The Maldives’ reputation as a luxury holiday destination is completely compromised by the ever-increasing limitations placed on the freedoms of its citizens as the Government continues to flout human rights standards.
In February 2012 Mohamed Nasheed, the first ever democratically elected President of the Maldives, was forced from office in an effective coup after a mutiny by security forces loyal to the country’s former dictatorship.
Last year, Nasheed was put on trial on politically-motivated and completely false charges of “terrorism”, found guilty and sentenced for 13 years. In the course of his trial Nasheed was prohibited from presenting any evidence or calling witnesses, with the court pre-emptively concluding that no testimony could refute the evidence submitted by the prosecution.
Nasheed’s supporters and the international community grieved this travesty of justice but found hope in the unanimous decision by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. It ruled in October 2015 that Nasheed’s imprisonment was illegal under international law – violating rights and standards prescribed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights, which are all ratified by the Maldives. It ordered the Government to immediately release Nasheed and afford him compensation for his wrongful detention.
Those hoping the Government would abide by the UN ruling have been bitterly disappointed. While currently in the UK receiving medical treatment the Maldivian Government are adamant that Nasheed will complete his 13 year sentence on his return home.
Mr Nasheed is not alone in his experience of egregious mistreatment from the Maldivian Government. His arrest, trial and arbitrary detention are merely illustrative of the human rights abuses occurring daily in the Maldives.
The human rights crisis in the country has made international headlines and the country is being increasingly recognised as a centre of political repression and extremism. Opposition leaders in the Maldives are either imprisoned, facing charges or intimidated by the Government. Another 1,700 people face criminal charges for peaceful political protest or speech, and journalists have been assaulted, arrested or disappeared. Attacks on the Maldives’ independent press have intensified in recent weeks to the extent that the Maldives’ oldest newspaper, Haveeru, has been prohibited by court order from publishing its daily print edition.
These incidents have been characterised by Reporters Without Borders as part of a ‘wave of attempts to intimidate and deter the media from doing investigative reporting’. It is deeply worrying to see a government take such blatant steps to silence possible critics.
Last month the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) called for “Clear measurable progress” in the Maldives. They expect to see evidence of improvement across six priority areas including the detention of political leaders, the independence of the judiciary and the lawful functioning of democratic institutions. CMAG will review the situation in September and they will leave no room for denial by the Maldivian Government.
In January 2016 I asked the Prime Minister if he would commit to working towards an international consensus on targeted sanctions so that the Maldivian regime might reconsider its appalling human rights record. I was greatly encouraged by the Prime Minister’s willingness to meet with Nasheed, his response in the chamber and his visible determination to have political prisoners released. The Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, of which I am a member has also been actively raising the profile of this issue.
Pressure must be increasingly and continually applied to compel the Maldives Government to release its political prisoners and allow freedom of the press. I hope that CMAG will be able to greatly improve the situation but if not we should not be afraid to countenance targeted sanctions, such as travel bans and asset freezes, on the leadership of the Maldivian Government.