Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Maldives
|Publisher||International Federation for Human Rights|
|Author||Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders|
|Publication Date||19 June 2008|
|Cite as||International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Maldives, 19 June 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/486466869.html [accessed 26 January 2015]|
Politics in the Maldives continues to be largely dominated by President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who has been in power since 1978. In 2006, he committed himself to a programme of political and judicial reforms in order to create a modern democracy, through the first multiparty elections supposed to be held in October 2008. However, in 2007, the President slowed down the reform process. Facing a growing challenge from the opposition, the Head of State preferred to work with the conservatives, which has led to the resignation of several ministers.
Furthermore, freedoms of expression, association and assembly have continued to be subjected to numerous restrictions. In particular, the authorities have repeatedly repressed rallies organised by the opposition, which generally called for an acceleration of reforms, and police occasionally beat demonstrators. The authorities accused the demonstrators of hampering the reform process by their rallies which, according to the Government, unnecessarily threatened the public order.
Moreover, civil society in the Maldives lacks a legal framework within which it would otherwise be able to evolve. This explains in part the absence of a strong and active civil society, especially in the area of human rights. While a number of structures have been labelled "NGOs", they are in reality principally sports or cultural clubs or committees established by the Government.
Lack of legal recognition for most human rights organisations1
In the Maldives, human rights organisations have encountered many difficulties in obtaining legal recognition; such was the case with the Maldivian Civil Society Network (MCSN), which since 2006 has networked several independent NGOs and works in an informal manner. Accordingly, the MCSN faces many obstacles, especially with regard to funding. Since its inception, the MCSN has been restricted in the number of activities it carries out due to limited funding. Similarly, registration was also refused to Maldives Aid, a local NGO registered with the British charity Friends of Maldives (FOM), which had provided support for the country's recovery after the tsunami in December 2006. Finally, the application for registration of the Human Rights Association of Maldives has remained unanswered since it was filed in 2005.
Obstacles to freedom of the press: journalists on the front line of repression
While civil society continues to face a number of difficulties in terms of organisation, it is more often journalists who take over when it comes to the denunciation of human rights violations. They find themselves at the forefront of repression exercised by the authorities in order to prevent them from publishing articles critical of the Government.
On January 21, 2007, the Government of Maldives adopted a Law on defamation, which imposes a fine of 5,000 Rufiyaas (approximately 247 Euros) on any newspaper found to be guilty of defamation. Presented by the Government as a means to better protect the honour and reputation of fellow citizens, the law provides an extremely broad definition of defamation, including for example the publication of facts that could damage the "honour" or "reputation" of a person, thus allowing further restrictions on freedom of expression and silencing of any criticism.2 Additionally, in August 2007, a law was passed which contained numerous restrictions on the freedom of the press. In particular, the law provides that words that could threaten the "sovereignty of the nation" or that could infringe on the maintenance of "public order" do not fall within the scope of freedom of expression.
In this context, journalists were regularly subjected to harassment. For example, on January 19, 2007, the American reporter Phillip Wellman, a correspondent for Minivannews.com, was expelled and banned from the country for a period of two years on the pretext that he did not have "valid permission".3 In April 2007, Messrs. Zeena Zahir, of the pro-Government newspaper Miadhu, Adam Miqdad, Editor-in-chief of the website e-Sandhaanu, and Mohamed Nasheed, a photographer for Minivan, were arrested at the funeral of Mr. Hussein Salah, a former prisoner found dead, with his face and body swollen.4 In addition, journalists working for the opposition newspaper Minivan have continued to be subject to multiple forms of retaliation in 2007, generally by prosecution, as with the example of Mr. Imran Zahir and Ms. Aminath Najeeb, Editor. The latter was summoned to courts on several occasions in 2007. She was accused of "civil disobedience" after having published an article in September 2006 in which a journalist had denounced the abuses of the judicial system.5
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).
1 See Maldivian Detainee Network.
2 See the Asian Centre for Human Rights.
3 See Press Release of the Asian Centre for Human Rights, January 24, 2007.
4 See Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
5 See Maldivian Detainee Network.