The crackdown on the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly continued. Authorities used the criminal justice system to silence political opponents, as well as human rights defenders, journalists and civil society. The lack of independence of the judiciary remained a concern. The President reaffirmed that executions would resume after more than 60 years.
Political turmoil persisted as the President used the military and the judiciary to stifle the opposition. In July, the opposition initiated a no confidence motion to impeach the Speaker of Parliament, but proceedings were halted with the suspension of four opposition MPs. On 24 July, parliamentarians were denied entry into the Parliament and the President directed the military to use pepper spray and tear gas to disperse them. MPs Faris Maumoon and Qasim Ibrahim were arrested arbitrarily for allegedly bribing law makers to unseat the Speaker of Parliament.1
The authorities ignored constitutional provisions safeguarding the right to a fair trial, as evidenced by a string of criminal cases against political opponents. On 18 July, MP Faris Maumoon was arrested during a raid on his house for allegedly bribing law makers to sign the motion of no confidence against the Speaker. He was seeking to cancel the charges, claiming that the evidence was obtained unlawfully.
In April, Qasim Ibrahim, leader of the Jumhooree Party, was sentenced to 38 months’ imprisonment after being convicted on charges including plotting to overthrow the government. After repeated requests for medical attention, in September the court granted him permission to travel abroad for treatment.
Freedom of expression
In April, popular political blogger and social media activist Yameen Rasheed was stabbed to death in his apartment building in the capital, Malé.2 The year marked three years since the disappearance of journalist Ahmed Rilwan. By the end of the year, neither of the investigations had resulted in successful prosecutions of perpetrators, and were marred by political interference.
In March, journalists from Raajje TV reported to the Maldives Police Service that they had received threats of death if they sent journalists to Faafu Atoll to cover a visit by the King of Saudi Arabia. No additional security was granted by police. Around the same time, two journalists from the newspaper Maldives Independent were taken into “protective custody” by police after receiving threats from members of the ruling party. The journalists claimed that the police read their notes and treated them like suspects.
In July, seven journalists from Sangu TV and Raajje TV were arrested while covering a protest marking Independence Day. They were detained for several hours accused of obstructing police.
Freedom of assembly
Arbitrary restrictions on peaceful protesters and human rights defenders continued. On 24 July, the military used pepper spray and tear gas to disperse parliamentarians trying to enter the Parliament building. On 8 August, a march led by relatives and friends of Ahmed Rilwan to mark the third anniversary of his disappearance was blocked by Specialist Operations police officers who used pepper spray, snatched banners, tore up placards and briefly detained nine people. Several days later, Ahmed Rilwan’s nephew and Yameen Rasheed’s sister were dismissed from their posts as civil support staff at Maldives Police Service for joining the protest.
The government stated that the death penalty was to be implemented “by the end of September”. Executions would be the first to be carried out in over 60 years. Three men – Hussain Humaam Ahmed, Ahmed Murrath and Mohamed Nabeel – remained at risk of imminent execution despite serious concerns about the fairness of the legal proceedings. These included the use of an apparently coerced “confession” by Hussain Humaam Ahmed, which he later retracted. The UN Human Rights Committee made repeated requests to the government to stay the executions of the three men during 2016 and 2017, in accordance with Maldives’ commitments under the Optional Protocol to the ICCPR.3 Of the 17 prisoners on death row, at least five were sentenced to death for crimes committed when they were below 18 years of age.4
- Maldives: Opposition MP must get a fair trial (News story, 22 September)
- Maldives: Killing of popular blogger an attack on freedom of expression (News story, 23 April)
- Maldives: Halt first execution in more than 60 years (News story, 20 July)
- Maldives to resume executions by September (ASA 29/7007/2017)