A New Delhi-based human rights group has urged the Commonwealth’s democracy watchdog to suspend the Maldives over a worsening democracy deficit, warning that “the nation is sliding into a dictatorial system once again.”
The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, a group accredited to the 53-member inter-governmental body, said the situation has deteriorated since the watchdog called for “clear, measurable progress” by September to resolve a protracted political crisis.
“Events and developments on the ground give further evidence of curbing fundamental rights, targeted persecution of opposition leaders, misuse of state institutions (including the judiciary, legislature and the police) to restrict, crush and punish dissent, stifling political debate, and crippling independent institutions,” the CHRI said in a scathing submission to the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group after a fact-finding mission earlier this month.
The CMAG – a rotating group of foreign ministers from eight member states – is due to review progress on six priority areas at a meeting on September 23.
Ahead of the CMAG’s last meeting in April, President Abdulla Yameen sought the Malaysian government’s help to avoid “unfair punishment” and dispatched ministers to Pakistan and the Solomon Islands, which sit on the CMAG.
Yameen said the Maldives avoided punitive action after India and Pakistan “spoke in our defence” at a meeting in February.
Initiating dialogue with opposition parties and releasing jailed politicians was top of the reform agenda laid out by the CMAG in February.
But the CHRI noted that a visit by a UN special envoy in July to resuscitate talks ended with no meaningful progress.
Yameen’s refusal to recognise the Maldives United Opposition as well as legal changes aimed at depriving state funding to opposition parties “not only signal the government’s unwillingness to initiate political dialogue, but also indicate that the government is taking steps to actively impede and obstruct any kind of political dialogue.”
The CHRI also took note of the restriction of the constitutional right to protest and the enactment of a draconian anti-defamation law, which “will only shorten a shrinking space for speaking out against accusations of corruption involving state officials and provide a powerful tool for the government to control information flow, thereby perpetuating state impunity.”
Aside from the “regressive” laws, journalists, social media activists, and civil society groups “were routinely subjected to harassment,” it added, referring to the month-long detention of Shamoon ‘Lucas’ Jaleel, the questioning of opposition figures over tweets, and the police raid of the Maldives Independent office.
The office was raided hours after an Al Jazeera corruption exposé featuring an interview with this publication’s editor was released online.
The CHRI went on to express concern that the Maldives could descend into “violence and anarchy” if the situation continues to deteriorate.
Describing the CMAG as the “custodian of Commonwealth values and principles,” it called for action “in solidarity with the many journalists, writers, bloggers, activists, civil society groups, lawyers, magistrates, government officials and other citizens working under constant threat and struggling to fight for their rights.”
In addition to suspending the Maldives, the NGO also urged the CMAG to stipulate that lifting the suspension will be conditional on the development of an Action Plan to deliver “measurable outcomes in a time bound manner to emerge from the current political impasse.”