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Maldives

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Last updated on 19.02.2018 at 11:59

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Protesters and journalists arrested and ill-treated under state of emergency

Protesters and journalists arrested and ill-treated under state of emergency

Police arrested protesters and journalists and used excessive force against them at demonstrations on 16th February to demand the arrest of President Yameen and for the release of the opposition leaders

As reported previously by the Civicus Monitor, a state of emergency was declared in the Maldives on 5th February 2018 after the Supreme Court ordered the release and retrial of a group of opposition politicians. The security forces subsequently arrested two Supreme court judges and the former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom on allegations of corruption.

Peaceful Assembly

On 16th February 2018, thousands gathered all across the island to demand the arrest of President Yameen and for the release of the opposition leaders. They were met with excessive force by the police and some were allegedly pepper sprayed and beaten up by riot police. At least 25 people, including two journalists (Hussain Hassan and Leevaan Naseer) were reportedly detained by security forces.

The Maldivian Democracy Network documented at least 12 journalists who suffered injuries. Some of the cases are listed below:

  • Ahmed Zareer of Raajje Television was beaten on the chest and legs and allegedly sexually abused by the police;
  • Hussain Hassan of Raajje Television was ill-treated and strangled before being taken into the police station where he was beaten before he was taken to the hospital;
  • Hussain Waseem, videojournalist for V Media sustained injuries to his back and could not walk due to the police beatings;
  • Leevan Ali Nasir, video journalist for V Media was beaten and arrested while covering the demonstration;
  • Mohamed Rasheed, Ibrahim Fauzan and Ahmed Dilah, cameramen for V Media were heavily pepper sprayed and had difficulty breathing;
  • Video journalist for Sangu TV, Abdulla Yaameen had a pepper spray canister placed inside his mouth and sprayed heavily resulting in breathing difficulty, and sustained a blow to his chest by a policeman with his knee.

The Maldivian Democracy Network condemned the disproportionate use of force against the protesters and journalists saying:

“The law enforcement, oversight bodies of the State, the Broadcasting Commission and the Maldives Media Council must investigate these atrocities and take necessary action against perpetrators instead of allowing for this conduct and further restricting the media…the open brutality against journalists by the law enforcement only shows the level of impunity that the State has allowed to end transparency and flow of information to the public.”

On Sunday, 18th February, the Supreme Court ordered relevant institutions to hold off on the reinstatement of a dozen opposition lawmakers after the Attorney General made a case seeking to annul the remaining part of the 1st February order to release them, which had been signed by the full Supreme Court bench.

President Yameen is also seeking to extend the 15-day state of emergency which expires on 20th February. The parliamentary national security committee signed off on the extension today and it will now move to the parliament floor for a vote.

On 12th February, the current Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and magistrates raised concerns about the rule of law in the Maldives. They said:

“The independence of the judiciary is under serious threat, along with the principle of separation of powers between the State and the courts…this direct attack on the Supreme Court undermines its legitimacy and independence, and casts serious doubt on its ability to protect constitutional principles and to uphold human rights and fundamental freedoms…it is clear that the rule of law in the Maldives is now under siege. We call on the government to refrain from any threats or interference that may hamper the court’s independence as the supreme guardian of the country’s constitution and legislation.”

Earlier, on 7th February, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, termed the Maldives' state of emergency as an "all-out assault on democracy".

Association

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.


Peaceful assembly

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.


Expression

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.

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