Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Murder on Eid

23-year old Sameer was walking amidst crowds enjoying the Eid festivities, in the glorious late afternoon sunshine, when a couple of young men suddenly pulled up on a motorcycle and viciously stabbed him all over. As the shocked crowd looked on, some more intent on photographing the attack than assisting him, Sameer tried to flee his attackers, hit a pickup truck and fell, never to get up again. A little over an hour later he was declared dead in IGMH.

What was unthinkable in Male even five years ago is now a regular occurrence. In the last twelve month alone 5 young men lost their lives to what the authorities are describing as gang-related violence. To my knowledge nobody involved in any of those murders has been brought to justice. Knifings by young people, who're barely 16, are now commonplace in this once bustling but relatively crime-free island capita, and people are right to ask what law enforcement is doing about it?

When staff of One And Only Reethi Rah recently protested peacefully against discrimination and the lack of implementation of the employment act by the management, the then home minister Gasim Ibrahim dramatically stated: "If...buildings had been set on fire and people had been knifed who would the public hold accountable?" Although Gasim ordered the notorious "Golha Force" or riot police to Reethi Rah to stop the imagined burnings and knifings, neither he nor anyone else in the new government appears to be in any hurry to do anything to stop the actual blood-spilling in Male's streets.

It is said that police already know most of the gangs operating in Male and involved in the violence. There can't be more than 200 or so of these young people in total and the fact that Maldives police haven't been able to clean up the streets is a national shame. Gayoom has rightly been called the father of heroin and violent youths in Male, but the present government isn't doing much to make the streets safer. 

In the last 5 or 6 years violent crime has risen several times over. Like heroin-addiction, child sexual abuse and violence against women, police have failed to reduce it and now it looks like the Maldives has one of the highest rates of violent crime in the world.

In the meantime "cutter" incidents continue to happen daily, and the attackers are getting more bold, secure in the knowledge they will not be persecuted. 

Many of the attacks are taking place in broad daylight, in full view of a gawking public. Some of them have been captured on mobile phone cameras and are taking the Maldives to an international fame of a different kind on YouTube.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Gasim resigns, defiant to the end

Gasim Ibrahim has resigned as home minister, quoting inability to act independently from the president's office as a reason, but is defiant about his actions in the Reethi Rah crisis. He refuses to acknowledge the harm caused by the riot police on protesters, including beating them with batons and the use of pepper spray.

Gasim's resignation will let take some pressure off  the MDP-led coalition government, which is finding itself under increased criticism from the public and its own supporters. It also sends a strong message that this government will not be part of human rights abuses.

Most MDP supporters, and others who champion democracy and human rights, will not miss Gasim, but the government may now find itself without the parliamentary majority that it had, up until now, enjoyed.

Liberals will also be hoping that Gasim takes away the Adhalath contingency with him, which the MDP inherited when it formed an alliance with the Republican Party. 

Maldives Dissent welcomes this development and calls on the government to speed up the implementation of the employment act for resort workers.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

"Golha Gasim" not sorry

Gasim admits ordering the riot police in and Anni apologises for the incident, but a big question mark hangs over the stated commitment to human rights of the new government formed by the MDP-led coalition. 

After the human rights commission stated that police used excessive force to break up a peaceful protest by workers on One And Only Reethi Rah Resort, including using irritant-spray and beating up people with batons, home minister Gasim Ibrahim was defiant. Instead of apologising to those hurt by the violence, he chose to thank the police for the "sincerity" with which they did their "duty". Maldivians will recall that after police murdered Hassan Eevan Naseem and other inmates in Maafushi jail, Gayoom also praised the police force and gave them promotions.

Gasim is aligning with the PR of Reethi Rah to conjure up bogus images of an island under threat: "If police had not been sent and buildings had been set on fire and people had been knifed, who would the public hold accountable?" Knifings have continued to happen in the capital Male regularly since Gasim took over as home minister but, to my  knowledge, he hasn't lifted a finger to stop it. It's not clear quite why Gasim thought the striking workers on Reethi Rah would torch the island and knife the guests, but the resort's PR manager Zhannie Long also claimed to Minivan News that there was violence although she failed to substantiate her claim. "They were running around the resort," was the best she could manage. In fact the only time the workers breached the guest area was when they ran to the main restaurant to flee the attack by the police.

It's not surprising that Gasim, who owns a fleet of tourists resorts himself, is more concerned about corporate interests than human rights abuses. Indeed, he showed outright contempt for the human rights commissioner who, he said, "based his statement on hearsay." 

Although the human rights commission should sue Gasim and Anni should sack him, it is unlikely to happen .

The Maldivian electorate rallied behind the MDP largely because they had had enough of the violence and human rights abuses perpetrated by the Gayoom government. Now, the new government has used precisely the same tactics to deal with the Reethi Rah crisis. The term "golha" springs to mind here and, by sending in the "golha force" to break up a legitimate protest, the home minister has clearly invited the title of "Golha Gasim".

Anni may have resolved the dispute between the strikers and the management of the Reethi Rah, but he must now see to the more difficult task seeing that justice is done in this sorry affair.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Reethi Rah protest resolved

The Reethi Rah protest was resolved around midnight last night with protesters, the resort management and the Maldives government signing an agreement to this effect.

The Reethi Rah management agreed to implement the new employment act and I understand all of the demands by the protesters have been met barring calls for the removal of the manager. 

However, the issue of the illegal crackdown by police on the peaceful protest and the use of excessive force, which resulted in injuries to protesters, remains. And, the Home Minister, Gasim Ibrahim, who called in the riot police, is yet to explain his actions in public. 

Meanwhile there are protests going in other resorts of the Maldives.

Resort owners need to understand that the new employment act is now an un-negotiable reality and any delay in implementing it increases the risk of prosecution for violation of the constitution.


Independent commission to investigate Reethi Rah protest

Last night the ruling party MDP held a council meeting to discuss the protest by staff of One And Only Reethi Rah Resort, and the government's shameful response. Members called for the formation of an independent commission to investigate and take legal action against those responsible. The commission is to complete its work by December 4 and to make recommendations to President Anni. Given that all the government has done up until now is try to cover up any wrongdoing, many will be skeptical about whether the commission will do anything useful.

Yesterday, Nasheed's 20-day-old government sent in riot police to break up a legal, peaceful protest in One And Only Reethi Rah Resort with excessive force, including kicking, beating, and pepper-spraying the protesters. When word got out, the police chose to lie to the public and deny what they had done. But the human rights commission published a damning statement and set the record straight. Since then, Anni's government has remained largely silent, even as the protesters, impatient with the lack of action, have since sunset today gone on hunger strike.

The government does not have to wait until December 4 to call on all resorts to implement the employment act and warn those failing to comply of legal action. Home Minister Gasim Ibrahim, who is said to have ordered the riot police to the resort, should also be made to explain his actions to the public. An apology by the police to those hurt would also go a long way.

Meanwhile One And Only bosses have reportedly been flown to Male and, at 10pm Monday, were said to be in a meeting with Anni and officials of TEAM, the Tourism Employees Association of Maldives.

Not all resorts want to go through all the this hassle to adopt the employment act. Kuredhdhoo today implemented the act after staff threatened to protest, while Bandos was one of the first to endorse employees rights.