2016 saw the Government of Maldives take further steps to squeeze democratic space and erode political and civil freedoms. The UK, along with other international partners, was vocal in raising concerns, including over the lack of an effective separation of powers, and the continued use of anti-terrorism legislation to silence opposition voices. Several high-profile political figures, including opposition leaders, received long sentences following trials that lacked transparency and judicial independence, and failed to follow due process. The space for journalists and civil society to operate freely and independently was further reduced with the passing of a Defamation and Freedom of Speech Act. Several journalists were arrested and news organisations raided, threatened or closed down. The Freedom of Assembly Act passed in August restricts the right of assembly, and has been criticised as being unconstitutional.

The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) expressed its disappointment with Maldives' lack of progress in these areas and placed Maldives on its formal agenda in September. In October, Maldives responded by announcing its withdrawal from the Commonwealth. The UK expressed regret at the decision to withdraw from an organisation which Maldives has benefited from in many spheres, and which is committed to the development of free and fair societies, democracy, good governance and human rights.

In the first half of 2016, the Government of Maldives took  steps towards the reintroduction of the death penalty after a moratorium of more than 60 years. No executions took place, but several death sentences were upheld by the courts. In three cases the convicts were under 18 at the time of the crime, in breach of Maldives' international obligations.

The UK continued to engage with the Government of Maldives to raise human rights concerns, including on the death penalty, rule of law and the shrinking democratic space. Former FCO Minister for Asia, Hugo Swire, raised these issues when he met President Yameen in Malé in January; and in September, the then FCO Minister for Asia and the Pacific, Alok Sharma, had further discussions with Maldivian Foreign Minister Dr Mohamed Asim in London. The UK continued to work with international partners, including the UN, to encourage the Government of Maldives to reverse its negative trajectory on human rights, and to enter into a genuine dialogue with opposition parties. These diplomatic efforts were reinforced by UK funded project work with civil society aimed at strengthening human rights and democracy in Maldives. This included funding a human rights conference in Maldives to mark Human Rights Day in December, as well as work to build the capacity of women's organisations to improve gender equality.

In 2017, the UK Government will continue its bilateral engagement with the Government of Maldives, opposition parties, civil society and the media, including through public and private messaging by ministers and senior officials on our democracy and human rights concerns. The UK will continue to encourage greater democratic space ahead of local elections in 2017 and the presidential elections scheduled for 2018.


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