Sunday, November 30, 2008

Resort strike spreads to Raa

All Maldivian staff at Meedhupparu, Raa Atoll, about 150 in all, have been on strike since 10pm Sunday night. They're protesting peacefully against the lack of implementation of the employment act by the management of the resort, discrimination against Maldivian staff, and poor working conditions, especially food and accomodation.  Meedhupparu management at 11 am Monday morning had not met with the protesting staff.  The protesters say they have informed the tourism ministry.

Reethi Rah protesters

One of the Reethi Rah Resort protesters in handcuffs, with a gash below his right knee. Police denied using excessive force, but the human rights commission has said otherwise. According to the commission, police in riot gear used pepper spray and batons to break up a peaceful protest.

Anni's government has done very poorly in its first real test since taking power. To send in riot police to quash a legal protest is bad enough, but to do so in the early hours of the day can only mean one thing: someone wanted to bundle away the ringleaders before the guests, media, or the public got to know about it. In other words, whoever ordered the riot police did not believe in the right to peaceful protest, guaranteed by the constitution. Or did they hope that rounding off protesters on Reethi Rah would frighten protesters elsewhere from copying them? 

Maldives police have already acted unconstitutionally by attempting to break up a peaceful protest; on top of that they've lied to the public. The management of Reethi Rah Resort and the government clearly wanted the protest to die a quiet death, but the brave protesters held out and were firm in their resolve not to let this go like demonstrations of the past.

Latest reports suggest Reethi Rah Resort have been forced to relent. But the government still has a lot of explaining to do. "Sorry" might be a good start.

Anni should be ashamed that Maldivians still have to shed their blood for basic rights enshrined in the constitution.

Reethi Rah staff say police are lying

Maldives police have denied using excessive force, including tear-gas or pepper-spray, in their pre-dawn crackdown of a peaceful protest by staff of One And Only Reethi Rah Resort. But protesters say police are lying.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, about 50 or so riot police, they say, got on the luxury resort island, pepper-sprayed and severely beat up demonstrators to break up a protest. One of the protesters say he saw police tread on people's feet and spray pepper into their faces. 

Peaceful protesting is allowed under the current constitutional and police may have acted unconstitutionally in Reethi Rah this morning. 

Last night the protest,  which had been continuing all day, lead to the firing of 13 staff, including the president and vice-president of TEAM (Tourism Employment Association of Maldives) by the management of the resort. Protesters are now calling for the removal of the resort's general manager and the training manager, who they blame not only for failing to implement the employment act but also for the mess hotel finds itself in today.

Meanwhile president Anni has denied knowledge of the decision by his home minister Gasim Ibrahim to send in riot police to quash the protest. But it is unlikely to inspire the confidence of either resort staff or the general public for the way the government has handled the crisis.

If the government really means to make amends it must admit that mistakes have been made if, indeed, they have; officials must take due responsibility and apologise to the staff of Reethi Rah Resort who have been injured in the crackdown or fired from their jobs; and remedial action must take place at once.

For a start, the government needs to get tough on all resorts failing to implement the employment act. 

With parliamentary elections due early in the new year, Nasheed's government cannot afford to lose public confidence in their first real test since coming into power. 

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Anni's government uses 'golha force' to break up protest

9.30am: According to protesters Anni has denied knowledge of Golha Force actions and promised to take prompt action. It now appears Home Minister Gasim Ibrahim took the decision to send in riot police without consulting with the president. Meanwhile the number of staff sacked by the management of Reethi Rah has risen to over 30.

New Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed's goverment has quelled its first protest by sending in riot-police, notoriously known as 'Golha Force'. In a pre-dawn attack today about 50 officers, in full riot gear, landed on One And Only Reethi Rah to tear-gas and beat up 200 protesters, who were demonstrating against the lack of implementation of the new Employment Act. According to the protesters, 'Golha Force', showed no restraint whatsoever and left many staff injured. 

Earlier, yesterday evening, the management of One And Only Reethi Rah sacked 13 staff, including the president and vice-president of TEAM, the Tourism Employees Association of Maldives.  

Yesterday Tourism Minister Ali Sawaad told Haveeru that the problem was in the lack of a clear understanding of the Employment Act by the staff and the management and promised to do all he could do to mediate between the parties to solve the issue.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Fareed attacks women again

Sheikh Fareed, notorious for his fiery anti-women rants before he switched to the more popular target of Gayoom, isn't wasting time. In his first "sermon" after being given a preaching permit by the new Ministry of Islamic Affairs, he told an almost exclusively male crowd of thousands at the weekend that more women than men would go to hell. This was, he said, because women were more likely to sin than men.

While Fareed quoted misogynistic and disputed hadiths to support his claims, hard evidence from this country paints a very different picture. A 2007 survey found out that 1 in 3 Maldivian women aged 15-49 years of age have experienced physical or sexual abuse, while 1 in 6 had been sexually abused when they were under 15 years of age. Perpetrators in an overwhelming majority of cases of child abuse and violence against women are men.

It's not clear what Fareed is trying to achieve with this attempt to rouse disrespect and contempt for women. But, given the increased violence that Maldivian women and children live with, Fareed is sending a very dangerous signal to the perpetrators and, society at large.

The underlying reasons for violence and sexual abuse of women are complicated, but social scientist say they relate to the maintenance of hegemonic masculinity, which depends on the sexual, physical and emotional degradation of women. In many cultures, becoming a man and learning to disdain women go hand in hand. Cultural patterns, thus, enable men to learn to instigate and justify the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of women.

Fareed and others like him, notably the 'scholars' of Adhalath Party, are the crudest examples of these patterns at play. Whenever the status of women have been raised in the Maldives in recent times these people have raised objections, usually in the name of 'Islam'. This is to frighten critics into silence. But these same people have ever uttered a word against the high prevalence of child sexual abuse in the Maldives, a fair share of it perpetrated by religious teachers and imams. Notably, not a single religious scholar raised their voice against the recent rape of a 14-year old girl by six men. Although the rapists confessed their crime they remain at large to this day, free to threaten and harass their victim and her family.

Fareed's sermon provides an implicit justification for these rapists, and feeds the disrespect and contempt of women necessary to maintain the cycle of violence against women and child sexual abuse in this country.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Urgent appeal to the police

Last night around 8.30 I was chatting to a friend on the street when we heard a group of people running round the corner and a woman screaming. There was a young people's hangout nearby and I thought some friends were having a good time. Then there was a distinct thumping sound and the screaming got horrible. My friend and I ran to the corner to see a boy, about 15 years of age, repeatedly hitting someone with what appeared to be a piece of wood. As we stood transfixed, trying to make sense of what was happening, the boy threw the stick and ran off to a waiting motorbike to ride off with his buddy. 

It looked like the boy had been hitting another boy and a woman had tried to intervene, earning a severe assault on herself. A crowd had gathered around them, including uniformed MTCC officials (the incident happened near the ferry station), but nobody appeared to have tried to stop the boy. By that time my friend had reached the spot he was furious, yelling at people for their inaction. 

The most striking thing about the incident, surely, was the audacity of the scrawny young boy for carrying out the attack in full view of more than a dozen people. How did he know that no one would act, and that he would get away with it? Was it a backup of friends lurking in the background that gave him the confidence?

Two weeks ago, someone I know was mugged outside an ATM. He told me that around ten boys had crept up on him and held him, beating him and emptying out his pockets. One of the boys had even tried to hit him on the head with an iron bar but was mercifully stopped by his friends in the nick of time. They stole my friend's phone and credit card and asked him for the code. When he refused to to give it to them, they produced box cutters and grazed him lightly, drawing blood. He mumbled an old code, which enabled him to escape.

It happened at night, but in a crowded street. However, because the gang had formed a wall around him, people passing by hadn't seen what was going on. Or, perhaps, they had chosen not to see.

Muggings and violence, especially in the streets of Male are now common place. Surely one of the highest priorities of the new government is to clean up the streets of Male and other urban centres. 

For a start, increased police presence in areas where gangs operate would help. The police should also issue urgent directives to the public on how to act upon experiencing or witnessing an attack. Unfortunately, Male is no longer the safe place it was and the sooner we acknowledge it the better.

It appears that most perpetrators of the recent spate of violence are adolescents, drug-addicts and disenfranchised youth, Gayoom's legacy now passed on to the new government. What to do with these young offenders should be one of the highest priorities of the government of Anni's "Other Maldives".

I lived for four years in a city of 250,000 in western Europe, which supposedly has higher levels of violence than the Maldives. But in all that time, there was only one murder and I don't remember ever being afraid to walk alone in its streets. 

I can't help comparing that city to Male, the number of murders in the past four years, and the rising violence. Apart from the highly-guarded political figures, I wonder if anyone is comfortable the city they've lived for so long. 

I did not sleep last night, because I thought I kept hearing a horrible thumping sound. But there was no screaming.