Maldives: release judges immediately and respect citizens' civic freedoms

Global civil society alliance CIVICUS and the Voice of Women (VOW) Maldives condemn the ongoing attacks on the Maldivian judiciary, which has included targeting judges for simply upholding the rule of law and the constitution.  On 6 February 2018 authorities arrested Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and Judge Ali Hameed, just one day after President Abdulla Yameen declared a 15-day state of emergency.   Justice Saeed is now in an intensive care unit at the Indira Ghandi medical Hospital in the capital, Male.

“These overt attacks on the judiciary raise serious concerns about the government of the Maldives exceeding its powers and are accompanied by ongoing violations of the civic freedoms of ordinary Maldivians.” said David Kode of CIVICUS. “The imposition of sweeping changes through a state of emergency make it clear that the government disregards the rule of law and does so with utmost impunity.”

The state of emergency declaration was a response by the Maldivian authorities to a ruling by the Supreme Court on 1 February 2018 which threw out the “terrorism” conviction against the former President Mohammed Nasheed and several members of the political opposition and ordered their release.  The emergency decree gave security forces sweeping powers to make arrests, curtailed the authority of the judiciary and scrapped immunity granted to Supreme Court judges. It also suspended constitutional rights, including the right to privacy, freedom of information, the right to strike, the right to freedom of assembly, the right not to be unlawfully arrested or detained and the right to appeal.

The government justified imposing the state of emergency by stating that the Supreme Court verdict on 1 February 2018 was “illegal,” had compromised national security and disrupted the proper functioning of the government.  On 6 February, an amendment was made to the emergency decree lifting the suspension on the Supreme Court as the final authority on the interpretation of the constitution and the law. Then on 7 February 2018, the 3 remaining judges of the Supreme Court nullified the initial verdict which called for the release of the political prisoners citing “concerns raised by the president.” The remaining judges now warn Maldivians that any criticism of the legitimacy of the Supreme Court will be interpreted as contempt of the court.

The state of emergency has been accompanied by arbitrary arrests. Security forces violently dispersed a peaceful gathering at the campaign centre of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and the Jumhooree party centre.  Security forces then proceeded to storm the premises of the MDP party and removed representatives of the media.   

Websites of some independent media outlets have been blocked and government supporters attacked journalists working for opposition television station Raajje TV with rocks. They threatened to burn down the premises of Raajje TV if it does not close down.  RaajjeTV has since stopped airing its regular broadcast due to the continued threats to the station and its staff.

Since taking over power in 2013, President Yameen’s government has used draconian legislation to criminalise free speech and target human rights defenders.  Private media outlets are regularly scrutinised by the authorities while peaceful assemblies are almost always banned before they are held or violently repressed.  Bloggers and human rights defenders have been killed and journalists abducted.

CIVICUS and VOW call on the government of Maldives to completely lift the state of emergency, respect the independence of the judiciary and release all those arrested. 

Maldives is rated as obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online tool that measures civic space in different countries around the world. 

For more information, contact:

David Kode

Advocacy and Campaigns Lead, CIVICUS

Tel: 0027 11 833 5959