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Fact-checking the Maldives fisheries minister

The US and UK deny their ambassadors are lying about the Maldives situation.



The US and UK have rejected allegations their ambassadors are lying about the situation in the Maldives, after the fisheries minister said envoys in Colombo were misleading their governments.

Mohamed Shainee questioned the integrity of  diplomatic missions in a recent interview with the Maldives Independent. He is a confidant of President Abdulla Yameen and the government’s representative for all-party talks.

Shainee said “one or two ambassadors sitting in Colombo” were “misleading their governments” by sending out one-sided information.

He also said none of them approach the government before making public statements and accused them of being “actively engaged” with and “emotionally invested” in the opposition led by former president Mohamed Nasheed.

Nancy Vanhorn, from the US Embassy in Colombo, countered every one of Shainee’s remarks.

“The U.S. Embassy to Sri Lanka and Maldives takes its responsibility for U.S. diplomatic representation to the Maldives seriously,” she said in an email.

“The U.S. Embassy does not favor individual parties or candidates. Irrespective of the outcome of the presidential election, we expect the electoral process to be free, fair, and transparent. It is up to the Maldivian people to decide whom they want to lead them in the future.”

The British embassy in Colombo said that UK ambassador James Dauris was in regular consultation with Malé.

Shainee said Dauris had admitted to using only the information he received from media and the Maldivian opposition before issuing a statement criticising the way parliament had buried a no-confidence motion against the speaker.

“Ambassador Dauris visits Maldives several times every year, as do other officials from the British High Commission in Colombo,” the embassy said. “Ambassador Dauris routinely requests meetings with ministers in the Maldives Government. His most recent visit to the Maldives was on 3 September 2018. The High Commission requested meetings for him with several government ministers, including Minister Shainee.”

Shainee also said India’s geopolitical rivalry with China was responsible for its recent statements questioning the Maldives willingness to conduct free and fair elections. The Indian embassy in the Maldives did not wish to comment.

But a source familiar with the situation said the Maldives government was in denial over China’s increasing presence in the country and what that entailed.

“They are ignoring widespread concerns among Maldivians, as well international researchers and scholars, about potentially serious implications of rapidly growing, unsustainable foreign debt of Maldives towards exorbitantly priced projects being implemented without any transparency and institutionalized scrutiny or checks and balances,” said the source.

“Also, all traditional partners and friends of Maldives are concerned about functioning of democratic and other independent institutions including judiciary in Maldives. A fake ‘leaked cable’ does not vindicate the serious issues of governance.”

The interview with Shainee was the first time the government acknowledged that Indian expats had been facing visa problems. Shainee said the government had proposed an agreement to India but did not disclose further details. An Indian source told the Maldives Independent that the policy framework was “unilaterally changed” by Malé.

“Till such time a new updated visa regime is established, the old agreement needs to be respected and implemented fully,” the source added.

– Fact-check –

Claim 1: On opposition activists being arrested before campaign rallies

There has been no arrest before any rally.

Maldives police on September 8 tweeted that 19 people had been arrested in connection to campaign-related activities. One person was arrested on August 21 from Gaaf Dhaalu Gadhdhoo island. The other 18 were arrested from Kolamaafushi island in Gaaf Alif atoll on August 30, after opposition supporters clashed with those from the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM).

After the interview, the Maldives Independent reminded Shainee of the arrests at Kolamaafushi. He acknowledged the incident and said it was in response to opposition activists vandalising the ruling party’s campaign paraphernalia. He later shared images of scenes from the island.

Claim 2: On the police taking down the opposition’s campaign posters

If someone puts up a poster on a house where they don’t get the permission to do it, and if that household calls the police, they will remove it. Under campaign regulation, you have to get the consent of the house-owner.”

Under Right to Campaign (section 28) of the Elections (General) Act 2008, every candidate is allowed to distribute photos, stickers or writings and use advertisements. There is no reference to any consent needed from homeowners to display such material.

However a section of the Presidential Elections Regulation states that consent is needed from the property owner or landowner before displaying material to support a candidate. There is no English translation for this regulation.

Police have asked parties to “adhere to the general principles and code of ethics stipulated in the Elections (General) Act and the regulation on the use of the national flag” when putting up banners, flags and campaign posters. But police have never explained which laws are contravened by putting them up.

Claim 3: On concerns over Maumoon Abdul Gayoom’s health

He’s in a luxury one bedroom apartment with all the amenities he needs. He’s been well looked after. He’s been given all medical support.”

According to the US State Human Rights report 2017, political prisoners were often given access to better facilities than the general prison population. Gayoom, who is in his 80s,  suffers from a condition called Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV) that causes dizziness and difficulty in standing without assistance.

He has had to cancel several court hearings on account of his ill-health and has been advised round-the-clock medical care. However, authorities at the high-security Maafushi jail only call upon doctors in times of crisis. His family’s requests to bring him to Malé for treatment have been stonewalled.

This article has been amended to clarify election regulations about promotional material for candidates.