Chagos Claim, Idol Worship, Victory Day

Friday, November 4

Soldiers marched in a military parade on Kulhudhuffushi island to celebrate Victory Day, a public holiday that marks a failed coup attempt by a group of Maldivians and Tamil mercenaries on 3 November 1988. Some 19 people, including soldiers and two hostages taken by the fleeing mercenaries, were killed during the attack on Malé, which was foiled after India deployed paratroopers to reclaim the capital.

On Thursday morning, a flag hoisting and guard mounting ceremony took place at the November 3 memorial in Malé followed by a ‘Victory Lap’ run across the island.

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih delivered a brief national address. But his administration came under fire over its relatively muted observance of the 34th anniversary. Former president Abdulla Yameen dubbed it the “dreaded Sikka day” in reference to the president’s father-in-law, ‘Sikka’ Ahmed Ismail Manik, one of the Maldivians who was found guilty over the coup plot. Hitting back at the “slander” against his uncle, former president Mohamed Nasheed alleged that the conviction had been based on a false confession extracted through “extreme torture to the point of death”.

MP Mohamed Nazim, a retired colonel and presumptive presidential candidate of the Maldives National Party, which recently declared itself to be an opposition party, suggested that it should be legally mandatory to “mark this day on a national level” with the participation of schools and local councils.

Friday, November 4

Wednesday, November 2

The Islamic ministry filed a complaint with the police over Indian workers performing a Hindu ritual to begin road construction in Addu City.

A video of workers from Afcons Infrastructure offering prayers and breaking a coconut on a machine went viral and sparked public outrage.

After the president’s office spokesman assured action against non-Islamic practices during his weekly press briefing, the Islamic minister condemned the incident as a violation of the religious unity law and called on the authorities to familiarise foreign workers with local laws and customs.

The constitution requires all Maldivian citizens to be Sunni Muslims and public worship of other religions is prohibited in the Maldives.

Three Indian men were arrested on charges of idolatry in September.

Wednesday, November 2

The political fallout from the government’s decision to recognise Mauritius’s sovereignty over the neighbouring Chagos archipelago continued in parliament.

MPs debated a resolution over the policy reversal as former president Abdulla Yameen vowed to revert to the previous stand if the opposition returns to power in 2023.

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 announced 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. Riffath 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. 

Faced with a barrage of criticism in the wake of the revelation, 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 lawmakersformer attorneys general and coalition party leaders, some of whom disputed any entitlement for a Chagos economic zone under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Former attorney general Dr Mohamed Munavvar stressed the absence of an aboriginal population that benefitted from the archipelagic seas, whereas Maldivians have fished in the southern waters for centuries. 

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 Chagos atoll of Foalhavahi 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. Chagossians never lived on Foalhavalhi, known to Europeans as Peros Banhos, Nasheed stressed. “Even if Diego Garcia and some other atolls come under Mauritius sovereign power at a time when the British state leaves islands in the Chagos ridge, Maldivians are most deserving of sovereign power over Foalhavahi,” he argued.

But a Maldives claim to Chagos would be “a non-starter” because of the ICJ judgment, Professor Akhavan told reporters. Sovereignty for Mauritius despite the much larger distance to Chagos than the Maldives was a legacy of arbitrarily drawn colonial boundaries, he added.

It emerged later in the week that the UK has decided to start negotiations with Mauritius to hand over Chagos.

The Fertility Support Community launched an ‘IVF Fund’ at a fundraising gala dinner. An MoU was signed with an Indian fertility clinic to perform in vitro fertilisation for a couple to be chosen annually from eligible applicants.

The NGO is the country’s first “peer-to-peer support group” on fertility-related issues.

A Moroccan resort worker died after a buggy fell into the sea. The 26-year-old woman, who was left in critical condition with severe injuries, passed away while undergoing treatment at the ADK Hospital in Malé.

The incident occurred on Sunday at a resort in Baa Atoll.

The president ratified procedural changes approved by parliament to the Judicial Service Commission Act, granting judges more time and opportunity to respond during ethics investigations carried out by the judicial watchdog.

The Supreme Court’s secretary general was sacked on suspicion of spying on judges and staff.

Dr Hussain Faiz was suspended in March over the installation of security cameras with a live feed to his office.

The police found 69kg of meth and heroin buried in Gaaf Dhaal Hoadehdhoo and a nearby uninhabited island. A total of 82kg has been dug up since an operation on 27 October, according to the police commissioner.

The Maldives Food and Drug Authority banned the sale of a weight loss supplement called Jamu Surut Abu. It was sold through social media as a 100% herbal product but contains medicines with dangerous side-effects, according to the MFDA, which urged the public to beware of “health fraud”.

The new Arabiyya School is a “priority project” for the government, the president’s spokesman told reporters, after the education ministry attributed the absence of details in the budget to an “administrative error”.

Tuesday, November 1

Transport Minister Aishath Nahula sought the dismissal of her deputy minister with serious corruption allegations last week, unnamed officials informed the media. Shimaz Ali was accused of abuse of authority to benefit from fraudulent vehicle registration.

He denied the allegations. Former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s Maldives Reform Movement – whose slot Shimaz fills in the coalition government – objected to removing its political appointee before a “full investigation”. The party will also make a decision on Shimaz’s position after hearing his defence, it announced in a statement.

Last year, the Anti-Corruption Commission sought charges against Shimaz and other transport ministry officials over the awarding of a contract to manufacture machine-readable license plates. But the Prosecutor General’s office declined to press charges due to insufficient evidence.

Tuesday, November 1

Former commissioner of prisons Abdulla Munaz is entitled to choose between retirement benefits from two institutions, the civil court ruled,

As Munaz was receiving retirements benefits from the military when he was dismissed as prisons chief in January 2020, the state argued that he could not be paid a double pension. But the judge decided that Munaz could request cancellation of the military pension in favour of the higher benefits owed to ex-commissioners.

Construction of 6,175 flats is ongoing in the Greater Malé region, including 4,000 social housing units, the housing ministry briefed the media. Reporters were shown progress on 23 of 54 towers in Hulhumalé, some of which were expected to be completed by May.

Monday, October 31

A minor was sentenced to 25 years in jail for murder. He was found guilty of fatally stabbing 17-year-old Ahmed Udhayyu on Gaaf Alif Maamendhoo in February 2021. The criminal court is due to hear witness testimony in the trial of three adult suspects charged over the murder.

Monday, October 31

The Health Protection Agency warned against the illegal advertisement of tobacco products on social media, noting that the promotion of heated tobacco, vapes and e-cigarettes was also prohibited by the tobacco control law.

The Judicial Service Commission decided to take disciplinary action against Drug Court Judge Mohamed Sameer, who was found to have violated ethical standards in his prejudicial treatment of lawyers while he was at the criminal court. After investigating a complaint from the lawyers, the watchdog required the judge to complete a training programme.

Later in the week, the JSC recommended the dismissal of magistrates from Gaaf Alif Dhaandhoo and Baa Goidhoo, both of whom would be removed if parliament approves a resolution to the effect.

Sunday, October 30

The health ministry is looking into malpractice allegations made on social media against Dr Aishath Ali Naaz, a veteran psychologist and head of the Mipstar clinic, who was accused of misdiagnosing patients. She denies any wrongdoing.

Sunday, October 30

A chief customs officer was sentenced to three months in jail and six months under house arrest after pleading guilty to charges of homosexuality.

Mahmoud Riyaz was arrested over secretly filmed sex tapes with a Bangladeshi man. The 25-year-old migrant worker, M. D. Alamgiri, has been jailed for “unlawful intercourse” and 40 counts of producing pornography. 

The scandal broke in late June with leaked videos of lawyer Nazim Sattar, former MP ‘Colonel’ Mohamed Nasheed and a police officer. Nazim, younger brother of former president Mohamed Nasheed, was found guilty and placed under house arrest. The police officer was sentenced to one year and 28 days in prison.

Three men were arrested in September on suspicion of using the videos for blackmail.

The civil court denied an order sought by the family of a man who died in custody to prevent the police from conducting a postmortem

Abdulla Rasheed, 43, died after he was arrested from Hoadendhoo island in Gaaf Dhaal Atoll on drug trafficking charges. 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 police watchdog sought the autopsy but the family demanded the return of Rasheed’s body for burial.

In its judgment on the family’s lawsuit, the civil court ruled that the police has the authority to conduct postmortems without a court order or the family’s consent.

The body was taken to India later in the week.