On 26 November, counsel for President Nasheed submitted to the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office a list of individuals responsible for serious human rights violations in the Maldives. The submission of the list, which will be kept confidential for the time being, follows a meeting between Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Hugo Swire, President Nasheed’s wife Laila Ali, and President Nasheed’s counsel Ben Emmerson QC and Amal Clooney.
For months, the Maldives has made international headlines as a centre of political repression and extremism. Every opposition leader in the Maldives is either imprisoned or facing charges or intimidation by the government. Another 1,700 people face charges for peaceful political protest or speech, and journalists have been assaulted, arrested or disappeared.
The country’s backslide to autocracy culminated, on 4 November, with President Yameen declaring a state of emergency and suspending constitutional rights in response to “plans by some individuals to use … explosives and weapons” in the country. In reality, the state of emergency was used to prevent a mass protest by the opposition that had been scheduled to take place two days later. The President’s move led to widespread international condemnation by the US, the EU, the UK, the Commonwealth and NGOs such as Amnesty International. Countries such as the UK and Australia also updated their travel advice to warn citizens planning to visit the Maldives. On 10 November, the Government was forced to revoke the declaration, citing the arrests of “some people” as the basis for its reversal. But the government is again seeking to restrict the right to peaceful protest ahead of a planned rally in the country tomorrow.
The human rights crisis in the country, including through attacks on the Maldives’ independent press, have intensified in recent weeks. During the state of emergency, the national broadcasting authority warned privately-owned radio and TV stations that their licences would be withdrawn if they broadcast content “infringing on national security”. The Malé police raided the headquarters of private TV network Sangu, ordering the suspension of all broadcasting. And Raajje TV was compelled to suspend its coverage of political affairs after three of its journalists were unlawfully arrested and ill-treated by police officers. These incidents were characterised by Reporters Without Borders as part of a “wave of attempts to intimidate and deter the media from doing investigative reporting”. On 25 November, in a further attempt to stifle freedom of expression, the Maldivian Parliament made it an offence to call for a boycott of the country’s tourism industry or even “makes remarks which might instil fear among tourists”. The act applies to speech made by any person in any context anywhere in the world, and has no limit to the financial penalty that can be imposed.
Meanwhile, former President Nasheed remains in prison, in declining health and with his right to consult with counsel routinely violated. The government has refused to comply with a judgment by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention — the UN’s expert panel on the rights of detainees — that it should “release Mr. Nasheed immediately and accord him an enforceable right to compensation”. And it has rejected a negotiated solution to the constitutional crisis. It initially agreed a deal with the main opposition party under which high-profile political prisoners — including President Nasheed — would be released, and hundreds of others facing criminal charges for political activities would have the charges against them dropped. The government moved Nasheed to house arrest and presented him with an official document confirming the commutation of his sentence. But having secured the concessions it wanted from the opposition, President Yameen promptly u-turned on his commitments and sent Nasheed back to prison. Yameen has also refused to pardon Nasheed, even though he has the power to do so under section 115(s) of the state’s Constitution and section 29 of the Maldivian Clemency Act.
Government officials around the world have made powerful diplomat statements condemning the Maldives’ regression to autocracy and the imprisonment of opposition leaders like Nasheed. But Yameen remains unmoved. The UN Secretary-General, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN’s experts on arbitrary detention have further highlighted the human rights crisis, and called for the release of Nasheed and others. Yet Yameen just digs in his heels.
It is time for the international community to take concrete action against Yameen’s regime. The list submitted by Nasheed’s counsel to the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office identifies the members and supporters of the regime who are most responsible for the most serious human rights violations in the country today. Taking targeted action against these individuals, including through travel bans and asset freezes, would be fully consistent with the UK policy to deny entry in its territory to a person where there is “independent, reliable and credible evidence of [his or her] involvement in human rights abuses”. The US and EU have also, on numerous occasions, imposed sanctions against individuals who threaten democracy and violate due process rights.
Under President Yameen’s leadership, the democratic process set in motion when the Maldives held its first free elections in 2008 has been reversed, and a moderate muslim nation has become the top recruiting ground for ISIS. It is time for the international community to take concrete measures to stop this dangerous decline.