Civic space is constrained in Maldives and people’s ability to organise, speak out and take action is being increasingly shut down through laws and other actions of the state.read more
The victory of the opposition coalition at the September 2018 elections offers a new opportunity for reforms and improving the civic space for citizens and civil society
On 23rd September 2018, Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who led a coalition of opposition political parties claimed victory against President Abdulla Yameen, in a contentious presidential election in the Maldives. Ahead of the elections, the authorities used an array of restrictive laws to intimidate, arbitrarily arrest, and imprison its critics, especially opposition politicians and to silence the media and civil society.
However, Abdulla Yameen has since filed a court challenge against his election loss citing "serious allegations of vote rigging" and fraud. The complaint was filed at the island nation's Supreme Court on 10th October and hearings started on 12th October 2018. Ahead of the court hearing in the capital Male, the United States had warned "appropriate measures would be taken if the will of the Maldivian people was undermined". The civil society group, Women & Democracy on 17th October 2018 raised concerns about attempts to annul the election results and urged to incumbent President to adhere to the rule of law and the will of the people.
After the results were announced, Amnesty International called on the new government to “break with the repression and human rights violations of the past and chart a fresh course where human rights are at the heart of the policies and action of the new government”. The organisation pointed to several human rights pledges made by the opposition coalition including releasing individuals who were wrongly imprisoned, repealing repressive laws, and “creating an environment conducive to full respect for human rights and where civil society can flourish”.
On 24th September 2018, the court freed five political prisoners who were arrested during the state of emergency earlier this year. The court released Members of Parliament (MPs) Ilham Ahmed and Abdulla Sinan, former police chief Ahmed Areef, former Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom's son-in-law Mohamed Nadheem and deputy leader of the opposition Jumhooree Party Abdulla Riyaz.
Human rights group, the Maldivian Democracy Network (MDN) has previously criticised the arrests and detention during the state of emergency saying that “none of these arrests have even an ounce of credibility. They were rounded up under an illegitimately declared state of emergency. All the processes that went within this emergency period were arbitrary".
On 25th September 2018, two days after the election results, the Criminal Court ordered the release of parliamentarian Ahmed Mahloof, who was under house arrest for the duration of a terrorism trial. Judge Ali Adam ordered his release without any conditions.
As previously documented by the CIVICUS Monitor, human rights groups believe the charges against Ahmed Mahloof to be politically motivated. Ahmed Mahloof was arrested on 22nd February 2018 for distributing gas masks at a peaceful protest where police fired tear gas and pepper spray. He was subsequently charged with “obstruction of police duty” – a crime that carries a minimum six-month sentence.
The charge was later changed to “terrorism”, which carries a minimum term of 17 years in prison. He faced additional charges of “leading a group of people” into a prison after they had protested outside, a charge he denies, as well as “providing false information” in relation to two separate tweets, each of which carries a six-month sentence.
Parliamentarian Ahmed Faris Maumoon was released on bail on 30th September 2018. The lawmaker was serving a sentence of 4 months and 24 days for charges of identity fraud, over an unlawful use of the Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) flag and logo at an opposition press conference.
Amnesty International had raised concerns about his trial that according to them, did not meet fair trial standards. According to the organisation, the prosecution presented anonymous witnesses – who could not be cross examined – and failed to share case documents with his defense lawyers, as required by the new Criminal Procedures Act. Faris Maumoon submitted a list of 47 people as witnesses, but only 10 received summons. The rest were not heard. Faris also faces charges of corruption and bribery.
Citing insufficient evidence, the #Maldives criminal court has thrown out bribery charges against two former Supreme Court justices, Abdulla Saeed & Ali Hameed, the former chief judicial administrator Hassan Saeed & Ibrahim Siyad Gasim son of Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim. pic.twitter.com/Kx2n6YULMM— Maldives & China (@MaldivesToday1) October 11, 2018
On 10th October 2018, the Criminal Court threw out bribery charges against two former Supreme Court justices, citing insufficient evidence.
As previously documented on the CIVICUS Monitor, the current crisis began 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 Yameen refused to comply with the ruling, which led to mass protests in the capital, Malé. In response, the President declared a state of emergency, provided the security forces with sweeping powers and suspending constitutional rights. He also removed and arrested the two Supreme Court judges.
On 10th May 2018, Chief Justice Abdulla Saeed and Justice Ali Hameed, faced what was believed to be politically-motivated charges of influencing court rulings and were sentenced to one year and seven months in prison. Saeed was also sentenced to five months in prison on obstruction charges, and both justices face additional charges of terrorism. Their trial was closed to the media and public and held behind closed doors. Both have denied the charges.
On 12th October 2018, the trial against alleged perpetrators of blogger Yameen Rasheed’s murder, resumed with family attending a hearing for the first time. Preliminary hearings were held behind closed doors from September 2017 to April 2018 and has been criticised by human rights groups. The first open hearing took place in late July 2018 after a series of cancellations, but his family was not allowed into the courtroom.
As previously documented by the CIVICUS Monitor, human rights groups and activists in the Maldives have continue to demand justice for the death of blogger and social media activist, Yameen Rasheed. Rasheed had been a vocal critic of rising religious extremism, human rights abuses, injustice and government corruption in the country. In a shocking murder that marked a worrying attack on freedom of expression, Rasheed was found stabbed to death on 23rd April 2017 outside his apartment building. He had received multiple death threats before his murder, which he had reported to the police.
The 2003 Associations Act imposes rigorous rules for the incorporation, registration and operation of NGOs.
The 2003 Associations Act imposes rigorous rules for the incorporation, registration and operation of NGOs. To access funds, NGOs must also go through the Registrar of Associations, who is a political appointee, has the power to register or dissolve associations and does not recognise human rights organisations or trade unions. This is a clear impediment to NGOs which are critical of the state, and to unregistered associations, which are criminalised under the Act. In 2013, the Minister of Home Affairs raised concerns when he announced that he would dissolve about 70% of NGOs for not adhering to financial reporting requirements. In 2016, the NGO Maldivian Democracy Network was raided by the security forces for allegedly trying to overthrow the government. The executive director of that NGO has in the past been threatened with rape, disappearance and violence. In 2015, human rights lawyer Mahfooz Saeed was attacked and injured after making a speech in which he criticised the government.
Although protests do take place, the freedom of peaceful assembly is significantly compromised in Maldives.
Although protests do take place, the freedom of peaceful assembly is significantly compromised in Maldives. In 2015, hundreds of opposition party supporters staging peaceful protests were arrested and released with no charge after days and in some cases weeks, some on the condition that they would not participate in future protests. A state of emergency was also declared on 4th November 2015, effectively banning all protests. In 2012, the security forces attacked peaceful protestors at a rally using excessive force and seriously injuring protestors. Security forces are also known to use pepper spray on protestors especially those of the opposition party Maldivian Democratic Party. Once such incident took place in 2012 when a protester was stabbed and the party offices destroyed. The Freedom of Peaceful Assembly Act was also recently amended with all protests now requiring prior permission from the state.
Free expression is not fully protected in practice in Maldives, with journalists receiving death threats and being harassed without meaningful investigations being carried out.
Free expression is not fully protected in practice in Maldives, with journalists receiving death threats and being harassed without meaningful investigations being carried out. In 2015, the Public Service Media Act was passed but was seen as an attempt to turn the public broadcaster into a mouthpiece of the state. The situation deteriorated further in 2016 with the introduction of the Protection of Reputation and Good Name and Freedom of Expression Act, which criminalised speech seen as defamatory. The law also imposes hefty fines or jail terms for defamation. Reporters are mandated by law to have accreditation to cover protests, while journalists face routine harassment and arrests by the state leading to self-censorship.
In 2012, blogger Ismail Khilath Rasheed was attacked and detained for organising a peaceful protest for religious tolerance. The 2014 disappearance of prominent journalist Ahmed Rilwan Abdulla, whose whereabouts remain unknown, continue to cast a shadow over press freedom in Maldives. His colleagues’ efforts to find him, including a press conference and a rally to mark one year since his disappearance, were disrupted by security forces. In 2016, a documentary exposing government corruption entitled ‘Stealing Paradise’ aired on Al Jazeera. Shortly afterwards, the editor of the Maldives Independent newspaper, Zaheena Rasheed, who featured in the documentary, had to flee the country due to concerns for her safety. Also in 2016, 16 journalists were arrested for staging a peaceful sit-in outside the President’s office.