Maritime Boundary, Custodial Death, Rebroadcasting Rights

Friday, October 28

After delivering the Friday sermon earlier in the day, prominent Islamic scholar Dr Ismail ibn Musa Menk gave a talk on depression, anxiety, and stress at the Alimas Carnival in Malé.

Mufti Menk was invited by the Islamic ministry to deliver a a series of televised religious lectures. He was due to travel to the southern cities of Addu and Fuvahmulah before concluding with a talk in Hulhumalé.

Friday, October 28

The police commissioner assured cooperation for an inquiry into alleged police negligence in the death of a drug trafficking suspect from Hoadendhoo island in Gaaf Dhaal Atoll.

Abdulla Rasheed, 43, died after he was taken into police custody on Tuesday. His family alleges that the police refused to take him to a doctor when he complained of a chest ache and begged for treatment. Police officers accused him of “faking” and he died after two hours on the police speedboat, according to the family. Both the Human Rights Commission and National Integrity Commission have launched probes.

The family has denied consent for a postmortem and demanded Rasheed’s body return for burial. But the police plan to send the corpse overseas next Monday.

Thursday, October 27

A parking zone for 226 motorcycles is under development at the old Huravee building site in Malé, according to Mayor Dr Mohamed Muizzu.

After relocation of several government offices, demolition of the 35-year-old building started in May to clear the space for a public park and parking zone.

Thursday, October 27

Wednesday, October 26

An assessment under the Maldives Red List found 39 coral species to be endangered, vulnerable or threatened.

“These assessments indicate we are in urgent need of conservation action for corals. An optimistic conservation planning outlook will help safeguard these species for the future,” according to the environment ministry.

Wednesday, October 26

The Ombudsperson’s Office for Transitional Justice concluded the investigation of 111 cases, which included “64 cases related to economic and social rights, 23 cases related to right to no unlawful arrest or detention, 21 cases related to right to work, one case related to the right to privacy, one case related to the right to fair administrative action and one case related to the right to no degrading treatment or torture.”

Of 489 complaints submitted after the office was formed. 455 complaints that fell under its mandate were accepted for investigation.

Tuesday, October 25

Dhiraagu was “stunned” to learn of a regulatory change made by the broadcasting commission to bar companies with foreign ownership from offering cable television services, the telco’s managing director told parliament’s regulations committee. Dhiraagu‘s rebroadcasting license could be cancelled due to the requirement for 100% Maldivian ownership. A majority stake of Dhiraagu is owned by Bahrain’s Batelco with 41% of shares held by the Maldives government.

The license of DhiraaguTV – which is offered through a fiber broadband connection – expires in January. The company has been urging the broadcasting regulator to reconsider and allow license renewal.

DhiraaguTV was set up with a US$30 million investment and the number of customers has grown to more than 15,000 across 90 islands, CEO Ismail Rasheed told MPs.

Last week, 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 commission to eliminate competition, including main rival Dhiraagu and small businesses that operate in the atolls.

Tuesday, October 25

The foreign ministry hosted the Third Senior Officials Meeting between the Maldives and the European Union in Malé. 

The government reiterated its requests for the EU to “consider granting duty free access for sustainably sourced tuna products” and to authorise visa free travel for Maldivians, according to the foreign ministry.

Monday, October 24

The reversal of a long-held stand on the status of the Chagos islands – a neighbouring archipelago about 310 miles south of Addu with an American naval base on the island of Diego Garcia – kicked off a political firestorm.

The Maldives previously remained neutral in the sovereignty dispute between the United Kingdom and its former colony Mauritius. The UK separated its administration of Chagos from Mauritius in 1965 to form the British Indian Ocean Territory and forcibly removed an estimated 1,500 to 2,000 Chagossians, descendants of slaves and workers who were brought over after a French colony was established in the 18th century.

In February 2019, the International Court of Justice ruled that continuing British occupation was illegal. The UN General Assembly endorsed the advisory opinion with 116 countries calling on Britain to cede Chagos to Mauritius within six months. But the Maldives voted against the non-binding resolution on the grounds that it could undermine a 2010 bid to establish the outer limits of the continental shelf between the Maldives and Chagos, which extends beyond the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 200 nautical miles from the coast.  The claim drew a formal protest from Mauritius in 2011 over an encroachment on the Chagos zone.

Bolstered by the ICJ opinion in 2019, Mauritius asked the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea to delimit the maritime boundary in the overlapping EEZs.

As the court in Hamburg heard oral arguments on 20 October, Attorney General Ibrahim Riffath declared that the Maldives has decided to vote in favour of the next General Assembly resolution on the return of Chagos to Mauritius. The president had relayed the decision to the Mauritius prime minister in August 2022, according to the AG’s opening statement, in which he expressed hope that Mauritius would withdrew its 2011 protest. He also welcomed the intention to establish a Marine Protected Area around the archipelago, which would address concerns over tuna stocks that could be threatened by industrial fishing.

As the boundary dispute consumed public attention, the government insisted that the tribunal case was unrelated to support for decolonisation as a matter of foreign policy.

But recognition of Mauritius’s sovereignty was tantamount to forfeiting Maldivian territory, decried lawmakers, former attorneys general and coalition party leaders, many of whom questioned the timing and wisdom of backing the opponent’s claim in an adversarial legal proceeding. MPs debated a motion without notice and condemned the failure to consult parliament or explain the decision to the public. An all-party committee was proposed to conduct an inquiry.

Dr Mohamed Munavvar, a former attorney general and maritime legal expert, disputed any entitlement for a Chagos economic zone under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. He stressed the absence of an aboriginal population that benefitted from the archipelagic seas, whereas Maldivians have fished in the southern waters for centuries. 

Echoing allegations of bribery made by former president Abdulla Yameen, Munavvar alleged that India must have dictated the U-turn in favour of its close ally Mauritius. It was part of a grand strategy to gain the power to block shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean, he speculated. 

But University of Toronto Professor Payam Akhavan – senior counsel of the Maldives legal team – explained to the press that the Law of the Sea allows EEZs to be claimed for any habitable island.

The question of whether the neighbouring state is the UK or Mauritius was settled for the Maldives when the tribunal rejected objections that challenged its jurisdiction over the unresolved sovereignty dispute, Professor Akhavan explained.

The president’s decision to vote in favour of the ICJ opinion at the General Assembly was “the natural consequence” of the tribunal’s binding judgment that Mauritius should be considered the rightful owner of Chagos “for the purposes of drawing a maritime boundary.” Akhavan observed that the president was “simply giving effect to the position which exists now”. Despite negotiations with both the UK and Mauritius, the lack of clarity in the past precluded a boundary agreement such as the ones signed with India and Sri Lanka in the 1970s.

According to Speaker Mohamed Nasheed, the atoll of Foalhavahi, called Peros Banhos by the Europeans, was recorded in most Maldivian maps drawn after 1500. King Hassan IX laid claim to its five islands in a letter dated 1560. “Maldivian captains count the Maldives territory with Foalhavahi. There is much evidence of historical and cultural ties to say that it is an island of the Maldives,” the former president tweeted.

But a Maldives claim to Chagos would be “a non-starter” because of the ICJ judgment, Professor Akhavan told reporters via video conference.

With the aid of a map, he also explained the equidistance principle used to delineate borders in overlapping EEZs, which calculates a mid-point to mark the proposed sea boundary.

The disagreement litigated at the tribunal concerned a low tide elevation called Blenheim Reef that Mauritius used as base points to calculate the equidistant line, which was slightly northward from the Maldives line. The parties agree on dividing the territory aside from that 5% of the 90,000 square kilometre overlapping area. The technical dispute was “just a question of what is the right technique for drawing that boundary,” Akhavan said.

Monday, October 24

Economic Development Minister Fayyaz Ismail met with senior officials of the central bank, Bank of Maldives and Maldives Islamic Bank to discuss the growing problem of scam calls and fraudulent money transfers. Legal and administrative actions were considered.

Most scam calls are made by prisoners at the Maafushi jail. According to statistics shared with the media, more than 1,400 cases were reported to the police between January 2019 and May 2022, most of which involved the theft of more than MVR100,000 (US$6,485).

Former president Abdulla Yameen met a high-level delegation from the European Union and “shared grave concerns on judicial reforms and abuse of parliament majority obstructing and rejecting opposition submissions and views.”

The opposition leader also discussed “presenting better prices for Maldivian tuna products in the EU market and assistance in waste management.”

During his presidency, Yameen was at loggerheads with the EU over democratic backsliding and jailing of political opponents.

The Judicial Service Commission decided to take disciplinary action against Civil Court Judge Hassan Faheem, who was found to have violated ethical standards by issuing rulings in absentia without providing adequate time to respond or submit evidence. The judge was required to complete a training programme assigned by the watchdog.

Mohamed Shafiu, a member of the Maldives Media Council, was suspended over the alleged sexual harassment of a female journalist from Vaguthu.

Following a complaint from the online outlet, the 15-member council voted to relieve Shafiu of official duties pending the outcome of an inquiry.

After accompanying a group of journalists during a trip for a training programme in India, Shafiu is accused of repeatedly messaging a Vaguthu journalist with questions about her private life. He denies the allegations.

Parents of Arabiyya School children called a press conference to share concerns about space constraints in temporary premises set up at Malé’s old Sawmill site in January. The only Arabic-medium public school was relocated after the decade-old building in Chandhanee Magu became unsafe with cracks in its concrete pillars.

The makeshift building, which was previously used by the foreign ministry while its offices were renovated, lacks a proper library and space for physical education classes. Taking students to the nearby Henveiru stadium forces cancellation of the afternoon session, the Vice President of the Parent Teacher Association said.

While the PTA welcomed the ongoing project to build a new school for the 770 students – with 40 classrooms and a multi-purpose hall – at the old Jamaluddin school plot, parents objected to the education ministry’s decision to also build a 34-classroom annex for the neighbouring Jamaluddin school in the same compound.

Sunday, October 23

A “shortage of employment opportunities, dysfunctional home environment, poor parenting, and loopholes in the justice system” were identified as the primary reasons for criminal behaviour and recidivism among youth in a public perception study conducted by the Maldives National University, which was carried out to determine “the percentage of youth who commit crimes” and “the factors that lead them to be involved in those crimes.”

The report was released at a function held to hand out this year’s Youth Awards.

Sunday, October 23

Electricity was cut off from the Football Association of Maldives office in Malé over MVR6.5 million (US$421,530) in unpaid bills.

FAM failed to submit a payment plan despite “many opportunities,” according to the State Electric Company.

The president ratified amendments approved by parliament to the Legal Profession Act, which broadened the scope of disciplinary issues that can be taken up by the Bar Council and “allow provisionally licensed lawyers to apply for permanent permits without sitting the bar exam.”

Saturday, October 22

Dive centres based in Vilimalé, a suburb island of the capital Malé, expressed concern about sheet piling in a shallow area of the lagoon used for training.

A maritime training centre for the Maldives National University is being developed in the beachfront area, which was previously used for “four or five different levels of diver trainings” on a daily basis.

The new centre will be used for practical training in marine engineering and operation courses, MNU Vice Chancellor Dr Mohamed Shareef told the press. He assured that the lagoon area will be open for public use after the centre is built.

Saturday, October 22

The State Electric Company fixed a burst outflow pipe from the Malé powerhouse that was leaking water on the outer ring road.