A bill criminalising calls for tourism boycotts and sanctions against the Maldives is aimed at jailing all opposition MPs, Riyaz Rasheed, an MP of the ruling Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM) said at the People’s Majlis today.
Presenting the legislation at today’s sitting, Riyaz, who is also the deputy leader of the PPM parliamentary group, said MPs of the main opposition Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) should be “ashamed” to call for a tourism boycott as their salaries were paid from government revenue earned through tourism.
“People who try to block income the Maldives earns should be arrested. All these people here, who belong to MDP should be arrested. This is what we’re trying to do. God willing, that will happen now,” he said.
The MDP has supported targeted sanctions if former President Mohamed Nasheed is not released from jail. The opposition leader’s international lawyers, in the wake of a UN human rights panel declaring his imprisonment illegal, have launched a campaign targeting officials allegedly responsible for human rights violations in the Maldives.
Nasheed’s high-profile international lawyers Jared Genser and Amal Clooney say they will lobby world leaders for travel bans and asset freezes on specific individuals. Another PPM MP has since branded the pair as “enemies of the state.”
Riyaz’s bill was accepted for consideration with 53 votes in favour and 13 against today. It was sent to the economic affairs committee for review.
Riyaz has previously led calls for the Maldives to withdraw from the Commonwealth and labeled the Queen of England “physically challenged” on national television. In May this year, Riyaz sparked controversy with tweets about prohibiting “islanders” from traveling to protest in Malé.
During today’s debate on the bill, MDP MPs said it contravened article 27 of the constitution, which guarantees the right to freedom of expression, as well as the Maldives’ obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Opposition MPs also stressed that the party has not called for a tourism boycott. The country is facing international criticism due to the current administration’s authoritarianism and jailing of opposition politicians, they said.
Pro-government MPs said a law criminalising calls for a tourism boycott is necessary as the Maldivian economy is dependent on tourism and legal measures are needed to protect the country from efforts to damage the tourism industry
If the bill is passed, calling for sanctions and tourism boycotts within or outside the Maldives and encouraging, participating in, endorsing, or promoting such a campaign would become a criminal offence that carries a jail term of between two to 10 years.
Based on the extent of participation, the bill also proposes house arrest as a punishment as well as fines of between MVR500,000 (US$32,532) and MVR5 million (US$324,254).
Individuals found guilty of the offence would also be deprived of state benefits and have their business licenses revoked. The bill also includes provisions for businesses to pursue civil litigation against offenders to seek damages.
The ministry of tourism would be responsible for enacting regulations and enforcing the law.
During today’s debate, MP Ahmed Amir of the government-aligned Maldives Development Alliance also said people who call for sanctions and tourism boycott should be “immediately arrested”.
He suggested that use of social media could also be banned. “We can also do that in our country,” he said.
MDP MP Eva Abdulla meanwhile said boycotts have historically been a form of protest by citizens against tyrannical and oppressive regimes, referring to Mahatma Gandhi encouraging Indians to boycott British goods and the global campaign against apartheid-era South Africa as examples.
The MDP has not called for a tourism boycott, but only supported pursuing targeted sanctions against state officials responsible for human rights violations, she stressed.
Laws prohibiting calls for sanctions are passed in countries with poor rights records like Zimbabwe and Fiji, she said.
Riyaz meanwhile urged MPs to add a provision during the committee stage to prohibit foreigners who have called for sanctions or tourism boycott from visiting the Maldives.
The bill states that working with or assisting a foreign group for a tourism boycott or pursuing sanctions against the Maldives would be a criminal offence.
Riyaz also said the WGAD were like “janitors” at the UN and that the government does not have to abide by its ruling.
PPM MP Abdulla Rifau also called on the government not to release Nasheed, whom he called “a terrorist imprisoned in accordance with laws and regulations.”