The Government of the Indian Ocean island nation of The Maldives is undermining the rule of law and intensifying a brutal crackdown on its critics.
That’s the finding of a new report released today by global civil society alliance CIVICUS and Voice of Women (VoW), in a deepening crisis that has drawn international condemnation.
The Republic of Maldives is a nation made up of 26 coral atolls and 1,192 individual islands.
The report marks exactly three months since the country’s Supreme Court ordered the release of scores of arrested opposition politicians and activists.
The government of Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom responded to the ruling by imposing a state of emergency and arresting two Supreme Court judges.
The report, entitled Repression in Paradise, highlights how the judiciary has been undermined through the judges’ arbitrary arrest, while scores of opposition politicians and activists face a variety of trumped up charges, ranging from bribery to terrorism. Local human rights groups have also documented the ill-treatment of these detainees in custody.
Over the last two months, the authorities have repressed all forms of dissent including violently breaking up peaceful demonstrations, arbitrarily arresting and detaining protesters, attacking journalists and threatening news organisations with closure.
CIVICUS and VoW have condemned the acts of repression and called for an end to the crackdown and the immediate release of detainees.
Said Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Asia-Pacific Research Officer: “The Maldives authorities must drop the baseless and politically-motivated criminal charges against the two Supreme court judges and release them, as well as all those who have been arbitrarily detained under the state of emergency, solely for exercising their democratic, human rights.”
“Steps must also be taken to ensure that the judiciary can operate in an independent and transparent manner without interference,” said Benedict.
During this crackdown, police have used unnecessary force to disperse peaceful demonstrations, in some case indiscriminately, using pepper spray and tear gas. At least a dozen journalists have been injured while covering protests, with reporters being arrested and ill-treated. The police also used unnecessary force to disperse peaceful demonstrations, in some case indiscriminately using pepper spray and tear gas.
Said Mohamed Visham, a journalist at Avas News: “It is appalling that journalists and demonstrators have suffered violence from the police, simply for exercising the fundamental right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”
“The safety of journalists must be ensured at all times and authorities must launch prompt, impartial and independent investigations into all reports of unnecessary or excessive use of force by the police,” said Visham.
Despite the hostile environment, human rights defenders and civil society organisations (CSOs) in the Maldives have bravely spoken out against these restrictions. CSOs have documented human rights violations and sought to expose them nationally and internationally. However, many Maldivians are seriously concerned that repression will prevent elections, due to be held later this year, from being free, fair and inclusive.
“The international community cannot stand idly by and watch this onslaught on fundamental freedoms in the Maldives. In the lead up to the elections, key countries and international allies must call on the government to halt their attacks on the opposition and civil society and ensure that all institutions in the Maldives respect the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression,” said Aazima Rasheed, President of the Voice of Women (VoW).
The space for civil society in The Maldives is rated as obstructed by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civic space in every country. An obstructed rating indicates that power holders contest civic space, undermine CSOs and constrain the fundamental civil society rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly and expression.
Note to Editors:
Background on the crisis
The Republic of Maldives, an archipelago of islands in the Indian Ocean, was thrown into a political crisis on 1st February, 2018 when the country's Supreme Court ordered the release and retrial of a group of opposition politicians, including exiled former president Mohamed Nasheed. President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom refused to comply with the ruling, leading to mass protests in the capital, Male. In response, President Yameen declared a state of emergency on 5th February, which gave the security forces sweeping powers and suspended constitutional rights.
While the state of emergency was lifted on 22nd March 2018, arrests of government critics have persisted. Maldives is due to hold its presidential elections later in 2018.
In February, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein condemned the declaration of the state of emergency and raised concerns that the resulting suspension of constitutional guarantees would lead to a greater number of violations of the rights of people in the Maldives.
On 16th April 2018, the UN Human Rights Committee found that restrictions on former President Nasheed’s right to stand for office violated his rights to political participation under Article 25 of the ICCPR and called on Maldives to restore this right. The government however has rejected this call.
CIVICUS is an international alliance dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society around the world. In order to do so, we focus on protecting the rights of civil society, strengthening civil society good practices and increasing civil society’s influence.
Voice of Women
Voice of Women (VoW) is an non-governmental organisation officially registered in the Maldives since 2011. VoW focuses on empowering women; generating opportunities to effect change; promoting awareness on sustainable development, environment, and climate change; building respect for human rights and democracy in the Maldives; as well as documenting human rights violations, domestic violence, and sexual abuse in the Maldives.
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