including main rival Dhiraagu and small businesses that operate in the atolls. Tourist establishments are also forced to pay US$20 per room for Medianet’s cable TV package after the broadcasting commission prohibited resorts from using satellite dish antennas, according to the resolution.

Several ruling party lawmakers also expressed concern over anti-competitive provisions in the rebroadcasting rules.

After acquiring sole rights to broadcast the upcoming FIFA World Cup from India’s Viacom for US$1 million, Medianet is reported to have resold rights to Raajje TV and the state broadcaster Public Service Media. The company is offering a US$5,000 package to resorts.

Tuesday, October 18

A minor found guilty over the murder of Mohamed Anas in July 2017 was sentenced to 18 years in prison. The High Court overturned the juvenile court’s acquittal of the defendant, who was 17 years of age at the time of the murder. The lower court’s not guilty verdict was based on testimony by defence witnesses that placed him away from the crime scene. But a three-judge panel of the appellate court found that video footage and other evidence sufficed to negate the alibi.

The trial of seven adult suspects is ongoing at the criminal court.

Anas, a 25-year-old speedboat captain from Meedhoo in Raa atoll, was stabbed to death by a group of masked men inside a motorcycle shop in Malé. According to the police, he was mistaken for a member of a rival gang.

Monday, October 17

The civil court granted a stay order halting the transport ministry’s cancellation of the licenses of 87 vehicles. The licenses were revoked in September because the cars, motorcycles and pickups were either past registration age or registered illegally in the Malé zone, according to the ministry.

But several vehicle owners challenged the move at court. The injunction was issued pending a judgment on the lawsuit.

Multiple cars are fraudulently registered under the same garage in the congested capital.

Monday, October 17

The utility regulatory law was amended to allow tenants to be billed for water and electricity.

The government-sponsored legislation was proposed to solve the problem of tenants leaving outstanding utility bills when they move out. The old requirement for owners to register meters under their name also prevented tenants from applying for subsidies.

Former president Abdulla Yameen apologised for saying that Jesus had been “buried,” which was contrary to the Muslim belief in the penultimate prophet’s ascension to heaven before he could be crucified.

The opposition leader made the remarks at a rally in Baarah – part of a five-island campaign tour in the northernmost atoll – whilst comparing the ruling coalition’s Adhaalath Party to Christian clergymen who falsified the teachings of Jesus and assumed the role of intermediates with God. Yameen apologised for “misspeaking” after travelling to Dhidhdhoo later in the day.

But the former president came under fire after a clip went viral on social media.

Sunday, October 16

The police defended dragging out a woman from the Addu Hulhumeedhoo station after video of the incident on social media prompted criticism over the use of force.

The 35-year-old woman was accused of obstructing police duty as officers attempted to arrest a 37-year-old man from the street on a drug-related offence. After the man was taken to the police station, two women entered the station, clamoured for his release and disregarded advice to leave peacefully, according to the police. Two female officers were hurt in the process of removing the woman who created the alleged disturbance.

Sunday, October 16

More than 35,000 applications were submitted for the government’s housing scheme for Malé residents, including 15,164 submissions for plots of land, 14,489 submissions for three-bedroom apartments, and 6,208 submissions for two-bedroom apartments. The application deadline was Saturday.

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. 

Saturday, October 15

A new code of ethics for the Maldives media was approved after 11 years. More than 60 print, online and broadcasting outlets endorsed the new guidelines at a signing ceremony organised by the Maldives Media Council.

Saturday, October 15