Rule of law and freedom under attack in the Maldives
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Rule of law and freedom under attack in the Maldives

THE government of the Maldives is undermining the rule of law and attacking fundamental freedoms as part of their ongoing crackdown on critics and opposition members, a new report from rights groups has found.

President Abdulla Yameen is leading an attack on “on all forms of dissent” which threatens the country’s ability to hold “free, fair and inclusive” elections, according to authors of the report, Civicus and Voice of Women (VoW).

After ignoring a Supreme Court ruling to release his political opponents, Yameen then implemented a nationwide state of emergency to quash protests taking place in the capital Male. In doing so, the president suspended several constitutional rights and gave himself sweeping powers to arrest and detain.

SEE ALSO: Fighting Totalitarianism: Maldivians refuse to buckle under president’s autocracy

Two Supreme court judges remain in custody despite international calls for them to be released. They have been charged under terrorism laws for trying to overthrow the government. All deny the charges.

 

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Maldivian opposition supporters holds placards near the main opposition Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) headquarters during a protest demanding the government to release jailed opposition leaders, including former Presidents Mohamed Nasheed and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in line with a last week Supreme Court order, in Male, Maldives February 9, 2018. Source: Reuters/Stringer

“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,” said Josef Benedict, Civicus Asia-Pacific Research Officer.

“Steps must also be taken to ensure that the judiciary can operate in an independent and transparent manner without interference,” he added.

SEE ALSO: Maldives unrest: Ex-President banned from election despite UN demands

The report, entitled Repression in Paradise, accuses Yameen’s government of the arbitrary arrest of scores of individuals, attacks against the media, the violent dispersal of peaceful protests, and the arrest and detention of protesters; actions they say contravene the Maldives’ Constitution and the government’s international human rights obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which it ratified in 2006.

The island nation, most commonly associated with holidaying honeymooners, has experienced simmering political unrest since the resignation of Mohamed Nasheed – Maldives’ first democratically elected president – in 2012.

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Maldives former President and current opposition leader Mohamed Nasheed, in white, tussles with policemen who stopped him from speaking to journalists in Male, Maldives, Monday, Feb. 23, 2015. Authorities arrested Nasheed on Sunday, ordering him to stand trial for his 2012 decision to arrest a senior judge. Source: AP Photo/Sinan Hussain

After being sentenced to 13 years imprisonment on what rights groups believe to be politically motivated charges, Nasheed was granted asylum in the UK where he remains today. Many Maldivians still see him as the rightful president and would like to see his return to politics.

Yameen has grown increasingly authoritarian in his attempts to suppress this support. According to the report, his actions have undermined the independence of the judiciary and damaged the court’s ability to work freely and effectively.

Proof of Yameen’s influence on the judiciary can be seen in the Supreme Court’s decision to reverse its original ruling to release the detained opposition members, the report says.

Violations of people’s right to due process and ill-treatment in detention are also problems experienced by those in detention.

In some cases, police used “unnecessary force” to arrest people. And while some were released after their statements were taken, others remain in detention.

The report points out several high-profile arrests that highlight the shrinking space for the opposition. These include former Maldives President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom; opposition parliamentarians Ilhaam Ahmed, Ahmed Mahloof, Faris Maumoon, Abdullah Riyaz and Abdullah Sinan; and 14 members of the opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).

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Journalist being arrested during anti-government protests in Male, Maldives, February 16, 2018. Source: Facebook – Mohamed Nasheed (Anni)

Attacks on the media have also ramped up since the state of emergency was first imposed in February.

“There has been a climate of attacks and judicial harassment against media workers. This situation has intensified amidst the recent political turmoil,” the report said.

“News outlets have been threatened with closure while journalists have been arrested or ill-treated while undertaking their legitimate work.”

This clampdown has extended to protests and the freedom of peaceful assembly, the report said, pointing to the almost 200 protestors who have been detained over the last three months.

The rights groups also accused the police of having double standards when it comes to their treatment of anti-government protestors.

“While many anti-government protests have been met with repression, pro-government rallies have been allowed to take place during the state of emergency, without any restrictions,” reads the report.

To restore the rule of law and reinstate freedoms, Civicus and VoW are calling on the government to immediately release all arbitrarily detained people, including the two Supreme Court judges. They also want the government to implement the original Supreme Court ruling to free all political prisoners.

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Maldivian Police officers push back opposition supporters near the main opposition Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) headquarters during a protest demanding the government to release jailed opposition leaders, including former Presidents Mohamed Nasheed and Maumoon Abdul Gayoom in line with a last week Supreme Court order, in Male, Maldives February 9, 2018. Source: Reuters

They also call on the government to respect human rights and ensure the protection of journalists; make sure all members of the police are trained to respect human rights; fully cooperate with UN human rights mechanisms; and ensure there is a conducive environment to hold free, fair and inclusive elections.

SEE ALSO:  Protesters, journalists arrested in Maldives as state of emergency continues

With elections scheduled for this year, now is the time to rectify these problems to ensure all Maldivians are given their right to a free and fair election, says president of VoW, Aazima Rasheed.

“The international community cannot stand idly by and watch this onslaught on fundamental freedoms in the Maldives,” Rasheed said.

“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.”