MP Riyaz Rasheed of the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) submitted a bill to the parliament on Thursday proposing the criminalisation of calls for a tourism boycott and sanctions against the Maldives.
Riyaz’s bill reportedly states that calling for sanctions or a tourism boycott either in the Maldives or overseas, encouraging such calls, and participating in or endorsing a campaign for sanctions or a tourism boycott constitutes a criminal offence that carries a penalty of between two to 10 years in prison.
Based on the severity of the offence, the bill also proposes house arrest as a punishment as well as fines between MVR500,000 (US$32,532) and MVR5 million (US$324,254). Persons found guilty of the offence would also be deprived of state benefits and have their business licenses revoked.
The bill comes after the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) adopted a resolution backing targeted sanctions against state officials if the government continues to detain former President Mohamed Nasheed in defiance of a UN rights panel ruling declaring his imprisonment arbitrary and illegal.
Nasheed’s high-profile international lawyers Jared Genser and Amal Clooney have launched a campaign lobbying for targeted sanctions, such as travel bans and asset freezes, to be imposed on senior officials of the state, after the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) ruled that the opposition leader’s conviction on a terrorism charge in March was politically motivated and violated international law.
The government called the WGAD judgment “flawed and premature” and said it “will not be made to act on the basis of a non-binding opinion.”
MP Ahmed Nihan, PPM parliamentary group leader, meanwhile called Genser and Clooney “enemies of the state” during an appearance on pro-government broadcaster DhiTV last week.
Nihan also said that Europe is not a development partner of the Maldives and alleged that Western countries are working with the MDP to undermine the Islamic faith of Maldivians.
— Ahmed Nihan (@ahmed_nihan) October 8, 2015
At a press conference in London last week, Genser stressed that the lawyers are not seeking sanctions against the country or average Maldivians, but “only want to target those Maldivians who have been engaged in serious human rights abuses.”
The heavyweight lawyers are planning to travel across the world with Nasheed’s wife Laila Ali to meet with “key policy makers” and push for sanctions, said Genser, who is the founder of Freedom Now, an NGO campaigning for the release of political prisoners.
“A list is being developed with highly detailed information about perpetrators in the Maldives that will be the basis for our discussions with governments,” Genser said.
“The only thing that the government of the Maldives is going to understand is direct action and that’s what we need to do.”
Asked if calls for a tourism boycott is being considered, Clooney said: “If we get to a situation where nothing is working and the government keeps dragging its heels, it’s something we wouldn’t exclude.”
Genser said Nasheed has not yet taken a position on a tourism boycott.
“Everyone will have to make a personal decision about whether they want to travel to a country that is so beautiful yet abuses human rights,” he said.
Riyaz meanwhile told local media that he proposed the bill because the Maldivian economy is dependent on tourism. Legal authority is needed to protect the country from efforts to damage the tourism industry, he said.
The MP for Thaa Vilifushi said the bill will be introduced to the parliament next week.
Riyaz is also the deputy leader of the PPM parliamentary group. The PPM along with coalition partner Maldives Development Alliance (MDA) controls a comfortable majority of 48 seats in the 85-member People’s Majlis.
Following the press conference by Nasheed’s lawyers in London, the foreign ministry said the suggested tourism boycott is unwarranted and “quite improper”.
“The threats to the Government that if the former President is not released sanctions will follow is an inappropriate course of conduct to follow. The Maldives is a country reliant on tourism and any boycott will only serve to punish the hardworking citizens of this country and demonstrates a staggering degree of selfishness,” the ministry said in a statement.